“The Big Apple,” “The Concrete Jungle,” “The City That Never Sleeps,” “The Place Where Dreams Come True…” There are many terms for New York, and each of them is interesting, intriguing and makes the city a travel dream for many people – about 60 million tourists visit the city annually! How do you find yourself in all this?
In this post you will learn all about visas, vaccinations, flights, hotels and other important topics to keep in mind before traveling to New York!
“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York!
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New York!”
This is how Alicia Keys sings about the city that never sleeps…. And this song accompanied us in many places. We heard it from rickshaw speakers, tourists turned it on at viewpoints, and street artists played and sang it. New York. A concrete jungle, full of lights, that electrifies and attracts.
We were definitely absorbed! We immersed ourselves in this city, and when we left it we knew that we would return here again someday. We know that this is the dream of many people, many of you are planning a trip just to New York.
Table of contents
Practical information before going to New York
Over the course of our travels along the east coast of the United States, not a day went by without someone asking us about the various practical aspects and requirements that need to be met to fly to the United States. Questions included visas, vaccinations, documents, hotels, flying, dealing with jet lag, traveling from the airport, etc. That’s why we decided to collect the most important information in one post and just like that, start a series of posts from the east coast of the US, starting with New York.
Visa or ESTA? What is required to enter the U.S.?
In addition to the obvious passport, in order to be able to think about going to the US at all, we need to answer the question of whether we will be allowed into the United States. Although as of mid-November 2019, when traveling to the US, Polish citizens do not need a visa for trips of up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes, travel is not as simple as, say, to European Union countries, and a passport alone is not enough.
Poland is in the Visa Waiver Program, so Poles must obtain electronic entry permits, known as ESTAs (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). It can be written that this is a preliminary verification of travelers.
Making this document is definitely easier and cheaper than applying for a visa – the cost is $21, you apply electronically at this link, and receive a decision in up to 72 hours.
To fill out such a form, first of all, you need to have at hand the passports of all the people with whom you are flying. The ESTA application states, among other things. such data as:
- All the data from the passport like number, date of issue and expiration, citizenship, etc.,
- residential address,
- phone number,
- Name of father and mother,
- The address of the destination in the US (this can be the address of the hotel where we have our first night’s stay),
- Contact information of the person to be informed in case of an accident,
- You also answer a few questions (yes/no) about medical conditions, criminal history, employment in the U.S., and travel to a few of the selected countries (like Iran, Libya, and a few others – because that precludes you from getting an entry permit through ESTA).
The application is filled out for each traveler separately (for example, a family of 2+3 must fill out as many as five such applications), including infants. You can fill out the application at once for the entire group (but you enter the data separately anyway), which makes it easier to pay and manage this data later.
Once the application is approved, we get ESTA approval and…. we don’t have to do anything anymore. The site says that they recommend printing the application, but it is not required. For our 3 (although actually 4) entries to the US, they did not check this application for us at the border even once, because they have this information in the system anyway (it is assigned to the passport and the official immediately has information on whether ESTA is or is not there).
What else is important is that the ESTA permit is valid for two years, or less if your passport expires sooner or other details have changed (such as the other countries you have visited). So you can fly several times to the US on a single permit. It is also worth mentioning that, having a visa, you DO NOT have to apply for ESTA.
And, of course, you should be aware that your application may be rejected and not everyone will be allowed into the US, in some cases you will still need a visa, and even that is sometimes not enough, as it is always the final say of the border officer who will check our documents upon entry at the US border.
For whom is a visa to the US?
Although travel is definitely easier now, it’s worth remembering that some of our past travels may derail a visit to the US for several more years. Example? With a stamp from Iran, there is no chance of being allowed into the country (okay, chances are still there, but you have to apply for a traditional visa ;) ).
In what situations do you still need a visa?
- When the trip lasts more than 90 days (per year) or when it is for a purpose other than tourism or business (i.e., when you fly for education, business, etc.),
- Individuals whose ESTA application was rejected,
- People who do not have a biometric passport,
- persons who after 1. March 2011 were in one of these countries: Iraq, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Sudan or Syria.
The cost of making a visa is $160 per person, and while this is a significantly higher cost than for an ESTA permit, remember that the visa is issued for 10 years and allows for a longer stay in the US.
Also, the application process is more complicated and time-consuming, as it requires, among other things. Visits to the embassy or consulate (in person must be over 14 years of age).
You can read about how to apply for a visa here: link.
Vaccinations, tests, masks – what do you need for entry into New York?
As of now (and this entry is published in September 2022), the only requirement is that adult travelers be vaccinated against COVID-19. Until recently, tests were required, but as of June 2022 they do not have to be taken before flying to the US.
As for vaccinations, it is a requirement only for those over 18 years of age, and there must simply be a completed vaccination cycle, but not earlier than 2 weeks after the last dose. Proof of a completed cycle is a vaccination certificate (e.g., printed from within the mCitizen or IKP app).
It’s a good idea to take a mask to the US just in case. There may be places where it is required, or highly recommended, to wear such a mask. Do not be surprised to see many people wearing masks even if there is no such order.
Flight to New York
What’s the best way to fly to New York? The possibilities are indeed many, taking into account, of course, connecting flights. In our case, we chose our home carrier, PLL LOT, which is the only one to offer direct flights to New York, which is a huge convenience for us (although you can also fly LOT via Krakow, Rzeszow, or Budapest). With direct connections, the trip is shorter, without the added stress of a connecting airport. Anyway, this was our third flight to the US and each time we chose the same airline anyway.
Of course, it is not a problem for us to fly with a connecting flight, many times we have already flown this way, but when it comes to traveling with children, however, comfort and convenience become important aspects.
What else made you decide to choose this carrier rather than another? Two things: an overnight round-trip flight and the ability to book a cradle for your child free of charge. Believe us, when traveling with children, this is quite a convenience.
For us, night flights work best, and for flights between Warsaw and New York, the plane takes off from Poland around 4pm and from the States around 10pm, so perfect. In practice, in fact, all the children on board went to sleep some 2 hours after takeoff. Of course, there are other flight times available, as there are as many as 11 direct flights a week to New York from Warsaw alone. So there is plenty to choose from :)
If you are traveling with an infant (and let’s remember that in airline nomenclature an infant is up to the age of two, and its correct name is “infant”), it is possible to book a cradle on PLL LOT, and thus seats in the first rows in particular parts of the plane (that is, where it is possible to hang a cradle at all). And we would like to strongly emphasize this: booking these seats and cradles is free!
When planning our previous trip to California, we also flew LOT, because it turned out that on other airlines we already had to pay for these seats, although they used to be customarily free, too. Front-row seats also mean plenty of legroom, which is at a premium with small children :)
How much does it cost to fly to New York?
We remember the days when it was possible to get flights on promotion for as much as £1,000 round trip…. Unfortunately, nowadays you can’t count on such offers, and if they happen, they are either with very unfavorable transfers or are errors in the booking systems ;)
A good promotion now means a price of about £1,700-2,000 per adult, and we would take a quiet ticket at this price. Currently, the regular price is about £2200-3000 for the cheapest fare. Buying tickets several months in advance allows you to find tickets a little cheaper.
We are, of course, talking about the cheapest class (economy), often with hand luggage only.
Where to look for tickets? You can use flight search engines aggregating different airlines (such as Skyscanner or Google Flights) or directly on the carriers’ websites (such as PLL LOT).
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Which class to choose?
What class of flight should I choose? We’ve had the opportunity to fly every class aboard LOT Polish Airlines’ Dreamliner, and we have to admit that the most comfortable and convenient flight was in Business class (not surprising, right? :)). Leaving aside the whole setting: nicely served food, choice of liquor (there was even a %-free wine), larger screens, by far the best part is the armchairs, which you can lay flat and sleep like a bed. Both we and the kids finally got some sleep on the plane ;) When traveling in Business Class, you also have access to the lounges at Chopin Airport – here you can eat, drink or just relax before your trip.
Premium class, on the other hand, offers more comfortable and wider seats, meals served in china and a set of essentials to make the trip more comfortable (blindfold, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste).
With the above classes, passengers are entitled to a larger baggage allowance, priority boarding, fast track at the airport and baggage priority (the suitcases of passengers in these classes are issued first).
Economy class on Dreamliners is also very comfortable and convenient, and this is the class we fly most often. Of course, here too there are screens with a large selection of movies, in-flight meals, or at least a pillow and blanket to sleep better :)
In each class, if you fly with a child under 2 years old, you are entitled to a free seat in the first row (if they are still available, of course), and the child gets small gifts to make the trip even more enjoyable (such as a coloring book, crayons, a bag, socks, etc.).
How to get from the airport to New York?
At the beginning of this section, an important note – check exactly which airport you are flying to, because there are as many as three: John F. Kennedy (JFK), Newark-Liberty (EWR) and La Guardia (LGA).
JFK Airport is located within the city limits of New York, but in the eastern part of the city and to get to Manhattan, for example, you need to plan an hour or so drive. Newark Airport seems a little closer to Manhattan (even though it’s actually outside New York), but the trip takes about the same amount of time. It all depends on where you are staying overnight or where you want to get to.
There are several ways to get to Manhattan or other parts of the city. This is a river topic for a separate post, but in short it looks like this:
- Public transportation – there are several ways to get from any airport by public transportation. For example, from JFK you can take the airport train ($8 per person) to the subway or commuter rail. The subway trip to the center takes about 50-75 minutes, and the commuter train less than half an hour. Of course, the subway is much cheaper than the train ($2.75 per person for one subway ride), but it can also get us much closer to our destination (although a transfer will probably be required both on the subway and later from the train to the subway). The cost of the commuter rail is about $7-11 depending on peak hours.
- Cab – this is the time when you can take your first ride in the famous yellow New York cab! And here we immediately ask you to be careful…. The airport is teeming with scammers who will offer airport transfers. If you want to be sure that no one will cheat you, it is advisable to go to places where licensed cabs pull up and have a fixed fare to get to the city. Because as far as JFK is concerned, it’s a fixed fee to get anywhere in Manhattan ($52 + possible road tolls). As for Newark or La Guardia, it is no longer a fixed fee, but still regulated. You can find the entire price list on the official website of New York cabs here.
And here immediately an important note for families of 2+2, 2+3 or even larger. According to New York State law, in cabs, children under the age of 7 sitting on their laps do not count towards the car’s limit (and cabs are 4 or 5 seater). Safety of such transportation is another topic, but this is just to let you know that you don’t always have to take two cabs ;)))
- Uber/Lyft – you can also, of course, order transportation from apps like Uber or Lyft. However, our experience has shown that the prices are similar or even higher than in a cab. The advantage is that you can check such a price for yourself on the fly and make a decision. The downside of “Ubers” is that they have their own dedicated places at airports where they can pull up, which is usually less convenient than that for cabs (you usually have to take the airport train a little further away).
- Rent a car – you can also rent a car at the airport, but in general we do not recommend getting around New York by car. Parking lots are expensive, there is virtually nowhere to park on the streets, and there are traffic jams and you have to be quite patient. Also, to and from New York we get around by foot, cab or public transportation, but if you are planning a trip outside of New York then it is worth retreating to the airport and renting a car.
It is also always a good idea to check the information on the website of the airport you are arriving at. There are very good and detailed options on how to get to the airport or to the city.
Public transportation in New York City
How to get around in New York? In our opinion, it is best to walk, and cover longer distances by subway.
After New York we did about 40 kilometers on foot, walking with the children! It is known that large distances were not covered on foot, but nevertheless some of these kilometers on foot came out. Personally, we always prefer to walk, thanks to this we have more than once managed to hit some atmospheric place, find a cool pub, etc. The same was also true just now in New York.
The key is to find a hotel in a good location, meaning that the distances to the attractions you want to see are relatively close or that you have a subway station or bus stop close by.
The New York City subway is the second oldest subway system in the US (the first system was run in Boston) and that means no less than that it is OLD! Many of the stations are cramped, with stairs, no elevators, old, run-down trains pull up to the platforms, and if you’re a little lucky (or rather, unlucky) you’ll also see rats (we didn’t, although we looked for them many times). Of course, there are also modern and renovated stations, but if that’s all you expect from New York, you might be surprised.
Nevertheless, we do not want to alienate you from this mode of transport, because the network of lines is very extensive, you will easily get to many corners of the city (it is one of the most extensive systems in the world, it has 27 lines and 472 stations! [zrodlo] ).
So how do you find yourself in all this? Here is some important information:
- The New York City subway system operates 24/7.
- Stations, tracks, trains are heavily depleted and a lot of repair and overhaul work is planned, and because of this, some lines have their routes changed. By design, these changes take place on weekends, but always check the announcements for updates.
- Not all stations are suitable for wheelchair users, and the subway exits are often very narrow.
- Some lines are express – this means that the train does not stop at every station, even though they take the same route. No worries. Everything is really very clearly laid out and broken down so that you don’t get lost :)
Buses are also an option for traveling around New York, but we did not have the opportunity to use them, because the subway system is so developed that there was no need. Where the subway failed or the station was farther away, there legs helped :)
How to pay for tickets on public transportation?
Everywhere (well, okay, in many places) you will find information that in order to travel by subway you must purchase a special MetroCard, which is recharged at vending machines as needed (the card itself costs $1). Such a preloaded card is applied to the reader at the station entrance gates.
There is also a second option that is not written about everywhere: you can simply use contactless cards or a smartphone with NFC. Of course, we tried the second option, and not just to save a dollar. It’s just, in our opinion, a much simpler option – we don’t have to carry an extra card, we don’t have to remember to recharge, etc. We simply pay for as much as we drive.
If it would be cheaper, for example, to buy us a weekly ticket (which pays off already after 12 trips) then the system will also charge such a fee on its own and for more trips within 7 days we simply will not pay.
A single ride ticket costs $2.75 (whether you go 1 station or 10).
Children up to 44 inches (or about 111 cm) tall travel for free, provided, of course, that they are traveling with a guardian (there can be a maximum of three children per adult).
Where to stay – hotels in New York
We would like to flood you here with links to facilities where you can stay on a budget, but unfortunately it is very difficult to find cheap accommodation in New York. When going to this city, you simply have to assume an appropriate budget, although there are several ways to make them cheaper than in the highest season (which is still quite expensive for Polish conditions, because in this case cheap means about PLN 1000 per night).
How to look for accommodation in New York to make it a little cheaper?
- Plan a trip in the off-season – prices during the vacations, or on New Year’s Eve is a no-holds-barred ride…. For a GOOD (without any fireworks) quality hotel you have to count at least 1500 zloty per night, for a double room. Of course, if someone insists, he will find something cheaper, but as a rule, these are facilities with very poor reviews (dirt, fungus in the bathroom, vermin, etc.) or far outside Manhattan. A good month for budget travel would be January.
- Buy your hotel well in advance – well in advance, meaning at least a few months or even a year ahead! These are not electrifying savings, but you can find a good hotel for 1100-1200 zlotys per night (if you plan to stay here longer, these few hundred zlotys per night are already real savings).
- Use comparison sites and intermediaries – sometimes you can find cool promotions for accommodation in New York on portals like Booking.com or Agoda. We just bought all our accommodations in the US through Booking.com with a free cancellation option (but always check directly on the hotel’s website for cheaper rates).
- Join and use loyalty programs – we admittedly haven’t used this, as we don’t like to tie ourselves to one network and use different ones too often to be able to realistically accumulate free accommodation, but we know it’s a patent that many travelers use.
What to pay special attention to when looking for a hotel in New York?
In our opinion, location is key. It does not have to be the strict center, but let the location be well connected (i.e. there is a subway station, train station, bus stop nearby). We also always look at getting something to eat in the area (we often return to the hotel in the evenings and prefer to have something on hand for dinner).
Be sure to read the reviews and check the photos of guests – as mentioned above, it is possible to find hotels cheaper, but after seeing their real photos you will be discouraged from staying in them.
And finally, one last thing that may not be important to you but was for us – VIEW. While in New York, we wanted a room high up so we could wake up and fall asleep with a view of Manhattan. Some hotels offer special, more expensive rooms on higher floors with better views, but this is also not the rule. It is worth simply writing to the facility and asking for a higher floor. We also recommend looking at Google maps to see how the hotel is located, and whether there are any other tall buildings in the area that would obstruct the view.
Recommended hotels in New York
Below we have prepared a list of several facilities worthy of attention – they were on our short list and we could not decide for a long time which one to choose :) In the end, the choice fell on the hotel listed at the beginning of our list. Although the room was very cramped and the breakfast was average, the view we had was worth the price.
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott New York Manhattan Chelsea
Address: 140 West 28th Street, Chelsea, New York, 10001
Prices: from 1800 PLN for a 2-bed room per night (breakfast included)
- M Social Hotel Times Square New York
Address: 226 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019
Prices: from 2100 PLN for a 2-bed room per night
- Doubletree By Hilton New York Times Square West
Address: 350 West 40th Street, Hell’s Kitchen, New York, NY 10018
Prices: from 1500 PLN for a 2-bed room per night
- Millennium Downtown New York
Address: 55 Church Street, Wall Street – Financial District, New York, NY 10007
Prices: from 1750 PLN for a 2-bed room per night
One option we considered was to rent an apartment or condo exclusively for the five of us, but the prices were even higher than hotel rooms, so we abandoned this option.
Nevertheless, it is worth knowing that Airbnb offerings in New York are very diverse and rich :)
When to fly to New York?
We were advised against traveling to New York in August because of the high temperatures. Fact, the temperatures reached 33-35 degrees every day, but the perceptible temperature was not so high, and we were not slick with sweat as it might seem.
Despite the fact that it is a city full of skyscrapers, streets and cars, we did not feel like we were in the frying pan at all. Skyscrapers and single-growth trees provide plenty of shade, and there are also many squares and parks in the city where it is at least a little cooler. Besides, let’s not kid ourselves, many attractions (museums, viewpoints) are air-conditioned places, so you can take a break from the heat there.
So we are not categorically saying don’t go to New York in August :)
After seeing New York in the summer, we dream of returning here in other seasons. Spring, although beautiful, can still be cool and rainy, but the closer we get to summer, the more certain we are of sunny weather (we would aim for May :)). We dream of seeing Central Park in the fall! Already in August the first brown leaves were appearing, so in a month or two there must be a real golden autumn. In September, the heat is already letting up and if we were to fly to New York regardless of kindergarten/school, September would be our first choice.
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New York in winter is all about the unique holiday atmosphere. Admittedly, some stores have Christmas decorations all year round, but it is in December that there are the most of them!
It is a good idea to come in January if you care about budget travel – it is the low season in New York. It’s rainy/snowy then, but the prices are encouraging.
Internet on the spot – which SIM card?
Another question we get very often is about on-site Internet and buying a local SIM card.
In our opinion, if you are not going to upload content to the Internet every now and then, then free WiFi networks, which are almost everywhere: in restaurants (including fast food), hotels, stores and even subway stations, should be enough for you. Some are open, some require a password (you’ll easily get one), but always remember to use a VPN in such places.
In New York, we didn’t have a situation where we had to use cellular data urgently (although we had a local package purchased). There was always some network that worked really okay.
However, if you need constant access to the Internet then it is worth buying a SIM card locally. Which one? We won’t hint at which one specifically because there’s quite a selection, but a few data packages are described below. More importantly, however, is the question of whether this SIM card will work in the phone. Because, unfortunately, this is not so obvious, as we have seen firsthand.
While in California, we bought a Straight Talk SIM card set at Walmart – you buy 3 SIM cards, different carriers, and choose one to activate. This option was cheaper for us than buying a single SIM card. Unfortunately, it turned out that one card worked in a Polish phone without a problem, and the other did not support mobile data (calls and SMS worked). Despite many conversations with support, the problem could not be solved, and eventually the phone with a working card served as a hotspot for us.
If you are wondering if your phone will be compatible, there are sites where you can check if it will work on a particular network (e.g. Will my phone work?), but in our opinion they are not 100% reliable. It didn’t work in our case ;)
While in New York, we uploaded only one of our SIM cards and shared the Internet. In our experience, even during a month-long stay, 50 GB of Internet for two people is sufficient, well, unless you watch a lot of Netflix over the mobile network ;-)
How are SIM cards with data bundles priced?
We will give you the prices of the starters using StraightTalk packages as an example (they are all for a month):
- 35 USD – 10gb data package (once used, you can still use the Internet, but the speed is slower),
- 45 USD – unlimited high-speed Internet (after 60 GB they can only review whether you use the Internet for unholy purposes ;)).
What kind of budget to set up for New York?
Big! Let’s not kid ourselves, New York is not a cheap city. Of course, you can combine, save on food, hotels, walk, but on the other hand, once you see such a place in person, you want to see and enjoy as much as possible!
However, let’s look at an example of a week-long trip:
- The biggest expense will undoubtedly be the on-site hotel. As we have already mentioned, the prices of double rooms are an expense of about PLN 1,500 per night, so we will pay more than PLN 10,000 for accommodation alone (if we are flying in two people it is to be divided in half). Another bigger expense is the flight, let’s assume £2,500 per person.
- What will we do on the ground? There are free places, but if you would like to enter some museum or viewpoint then you have to count, for example:
– Natural History Museum – $23,
– September 11 Museum – $26,
– Empire State Bulding – $44,
– SUMMIT One Vanderbilt – $39.
Consider The New York Pass, which allows entry to many attractions(link).
- Transportation on site – around Manhattan itself, just ride the subway, the ride costs $2.75. We took the subway probably 4 times (you can also walk, but we were a waste of time in the morning :) ). On top of that, of course, there will be the cost of the transfer to the airport.
- Another cost is food on site. You can live cheaply all the time on fast food and cost New York pizza every day (highly recommended! for $1 you can buy a really big slice of cheese pizza!), and you can also eat more expensively in restaurants. For American pancakes or waffles (waffles) you have to expect about $10-15. In general, on average, dinner cost us (a family of 2+3) about $100 in fast food and $200 in restaurants (although that’s saying a lot, because they were more like one-dollar establishments on google maps than $$ or $$$ ;)). Anyway, before you choose which restaurant to go to, you can check the menu on google or facebook so you won’t be surprised by the prices.
So, all in all, we can say that for a week’s stay for 2 adults you should safely count a minimum of 15,000 zlotys, although a better budget would be 20,000 zlotys. And further the sky is the limit;)
These are probably all the most important practical aspects we wanted to cover in this post, although we are aware that the topic is still endless :) This is for the time being the longest entry on our blog, and it wouldn’t be hard to make it longer anyway.
We hope that with the information contained here, it will be easier for you to plan your trip to New York, and if you have any further questions, go ahead and ask them in the comments!
The entry was written in cooperation with PLL LOT, which offers direct flights from Poland to several cities in the United States, including. just to New York or Florida to Miami and to Los Angeles to the west coast!