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Thinking of solo travel in New York? Whether you’re travelling for work and have some free time, in transit towards someplace else, or simply planning a minibreak for one, I got you!
Until recently, I hadn’t been to New York since I was 21 and, since that was about 12 years ago now, I decided a trip to the Big Apple was highly overdue! So, when I was flying back to continue my solo travels in Mexico after seeing friends and family in the UK, I decided to take a solo trip to New York.
What to expect?
Don’t expect New York to look like the movies! It’s a pretty dirty city and even the subway is grubby compared to London’s Tube and especially the shiny underground trains in Asia!
Saying that, it’s an exciting, vibrant city with loads to see and do. Do expect big crowds and long lines for everything touristic in Manhattan. And factor in enough time for this!
In this guide, I’ll cover safety tips for female travellers, what to do solo in New York, how to get around, where to stay and more!
Looking for more USA travel content? Check out my guides to Miami
Is New York a good place to travel solo?
I would say New York is a good place for women to travel solo because it’s an exciting destination where you’ll never get bored. Everyone is in a rush so no one will think twice about you being alone!
On the downside, New York is an expensive city so it’s not the best place for solo travel on a budget.
Read next: the advantages and disadvantages of solo travel
Is New York safe for solo female travellers?
Largely, New York is safe for solo travellers including for solo female travellers. Both tourists and locals spend time alone in New York and very few have problems. It’s a diverse and inclusive place so travellers of all genders, races and sexualities will feel accepted.
However, due to the USA‘s lack of healthcare and other types of social security, people have a long way to fall so you will see plenty of people in bad situations, therefore crime is not uncommon. It’s advisable to be aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables close, and avoid walking at night outside of safe neighbourhoods.
Arriving in New York
It’s not uncommon to wait 2.5 hours for immigration! Not only were the lines long but I was shocked they asked me quite so many questions about what my plans were, why I was alone and if I liked travelling alone? Like, obviously!
So, if you’re travelling to New York alone, don’t be surprised if you get asked a lot of questions at the airport. In 2023, you’d hardly think it was a big deal for women to go places alone!
Where to stay alone in New York
Obviously, there are countless places to stay in New York so it can be overwhelming to know where to start, especially if you don’t have a solid understanding of the neighbourhoods. In a nutshell, you’ll pay a lot to stay in Manhattan so I would recommend extending your search radius to Queens and Brooklyn.
My best tip for solo female travel in New York is, regardless of what area you’re staying in, ensure you’re in close walking distance to a Subway station (ideally less than 10 minutes). This is especially useful if you’re travelling back alone at night.
I stayed at The Local NYC near Court St station in Queens. The blue E line whizzes you into Manhattan so you can be in Times Square or Broadway within 15 mins, door-to-door!
It’s a decent hostel with a large social area, bar and cafe (with good coffee), roof terrace, and nightly entertainment. Despite the social vibe, the rooms are quiet so you can sleep well after a busy day. The dorms are small but they did the job. I stayed in a 4-bed female dorm for $80 a night.
Solo things to do in New York
Now for the good bit! What to see and do in New York? This is a big question with no right answer because, of course, it depends on your interests. However, some activities are clearly better than others for those travelling solo in New York.
Tip – don’t expect to pack in everything! In 3 days, I was hoping to see the main attractions and a few hidden gems but of course, I didn’t get past the main things. New York is massive. Plan your itinerary carefully and clump things together by neighbourhood so you don’t spend half the day on the subway.
Here are some of the best places to go alone in New York:
Soak up pano views at the Top of the Rock
Panoramic views are a must! There are several viewpoints of New York to choose from but I opted for the Top of the Rock at the Rockafeller Centre. Other popular options are the Edge Observation Deck, One World Observatory and Summit One Vanderbilt.
Since they all cost $40+, try Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridges if you’re on a budget.
Tip – if you’re not set on a specific viewing deck, the Go City Pass includes the Edge Observation Deck as well as several other NYC attractions like MoMA and Ellis Island boat cruises for $70 which is really good value!
Tip #2 – the only viewpoint I wouldn’t recommend is the Empire State Building because then you see the skyline without the famous building that you’re inside!
It’s best to book your Top of the Rock tickets in advance, although prepare for the fact you’ll still be waiting in line simply because New York is such an iconic, busy place. The view from the top is worth it!
I’d set aside 2 hours for the Rock to include queuing and soaking up the sights.
Modern art at MoMA
In my opinion, museums and galleries are some of the best things to do solo in New York. You can focus on your own views and opinions of the art without distraction, and spend as much or little time on each piece as your heart desires.
MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art), centrally located not far from Broadway and Central Park, is well worth a visit for fans of contemporary art. The $25 admission grants you access to pieces by Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Grayson Perry and many more.
With several floors and countless exhibits, you can easily spend 2 hours at MoMA. You’ll probably leave due to wanting to pack more into your NYC solo travel itinerary rather than getting bored or having seen everything.
Other galleries and museums
New York is a cultured city with more museums than you could explore in a lifetime. If you just have a few days travelling by yourself in New York, I would suggest:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – unlike MoMA which focusses on contemporary art, the Met showcases art from a 5,000-year time period. The most famous exhibit is Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat. Visit after hours to dodge the crowds: it’s open until 9pm on Fri and Sat.
- American Museum of Natural History – in the Upper West Side, this world-renowned museum boasts a dinosaur collection, planetarium and endless other exhibits and events. From evolution to meteorites, you’ll leave a fountain of knowledge! Entry is FREE although they suggest a $25 donation.
- The Frick Collection – for art from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century, this is the place to be. Entry is $22.
- The Guggenheim – this impressive contemporary art museum and cultural centre is a UNESCO site based on the architecture of the building alone! Entry is $25, or $1 on Saturdays from 6-8pm.
- The Whitney – with more than 25,000 items from painting to sculptures, this is another of New York’s most important galleries showcasing 20th & 21st-century American art. Entry is $25, or free on Fridays from 7-10pm.
- Tenement Museum – I enjoyed visiting this fascinating museum focussing on the life stories of real immigrants in New York. Rather than traditional museum exhibits, you go on a $30 guided tour around their old apartments and learn about immigration via real objects and stories.
Walk or cycle in Central Park
As one of the world’s best city parks, this is a must for solo travellers in New York. Obviously, you can take a leisurely stroll in Central Park but, if you want to see more of it, hire a bicycle from any Citi Bike port around the outside of the park.
Things to do in Central Park during solo travel in New York include:
- Find the Balto statue dedicated to the heroic sledging dog that transported lifesaving meds to remote Siberian communities in the 1920s. There’s a cute kids’ movie about him that I used to like, hence my enthusiasm to see the statue!
- Spot cute turtles and terrapins at Turtle Rock
- Check out Belvedere Castle, a beautiful residence and one of the highest points in the park with delightful views
- Hire a rowing boat for $20 if you’re feeling confident you can handle the rowing solo!
- Have a picnic at Sheep Meadow, a wide open space with views of the NY skyline
- Spot beautiful flowers in the Conservatory Garden split into French, Italian and English sections
- Escape the crowds and the harsh sun rays in the Ramble forested area
- Spot the Imagine Mosaic in Strawberry Fields dedicated to the late John Lennon who lived nearby.
New York is a great city for green spaces, if not as good as London in my humble (and biased) opinion! For a solo trip to New York, check out…
- Bryant Park – this popular park in Manhattan is far smaller than Central Park but it’s a great place to hang out over coffee from one of the many kiosks. New York Public Library is beside the park so it’s easy to tick off two sightseeing essentials in one go.
- Brooklyn Bridge Park – this isn’t your typical city park; it’s a waterfront renovation with city views across the river and places to sit and relax.
Visit beautiful bookshops
Visiting iconic bookshops is a great activity for travelling alone in New York and elsewhere. After seeing some super ‘grammable ones in Seoul (Starfield Library) and Bucharest (Carturesti Carusel), it’s become a bit of an obsession of mine!
- Strand Bookstore – 18 miles of bookshelves! It has to be seen to be believed.
- Albertine Bookstore and Reading Room – in the unusual location of the French embassy (conveniently near Central Park), the celestial ceiling mural alone is worth a visit for astronomy lovers.
- Rizzoli Bookstore – with over 100 years of history, this idyllic store in the Flatiron district is characterised by red brick walls and polished, dark wood shelves. Step back in time and find a new read while at it!
Walk across Brooklyn Bridge – and check out Brooklyn
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic things to do in New York for solo travellers and everyone else! You can walk in either direction between City Hall Park in Manhattan and Clumber Corner in Brooklyn.
While walking, you can admire the NYC skyline and iconic buildings like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
The first place you come to after crossing Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan is DUMBO, an area with a quirky story behind its name. Artsy types trying to deter real estate investors intent on gentrification dubbed the area Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass to make it sound offputting.
Sadly, it didn’t work and now DUMBO is an expensive, highly-desired place to live. On the plus side, it’s a safe area of Brooklyn suitable for solo female travel in New York.
Things to do in DUMBO include eating at Time Out Market (the lox bagel at Ess-a-Bagel is fab), strolling the waterfront, checking out the street art, supporting independent bookstores, or simply drinking coffee and craft beer at the cool cafes and bars.
More Brooklyn: this is one of the coolest parts of New York and not as expensive and touristy as Manhattan. So, if you’re the kind of solo traveller who hates crowds and isn’t impressed by the main tourist attractions in a city, get deeper into the cool areas of Brooklyn like Williamsburg known for cool bars and street art.
Ellis Island tour/Staten Island ferry
There are several ways to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, depending on your budget and level of historic interest. The best options for solo travel in New York include:
FREE Staten Island ferry: departing every 30 minutes (15 in peak hours) from Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park in southern Manhattan, no tickets are required to hop on this public ferry. Head to the right side of the top level for the best views of the Statue of Liberty. Once you get to Staten Island, you need to get off and reboard to return to Manhattan.
Sightseeing cruise: to get closer (within 100 feet) of the statue and benefit from an informative commentary, book a tourist cruise for around $35. There are lots on offer but I don’t think you can do better than this 1-hr GetYourGuide cruise that passes all the key points of interest.
Cruise inc Ellis Island sightseeing: to learn about Ellis Island, once America’s largest immigration port, take a cruise that includes a sightseeing stop on the island and explore at your own pace. Book from $60.
Tip – both the above tours are included in the $70 Go City Pass, making back most of the value of the card in one go!
Check out Chinatown
One of my favourite things about New York is its cultural diversity. You can see it in Chinatowns and Italian neighbourhoods throughout the city. Manhattan’s Chinatown is an atmospheric hub of Asian culture, restaurants and grocery stores.
However, locals will tell you to visit Flushing in Queens for the real deal! I haven’t made it yet. I know that the number 7 Subway line takes you straight there from Manhattan.
Cheap eats in Manhatten’s Chinatown include North Dumpling and Nom Wah, the oldest dim sum parlour in the city, located on what was once the deadliest street in the city, controlled by rival gangs. Luckily, it’s now a safe, vibrant place!
There’s often a line at Nom Wah but the benefit of visiting solo was that I got to skip past the groups as there was a small table available. Win!
Catch a Broadway show
If you’re visiting New York alone, don’t be put off going to a Broadway show. Lots of people go alone, plus it’s basically the perfect solo activity because you can’t talk once the show’s on anyway.
Tickets for big-name shows like Wicked and Book of Mormon sell for up to $200 but there are always bargains to be found on smaller shows. Download the TodayTix app which lets you browse and book tickets right up to the last minute. They’re emailed to you; no need to visit a box office or print anything.
Explore Greenwich Village
Greenwich is one of the best places for solo female travellers in New York because it’s a safe, relaxed neighbourhood with lovely cafes and boutiques to explore. If you’re tired from non-stop pavement pounding as you move between neighbourhoods, an afternoon in Greenwich is the antidote.
There aren’t huge must-sees in Greenwich but fans of ’90s TV will be excited to see both Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and the Friends apartment block. Greenwich has several famous pizzerias (more on this below), leafy Washington Square Park, and shops selling everything from antiques to jewellery.
For quirky eats and shopping, don’t miss Chelsea Market. Street art fans will want to snap Kobra murals nearby (here and here).
Where to eat solo in New York
Like anywhere, you probably want to avoid fancy restaurants in case you feel awkward (although by all means, GO FOR IT QUEEN if you’re feeling confident!). I would recommend loads of pizza slices, pretzels and bagels which, if you’re travelling on a budget, your bank balance will thank you for.
Eating cheap in New York isn’t a bad thing because most of the typical, iconic dishes associated with the city ARE the cheaper things (aside from smoked salmon bagels which are spenny but there was no way I was going to miss).
BAGELS! The smoked salmon (called lox or nova) was my favourite. If you get a chance, add cream cheese and scallions or capers. Some of New York’s best bagels are at Russ & Daughters, Ess-a-Bagel, H&H Bagels and Broad Nosh. Expect to pay around $16 with all the trimmings. If you’re on a budget, simple bagels start at £5.
Pastrami sandwiches: these are a classic NY food brought to New York by Jewish immigrants. Due to their enormous size, they’re probably not the BEST food for solo travel in New York but I was keen to try one anyway.
Katz Deli (known for When Harry Met Sally filming and appearing on food shows, Parts Unknown and Somebody Feed Phil) is the iconic place to have one, smothered with mustard and accompanied with a side of pickles. I also tried a tasty ‘egg cream’ drink made from milk, carbonated water and chocolate or vanilla syrup.
PIZZA! Well, dur. Several of the best are in Greenwich near the Friends Apartment building (I can see why Joey liked it there). One is Joe’s famed for its $4 takeaway slices (eat them at the park across the road) and Bleecker Street Pizza, open since 1929, with casual seating. Get the house speciality, Nona Maria, for $4.16.
For less of an old-school Italian feel but dare I say it, even better pizza, head over to the East Village for Artichoke Basille’s (I dare you to finish a slice of the house $8 cheesy artichoke pizza by yourself) and Unregular Pizza topped with burrata ($12).
Cannoli and other Italian specialities: somewhere between Joe’s and Bleecker Pizza in the West Village is Pasticceria Rocco famed for its authentic desserts in this Italian immigrant neighbourhood. The cannoli was delicious but I do wish cafes in the States would stop serving plastic to drink in. It’s 2023!
Take a food tour
If you’re a foodie wondering what to do in New York alone, why not take a food tour? Since portions in the US are massive, it’s a great idea to take a food tour to share dishes and try as many new things as possible. They’re also a good way to meet other solo travellers in New York.
- Lower East Side food and culture tour in one of NY’s coolest areas
- Food and culture tour in famous Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood known for immigrant cultures such as Greek, Irish, Mexican, Thai and more
- Chinatown and Little Italy food tour for the best dumplings, pizza slices and more!
- The quirky underground donut tour for those with a sweet tooth!
- Browse more New York food tours.
Eating at food markets is an informal way to dine anywhere in the world. If you’re new to solo travel and feel self-conscious about going to a restaurant alone, you can grab a bite without any fuss. New York has great food halls like Chelsea Market, Essex Market and Time Out Market in DUMBO.
Safety tips for solo female travel in New York
Generally, you shouldn’t have any safety issues provided you use your common sense and follow the same advice you would anywhere. However, here are a few specific safety tips for travelling alone in New York:
- Don’t carry too much cash – you can pay on card most places so, since theft does happen, it’s best to avoid carrying lots of cash.
- Don’t go in empty subway cars – I never experienced seeing one empty but locals say this is a sign that something dodgy could be going on. Best avoided!
- Try not to look like a tourist – for example openly wearing a big camera around your neck!
- Don’t linger in empty streets or neighbourhoods, especially at night.
Ways to meet people during solo travel in NYC
NYC won’t be making any lists of top backpacker destinations, but it’s doable. Here are a few ways to meet new people when travelling in New York:
- Stay in hostels – this is where to meet other people visiting the city for a few days. The Local NYC is a social spot with dorms, a roof terrace and a cafe/bar with evening entertainment. Browse other NY hostels on Hostelworld.
- Take a bar crawl – GetYourGuide have everything from speakeasy to rooftop and craft beer crawls.
- Take free walking tours – one of the best operators is Free Tours by Foot.
How much to budget for a solo trip to New York
Well, despite staying in a hostel and eating mainly pizza, bagels and dumplings, I managed to spend $800 in 3 days and 4 nights in New York. It was not cheap!
This included a Broadway show ($160), Top of the Rock ($40), MoMA ($25) and the Tenement Museum ($30) plus a few indulgent eats like the $25 Katz Deli pastrami sandwich.
Some budget tips for solo New York travel include:
- Get the subway everywhere: it runs 24/7! If you’re staying 3 days or more, get an unlimited weekly subway card for $35. Since individual journeys cost $2.75, you just have to make 13 journeys to make it worthwhile, and remember that going to the airport and back requires 2.
- Take public transport to the airport – to JFK, travel by subway to Jamaica or Howard Beach stations and change to the AirTrain JFK.
- Check when museums and galleries have discounted entry – for example, the Guggenheim offers $1 entry from 6-8pm on Saturdays and the Whitney is free from 7-10pm on Fridays.
- Purchase the Go City Pass if you want to visit lots of attractions. It costs $70 but you’ll make it back easily when you consider that’s the cost of the Edge Observation Deck and MoMA alone (and lots else is included).
- Find free activities in New York – the parks (Central Park & Bryant Park), the libraries (Central Library & New York City Public Library), the High Line, Grand Central Station and Staten Island Ferry are all popular attractions you won’t pay a cent to visit!
Thanks for reading!
I hope you have a better idea of what solo travel in New York is like. It’s one of the world’s most iconic and exciting cities and I’m sure you’re going to have a blast. There are so many things to do in New York solo; there’s no way you’ll get bored or lonely!
Solo travel in the Americas:
- Mexico solo travel guide
- Travelling alone in Cuba – what you need to know
- Solo travel in Guatemala
- Solo travel in Belize, is it safe?
Solo travel in Asia:
- The best destinations for solo travel in Asia
- Solo travel in Bali
- The best places for solo female travel in India
- Is solo travel in India safe?
- Tips for travelling solo in Malaysia
- Solo female travel in Vietnam
- Solo travel in Thailand
Solo travel in Europe:
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Useful travel links
Flights (international and domestic): I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Car hire – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals and campers in the US (and all around the world).
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away with travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide. I also check Viator as they often have fun and unique offerings.
For food tours pairing travellers with passionate local chefs and foodies, check out EatWith.
Need travel insurance? I use True Traveller (for UK & Europe residents) since it’s affordable but covers everything you’d need including various activities, valuables and pre-existing conditions. Unlike some companies, they insure you if you’re already travelling / don’t yet have your flight home booked. Get a quote.
For travel insurance for other nationalities, I recommend Hey Mundo and for long-term digital nomad travellers, I suggest Safety Wing.