The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA; (www.mta.info) runs both the subway and bus systems. Depending on the train line (the W and G are consistently rated two of the worst), time of day and whether the door slams in your face or not, New York City's 100-year-old round-the-clock subway system (per ride 2.25) is your best friend or worst enemy.
The 656-mile system can be intimidating at first, but regardless of its faults it's an incredible resource and achievement, linking the most disparate neighbourhoods in a continually pulsating network. Maps should be available for the taking at every stop. To board, you must purchase a MetroCard, available at windows and self-serve machines, which accept change, dollars or credit/debit cards; purchasing many rides at once works out cheaper per trip.
Multiple direct flights from just about every major city in North and South America and western Europe arrive in New York daily, as do many stopover flights from Asia. Most domestic air travel goes to LaGuardia (www.panynj.gov/airports/laguardia.html), international tends to go to John F Kennedy (JFK; www.panynj.gov/airports/jfk.html) and a third, often easier option is Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, only a short drive from Manhattan.
Amtrak trains come right into Midtown, and you can pick them up in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington DC, and at small smaller stops along the way. Long-distance Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road trains arrive at Pennsylvania (Penn) Station (W 33rd St btwn Seventh & Eighth Aves). Commuter trains (MetroNorth) use Grand Central Terminal (Park Ave at E 42nd St). New Jersey PATH trains stop at the World Trade Center site, Christopher St, 14th St, 28th St and 34th St.
The massive and confusing Port Authority Bus Terminal (625 Eighth Ave, btwn 40th & 42nd St) is the gateway for buses into and out of Manhattan. Short Line (www.coachusa.com/shortline/) runs numerous buses to towns in northern New Jersey and upstate New York, while New Jersey Transit (www.njtransit.com) buses serve all of New Jersey.
A number of bus companies such as BoltBus and Megabus, link NYC to Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC. Cutthroat competition has led to lowered fares and increased amenities; some offer free wi-fi on board.(www.boltbus.com) and Megabus (www.megabus.com). Trip durations depend on the time of day you depart, and where in each city you depart from and arrive.
Even for the most spiritually centered, road rage is an inevitable byproduct of driving within the city. Traffic is a perpetual problem and topic of conversation. Mayor Bloomberg, a committed proponent of congestion pricing plans, and other transportation advocates will no doubt continue to try to solve the puzzle.
If you are driving out or in, however, know that the worst part is joining the masses as they try to squeeze through tunnels and over bridges to traverse the various waterways that surround Manhattan. Be aware of local laws, such as the fact that you can't make a right on red (like you can in the rest of the state) and also the fact that every other street is one way.
If you're not in a big hurry, consider taking the bus (per ride 2.25). You get to see the world go by, they run 24/7 and they're easy to navigate - going cross-town at all the major street byways (14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 72nd Sts and all the others that are two-way roads) and uptown or downtown, depending which avenue they serve. You can pay with a MetroCard or exact change but not bills. Transfers from one line to another are free, as are transfers to or from the subway.
New York Waterway (www.nywaterway.com) ferries make runs up the Hudson River Valley and from Midtown to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A popular commuter route goes from the New Jersey Transit train station in Hoboken to the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan; boats leave every five to 10 minutes at peak times, and the 10-minute ride costs 6.50 each way.
New York Water Taxi (www.nywatertaxi.com) is a new service that's really taken off in New York. These yellow taxi boats stop at various piers along Manhattan's West Side and are a wonderful way to travel to Midtown, Lower Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The Water Taxi Beach (www.watertaxibeach.com) is a favorite pit stop.
New York taxi drivers must be the most maligned group of workers in the world. Sure, they'll try to make a few extra bucks; but let's face it, they're bound to have a better idea where they're going than you do. If you think you're being ripped off, either let the driver know or get a receipt and note the license number - the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission wields some serious clout, and cabbies are justifiably nervous of being reported to them. (Ph: 311.) If the taxi number on the top of the car is lit up then the taxi is available. Fares are metered and start at 2.50; the tip is 10% to 15% (minimum 0.50). There's a 0.50 surcharge from 20:00 to 06:00.
Don't be afraid of the subway: it's pretty safe these days and is still the speediest way of taking Manhattan, although the buses are also efficient. They do take much longer than trains but sometimes you need to take one if want to get crosstown.
Don't be afraid of the taxi drivers, either: the majority of them are fine, and if you do have a problem it can almost always be solved by taking the license number - most cabbies fear being reported. Do be afraid of negotiating New York traffic; it's a nightmare, and rentals and petrol are pricey. If it's a scenic journey you're after, a ferry is your best bet.
Served by three major airports, two train terminals and a massive bus depot, New York City is the most important transportation hub in the northeastern USA. Of the airports, Newark or La Guardia are more convenient to the city than JFK. Getting into the city by car is easy enough until you hit the tunnels and bridges, which are often clogged to bursting point.
All US visa information is highly subject to change. US entry requirements keep evolving as national security regulations change. All travelers should double-check current visa and passport regulations before coming to the USA. Although you can also access visa information through www.usa.gov, the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov/visa) maintains the most comprehensive visa information, providing downloadable forms, lists of US consulates abroad and even visa wait times calculated by country.
Apart from most Canadian citizens and those entering under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), all foreign visitors will need to obtain a visa from a US consulate or embassy abroad. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the end of your intended stay in the USA.
Currently under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of EU countries, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea may enter the USA without a visa for stays of 90 days or fewer. If you are a citizen of a VWP country, you do not need a visa only if you have a passport that meets current US standards and you have gotten approval from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in advance. Register online with the Department of Homeland Security at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov at least 72 hours before arrival; once travel authorization is approved, your registration is valid for two years.
At the port of entry, visitors from VWP countries must still demonstrate that their trip is for 90 days or less, and that they have a round-trip or onward ticket, adequate funds to cover the trip and binding obligations abroad (the same conditions that nonimmigrant visa applicants must meet).
Health and Safety
Crime rates here remain at their lowest in years. There are few neighborhoods remaining where you might feel scared, no matter what time of night it is (and they're mainly in the outer boroughs). Subway stations are generally safe, too, though some in low- income neighborhoods, especially in the outer boroughs, can be dicey. There's no reason to be paranoid, but it's better to be safe than sorry, so use common sense: don't walk around alone at night in unfamiliar, sparsely populated areas, especially if you're a woman.
Don't flash money around on the street, and keep your valuables somewhere safe. Unless you must accessorize with the real thing, leave the good jewelry at home. Carry your daily walking-around money somewhere inside your clothing (in a money belt, bra or sock) rather than in a handbag or an outside pocket, and be aware of pickpockets particularly in mobbed areas, like Times Sq or Penn Station at rush hour.