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25 New York hacks to make your life easier

These brilliant shortcuts, hush-hush deals and insider tips will help you navigate NYC smarter and faster.

Will Gleason
Shaye Weaver
Written by
Will Gleason
Shaye Weaver

From the best days to hit up museums in NYC to making reservations at the best restaurants in NYC or scoring last-minute Broadway tickets, these only-in-New York hacks will help you up your Gotham game in all kinds of ways.

We combined our own hacks and consulted other New Yorkers on Reddit about theirs and added them to our master hacks list below:

1. Stake out the dirtier spots on the subway platform’s yellow warning strips.

That guy who always knows where the subway doors will open? He’s not psychic—just smart. The filthy areas on the yellow warning strips mark the locations where the doors most often open.

2. Switch over to OMNY to get through public transportation seamlessly 

The MetroCard's days are limited and for good reason! NYC is moving over to the OMNY card—a tap-and-go credit card-like pass that can be reloaded, meaning it's faster and easier to get through turnstiles. You can also use Apple Pay, Apple Cash or other digital wallets to pay for subway fare simply by tapping your phone. It makes moving through the system a breeze! (And now those who take more than 12 single-fare trips in a seven-day period will automatically get an unlimited weekly pass.)

3. Don’t be scared of the front row at Film Forum.

Since the screens are smaller at this cinema lover’s mecca, the first row inside any of its theaters actually boasts the best seats in the house.

4. Download these apps immediately.

A number of smartphone apps, including Curb and Arro, make it easier to hail a cab, let you reserve a taxi for pickup up to 24 hours in advance, and allow you to pay for the ride with your smartphone. Flush Toilet Finder advises you on the nearest accessible (and clean!) toilet in case of an emergency, and the MTA’s impressively reliable Subway Time and MyMTA are an easy way to determine (even from your bed) when the next train will pull into your station. Too Good To Go is an awesome way to get food on the cheap from restaurants, bakeries and other shops that don't want to waste food by just throwing it out at the end of the day.

5. Walk the semi-secret Sixth-and-a-Half Avenue.

Between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, you can make your way from West 51st Street all the way up to West 57th Street while avoiding all the sluggish midtown crowds.

6. Arrive at the TKTS booth at the perfect time.

Most people know that those bright-red steps in Times Square are the place to score discount Broadway tickets. But like any good play, timing is everything: Show up at 5pm sharp, when box offices release most of their available tickets for the day.

Central Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Use lampposts to navigate Central Park.

Each post in the park has four numbers on the side. The first two digits indicate the nearest cross street. The higher the second two numbers, the closer you are to the park’s north-south centerline. Finally, if the last number is even, that means you’re on the East Side; if it’s odd, you’re on the West Side.

8. Shop at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square on weekdays, before noon, for the least-crazy lines (we asked).

9. Apply for affordable NYC housing by creating an account on the official Housing Connect website.

10. Head to a less-frequented flea market for better finds.

Everyone loves browsing independent vendors and searching for unique treasures. Unfortunately, Brooklyn Flea and other popular marts are often picked over and pricey. Instead, try Grand Bazaar NYC on the Upper West Side.

11. Swing by Housing Works before your Saturday brunch.

The staff at this fabulous chain of charity stores stays late on Friday night to get ready for the weekend rush, so arrive first thing on Saturday to nab the new swag that’s just been put out for the week.

12. Sound super smart by pointing out that the trippy Union Square art installation with the rapidly changing numbers is actually a climate crisis countdown.

Climate Emergency Clock
Photograph: Ben Wolf

13. Hit up Manhattan’s chillest hidden park.

Smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan, the tiny Greenacre Park offers a zen escape during the weekday lunch-hour rush—and on top of that, it even features its very own 25-foot-high waterfall.

14. Never stand in line for a Broadway show—just show up five minutes before it starts.

15. Get your IDNYC and Culture Pass ASAP.

This citywide ID, open to all Gotham residents, comes with some great perks, including a one-year membership to the American Museum of Natural History, Prospect Park Zoo, the Metropolitan Opera and the Museum of Modern Art.

The Culture Pass is for those who have either a Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library or Queens Library card. With your library card, you can reserve a pass and get free admission to some of the greatest spots for culture vultures. Some of the locations include major art museums and historical societies to public gardens and more.

16. Book Restaurant Week reservations carefully.

Always compare the eatery’s everyday menu and its special Restaurant Week menu. Ideally, the two should be similar—meaning, you won’t get stuck with second-tier grub.

17. Figure out the cross streets of any address.

First, drop the last number of the address. So, 480 Lexington Ave would become 48. Then, divide that number by 2 which leaves us with 24. Next, add or subtract to that number the "magic number" provided in the Manhattan address algorithm chart. In this case, that would be 22 so you end up with 46. Therefore, 480 Lexington Ave is located on Lexington closest to 46th St.

Brooklyn Museum
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

18. Know your free museum days.

Some museums in the city—including the American Folk Art Museum and The Museum at FIT—are always free. For the rest of NYC’s museums, keep this list of free or pay-what-you-wish hours handy.

Brooklyn Museum: Free, First Saturday of every month, 5–11pm
The Frick Collection: Pay what you wish, Thursdays, 4-6pm
The Jewish Museum: Free, Saturday, 11am-6pm
MoMA: Free, First Friday of every month, 4-8pm
Neue Galerie New York: Free, First Friday of every month, 5-8pm
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum: Pay What You Wish, Thursday-Monday, 5-6pm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum: Pay what you wish, Saturdays, 6-8pm
New Museum of Contemporary Art: Pay what you wish, Thursdays, 7-9pm
Museum of Arts & Design: 2-for-1 tickets, Thursdays, 10am-6pm
Whitney Museum of American Art: Pay-What-You-Wish, Fridays, 7-10 pm

19. Don’t overpay for the LIRR especially to/from the JFK AirTrain

A CityTicket (a discounted Metro North or LIRR ticket to the terminus) for $5 will take you between any two LIRR stations in NYC (except Far Rockaway) during off-peak hours (all day weekends); if you’re traveling from Brooklyn, there’s a $5 Atlantic Ticket available only at ticket machines that will take you between Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica and other Brooklyn and southeast Queens stations (except Far Rockaway) at all times with no peak hour restriction.

The LIRR now travels between Grand Central Terminal and Jamaica, where you can switch to the AirTrain, which means you can get there for $13. Otherwise, you can take the subway taking the E train to Jamaica for $2.50.

20. Rent something for free besides a book from the library

NYC’s libraries are a treasure trove of free resources from books to digital files and photos, but there’s much more you can actually get for free from the New York, Queens and Brooklyn Public Libraries, including rental instruments, seeds for planting in your home garden, time in a recording studio, language classes and more.

Photograph: Shutterstock

21. For safe subway travel, look for the diagonally striped, black-and-white horizontal boards at the platform

These boards (or signs) are where the conductor’s car stops. The two cars behind the conductor are the most packed, so you can find safety in numbers. It’s also a good waypoint to use when meeting people in the station.

22. Buy a bagel and cream cheese and a second bagel with nothing on it

Now you have two bagels and cream cheese.

23. Odd-numbered addresses are on the north side of numbered streets and even addresses are on the southern side

Remember the acronym “NOSE:” north odd south even.

24. Remember the order of the avenues with “1 2 3 Let’s Party Mofo!”

From the east side, it goes First, Second, Third, Lexington, Park, Madison, Fifth!

25. If you’re in a pinch, hotel lobby and department store restrooms are a good bet.

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