Updated on February 24, 2021 by Asher Fergusson
This New York City packing list includes the essentials like what to bring, what to wear in NYC, what NOT to take, and some FAQs for your trip. Make sure you bring a healthy dose of patience with you, and you’ll come home saying, “I ♥ NYC!”
What to Pack for New York – 17 Essentials
This city is a place where you will want to dress up at least a couple of times. Bring some fabulous outfits that make you feel like a million bucks – you’ll get a huge boost in confidence and energy when you feel great, and that always makes the night more fun. This jumpsuit is absolutely gorgeous and flattering on just about anyone.
You’ll probably want to opt for a nicer-looking daybag instead of your average dirty backpack. It’s always a good idea in fashionable cities like NYC, and it will help you feel like you fit in more, which is always ideal when traveling.
Packing cubes are a pretty universal obsession for frequent travelers, and for very good reason. They make organization an absolute breeze, they compress your items into neat cubes while at the same time compartmentalizing each type of clothing so, for example, all of your t-shirts can be in one cube.
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4. Toiletry Bag
This toiletry bag is nothing short of gorgeous. I was instantly attracted to its supple leather and classic look, and when I used it I was hooked. It has great compartments, it rolls neatly to store your items compactly, and the organization it lends to packing is unbeatable. I have tried several similar bags and this one is my favorite blend of affordability, attractiveness, and utility.
5. Pepper Spray
New York City has a great reputation for some things, but unfortunately petty crime is not one of them. You can’t be too careful, although it’s unlikely that you’ll have any real trouble if you take basic precautions. This pepper spray is an easy and affordable way to keep yourself extra protected – just having it in your purse or daybag will help you feel a little more at ease.
Having a portable charger with you can save you a ton of hassle. In a place like NYC you don’t want to have to hoof it or pay for a cab back to your accommodations just to charge your devices if you can avoid it. This portable charger can carry several charges with it so that if your devices run out or juice, you can recharge them on the go with your standard USB charger cables! I never travel without mine.
Fashion and style are pretty important in New York! So much so that you’ll probably feel uncomfortable in super casual clothing and outerwear. It’s precisely for occasions and trips like this that I keep a stylish raincoat around. I’ve used mine in Paris, London, NYC, and several other places where good taste and style are important and paid-attention-to. This coat is nice-looking and does a good job of keeping me warm and dry without overheating me.
You’re going to be hopping from Wifi to Wifi in the city, or risk using too much data while trying to navigate, plan visits to attractions, and hail Ubers. Free Wifi is great! Unfortunately, it comes with a substantial risk to your personal and financial information. Hackers like to “camp” in these unsecured networks to prey on unprotected users (trust me, we had this experience in Paris and will NEVER risk it again), so do everything you can to avoid falling victim to their schemes.
We use Nord VPN for our security and browsing safety. It adds an extra layer of encryption between your data and any would-be hackers so you can browse worry-free. Additionally, in countries (like Bali and China, to name a couple) where internet censorship and blocked content are a real issue, a VPN will help you unlock access to things you’re trying to find on the internet. For a very affordable price and with incredible ease of use, a VPN is a total no-brainer.
There may be days when a daybag won’t cut it, or you need an extra bag to carry your shopping haul. This tote is cute and handy, and is a splendid fashion accessory all its own. I often use a tote like this as a carry-on bag since it’s roomier than a standard daypack and can still abide by the airplane carry-on rules. Step up your bag fashion game – it’s worth it in a place like NYC.
10. Cashmere Poncho
Ponchos never seem to go out of style. It’s probably because they’re universally flattering, they can be worn with all sorts of outfits both casual and dressy, and they make you look uber chic. This cashmere one is especially nice because it’s incredibly soft, and can be packed compactly into your luggage and then into your daybag so you’ll always have it if you get chilly while you’re out.
Sneakers are not great in NYC – they will make you stick out like a sore thumb. I opt for cute flats when I’m in fashionable places. These one are absolutely gorgeous, and they’re very comfortable to walk in – I get tons of compliments when I wear them, and my feet feel good all day.
In the chillier months in New York, you will absolutely need a warm coat, and it should be an attractive one. Wearing a pea coat will help you avoid sticking out as a tourist (always good to look like you “belong” while traveling), and it will keep you warm and even protect you if it starts misting or raining lightly, which is common in some months on the East Coast.
13. Rolling Suitcase
Picture yourself toting around a suitcase that doesn’t have wheels while you’re en route to your accommodations or going back to the airport. It’s about as un-fun as it seems. I always use a suitcase that has wheels and a good handle or handles so that I can navigate any situation, whether it be upward of 7 flights of stairs in Paris or extra-long city blocks in NYC. This one is especially nice because of its hard outer shell that protects it from less-than-careful baggage handling.
Water in NYC is actually world-renowned for its drinkability, though the taste may not be the same as that of your hometown. Either way, I always use a bottle with a built-in filter, just to be sure that the water I’m drinking and giving to my family is as safe as possible! Plus, carrying my own bottle with me means I save a ton of money instead of buying bottle after bottle of water while I’m out and about for the day.
I remember a quote from a movie that describes New York with the word “soot,” and it’s pretty accurate. The city is absolutely gorgeous and such a fun place to explore, but the combination of winds in the city along with vehicle exhaust and dirt/dust can leave you feeling extra grimy. I carry these deodorant wipes with me so that I can clean up on the fly if I need to, or if I simply can’t deal with the grime. They’re gentle and safe on sensitive skin, and they have a nice, light fragrance.
16. Solid Shampoo
Solid shampoo is something I tried while I was looking for ways to lessen the number of liquids I have to carry with me through airport security, and I really love it. Certain brands don’t work quite as well as the real thing, but this one is a good substitute for liquid shampoo. It’s easy to use and leaves my hair feeling nice and smelling good!
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Other New York City packing list items not to forget
TSA-approved plastic bag
RFID Blocking Wallet
Stain remover wipes
What should I wear in New York?
Blouses, sweaters, and dresses are all good choices for women, and guys might choose polo-style shirts or button-downs and a sport coat. You’ll want lightweight, breathable clothes during the humid summer months, and a warm coat and gloves in the winter. No matter when you visit, an umbrella and some comfortable walking shoes are New York packing essentials.
Spring – March, April, and May:
Be sure to bring a rain jacket and umbrella because rain is frequent – but you’ll still need sunscreen and sunglasses for the many sunny days. Temperatures average between 50°F and 70°F (10°C and 21°C), starting around 50°F average in March and rising about 10°F on average each month.
Summer – June, July, and August:
Choose clothes made from breathable, lightweight fabrics to stay comfortable in the hot, humid weather, and bring a water bottle to help you stay hydrated.
New York hosts frequent parades, concerts, and festivals this time of year, so you’ll want to be comfortable spending lots of time outside in the heat. Temperatures average between 80°F and 85°F (27°C and 29°C).
Autumn – September, October, and November:
Pack your sweaters and a light coat, and be prepared to dress in layers because the temperatures will be starting to drop, though snow is unlikely. Temperatures average between 55°F and 75°F (13°C and 24°C), starting around 75°F in September and dropping about 10°F on average per month.
Winter – December, January, and February:
If you’re planning to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, make sure you have appropriate clothes to keep you warm outside for several hours. Temperatures average between 35°F and 45°F (2°C and 7°C).
What NOT to take to New York
FAQs about traveling to New York City – NYC
1) What is the best time of year to visit New York?
Due to the frigid, snowy winters and the hot, humid summers, the best months for visiting New York, weather-wise, are April, May, September, and October. But if you can brave the cold, prices for everything from hotels to Broadway tickets drop in January and February, and the city is much less crowded. And while prices are still high in December, there’s nothing quite like Christmas in New York. At the other end of the spectrum, the city comes alive in the summer, despite the heat and humidity. Prices are high then, but it’s also a season of free concerts, movie screenings, outdoor activities, and more.
2) What is the best neighborhood to stay in?
The best area to stay in during your trip to New York depends on your interests – and your budget. There are far too many interesting neighborhoods in New York to list, but these are a few to get you started. In Manhattan, art lovers will be delighted by all the galleries in Chelsea, while Chinatown is the best bet if cheap, tasty food is your top priority. The bohemian past of Greenwich Village is still evident today, and Harlem is more vibrant than ever. And of course, Midtown is home to most of the things that make you think of New York. Or, if you prefer to stay in one of the other boroughs, you’ll have plenty more amazing neighborhoods to choose from.
3) How can I take public transportation?
Public transportation is easily the cheapest and most convenient way to get around New York, but the system is so extensive, it can be confusing for visitors.
The city’s subways are color-coded by line and identified by number or letter, while buses are identified by a route number following a letter that denotes the borough.
Apps like MyTransit NYC will make using the buses and subways much easier.
4) Where can I go to avoid the crowds in New York?
New York has some of the country’s most famous tourist attractions – and they draw some of the biggest crowds. If you want to avoid the crowds, skip the city’s biggest sites, namely Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Met. If you can, visit during the off-season (like in January or February), and plan to spend time outside Manhattan.
5) How can I save money in New York?
New York is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., making it hard to travel there on a shoestring. Still, there are plenty of ways to cut costs while you’re visiting. If you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers, New York is one of the few cities in the country with hostels, which is probably the cheapest option if you’re traveling alone. Otherwise, consider using a home-sharing service, which can be significantly cheaper than hotels.
For saving money on food, skip the five-star restaurants and any place that caters to tourists, and eat instead where the locals eat. New York’s abundance of hole-in-the-wall spots have some of the best food and at reasonable prices. Don’t forget you can always pick up groceries at a supermarket for some of your meals, which will save you a bundle.
When it comes to seeing the sights, check to see if any of the attractions you want to visit have reduced-admission hours, or if it makes sense to get a city pass. Don’t forget about things like Groupon and LivingSocial, which have literally thousands of deals in the area. There are also lots of free walking tours and free events you can attend in New York, especially during summer. And simply strolling through the city, which might be the best way to experience it, costs nothing.
6) What should I know about seeing a Broadway show?
Tickets to Broadway shows can be incredibly expensive and often sell out far in advance – but there are many ways to find discounted and last-minute seats, so don’t give up. Traditionally, people seeking cheaper tickets have gone in-person to a TKTS Booth, which usually has most tickets available at 50 percent off. Of course, now you can buy tickets online, and TodayTix and NY Tix both sell them at a discount. You can also find discount codes online at BroadwayBox or Broadway Insider. Some shows sell a limited number of day-of tickets at steep discounts as well – but the only way to get them is to be at the box office when it opens.
Once you’ve got your tickets secured, double-check the time of the show (curtain times can be all over the place on Broadway), and plan to arrive at least 20 minutes early. Make sure you know how to get to the theater and allow enough time after dinner or other pre-show plans. After the show, you might be able to meet some of the performers in person and have them sign your Playbill – just ask an usher where to go.
7) What are the best museums in New York?
New York has over 100 museums, so you’ll have to be choosy when deciding which ones to visit. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, better known as The Met, is one of the largest and most-visited art museums in the world, housing nearly two million works. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is as well known for its iconic architecture and unique layout as it is for the artwork, mostly Impressionist and modern, on display there. The Museum of Modern Art is one of the world’s leading modern art museums, even if many visitors question whether some of its works really constitute “art.”
If art isn’t really your thing, the American Museum of Natural History has exhibits covering virtually all periods of known human and animal history, as well as a planetarium and an IMAX theater. The Museum of the City of New York aims to celebrate the city and preserve its heritage, housing objects representing the city’s culture and illustrating its history. The New-York Historical Society also contains artifacts from throughout New York’s history, and it’s home to the Center for Women’s History, the country’s first initiative of its kind. Finally, the Tenement Museum is located in a former apartment building in the Lower East Side and tells the stories of the immigrants who once lived there.
8) What are the top foods to try in New York?
New York is so diverse and such a cultural hotspot, it’s a food lover’s paradise. Some of the foods the city is most known for come from its Jewish community, including pastrami sandwiches on rye and the go-to breakfast of bagels with lox. Of course, since New York was home to the country’s first pizzeria, New York-style pizza is another must-eat, distinguished by its thin, hand-tossed crust. For a sweeter choice, the iconic options are New York cheesecake or a cronut – or authentic Italian cannoli!
9) What are the best walking tours?
There are dozens of walking tours available in New York, covering all five boroughs. Both Free Tours By Foot and New Europe Tours run several tours per day in Manhattan and elsewhere, all offered on a pay-what-you-wish basis. The Grand Central Partnership’s tours of the Grand Central neighborhood (including the train station) are free and led by historians, and the Central Park Conservancy runs several different tours in and around Central Park, some of which are free. Big Onion Walking Tours is another popular company; their tours cost $25, and each one is themed around architecture, culture, food, or history. Lastly, Foods of NY runs food tours in Chinatown, Greenwich Village, and elsewhere, most of which are $54.
10) Which New York city pass is the most useful?
There are numerous city passes available in New York, and each one works slightly differently and offers its own list of attractions. To choose the best one for your trip, decide which attractions you want to visit first, so you can be sure to get a pass that includes them. Some also include line-skipping privileges, use of a hop-on/hop-off bus, and other perks. Before you choose your pass, consider which extras you’ll actually use and what they’re worth to you.
The FreeStyle Pass from CitySights NY starts at $129 and includes admission to any three of the attractions on their list. For $122, CityPASS gets you entrance to six attractions, but there are some restrictions – for example, if you choose to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, you cannot also use your CityPASS at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The New York Explorer Pass starts at $84 for three attractions, and can be used at any of the 74 spots on their list. Unlike most passes, it’s valid for 30 days after the first visit.
There are also two unlimited passes – the New York Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass – both of which are available as 1-, 2-, 3-, 5-, or 7-day passes. The prices are almost the same, but the list of attractions differs slightly, so check what’s included on each one.
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