Don't be intimidated by the big crowds and bigger buildings. New York can be a friendly and manageable city for visitors if you heed some of this time-tested advice.
1. Don't be afraid to wander. Start spreading the news: New York is the safest big city in the United States. Gone are the days when people were warned not to venture into Alphabet City or the Lower East Side. Pretty much nowhere in Manhattan is off-limits – though it's still an urban area, so do use your common sense (for instance, you may not want to walk around at 3 a.m. by your lonesome). Most of Manhattan, with the exception of a few downtown neighborhoods like the West Village, the Lower East Side and Battery Park, is laid out on a grid system with very few hills, making it extremely easy to find your way around. In fact, a highlight of your trip will likely be strolling the streets gazing at the fascinating people, buildings and sights that pop up on every corner.
2. Take the 'A' (and the 'B' and the 'C'…) train. Though the New York subway system is ancient – the first underground line started running in 1904 – the trains are well-marked and surprisingly fast, often a better bet than cabs if you're trying to cross the city from east to west or vice versa, or traveling during the morning or evening rush hours. The subways do run 24 hours a day, but if you're alone, you may feel more comfortable taking a taxi after midnight, though you'll find many people still riding the rails. Try HopStop.com to figure out which subway line will help you reach your destination fastest, but keep in mind that there can be a lot of routes re-routed or closed for maintenance, especially on weekends, so also check the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website for the latest subway route updates. Tip: The 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard is usually a good deal so you don't spend $2 on MetroCards each time you hop on the train.
3. Eat dinner early – or late. When New Yorkers eat out, they like to take their dinner between 8 and 10 p.m. If you want to eat at the same places they do, it's best to make a reservation in advance – at least a week ahead of time for most places and a full month ahead for perpetually booked favorites such as Daniel, Babbo and Le Bernardin – and to go for an evening between Sunday and Wednesday rather than the always-crowded Thursday through Saturday. But if you've left things till the last minute, try calling a day or two ahead and reserving a table either for before 7 p.m. or after 10:30 p.m., which exponentially increases your chances of getting seated, even at the hottest spots in town. Of course, this tactic won't work at the handful of trendy restaurants that don't take reservations in advance, like Momofuku, Boqueria and Bar Jamon. There, you'll have to queue up with the rest of the ravenous foodie masses.