The best NYC life hacks

Here's how to make the most of New York City while barely breaking a sweat—let alone the bank
Photograph: Shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock
By Jeremy Winograd |

New York City: It’s a big, messy, confusing place. Life can get pretty stressful here, we know. But before you give up and move to Kansas, try these 20 tips for making your life just that little bit easier. From the best free things to do in NYC and helpful apps that shrink the city down to the size of a smartphone to top-secret tourist-trap alternatives, we’ve got you covered. Crack the codes to the city with this guide, then head on out to one of Gotham's best hush-hush underground events and discover Secret New York. What are you waiting for? NYC is your oyster!

1. Get cheaper coffee
Even with a Starbucks card, drinking corporate-behemoth coffee every day can be awfully pricey. Fortunately, the new app Cups ( has partnered with more than 100 independent coffeeshops all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to offer major discounts on java. With Cups’ flagship offer, you pay $120 per month for unlimited coffee drinks—indie shops gain all kinds of new business, and you discover just how tweaked-out you can get in a single month. Everyone wins!

2. Save money on your MetroCard
It seems like the MTA employs secret alchemic formulas to ensure that, after a few uses, you always have a leftover MetroCard balance somewhere south of the necessary $2.50, forcing you to pony up for a refill before you hit zero. Fortunately, there’s a way to outsmart the public-transportation overlords with some mathematical tricks of your own. Touch the "Other amounts" button to manually enter $9.55, $19.05 or $38.10 when buying a new card and you’ll always be left with a perfect zero balance, rather than the odd leftover dollar that gets lost when you buy a new card.

3. Get booze delivered to your door
Ever been so hammered that you can’t summon the coordination to get off your couch and stumble down to your corner bodega to get more stuff to keep your buzz going? Yeah, we’ve all been there. Luckily, now you only have to make it to the door, thanks to Minibar (, an app that allows you to go online to pick your poison from a staggering array of beer, wine, liquor and more (there’s a $25 order minimum). Your libation is then delivered to your place in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens in under an hour for no extra delivery fee.

4. Navigate Central Park using the numbers on the lampposts
Directions to any location in Central Park inevitably become rather vague. “Um…it’s in the middle, I guess?” That’s because many people are unaware that the park has a built-in navigation system hidden on its lampposts—each one emblazoned with four numbers. The first two indicate which street you’re closest to—for example, a post starting with 8 and 3 is at, roughly, 83rd Street—while the second set determines how far you are from Fifth Avenue; the higher the final two numbers, the closer you are to the West Side.

5. Find free working spaces
Freelancers and work-from-homers who need a change of scenery from (a) their minuscule New York apartment or (b) Starbucks have a plethora of cost-free options at their fingertips, like the collaboration-friendly Wix Lounge in Chelsea (235 W 23rd St between Seventh and Eighth Aves, eighth floor; 646-862-0833,, or the stylish lobby of the Ace Hotel (20 W 29th St between Fifth Ave and Broadway; 212-679-2222,, which doubles as a popular communal workspace for all types of professionals.

6. Make your taxi ride go faster
Did you know you can swipe your card in a taxi any time during the ride? This little-known time-saving trick should come in handy for rushed New Yorkers (that's all of us, then). Driver trying to sell you a time-share and you need to make a quick getaway? Swipe your card in the reader while you're on the move and save yourself vital seconds when you reach your destination (or feel the need to hurl yourself out of the car).
7. Always know the direction you're walking in Manhattan
If you ever find yourself in an unfamiliar Manhattan neighborhood without your trusty compass (never leave your house without it!) and need to get back on track, heed this simple tip: Traffic flows west on odd-numbered streets and east on even-numbered streets. Voilà! You’re an NYC orienteering expert.

8. Skip the lines at popular eateries
Grabbing a bite at rabidly popular grub purveyors like Shake Shack and Artichoke usually involves waiting in line way longer than anyone should have to. Lunchtime? Queues out the door. Dinnertime? Even worse. Pick a less busy time to go, say, between 3 and 4pm when the lines are way shorter and the food is just as tasty.
9. Score reservations at the city’s best restaurants
Unfortunately, you can’t just line up to get into NYC’s most exclusive fine-dining establishments, so other means of scoring a table are necessary. Instead of bribing the host or lying about being a B-list celebrity’s cousin, use the app Shout ( to buy reservations at otherwise booked restaurants from fellow diners looking to cash in on their unwanted engagements.

10. Party down at a secret club
You club-rats out there must be getting a little fatigued by the long lines and jacked-up cover charges rife throughout the New York nightlife scene. So dance to a new beat at the (more or less) monthly Dark Disco party, a popular late-night bash that often features big-name DJs and is held, oddly enough, in the Chinatown dim sum joint 88 Palace. Tickets cost as little as $15, and the hardest part about getting in is entering the club through a minimall.

11. Hit the TKTS booth at the perfect time
Okay, so even the most noobish of tourists know that the TKTS booth in Times Square (as well as its outposts downtown and in Brooklyn) is the best place to get cheap tickets for in-demand Broadway shows. But what most don’t know is, if you want the best chance of scoring great seats, the best time to show up is around 5pm, after theater box offices have released most or all of their available tickets for the day.

12. Get a passport quick
Leaving the country soon? Ensure you won’t be held indefinitely in an airport prison and snag yourself a passport super quick at the New York Passport Agency (376 Hudson St between W Houston and King Sts, 877-487-2778). Call ahead to make a free appointment, gather all the required documents (listed on, and show up as early as possible, as visitors are seen on a first-come, first-served basis (doors open at 7:30am Monday through Friday, but lines start forming even earlier). Within eight business days after your appointment you'll be issued a brand-new passport, and you’ll be ready to become a jet-setter.

13. Keep the pigeons away
Pigeons. They’re everywhere, and so are their telltale gray-and-white droppings (which, it can be generously argued, only add to NYC’s gritty, urban color palette). The urge to erect 12-foot-tall spiky medieval-style turrets on the sidewalk outside your apartment to keep them away can be strong, we know. But there’s a much more humane way to get rid of those rats with wings: Simply sprinkle liberal amounts of spice, like cinnamon and cayenne pepper, wherever they tend to flock. Pigeons hate spices! Alternatively, spend a lot of time hanging out in Mexican restaurants.
14. Know when your train is coming for once
There’s something romantic about the old-fashioned method of descending into a subway station and not having any idea when your train will arrive. Ah, the good old days. But if you’d prefer to join the 21st century, download the app iTrans (, which supplies live, constantly updating subway departure times, along with route maps and service updates, to your phone.
15. Save cash renting a U-Haul truck instead of a car
Need a set of wheels for the day? Don’t pony up for a rental car, which runs you an average of $72 per day in NYC. Instead, think about renting a U-Haul truck: Pickup trucks, cargo vans and 10-foot-long trucks cost just $19.95 for one day, plus a paltry $1.59 fee for every mile driven. Finding a place to park one of those behemoths? You’re on your own with that one.
16. Always know where to find a clean toilet
Tracking down a clean and functional public bathroom in NYC can be a crapshoot (pun most definitely intended). Fortunately, you no longer have to leave it up to chance, with the app Sit or Squat ( It generates a map of available public bathrooms in your vicinity, each rated “Sit” (good) or “Squat” (not so much) by other users. Some bathrooms even have pictures uploaded, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
17. Get fit for cheap
It's true, you can look your buff best by getting yourself to Shake Shack's free workout club, Shack Track & Field, which—of course—culminates in a delicious foodfest. Or you can get your om on for less at Yoga to the People’s ( $5–$10 classes. YTTP teaches several different yoga styles at five NYC locations (four in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn) so you've no excuse but to limber up.

18. Skip the Statue of Liberty and visit Ellis Island
Many native New Yorkers are understandably proud of never having visited the perennially packed tourist trap that is Liberty Island. However, all New Yorkers should make time to get off at the close-by ferry stop of Ellis Island (212-363-3200,, a fascinating, moving monument to our city’s and nation’s immigrants.
19. Get your cleaning done fast without lifting a finger
Too lazy to do the laundry? Before you run out of underwear and start wearing bedsheets to work, download the app FlyCleaners ( and you’ll have at your fingertips the ability to summon someone who will pick up, do, and return your washing and dry cleaning. Similarly, use the app Get Maid ( to book a $45-per-hour maid, who will arrive at your filthy abode in two hours or less.

20. Lose the crowds
Living in one of the most densely populated places on earth can take its toll sometimes. If you’re ever in an antisocial mood and just want to go out in public without aggressively competing for space with 8 million of your closest friends, use the app Avoid Humans (, which synthesizes check-in data from Foursquare and Instagram into a color-coded assessment of the crowd level at various locations near you. Choose the least busy places and you’ll have something resembling peace and quiet at last.