New York City Hacks Even Locals Don't Know

Alexander Hellebaut /
Alexander Hellebaut / | © Culture Trip

US Books Editor

Between New York City’s crowds, never-ending lists of things to do and relentless attitude, the City That Never Sleeps can be overwhelming. Make your NYC experience a little bit easier with these hacks.

Optimize your phone for transportation

Your smartphone can be the ultimate tool to make the city manageable. Apps like Google Maps, MyMTA and CityMapper help you navigate New York while keeping you up to date on any public transport changes. These apps can even let you know exactly when the next train is coming. If you want to avoid the subway and buses, try Curb, Lyft, Juno and Via to call a car direct to your location. Many of the less well-known rideshare apps even have special deals for trips within Manhattan.

Game the TKTS booth

The New York City theater scene is known around the world — and so are the high ticket prices. TKTS booths are a great way to snag a deal on your night’s entertainment. These booths offer discounted same-day Broadway tickets with up to 50 percent off. Lines can get long for such great deals. The Times Square location is the most popular, but there are two other, much less crowded locations, in Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport. Each booth opens at a different time, so you can use the app to plan ahead. Many suggest that the best time to go is 5.00pm, but the best seats are offered right before the showtimes.

If you are hoping to see a play rather than a musical, use the ‘play only’ express lane at the Times Square location for an even shorter line. To watch multiple shows, remember to pick up the 7-Day Fast Pass. After you purchase your first ticket, you can cut the line anytime over the next seven days when you want to purchase your next one.

Never get lost in Central Park again

Central Park is a New York City must-visit, but it’s bigger than many people realize. At two and a half miles (four kilometers) long, it can take an hour to walk from one end to the other, assuming you don’t get turned around. It’s easy to get lost, but when in doubt, look for the light posts. Each light post has a four-digit number near the base. The first two numbers will tell you what street you are nearest to, and the second two numbers will let you know if you are on the East Side (even numbers) or the West (odd numbers). So, if you see 7913, you know you’re near 79th Street on the West Side. The higher those last two numbers, the closer you are to the center of the park.

Take advantage of an IDNYC

If you live in the city, you can get an IDNYC, which is a New York City-specific identification card. All you need is proof of a New York City address. While you can’t use the ID to purchase alcohol or get into bars, there are a lot of other doors this card will open. The IDNYC has partnerships with museums and cultural institutions throughout the city, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Botanical Garden and the New York Ballet, granting you free and discounted entertainment. The details vary, but it is often as easy as just showing up with your new ID.

Practice your subway calculus

The subway remains the best way to navigate New York City, even with all the frustrating delays. A single ride on the subway costs $2.75 and the machines add a 5% bonus to any money you add to your card over $5.50, so if you purchase a default option such as $39, it actually brings you up to $40.95. Many people end up ‘donating’ the random cents left over after their final swipe back to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. If you don’t want to waste a penny, a website called MetroCard Bonus Calculator will do the math for you!

For calculating your ride times, remember that the local train only adds an average of 90 seconds to a commute, so don’t be afraid to play it safe. Depending on where you are heading, it can be a long wait for the next train to arrive. A good rule of thumb is: if the train is over 10 minutes away, it is probably better to find another route.

Want to get high? Skip the Empire State Building

Sky-high views of the city help change your relationship to Manhattan, which is why the Empire State Building is a popular stop for visitors. Unfortunately, that popularity means that it is crowded. Instead, visit the Top of the Rock, where you will actually get to see the Empire State Building in your skyline views, experience shorter lines and even visit Rockefeller Plaza. Rooftop bars are a great way to get a drink with a view; Refinery Rooftop and 230 Fifth have particularly great scenery.

Remember these taxi tips

Hailing a cab can be tricky, so be sure to look for ones with the lights on in the number sign on top. When the car already has passengers, the driver will turn the lights off. Don’t waste your time when you get to your destination, as you can pay for your ride in the machine in the back before you stop. The machines with a screen can process your credit card as you go.

Use the restroom whenever you can

Public bathrooms are a valuable commodity in the city, zealously guarded by retail shops and even cafés and restaurants, so do be sure to use the bathroom whenever you have the chance. If you need to go while you’re on the go, there’s an app for that: Sit or Squat is an app for finding public restrooms that are rated for cleanliness, and Rockaloo connects people with private bathrooms that you can use in exchange for a small fee. Apps like Refuge Restroom help you find gender-neutral bathrooms nearby. If you’re in a real pickle, hotels often have bathrooms accessible in their lobbies — just walk in with confidence.

Learn the secret code in the subway tiles

Back in the days before smartphones and radio announcements told passengers which transfers were available at each station, the Independent Rapid Transit Railroad – one of several transit companies in existence before the 1940s – created a color-coded system for their signs. Each subway platform has the name of the stop outlined in a different color frame. The system let passengers know with a quick glance where they were, and where they needed to transfer. It can still be seen on the A, B, C, D, E, F, G and Q lines, where the colors change at express stations so it’s clear when it’s time to get off and change.

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