I need advice to give my niece the best New York Experience possible.
February 25, 2017 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Where would be a good area of New York for an 18 year old from Australia to stay to maximize safety for a lone traveler wanting to see all the tourist type sites.

My Niece is coming to visit me in the USA from Australia. I haven't seen her in 5 years & we're both super excited about the trip. While she's here she wants to go off for a five days to visit New York by herself. She's traveled internationally a lot in her life & she's got a good head on her shoulders so she's asked me for advice on where to stay & what to see. I am an expat Aussie living in Indiana, that has never been to New York & knows nothing, apparently none of my friends here or inlaws have either so I need your help Metafilter to give wonderful niece in the world (yes I'm completely biased) the best trip possible.

She's looking for information on safer districts/areas for a lone female traveler to stay. Recommendations of actual hotels or just general areas appreciated. She's on a reasonable mid level budget, and we'll chip in if needed to make sure avoids any dodgy hotels as I think NY hotel prices are going to surprise her.

She's traveled a reasonable amount so is used to public transport in big cities, so is fine with taking the subway. So accommodation further out but on a train route is fine. Is there anything she should know for safety, or things you see tourists doing on the subway that she should avoid doing?

She has no idea yet of just what she wants to see, but I imagine all the touristy sort of things will be the main destinations, but any ideas of things that might not be in the tourist guides she should see would be great too. She is an adventurous eater so maybe fun, cheap places to eat, near the tourist traps.

Oh and if there are any areas she should completely avoid either for safety or just for their distance from transport or things she's likely to want to see.

I don't even know enough to know if I'm asking the right questions so anything else you think might be helpful would also be appreciated.

Also let it be noted that by asking about safe places for her to stay, I'm not trying to insult anyones home town. I know NYC isn't the crime filled place it's made out to be in the movies & on TV. It's more about the fact that when women solo travel they have to be aware of this stuff anywhere they go on their adventures and this is what she's asked me to find out.
posted by wwax to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think it'll help to have some starting points... Does she like art, theater, live music, clothes shopping, ancient/medieval history, science, architecture, boats, local history, peoplewatching/city walking...?
Do you know what she's liked/disliked in other big cities she's visited?
Do you know what time of year is she coming?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:21 AM on February 25, 2017

I'm a woman and I moved to New York alone from Canada and have done a significant amount of solo traveling and honestly I think as long as your niece has even basic street smarts she'll be just fine pretty much anywhere she stays. It's been my experience that you have to go pretty far out of your way to find a actually dangerous area especially if she's mainly hitting major tourist attractions.

I take the subway at all hours and honestly don't worry about it, although if it's really empty they have designated places on the platforms that are monitored and if I feel unsure I'll get off and wait for the next train or change cars. New Yorkers are also much friendlier than the stereotype and if she's lost or needs directions she shouldn't be afraid to ask. As for where to stay I would suggest she prioritize being near to ideally more than one subway station buts it's hard to be specific without a budget or knowing about what she's most interested in seeing.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 11:24 AM on February 25, 2017

Me: woman, went to NY solo at the age of 20, travel there frequently for business

She should stay at a hostel instead of a hotel (some even have private rooms) because she's likely to meet other people to travel with and the staff are usually very helpful with suggesting things to do and how to do it on a budget. Hostelworld was my go-to for booking, and the reviews help to weed out the sketchy or loud hostels. Ideally, she finds one that has lockers and she brings a padlock to lock up her valuables and the rest of her stuff when she's not actively using it. She may need a towel; check the description of the hostel. I ended up staying at a now-defunct hostel in Harlem because it was cheap and on a subway line.

She either needs a get a map and be able to read it (do kids do that these days?) or have a smartphone with a data plan. Google maps is AMAZING for transit directions in NY; all she needs to do is buy a metrocard and she'll be set to get around the city.

As far as advice for being a solo woman traveling alone in NY? All she needs is the basics - pay attention to your valuables and don't leave them unattended. Don't get excessively intoxicated alone. Look around you while you're walking at night instead of keeping your head down looking at your phone. She'll be fine and it'll be a great trip!

P.S. She should try the cumin lamb noodles at Xi'an Famous Foods.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:25 AM on February 25, 2017

She's 18 & just finished highschool back home. She's pretty open to ideas for what to see as she's not sure herself what to see as she's not sure what there is to see if that makes sense and is currently information gathering. I know she'd like to see places she's seen in movies or TV, have some quintessential NY experiences. She doesn't mind museums in moderation. She's a not a drinker or the partying sort. She's legal to drink in Australia so it's not just adults thinking she doesn't drink, even when she can she doesn't.

She's coming to visit in December this year so I imagine she'd love to see all the Christmas decorations etc. She'll have the proper winter clothing as she'll be going to Chicago with me before hand & we plan on getting shopping with her for a proper coat & boots, but some ideas for indoor things to see & do might be good to.
posted by wwax at 12:18 PM on February 25, 2017

- Catch a stand up show at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater in Chelsea
- Spend 1-2 hours at The Met taking in whatever is interesting
- Get cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery (ground 0 of the cupcake craze)
- Wander around the East Village and check out random shops (this part of town is full of NYU students, tiny restaurants, and stores with random merch)
- Go to Canal Street and buy a fake Rolex/handbag etc.
- Visit Chinatown and stop in for dumplings someplace (look at Yelp for suggestions)
- Visit the Tenement museum (timed tours with interactive presentations - not your standard museum) and then get bagels and lox on the lower east side
- Go to the standard landmarks: Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Empire State Building, etc.
- Ice skating at Rockefeller Center
- Window shop stores with good holiday decorations on 5th Ave
- Check out the food mall in Koreatown and shop the cheap, cute cosmetic stores next door
- Go to The Whitney for some modern art
- Pick up cheap tickets at the TKTS booth to see a show on Broadway, enter the daily lotto for Hamilton tickets
- Go to all the shops in Little Italy that sell cannoli and find the best one
posted by asphericalcow at 12:47 PM on February 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

--Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, then have pizza at Grimaldi's (there will be a wait; it is worth it)
-- Take the Roosevelt Island cable car (nothing really to see at the destination, but it's worth it just for the cable car itself)
-- Go inside the Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights; it rivals European churches in grandeur and is just a lovely place to be, regardless of your faith.
-- A show at Lincoln Center, or Julliard if she is there before winter break (awesome to say in 30 years that you saw XYZ Famous Actor when they were just starting out)
-- Macy's Christmas windows are famous
-- Xi'an Famous Food, so delicious, many locations

If the weather is bad (as it often is in December) and she needs a place to warm up and get out of the rain/snow, here is a list of free/pay what you wish museums throughout the city. It's also worth remembering that the $25 "suggested donation" to the Met is just a suggestion -- you can walk up to the counter and hand over a dollar and they'll give you a token and a museum map, no problemo.

If she doesn't have a smartphone that will play nice with the US data network (I'm not sure what bands are used in Australia?), get her a cheap one while she's here. Or have her download maps for offline use while she's connected to Wifi. Do not get her a regular fold-out map, that will mark her as a potential target esp if used on the subway. A purse with a cross-body strap is safer than a shoulder bag. Don't make eye contact with anyone on the subway; if she gets on a subway car that's empty or nearly empty, she should move until she finds one with more people in it.
posted by basalganglia at 2:08 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've stayed at HI New York several times. It's a hostel, so as asphericalcow says, she's likely to meet other young people. It's on the upper west side and only about a block or two away from a subway station. In the immediate vicinity there are a number of restaurants/grocery stores/cafes including a branch of Xi'an Famous Foods.

Another advantage of the hostel is that some hotels won't allow people younger than 21 to check in whereas hostels definitely cater to this demographic (as well as older ages of course). They're also good about organizing walking tours and giving directions to some of the bigger sites. And finally, because it's near a subway station, it's only about 10-20 minutes away from Times Square.
posted by timelord at 2:15 PM on February 25, 2017

Not For Tourists publishes pocket guidebooks for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Time Out has an app.
posted by brujita at 6:04 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just in terms of places to maybe avoid... I found Coney Island in the off season and Brighton Beach to be sketchy-ish. It's the only place I ran into very strange agents and aggressive panhandlers.

If she's dying to eat at Nathan's or buy Russian hats, she should go but be cautious. Otherwise both are a "skip" for a young woman alone.
posted by tippy at 6:18 PM on February 25, 2017

Who can imagine what the weather will be like 10 months from now? Assuming it's a normal winter, can I recommend...?

* several pairs of leggings (I've worn as many as three pairs at once)
* wool tights/socks/leg warmers (not completely necessary if you have a few pairs of leggings, but helpful if you want to wear a skirt or tights under pants, if the winter is especially cold, or if she's going to be in NYC for a while)
* lined riding boots (Canadian preferred)
* layerable tops and sweaters
* a warm coat
* a small portable umbrella, which she should always carry

I make a point of this because, even though I grew up in a very cold climate, I never really learned to dress for the cold until I moved to NYC. In the winter, indoor spaces here are nearly always overheated, sometimes to the point of needing air conditioning. Meanwhile, back outside, it's often inclement, windy, cold, and wet — and most mid-price American coats are just not warm enough.

But you can get around that very comfortably, if you wear one of those ordinary mid-price coats and concentrate most of your layering on your legs. The beauty of layering with leggings is it's a far more comfortable, economical way to go than to sport some sort of massive Arctic-wind resistant blanket, and so many sweaters that you're at risk of tipping. Pro tip: You know you've mastered the cold when you go outside on an objectively freezing day, and the brisk air feels refreshing.

NYC is as supersafe and crime-free as they say these days, and I haven't given it more than a normal amount of City thought as long as I've been here. What I worry about is getting run over! The link is a bit outdated, and there's no need to go crazy. But it is advisable to not take street crossings for granted, and to pay particular attention at busy intersections. Lots of young people in fast cars don't look sideways; lots of taxi drivers in a rush don't either.

Finally, the whole New Yorkers are gruff and aggressive meme: Hardly. I've had some of the most fascinating conversations of my life on the streets of New York, in elevators, standing in line at the store. People are very straight-forward in manner, and respond well to warmth and conversational starts, in all sorts of funny, interesting, unexpected ways.

I hope you all have a great time planning for her trip, and that she enjoys herself no end while she's here!
posted by Violet Blue at 11:50 PM on February 25, 2017

The one thing about that HI location...

I want to echo what everyone has said about the safety of NYC these days. I think it takes genuine effort to find an unsafe section of Manhattan (especially) these days. I live in that neighborhood and it's downright funny to me that that 20-25 years ago 96th Street was perceived as some kind of border with the Wilderness.

However, that HI is bordered on the south and to the east by the Douglass Houses--which is to say, the PJs. Unfortunately, if you stack a lot of people coping with the stresses of poverty on top of each other without adequate support, a bad synergy tends to develop. If there's violence in the neighborhood, that's where it's going to be occurring (even though most of it seems to be intra-community rather than directed at outsiders). I would feel uncomfortable recommending that a young, not-super-street-wise person stay there without adding a note of caution about paying special attention when going past those buildings at night (and not cutting through the main campus on the way to Central Park, as one might be tempted to do). I'm not suggesting that one need fear marauding gangs--I walk by there all the time--but I do think extra situational awareness is required there.
posted by praemunire at 1:49 AM on February 26, 2017

I know Midtown is really uncool part of the city to stay in, but there is a huge concentration of hotels there, so I've found the best value:comfort ratio there. There's good access to subways and touristy stuff, and it's plenty safe. We just got back from staying at Cassa Hotel on 45th Street. We had a great stay at Avalon Hotel last summer. Stayed at The Kitano once and it was amazing, though I think I got an unusual great deal because it was pretty cheap once and I've never seen it that cheap since then. I got great deals on these hotels using hotels.com or booking.com, I would almost never pay actual retail rate for a hotel room in New York. We stayed at The Gem Hotel a handful of years ago, and it was nice and in a good location, and it's pretty budget-friendly. The Holiday Inns and budget chain hotels in the major touristy areas are usually fine, they're just less comfy and in my experience have been noisier, but I am old and a young person probably doesn't care as much about noise.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:24 AM on February 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I've stayed in NY solo I've found that Midtown or Chelsea are really good - both in terms of getting around, and being able to get tasty stuff readily. Being near the subway should be one of the biggest things you're looking for for accommodation.

The HI in NY is one of my least favourite hostels I've stayed in anywhere in the world. I don't like the location (a bit far uptown and dark at night) and the rooms are big and loud. It's also not nearly as good as the other HI's across the country. Having said that, I find that the quality of hostels in NY is far lower than other US cities. Read the reviews carefully, especially if somebody mentions heating or cleanliness!
posted by cholly at 11:42 PM on February 26, 2017

My fiancee lives about ten blocks north of HI. That area is quite safe at night, but if you go north and east of HI, it can get sketchy, especially around Morningside Park. During the day, there's nothing to worry about, except maybe cat calling, and she's said that she's had very little of that even.

A note on the subway- a lot of the stations in Manhattan have kiosks that allow you to plug in your destination and get a route. Very useful, especially if you aren't getting cell service (although all stations should have wifi by now).

There are pop-up Christmas shops in Bryant Park and Union Square (and a few other places). They can be fun for window shopping and can have good food. Another vote for Xi'an Famous Foods, or Biang! if you want to have more of a traditional sit down meal.

Taking the L across the river into Brooklyn (get off at the Bedford stop) puts you at the ground zero of the hipster thing in Brooklyn. They're getting priced out these days, but there still are plenty of interesting shops, cafes, etc in the area.

If you guys want to see stuff that's off the beaten track or unusual, look at the stuff on this Atlas Obscura page. Some of the things might be quite small and merit only a quick look, but there will be odd and unusual stuff on that list.
posted by Hactar at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2017

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