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15 Mistakes to Avoid in New York City

Updated: November 9, 2023

This post lists 15 mistakes people make when visiting New York City, a guide to what not to do in NYC.

Nothing on this list is particularly harmful to you or to others. Rather, this list includes mistakes to avoid in NYC so that your visit is as smooth as possible! 

New York City moves to the beat of its own drum.

Knowing what to do and what not to do before you arrive will help you get in sync with that drumbeat sooner.

Also, many common mistakes that tourists make in New York City revolve around spending too much on experiences that can be bought for less money and, in some cases, can be enjoyed for free!

Get to know the lay of the land before you arrive to spare yourself unnecessary discomfort or embarrassment and save yourself some money as well! 

1. Not Using Public Transportation

Whatever reasons that may be holding you back from riding the subway -- ignore them!

The public transportation system in NYC is among the best in the world and it's easy to use

You can get to just about every point of interest you likely have on your ‘must-see’ list.

Public transportation from the three NYC airports is easy to use and much cheaper than taking an Uber or a taxi.

The subway and bus system is affordable (if you know which MetroCard to buy) and it is faster than taking a taxi given the traffic, especially in Manhattan.

Did you know that we also have a great ferry system here?

East River Ferry

You can have a more pleasurable trip to your destination with great skyline views for the same cost as the subway!

Now that we have convinced you to use public transportation, here are some posts to read in advance so you’ll be a pro before you even get here!

2. Staying Only In Manhattan

No doubt that many of the best attractions New York City has to offer are located in Manhattan.

But there is life beyond in the other four boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island + and even New Jersey).

We know you may only be here for a few days but we cannot emphasize enough that you make the time for two of the very best free things to do in New York City:

Take the free Staten Island Ferry 

In under an hour, this free roundtrip ferry ride offers you spectacular skyline views and a nice breeze.

Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

Locals treasure this majestic, historic suspension bridge.

Tourists love the experience of crossing the bridge for the views and the sheer beauty of the bridge itself.

Brooklyn Bridge

If you do walk over the bridge and have some more time, explore the neighborhoods next to the bridge, Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.

And if you are wondering how the neighborhood got its name, read our post on What does the acronym DUMBO stand for?"

Learn about New York City Neighborhoods.

3. Not Researching Hotels In Advance

The biggest cost of your trip to the Big Apple (besides airfare if you are flying) will be your hotel stay.

Finding the right hotel for you can also be your biggest headache! 

Let us help you save money and time choosing the best hotel for you. Here’s how: 

4. Not Looking Into Getting A Tourist Discount Pass

If you are planning on visiting a lot of attractions, museums and other points of interest, you should look into getting a tourist discount pass.

You could potentially save yourself a lot of money! 

Our post, Which New York City Pass is Best, explains the different NYC tourist discount passes available to you and provides analysis and suggestions on how to decide which pass (if any) is right for you.

5. Forgetting To Check The Weather

It’s so simple to do this, yet so many of us forget when we walk out the door.

When planning your days, check the night before so you can adjust your itinerary as needed. 

Weather in June in NYC

If you planned on spending the day in Central Park, but the forecast the night before says to expect heavy rain the following day, you’ll be able to find an alternative plan like heading to a museum.

If you know which month you are coming, look at our weather posts and advice on what to pack.

6. Staying In Your Food Comfort Zone

New York City is all about the diversity of its food.

With over three million immigrant-born residents from 150 countries, there are countless restaurants and food carts that are cheap and delicious --  and certainly more interesting than a milkshake and fries. 

Even for locals, the sheer number of restaurants makes it hard to know where to find the best version of that cuisine.

Take the guesswork out of the scenario, and join us for one of our pay-what-you-like food tours

7. Not Tipping

New York City is a tip-based economy.

Many service providers like taxi drivers, restaurant waitstaff, bartenders, and hotel staff, are paid very little because their employers know that they'll make up the difference in cash tips. 

Tip Jar

For a detailed explanation of who to tip and how much, read our guide to Tipping in New York City.

8. Not Carrying Enough Cash

Credit cards and debit cards are accepted in most shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and attractions. 

One Dollar Bill

But you don't want to be caught off guard when you have just ordered the most scintillating slice of pizza only to find out that the shop is “cash-only”.

Carry some cash with you, and small denominations, for these surprise moments.

Also, you’ll need cash to tip sometimes!

9. Paying Too Much For A Broadway Ticket

Since we are on the topic of money already, one of the biggest mistakes that first-time visitors to New York City make is paying way too much for theater tickets.

There is simply no reason you have to make that same mistake! T

here are many ways to get discounted prices for Broadway shows. 

Before you even arrive in NYC read our post on How to Get Cheap Broadway Tickets. You might want to make your purchases in advance!

10. Being Overly Worried About Safety in NYC

New York City is as safe as some of the most popular cities in the world. In fact, NYC is safer than Paris! 

As long as you follow some tried and true advice to staying safe in NYC, you shouldn't have any problems. 

Read our in-depth post, How Safe is New York for Tourists? (It’s safe!)

11. Avoiding The Locals 

Perhaps New York City’s greatest asset is its people. ‘New Yawkas’ are generally friendly, helpful and interesting!

If you want to really get to know New York City, don’t be bashful. 

New York Paul pigeon man

If you need help with the subway, ask someone. More than one person will jump up to assist you!

Don’t be surprised if someone waiting in line next to you strikes up a conversation. 

Trust your instincts - if the conversation is veering into unsavory topics, politely disengage. 

On the other hand, you may make new friends for life with the local New Yorker sitting next to you in Central Park!

12. Stopping In The Middle Of The Sidewalk 

It may be tempting to stop right where you are, even in the middle of a busy street, to take that perfect picture. Don’t do it.

Countless pedestrians rushing somewhere (or nowhere!) will be frustrated. 

crowded sidewlak in Manhattan

While most will simply walk around you, someone may say something rude to you and tell you to move out of the way. Don’t take this personally.

New Yorkers do it to other New Yorkers all the time!

Be smart and move to the inner or outer edge of the sidewalk if you need to stop. 

13. Not Using The Bathroom Before Leaving Your Hotel

When you gotta go, you gotta go. Unfortunately, it isn't as simple as that in New York City!

Most shops and eating establishments will not let you use their restroom unless you are a customer. 

So take care of your business before hedging out for the day and read our post on where to find a public restroom in New York City.

14. Paying Full Price At A Museum

Almost all museums in NYC have a day or certain hours each week where you can enter for free.

This video explains how to do this and which museums offer this amazing deal! 

Find out more from our post, Free Museums in New York City.

15. Wearing Uncomfortable Shoes

New York City is a fashion hub of the world. But unless you are coming for Fashion Week, don’t wear your fanciest (and most uncomfortable) shoes. 

New York is one of the most walkable cities in the world.

Tourist attractions are fun, but exploring NYC on foot lets you get a real feel for the city. So wear sneakers, comfy loafers, or hiking boots, whichever is kindest to your feet. 

You can even wear sandals in the summer! Sure, your feet may get dirty but do what all New Yorkers who wear flip-flops do…wash your feet when you get home! 

One of the most recommended (and our guides use these) is Orthofeet - not the most stylish name but the shoes are comfortable, durable and bright colors!

For a more subtle and affordable shoe, Sketcher's Go Walkers are the best-selling walking shoes.

Find even more tips on what to do and not to do in New York City by joining our Facebook Group of over 200,000 members!

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About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo,, and more.
Updated: November 9th, 2023
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