Three major airports serve New York City: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.
Most flight providers will allow you to search for New York City airports, rather than making you search for the best deals to each one individually. It doesn’t really matter which one you fly into. There are all within easy reach of top destinations such as Manhattan.
JFK, in Queens, is about a half hour drive into Manhattan; Newark is just over the Hudson River in New Jersey - the journey takes about 45 minutes; and LaGuardia (with mainly domestic flights) is the closest, about 20 minutes from Midtown. But bear in mind that when traffic is bad these trips can take double the time so give yourself at least an hour, or an hour and a half at peak rush hour, just to be safe.
Taxis are your best bet. Public transportation options are available but, with the exception of Newark, they not nearly as convenient as you might expect (Kennedy Express - where are you?).
Located in the heart of Queens, at the south end of the Van Wyck Expressway, JFK is only 15 miles from midtown Manhattan.
Taxis: $45 fixed flat rate from JFK to Manhattan, plus tolls and tip. Taxis are plentiful and now take credit cards so unless you are planning to make side trips to places like the Hamptons or Upstate New York, I don’t recommend renting a car (parking in Manhattan is a major hassle and driving through the city streets involves nerves of steel). Many of the bridges and tunnels accessing Manhattan charge tolls and these will be automatically added to your taxi fare, and drivers expect a customary tip of around 10-15%. Only accept a ride from the marked yellow taxis in the Taxi locations that are watched by attendants.
AirTrain: This train connects each terminal in the airport to Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) Jamaica Station for $5. From here, LIRR trains run every 10-20 minutes into Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. The ride takes about 20 minutes from Jamaica station and costs $8.75 if you buy it at the station, or $15 on board. Or also at the Jamaica station, you can also pick up the A line of the Subway into Manhattan for the price of a $2.25 Metrocard.
Buses: NY Airport Service is a private bus company that provides service to and from all the NYC airports (www.nyairportservice.com). But, if you are tired and jet lagged I recommend just splurging on a cab that will take you door to door.
Just across the New York state border in New Jersey, Newark is close enough to get great views of the Manhattan skyline as you come in to land. The airport handles both domestic and international flights, and is generally a bit quieter than the other two.
Taxis: The taxi attendant will ask you your destination and then give you a sheet of paper with your flat rate fare on it. Expect around $60 plus $12 in tolls and tip for a ride into Midtown Manhattan. If you want to pay by credit card, be sure to get the voucher from the automatic machines before entering the cab (New Jersey taxis aren’t fitted out with the automatic credit card payment machines as they are in New York). You then fill out the voucher like a check at the end of the journey. For more information on taxis, see the entry for JFK above.
AirTrain: This is the one truly efficient public transportation choice. The Newark AirTrain runs all the way to Penn Station in Manhattan from each terminal of the airport for $15 (it takes about 30 minutes). This option stops once first in Newark and its main station is also confusingly called Penn Station, so don’t get off too soon!
Buses: For advice on buses, see JFK.
Also in Queens, LaGuardia mainly handles domestic flights.
Taxis: they run on the meter; you should expect around $30 plus any tolls and tip to Midtown Manhattan. For more information on taxis, see the entry for JFK above.
Public transportation options from Laguardia are shockingly meager. But if you are on a strict budget pay $2.25 for a Metrocard and take the M60 bus to 106th and Broadway in Manhattan and connect from there to other subway and bus routes. For more advice on buses, see JFK.
For information on getting around the city once you're there, check out my How to get around New York City page.