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New York City cheatsheet

When a man is tired of New York he is tired of work. And thought. And cheesecake.
- David Frost

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Photo: Danielle Lurie

AIRPORTS

New York has three airports. John F. Kennedy in Queens and Newark in New Jersey handle domestic and international flights. LaGuardia, the smaller airport in Queens, is primarily for domestic flights.

John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
- AirTrain: The high-speed train links JFK Airport to subway and bus lines, airport parking lots, and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). It's free within the airport terminal, but costs $5 to/from the Howard Beach and Jamaica stations. The fare must be paid by MetroCard, which can be purchased with cash, a credit card, or ATM card. There are vending machines at Howard Beach and Jamaica stations where you can buy MetroCards and LIRR train fares.

LIRR Train: From the AirTrain station in Jamaica, the fastest trip time to Manhattan is via the Long Island Rail Road (about 35 minutes). Departures are frequent, up to every three minutes during rush hour. The fare to/from Manhattan Penn Station is $9-$13 (more during weekday rush hour, less on weekends, especially if you buy a CityTicket).

- Subway: You can take this to/from the AirTrain terminals. It might double your travel time, but it's less expensive and serves the east side of Manhattan and Brooklyn ($2.25 fare).

- Taxi: A yellow cab can be fast and convenient. Taxis charge a flat fee of $45 (not including tip) from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan.

- Bus: Buses leave from all terminals and typically make stops downtown and and at Grand Central Station.

LaGuardia (LGA)
Located on the waterfront in Queens, nine miles from Midtown Manhattan, this airport handles mostly domestic flights. The Delta Shuttle leaves from the Marine Air Terminal, which is not walking distance from the main airport.

- Subway/Train: Neither have convenient routes to LGA.

- Taxi: Pay metered fare to and from the city (including tolls).

- Bus: M60 to/from 125th Street in Manhattan (with connections to subways), and the Q48 to/from Flushing, Queens.

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
The New Jersey hub handles domestic and international flights. It's close to downtown Manhattan, especially the west side.

- AirTrain: The monorail connects the airport to the Newark Liberty International Airport train station, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line of New Jersey Transit, and Amtrack. It's free. Download the brochure for more info.

- Trains: Usually the quickest way to/from the airport (22 minutes, plus a five-minute AirTrain). NJ Transit and Amtrak both leave from Penn Station and stop at the airport. Look for "EWR" on the departures board, and do not get off the train at Newark Penn Station. NJTransit is the local train line, and thus less expensive than Amtrak. Tickets can be bought from automatic kiosks. Hold on to tickets for access to AirTrain.

- Taxi: Depending on where you are going in Manhattan, fares are $50-$70 (not including tip). Ignore offers from transport solicitors at the airport and head for the sanctioned taxi stand to catch your cab.

- Subway: There is no subway between Newark airport and New York City.


GETTING AROUND

Subway: One of the easiest and most efficient ways to travel within the five boroughs, operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Always read signs on subway platforms and be aware of (often garbled) announcements on the PA system, as some trains switch platforms, run express, or have interrupted service on nights and weekends. Metrocards can be purchased at station vending machines. Have a subway map handy. Use Hopstop or Google Maps to figure out public transportation options and times.

Yellow cabs operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can hail a car when the light on the roof is illuminated. Drivers are required to take you to your city destination (even if you want to go to Brooklyn). Taxi driver shifts switch at 4 p.m. daily, so you'll see a lot of off-duty lights. This is the only time of day when a taxi driver can refuse your request. Taxi fees change at certain times of day. Tipping is customary but not mandatory (10-20 percent).

Livery Cabs: It's hard to find yellow cabs in the outer boroughs, so if you find yourself without a ride home from Brooklyn or Queens, call for a car service (any bartender can give you the neighborhood car service number). You can also hail a black livery cab, but you should expect to pay more than you would for a yellow taxi. Just be sure to agree on a price before you get on your way.

Bicycles: The city is trying, but hasn't quite caught up with the cycling trend. Stick to designated bike lanes when you can, and refer to the city bike maps. If walking or driving, beware of stray cyclists riding the wrong way down one-way streets. Steer clear of bike messengers. Free cycling maps are available at many kiosks, libraries, and bookstores.

Beyond City Limits: The Metro-North Railroad at Grand Central Station and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) inside Penn Station are two transport hubs for trains traveling outside city limits.


ORIENTATION

New Yorkers like using cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) for the city grid. Get your bearings: Streets typically run east to west (street numbers increase as you go uptown); avenues typically run north and south (even-numbered avenues run uptown, odd-numbered avenues run downtown). This logic does not extend to the West Village and Financial District (older parts of Manhattan that eschew the grid for tiny, winding streets).


ATM

Automated teller machines are located in various banks, convenience stores, and drug stores, as well as some shops, bars, and restaurants. There is generally a fee of a few dollars for using the ATM.


TIPPING

It's customary to tip 15-20 percent gratuity on a restaurant bill, spa, or salon service, but 20 percent is what locals do.

Slip a few bucks to car valets, coat check attendants, and delivery services (like ordering a pizza to your door).

At hotels, give a few dollars to bell hops, doormen, housekeeping, and room service.


HOLIDAYS

There's always something happening in NYC, no matter the religious or federal holiday. That being said, there are some public holidays when federal buildings are closed (banks, courts, libraries), public transportation is limited, and shops and restaurants have restricted hours.


POST OFFICE AND MAIL

Buy stamps, mail packages, and set up post office boxes at any outpost of the United States Postal Service. They generally operate between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and are closed on Sundays and federal holidays. If your letter already has postage, you can put it into any blue mailbox (located on city street corners).

Historical Note: The spectacular James A Farley Post Office is NYC's main post office building, and occupies two full city blocks across from Penn Station in Midtown West. Built in 1912, it's famous for bearing the inscription: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

FedEx and UPS: Two services that let you ship parcels quickly and track them easily any day of the week.

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