The Best Solo Travel Guide to NYC: by a New Yorker
Updated: Oct 12
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New York City, the city that never sleeps, the concrete jungle, the Big Apple, or as I like to call it home. No matter what you call it, NYC is a must-visit destination for solo travelers in their 20s. From iconic landmarks like Times Square and the Empire State Building to gems that are rising in popularity like the High Line and the Frick Collection, the city offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that are perfect for those embarking on a solo trip. In this guide, I'll dive into the best ways to make the most of your solo adventure in the city that never sleeps.
Embracing the Solo Journey
Embarking on a solo trip to New York City might sound intimidating, especially if it's your first time and you're a solo female traveler, but it's one of the best decisions you can make in your 20s. NYC is a haven for solo travelers, offering a multitude of experiences that cater to your interests. Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an art lover, or an adventurer, rest assured the Big Apple has something in store for you.
Safety and Practical Tips
First up, let's talk safety. New York City is generally safe for solo female travelers, but exercise common sense and stay aware of your surroundings, especially at night. My number one piece advice for avoiding conflict: don't stare. I don't care how absurd whatever it is you're looking at is, New Yorkers do not like to be stared at. Minding your business is key here.
Next, and this honestly applies to any trip, invest in travel health insurance for peace of mind in case of unexpected events. American healthcare is expensive. I recommend SafetyWing which is one of the few travel medical insurances out there that has an option for United States coverage via their Nomad Insurance product. You can sign up here using my referral link. Make sure to manually add the U.S. to your plan otherwise you won't be covered on your NYC trip!
Use public transportation, including the subway and buses, to navigate the city at your own pace. You don't want to get stuck in NYC traffic and you definitely don't want to go through the hassle of trying to find parking in Manahttan. You can buy a metrocard at most stations if you want to keep it as a souvenir, but the metrocard is being phased out in favor of the Omny system. However, you don't have to worry about getting an Omny card (which costs $5 to purchase). You can simply use any contactless credit or debit card and tap to pay on the bus and subway.
Debit and credit cards are widely accepted pretty much everywhere, but it's also a good idea to carry some cash for small purchases and tips. There are a very few places that are cash only like some pizza by the slice shops and you don't want to regret missing out on the perfect New York slice just because you didn't have a few dollars on you!
Times Square: Start your solo journey with a bang at the neon-lit Times Square. New Yorkers love to hate Times Square but personally, I just love it (don't tell the others). It's the heart of the city, and it never disappoints! Take in the bustling crowds, street performers, and the dazzling billboards. Taking photos with the off-brand versions of your favorite characters is a tourist rite of passage. It's a great way to immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of NYC!
Central Park: For a breath of fresh air in the midst of the concrete jungle, you can head to the famous Central Park. Central Park is the perfect place to relax and soak in the natural beauty of Manhattan. Stroll along the winding paths, rent a rowboat on the lake, or simply people-watch. You can also rent a bike or take a guided walking tour to get to know the park. If you're into wildlife, you might want to check out the Central Park zoo.
High Line: Ever since it opened up when I was in high school, the high line has been one of my absolute favorite things about New York City. It is an urban park that was transformed from an abandoned elevated railway track into a lush, green oasis. It stretches about 1.5 miles across Manhattan's west side and the best part about it is that it's always expanding! Each section of the highline offers something unique and it is everchanging, making for a completely new experience each time you visit. The scenic walkway provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city as well as beautifully landscaped gardens, art installations, and stunning views of the city's skyline.
Empire State Building: You made it all this way so you can't miss the chance to ascend the iconic Empire State Building! The observation deck offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the city. It's a surreal experience, especially when you visit during sunset or at night. Inside the Empire State there are 3 observatories that you can choose from as well as several super cool exhibits you can check out from NYC in the 1920s to life size King Kong. When you visit the Empire State Building, you'll get more than just panoramic views of the city (of course you'll get those too). The best times to visit are right when it opens (10am) or just after 8pm for the least amount of people.
Pro tip: Skip the souvenir shop. It's overpriced and you can get all the same things in Manhattan's Chinatown or even just walking into the shops littered throughout midtown for much cheaper.
Rockefeller Center: In the heart of Midtown Manhattan, Rockefeller Center offers entertainment, shopping, and dining options. During the winter months, you will get the chance to skate at the Rockefeller ice rink with the best views of the iconic Christmas tree.
Bryant Park: Relax at Bryant Park, a tranquil oasis surrounded by skyscrapers. Depending on the season, you can enjoy ice skating, outdoor movies, or a good book in the Reading Room. Personally, I think the Bryant Park Rink is better than the one at Rockefeller Center - it's circular which feels more natural to skate around than Rockefeller's rectangular rink. Even better, there's no entrance fee to the rink, you only have to pay for skate rentals if you don't have your own.
Theater District: Catching a Broadway show is a quintessential New York experience. From "The Lion King" to "Hamilton," there's a show for everyone. Contrary to popular belief, tickets don't have to cost you an arm and a leg - there's a huge variety of shows and a ton of different price ranges depending on which seat you choose. You can get tickets for as low as $105 for a matinee showing of Sweeney Todd.
Pro tip: If you're flexible try the TKTS booth for discounted tickets up to half off on the day of the show. Alternatively try the Broadway lottery or get Broadway discount codes for various shows here.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island: Ok not gonna lie, like most native New Yorkers, I've never stepped foot on Ellis island or visited the Statue of Liberty. BUT! That doesn't mean you shouldn't! Learn about the history of American immigration by taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
In addition to the Statue of Liberty, you can explore the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, which houses exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia presentations that chronicle the immigrant experience and the nation's history. Additionally, you can search for your own family's immigration records in the American Immigrant Wall of Honor if you have an ancestor who was one of the whopping 12 million immigrants who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island.
Battery Park & Lower Manhattan: Wander through Battery Park, visit the poignant 9/11 Memorial, and marvel at the architectural masterpiece that is One World Trade Center. Lower Manhattan is a testament to resilience and rebirth.
Museum of Modern Art: This one's for the art lovers. The MoMA, as it is affectionately known, is home to an incredible collection of modern and contemporary art. You'll encounter iconic works by artists like Picasso, Van Gogh, and Warhol. The museum offers a rich cultural experience through its ever-evolving exhibitions, educational programs, and a chance to witness the evolution of artistic movements that have shaped the art world over the years.
Pro Tip: Bags larger than 14 x 22 x 9” (36 x 59 x 23 cm) are not allowed in the museum and the checkroom is currently unavailable.
Greenwich Village: You can stroll through the charming streets of Greenwich Village, where creativity thrives. Here you will be able to find Washington Square Park, catch spontaneous live performances, and savor delicious food at the local eateries.
East Village: For a taste of NYC's eclectic culture, explore the East Village. It's a hub of vintage shops, quirky boutiques, and diverse culinary experiences. Don't forget to check out St. Mark's Place. It's a bit seedy but trust me when I say the food here is beyond delicious. St. Mark's place was home to the flagship location of my personal fave Xi'an Famous Foods (RIP - thanks covid). While this location of the chain no longer exists, there are plenty of other incredible food options in the area - check out La Palapa, an authentic Mexican restaurant with the best tacos.
West Village: Experience the charm of tree-lined streets, brownstones, and historic townhouses in the West Village. It's a quieter side of the city, perfect for leisurely walks and cozy cafes. This is the part of NYC you should be headed to if you want to embrace your movie main character energy. This is where every 20-something TV character with an apartment you wonder how they afford lives (think Friends or Sex and the City)
Exploring Beyond Manhattan
Staten Island Ferry: Take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry for stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. It's an affordable way to appreciate NYC's iconic landmarks.
Brooklyn Bridge: Walk across the historic Brooklyn Bridge and soak in the panoramic views of the city. Once in Brooklyn, explore DUMBO, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Coney Island: Embrace your inner thrill-seeker at Coney Island. Ride the Cyclone, feast on Nathan's Famous hot dogs, and bask in the nostalgia of this iconic amusement park.
Long Island City: For an alternative view of the city, head to Long Island City's Gantry Plaza State Park. This park offers postcard-worthy, completely unobstructed views of Manhattan's skyline along the East River.
Pro Tip: Queens is the borough to go to for the best food from around the world. I will die on this hill.
Conclusion: A Solo Adventure to Remember
Traveling solo to New York City is not just an adventure; it's simply a must do in your lifetime. The city's diverse neighborhoods, iconic landmarks, and endless entertainment options make it the perfect playground for anyone in their 20s (or anyone, really). From exploring the urban jungles of Manhattan to uncovering the hidden gems of Brooklyn, the Big Apple promises an unforgettable journey. So, pack your bags, put on your walking shoes, and get ready to make memories that will last a lifetime in this vibrant, dynamic, and ever-evolving city. NYC is waiting for you, solo traveler - let the adventure begin!