30 Life Hacks For Surviving Your First Year in NYC

Benjamin Korman
February 26, 2018
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Updated on May 23, 2024 @ 9:04 pm

If you’ve recently relocated to the Big Apple, you may have already noticed that it never stops moving at full speed.

Everything from getting around to buying groceries to doing your laundry is completely different (and often much more difficult) in New York City. Here is a helpful list of NYC life hacks to help you come out of your first year in the city alive:

Getting around

1. Bookmark the MTA Subway Time site on your phone. The subway isn’t as good as it used to be. Delays, breakdowns, and even derailments have become an hourly occurrence underground. But at least there’s one way things have improved: the MTA has finally created an official site that tells you how far away your next train is. It uses GPS, so you don’t have to rely on outdated schedules or the often-incorrect Google Maps. And as most users have found, it often works even better than the official app. Bookmark subwaytime.mta.info and add it to your home screen.

2. Take the bus. It is always astounding to learn how many newcomers don’t even consider hopping on a bus. In light of a rapidly degrading subway, the bus is fast becoming the most attractive option to get where you’re going. And each bus is equipped with a GPS—see when the next one is coming to your local stop at bustime.mta.info.

3. Stay on top of planned service changes. The Weekender is a great resource for planning your trips around the city. Find out when system maintenance is going to affect your line, and the best ways to make due in spite of it.

4. Ride a bike. There are over 1000 miles of bike lanes across the city, and more going up each day. Whether you take a CitiBike or your own, New York is the perfect place to bike on your commute, for exercise, or if you just want to feel the wind in your hair. Get your own cheap ride at Recycle-A-Bicycle or purchase a yearly CitiBike membership.

5. Don’t cry over a lost MetroCard. If you remember which credit or debit card you used to purchase your unlimited card, you can go to this site and get reimbursed for the time you lost.

6. Drive smarter. Parking and traffic are an endless nightmare in New York City—that’s where Car2Go comes in. For the price of a one-time membership fee and low rates that charge by the minute, hour, or day, Car2Go’s ubiquitous blue-and-white smart cars are giving locals a great alternative to the living hell that is owning a car in the city.

Experience the City

7. See a free outdoor concert. SummerStage brings big-name musicians of every genre to Central Park, and Celebrate Brooklyn does the same in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Satellite events happen in smaller parks all across the city.

8. See a free outdoor movie. Free film screenings tale place all over the city in the summer. Some choice locations include Bryant Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Red Hook’s Rudolph Valentino Pier. Check this site for a full line-up of city-funded screenings.

9. Pay what you want at the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, the Natural History Museum, and others year-round. They ask for a suggested donation, so you can enjoy these cultural staples even when you’re short on cash. Here’s a tip— the Natural History Museum never has a line in the underground entrance adjoining the 81st Street station, and the credit card-only kiosk at the Met by the central usually offers a short wait.

10. Go to MoMA for free. Once a month, MoMA opens its doors to all comers with the UNIQLO-sponsored Free Friday Nights.  The deal also includes film screenings. It does tend to get crowded, so you may find that it’s worth it to dish out the $25 entrance fee for the best experience.

11. Get free access and discounts all over the city with IDNYC. The government-issued identification card is easy to sign up for and comes with all sorts of perks, including free one-year membership to the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx Zoo, Carnegie Hall and more. Find out how to get yours here.

12. Nature isn’t far away. The Metro-North train offers quick access to great hiking, camping and adventuring within two hours of the city. The breathtaking Storm King Art Center is just a short cab ride away from the Beacon stop, and you can access the hilly Breakneck Ridge hiking trail directly from the train platform. Rockland County’s Bear Mountain offers a woodsy refuge only a few miles away from the chaos of the city. Check out the Metro-North’s fantastic trip packages for outbound excursions.

13. Lace up your skates. Ice-skating at the many public rinks in the city are absolutely free. Bryant Park and Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan, and Wollman Rink in both Central Park and Prospect Park are all great places to lace up your skates and glide over the ice for a fun evening.  The only cost is skate and locker rental, so save some scratch by bringing your own blades.

14. Explore on an urban kayak. On summer weekends, the NYC Parks Department offers free kayaking at waterways across the city.  Some choice locations are Brooklyn’s Red Hook Pier and Queens’s Hallets Cove. For more free kayaking events, check out the Parks Department’s site.

15. Get discounted Broadway tickets. The TKTS booth that offers up to 50% off Broadway shows in Times Square is iconic, but so are its insanely long lines. Head to one of their satellite locations in South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn right as they open for a faster experience. And student rush tickets are always available with a valid ID at Broadway theaters on the day of the performance.

16. Go on a Thursday night gallery hop. The crowded blocks of art galleries in Chelsea all have one thing in common: they celebrate show openings on Thursday nights. Head to the far west 20s any Thursday evening for some free wine, hors d’oeuvres, and culture. Keep track of the weekly fetes here.

17. Go to a TV taping. While Saturday Night Live is the hot ticket in town (You can only apply for tickets in August. https://www.nbc.com/tickets/pages/tickets-and-nbc-studio-tour#snl there are always seats available for shows like The Tonight Show, Late Night, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Get exclusive updates for listings by signing up at The Black List NYC

18. Sneak into a secret subway tunnel. For the thrill-seekers out there, there are lots of secret, abandoned Subway tunnels lurking beneath the streets just waiting to be explored. Going down there is illegal and usually pretty dangerous, but that hasn’t stopped some New Yorkers from giving tours and throwing parties.

19. Eat local— very local. Allow expert forager “Wildman” Steve Brill to take you on a tour of all the edible flora available for your consumption in Central Park, Prospect Park, and many other locations around the city and tri-state area.

20. Go on a pizza tour. Want to get a better idea of the pizza landscape in the world’s cheesiest city? Sample the best slices the city has to serve up at Scott’s Pizza Tours.

The Basics

21. Looking for some quick temporary or long-term housing? Check out the Gypsy Housing group on Facebook. Originally a source of listings solely for musicians and artists, the group has become the go-to way of finding a room on the quick.

22. Need to pee? There are a number of apps available on the Apple and Google Play stores that will help you locate a free public toilet. But when in doubt, head to a library.

23. Use TaskRabbit for absolutely anything. The app is great for finding a man-with-a-van or someone to offer quick handiwork. But people in NYC have also found that paying a task rabbit is a great way to get someone to wait in a very long line (for an exclusive snack, perhaps) when they don’t have the time.

24. Think twice before picking up furniture off the sidewalk. Finding a cute end-table or bookshelf on the street can be tempting, but please think twice before bringing it (and whatever may live inside it) home. This is how you get bed bugs, people!

25. Take as many books off the sidewalk as you want. The New York version of “donating” old books is putting them on the sidewalk in front of their building. The bed bug risk is still there but worth the risk.

Making Friends

26. Head to a Reddit Meetup. The “Front Page of the Internet” hosts a group for hanging out with likeminded web surfers in NYC. Check out special events, or just head to their weekly happy hour.

27. Take a comedy class. Always wanted to try your hand at improv, stand-up, or sketch comedy? New York is home to the best comedy in the world, like the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, The Magnet Theater, and The People’s Improv Theater. Each offer classes in improvisation and sketch—it’s a fun way to learn and join a thriving local community!

28. Join a social sports league. Want to meet people and get to play kickball, soccer, bocce (an NYC classic), volleyball, basketball, and more at the same time? There are a few organizations that offer leagues, but two of the largest are NYC Social and ZogSports.

29. Take a ceramics class. Meet likeminded artists while indulging in NYC’s hippest new trend. Learn the basics of spinning and hand-building pottery at studios like Sculpture Space NYC, Choplet, and BKLYN CLAY.

30. Make friends while giving back. Looking to volunteer? NYC.gov has made it easy to find ways to lend a helping hand to your fellow New Yorkers while making friends along the way.

Benjamin Korman

Benjamin is a New York City-based writer.
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