This article will tell you everything I can possibly say about my home town. It also includes links, the city’s best shops, where to eat, what to see and so much more. Enjoy and please leave a comment. Thanks!
New York City may perhaps be the only city in the world where most tourists will be treated like a native New Yorker, if you manage to blend in. This means, no Bermuda shorts, no giant cameras and no gaping up at the stratosphere to see where the buildings literally scrape the sky.
It is a city whose residents hail from every crevice of the globe and English is not always on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For these reasons, it is easy to blend in, but if you are spending a day queuing for the Empire State Building or sailing around the Statue of Liberty, then the tourist label is unnecessary, for it will truly be obvious.
Before you arrive…
Get to know the city by studying the subway map, take a look at the Google Map street view of the area where you plan to stay and look up areas of interest on CitySearch.com. Remember, the subway runs 24 hours and during the day it may be the fastest way to get around.
Before landing, study everything you can on NYC by reading articles on Time Out New York, Zagat.com, Tripadvisor and watching all the NY episodes that Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimern have made. Upon arrival in the NYC airport, go to the newsstand and buy Time Out New York Magazine. This contains museum hours and the days when they are free of charge. It tells you of any art gallery openings for the week. It contains restaurant reviews and is chock full of useful information.
If you are visiting NYC between late June and late August, you will have the added benefit of numerous free events, concerts and activities.
How to visit the tourist sites without looking like a tourist?
Rent a bicycle for a day. However, do not rent one from Central Park, where the hourly rate is what you’ll pay for an entire day elsewhere. You can either rent a Metrobike, search online or browse the Yellow Pages Phone Book online for a bicycle shop near your hotel. Go to Google Maps and plan your itinerary. There is a beautiful bike route along the Hudson River and through Central Park. Add your intermittent destinations and voila! You can see most of Manhattan Island in a few hours. This would be a perfect day to have a picnic in Central Park, Battery Park or any other picturesque spot you encounter.
- MoMA: Every tourist visiting NYC flocks to the Museum of Modern Art. Time Out New York Magazine will tell you the day and time when you can visit it for the price of a mere donation. While the MoMA may be NYC’s most well-known museum, I believe this is mainly due to the amount of advertising. If you only have time to visit one museum, this would not be my choice. Those who have thoroughly enjoyed the MoMA are art-lovers who are especially interested in a featured artist at the time of their visit.
- Guggenheim: Like the MoMA, the Guggenheim also advertises throughout the world and it’s amazing structure is awe-inspiring. TONY magazine will also tell you when you can visit it for the price of a donation, but again, this is not the best museum that NYC has to offer. What I love most about the Guggenheim is its architecture, which can be seen for free. If you have plenty of time on your hands, however, you can plan your visit on its ‘donation’ days.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: This is my favorite museum in the world. I loved it so much that when I lived in NYC, I would visit it several times a day. Its grandiose steps welcome you into its splendor. Once inside, you will be greeted by a sign that reads, “Suggested Admission: Adults $20, Students/Seniors $15 and Children under 12 free admission”. When you get to the cashier and say the amount in your party, you will be rung up for the full price. However, the key word here is ‘suggested’, which means that the museum suggests that you pay that amount. It is not obligatory. You can pay what you like by simply making the donation that you can afford. Just set the money down on the counter and the cashier will give you a receipt for that amount, even if the cash register reads otherwise. If you are visiting on a busy day, use the wheelchair-accessible, ground-level entrance located to the left of the grand steps. I used to live directly in front of Central Park and would go running around the reservoir every day. I would then stroll through the Met to cool off. Since I never carried money with me when I ran, I would enter through the bookstore and avoid the lines or many times I would find a badge that had been dropped by someone along the sidewalk outside.While this museum may be free, please note that the money you give goes to a wonderful cause. This is one of the most amazing museums I have ever seen. When I did have money on me, I always donated something, for every penny is worth it. Time travel may not be possible…yet…but the Met comes close. You feel transported to another place and time, regardless of the wing in which you find yourself. If you only have time to visit one museum, this is the one to see. The problem is that you will want to return and see it again and again and again. It is worth missing every touristy site in NYC and opting for numerous visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Natural History Museum: Like the Met, this also has a suggested admission. This museum was made world-famous with the Night at the Museum movie. While it is an interesting museum, it is perhaps most interesting for children, who will be especially excited at the dinosaur wing. One trip will usually suffice for most adults.
Things to do!
[UPDATE: My husband and I have just gotten married here!]
One could spend a week here alone and have the most amazing NYC experience ever. Central Park is the Yin to the city’s Yang. It is what keeps New Yorkers sane. From the moment you step into the park, you will feel the city melt away. Depending on the time of year, you can ice-skate, cross-country ski or slide down the hills in the snow; play tennis, softball, soccer or basketball on its courts and fields; run, jog, walk, ride your bike or rollerblade along its streets and paths; ride a horse; row a boat; go birdwatching, count the numerous species of wildlife or just people-watch; see a puppet show; go to the zoo; visit a castle surrounded by a lake full of turtles; watch a Shakespeare play, a concert or a street performer. Central Park is full of entertainment for all. You could spend half of your stay returning to Central Park and feel better about your vacation than if you ran to every tourist attraction there is.
While Central Park is relatively safe, there are precautions you must head. Always remain in a populated area, especially if you are alone. Leave before the sun goes home. The park becomes more desolate as you go upwards of E.92nd Street or W. 103rd Street. If it is a weekend afternoon and you are with a group of friends, you can feel free to wander, but you will be testing your luck if you wander around an unpopulated area alone or in a pair. Trust your instincts if you sense danger of any kind.
The Bronx Zoo
The Bronx Zoo is one of my favorite places in the city. It feels like walking in a safari. The wild and dangerous animals are free to roam vast fields. The only thing separating you from them are deep ditches and a fence. You can spend the entire day there and still not see everything. There is free admission once a week but that will also be the day when all – and I mean ALL – the school children go. For more info on the ‘free admission’ day, check TONY.
At The Bronx Zoo you will feel as if you have been transported to another country, so if you have a day to spare, take the subway to the Bronx Zoo for a memorable experience.
See a Broadway Show!
There are Broadway musicals, plays, dance concerts, Off-Broadway musicals and plays, as well as all sorts of live performances for every taste and budget. Visit TKTS for a 50% discount on Broadway productions playing that night. Look for coupons in businesses around the Theatre District which allow you to buy two tickets for the price of one.
If the show is completely sold out but you would like to see it regardless, check at the box office for Standing-Room Tickets. The price will be lower, you will see the show behind the orchestra seats but you will have to stand the entire time. If you bring a foldable stool, you may be able to rest your legs during intermission, but you will still have to stand in order to see the show.
The Metropolitan Opera offers an incredible student discount for their operas. My friend and I were able to sit in the best seats in the house for $20 each! If you are a student or can even pass for a student, it is worth asking if they offer student discounts, especially since they do not always check for I.D.
Explore the diverse-city…
New York City is a multi-cultural kaleidoscope where virtually every ethnicity, culture, race, religion and beyond is represented. While many may be tourists, many are not. How do you differentiate between a real New Yorker and a visiting tourist? You don’t. You simply enjoy the variety the city has to offer.
- South Street Seaport: Visit Old New York’s cobbled streets and explore some antique ships at the pier. Lots of restaurants and loads of shopping.
- Battery Park: See the Satue of Liberty from here, take a picture and move on. Take a nap on the plushiest of grass anywhere. It is so dense and soft that it feels like a mattress. This is a great place to explore while riding your bike.
- Wall Street: Occupy Wall Street while you are there!
- Ground Zero/World Trade Centre: Lots of shopping, NYC’s oldest church is found here as well, alongside the oldest cemetery.
- Chinatown: This is a great place to shop for Asian food, Chinese silk, Asian imports, designer rip-offs and Chinese medicinal herbs.
- Tribeca: Chic restaurants, lounges and art galleries. While it is very chic, it is also a bit desolate at times. Visit Tribeca if you are going somewhere specific. If you just want to roam around and explore, do so in Soho, Nolita, the East or West Village.
- Alphabet City: Go to find some excellent Latin cuisine.
- Little Italy: There are lots of Italian restaurants and tons of places to get the types of shirts that only someone from the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ might wear.
- Christopher Street & The Christopher Street Pier: This street caters to the most stereotypical homosexual. There are rainbow flags everywhere and the windows feature bottom-less leather pants, purple Teletubby dolls, and anything you have ever imagined was gay. The pier turns into a meeting place for many of the LGBT community. I drove my very Catholic mother and my elderly aunts by there and they really enjoyed it. They literally said, “All that matters is that they are happy, I don’t care who they love.” I was quite impressed with their open-mindedness.
- Lower-East Side: Artsy and trendy and still evolving. There are a few dive bars left, some Rock & Roll clubs as well but also many new chic spots popping up every day.
- Nolita: (North of Little Italy) Between the Lower East Side and Soho. You will find interesting Boho-chic cafés, restaurants, art galleries and boutiques.
- Soho: (South of Housten) Chic Central. There are beautiful people, beautiful lounges, spas, art galleries, boutiques, stores and everything chic!
- (Greenwich Village) East Village/West Village: Young, single people everywhere…some are students, some are artists, some just work in the area. There is lots of shopping and cute places to eat or to listen to live music. The East Village is a bit more interesting and the West Village tends to have more tourists and teenagers, but both have lots to offer.
- Chelsea: This area is full of the most gorgeous guys you have ever seen. I was single when I first explored this area years ago and my head was spinning. However, all this eye candy is mainly interested in other males so if you are a single lady, go elsewhere. If you are a single male looking for the same, you will have hit the jackpot here.
- Meat-Packing District: This is packed with chic clubs, lounges, art galleries, elegant restaurants and cafés. Definitely dress to impress. If you want to get into an exclusive club, take a taxi there and get out right in front of the door. If possible, call a private car service. Even if you just get one from a block away. You will have a better chance getting in than if you walked. Always go to the front of the line and try your luck. If you are not a gorgeous young model, try looking rich. European accents also help.
- The Fashion District: If you are nearby, you may find some interesting up and coming designers or even student designers selling future trends. I once bought a dress for $50 on the street and a week later I found it at Barney’s for $400. Within one week, that designer had gone from selling on the street to selling to Barney’s. That’s the American Dream!
- Mid-town: Lots of shopping, shopping and more shopping.
- Theatre District: Broadway shows and Time’s Square!
- Upper West Side: Yuppies, Lincoln Centre, lots of restaurant, bars, cafés and boutiques. Sex & The City’s Carrie Bradshaw lives here.
- Upper East Side: Upscale shopping, museums, restaurants, bars and lounges. Gossip Girl takes place here but unless you are part of that very elite crowd, it will be a bit of a bore compared to other neighborhoods. This is where the old money lives. The new money is on the upper west side.
- Spanish Harlem: Above E96th Street. If the upper east side is old money, this is where it runs out and the flavor begins. This is mainly a Puerto-Rican neighborhood so there should be plenty of Puerto-Rican restaurants in this area.
- Morningside Heights: This begins where the upper west side ends. If you are staying in the area you will find a wide selection of restaurants to choose from. If you like Jazz, you could check out Smoke Jazz Club. St. John’s Cathedral is also worth a visit. It’s on the corner of W.110th and Central Park North.
- Harlem: North of W110th Street. Although the people who live near Columbia University like to say they live in Morningside Heights, they are technically in the southern end of Harlem. W125th is perhaps the heart of Harlem. If you accidentally took the A train while going to the Upper West Side, then this is where you usually realize your mistake. Take a look around while you are here. Aside from Bill Clinton’s office, you will also find numerous places to get braids, dreadlocks, extensions and ethnic hair salons; H&M’s Outlet; lots of shopping and the famous Apollo Theatre. Check out Showtime at the Apollo Amateur Night if it is on during your stay. Jazz lovers should head to Lenox Lounge. Gospel lovers should visit on Sunday mornings.
- Washington Heights: Part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is The Cloisters located in Washington Heights. While you are there, check out some of the best Dominican restaurants in NYC. There are also lots of Latin music clubs, lounges and Latin markets.
Woodbury Commons: This is the best outlet mall I have ever visited anywhere. Considering the fact that I live in Italy, I still prefer to shop at Woodbury Commons where Italian fashion is actually cheaper. There are private shuttle buses that depart from Penn Station every day. Although the shopping is great, I only suggest a day-trip to this mall if you will be in NYC for a long visit.
Garden State Park: This outlet mall is closer to NYC than Woodbury Commons but if you drive out, you will take up an entire day as well. The deals are good but not as good as Woodbury Commons and still only worth it if you are in town for a while.
Century 21: There are several locations in NYC. One is on the Upper West Side and the original store is directly in front of Ground Zero. You can take the N/R subway line and exit right at the front entrance or check out its website for directions to the other location. Pack a load of patience with you, for you will need it to weed through the amazing deals. Century 21 is the perfect place to hit if you want great prices, high-end brands and are in NYC for a short visit. If you only have time to go to one store, this is the one to visit.
Daffy’s: You will find excellent prices at Daffy’s for lesser-known designer clothes and irregulars. The quality is usually good and it’s worth visiting each one you encounter while roaming around the city. Each Daffy’s varies since they cater to the neighborhood in which it is in. Those on the Eastside carry more conservative and business fashion. You will find more youthful attire on the Westside.
Unfortunately, Daffy’s closed and yes, I am still in mourning. Whenever I plan a trip to NYC, I still get dreams of going to Daffy’s and finding the most amazing pieces that I will have for a very long time. I cannot express what a loss to the fashion community that the closing of Daffy’s has been.
Loehman’s: If you are in the area, definitely drop in. There are lots of name brands at good prices. Like most discount shops and outlets, it is hit or miss. I found a gorgeous wedding dress for my friend at Loehman’s, which was labelled the wrong size. She bought it for only $100. That day was certainly a hit.
We lost Loehman’s too. Although I preferred Daffy’s, it is a huge loss as well.
Filene’s Basement: I love Filene’s for its home decorating department. It is also great for luggage, lingerie and sportswear.
Alas, Filene’s is gone too. So make sure you take advantage of the bargain shops that are still around.
Nordstrom Rack: This has designer items such as Michael Kors, Armani and Coach for a lot less. I even got my wedding shoes here. They have accessories, shoes, luggage, men’s and women’s attire.
TJ Maxx: This can be hit or miss but if you find yourself near one and have some time to kill, then check it out.
Marshalll’s: This is usually good for shoes and lingerie but it can also be hit or miss. There’s no need to hunt it down, just go in if you’re nearby.
Macy’s: This is the biggest store in the world! You can find almost anything you need or could ever want. There is always a sales section in most departments so you will find something for all budgets.
Bloomingdale’s: Also known as Bloomies! You will find Bloomies to be a step up from Macy’s with more luxury brands as well as a wider variety of designers.
Sak’s Fifth Avenue: Sak’s is a step up from Bloomies with an interesting array of designer collections.
Henri Bendel’s: Bendel’s may be an extremely small department store but it only features the top of the line in their selection of designer collections. This is also a great place to stop in for make-up. The MAC counter is one of the most popular counters here.
Bergdorf Goodman’s: This is perhaps the most chic department store in New York City. It features amazing designers that you may have never heard of but once you try on a garment, you will never forget. Bergdorf’s also has an amazing array of perfumes that are usually not available elsewhere. It is worth a look, even if it is way beyond your budget. This is where dreams are made.
If you are seeking a special place to dine then you should search where New Yorkers search: Zagat’s is an entire book which includes all the restaurants in NYC. You can also try citysearch. Please inform yourself about NYC tipping etiquette by carefully reading the last section of this post.
However, if you are wandering around and want to eat something good without breaking the bank, follow these suggestions:
- Au Bon Pain: (located all over NYC) A better option to McDonald’s. The sandwiches are made to order and the soups are delicious. There are also salads, bagels, rosemary bread sticks, desserts, cappuccinos and lemonade. It’s inexpensive, fast and great for when you are on the go.
- Dojo’s: (Near NYU) Health food, vegetarian food and interesting Asian twists on your favorite dishes. It’s cheap and good.
- NYC’s Best Hot-dogs: Papaya King is my favorite and if you are a Sex & The City fan, you will remember that it was Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite as well.
Areas to eat in:
- Chinatown: If you are wandering about downtown, try heading to Mott St. This is the heart of Chinatown where the best Chinese restaurants can be found. The way New Yorkers gauge whether or not to choose a specific restaurant is based on the number of Asian people already dining. The more there are the better it will be.
- Greenwich Village/Soho/Chelsea: There are lots of charming restaurants to choose from that will fit every budget. If you want more bang for your buck, head the the East Village.
Benny’s Burritos is an all-time favorite.(Update: Benny’s Burritos closed). However, if you would like something a little more on the chic end, then you must try Le Gamin.
- Curry Row: Also known as Little India. (E.2nd St. & 2nd Ave) This entire block is door-to-door Indian restaurants. The food is good and cheap. For an added surprise, tell them it’s your birthday before ordering dessert.
- Time’s Square: At some point you will find yourself in the heart of tourist central. Any place you find around here will most likely be expensive and unimpressive. If you like Southern BBQ, my favorite stop is Virgil’s. Otherwise, I suggest you head to 9th Ave. There, you will find a variety of neighborhood restaurants where the locals eat. 9th Ave is full of restaurants running from around W.42nd St. to W.57th Street.
- Harlem: After you have listened to one of the magnificent gospel choirs or before listening to some exceptional live jazz, stop for a bite at Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant
- Washington Heights: If you are in the mood for Latin cuisine, head uptown to NYC’s Dominican neighborhood which is chock full of Latin restaurants. While your there, head over to the cloisters.
- Brooklyn: There are some great West Indian restaurants and New York City’s best cheesecake is found at Junior’s, in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.
- The Bronx: You might get hungry after going to The Bronx Zoo, so if you feel like visiting the most authentic Little Italy left in NYC, you’ll have to go to the Bronx to find it. It really does feel like you are in Naples. The other Little Italy that everyone knows about is in Chinatown. Italians tend to complain that the Chinese have taken over, but that area has always been the first stop for new immigrants. Before the Italians, there were the Jewish immigrants. One merely sells to the next and the cycle continues.
New York City is continuously evolving so it would be useless to list clubs that might no longer exist tomorrow. The best place to look for what you want is online. Check out this list of New York Magazine’s top picks and compare with the list on City Search.
I wrote this post because I am continuously asked to tell everything I know about NYC to people who plan to visit. Most are not native English speakers so the following includes some helpful key words and definitions to help you understand what you need to search for.
If English is not your native tongue and you want to go dancing at the most popular hot spot, make sure you know what to look for. If you search under ‘Discotheque’ or ‘Disco’, as clubs are called in other languages, you will find places that play music from the 1970s, such as in Saturday Night Fever. Here is a description of some key words:
Club: Where you go to dance the night away. Clubs that play specific music will advertise the fact such as a jazz club, a live music club or a Latin music club.
Disco: Where you dance to music from the 1970s.
Lounge: An elegant bar with chic decor where people are dressed to impress. There is usually a DJ spinning and a top-shelf selection of cocktails.
Bar: Where alcoholic drinks are served. You will find bars in hotels, train stations and on every block. The styles vary drastically.
Pub: An Irish, Scottish or English bar; usually recognizable from the wood and green leather decor.
Café: If you want an espresso, a cappuccino or a spot of tea, this is where you need to be. If you want an endless pot of coffee, then look for a coffee shop or a diner.
Coffee Shop: This is similar to a diner but with more traditional hours of operation and meal times.
Diner: A restaurant that is open 24 hours a day; where breakfast, lunch and dinner can be ordered at any time you desire.
You are under a moral obligation to tip in New York City. Why? Servers are paid below minimum wage (about $2 per hour) because it is understood that the difference is made up in tips. This way, the restaurant can afford to hire more servers and you will get faster and better service in return. This is why it is possible to eat a meal at a restaurant in under an hour in America, whereas in other countries it may take half an hour just to get your order in.
Servers pay their rent, buy their food, pay for university and for all their needs through what they earn in tips. You should tip 20% of the bill before taxes. Therefore, when you look at the menu, you should calculate an extra 30% to include tip and tax.
Please remember to tip. It is not excusable that you are unaccustomed. If you forget to tip, the server may ask you why you did not, which may embarrass you. A gratuity or tip might be automatically added to your bill if you are in a touristy area, in a group of over 5 people or if you are European. Europeans are notorious for not tipping. If your bill shows that a gratuity charge was already added, then that is the tip. Otherwise, make sure you tip your server for the work they have done. If the service was horrible, then speak to a manager and perhaps lower the amount of the tip. In addition to tipping servers at restaurants, you should also tip bartenders, taxi drivers, some hotel staff etc. See the subsequent Trip Advisor link for a detailed list.
Do not make a fool out of yourself. Make sure you are well-informed on who you should tip and the customary amounts by reading this detailed description on Trip Advisor.
Where to Stay
- Priceline.com: Hotels are expensive but you can bid on a hotel and get it for a lot less on Priceline.
- Air BnB.com: This is a great way to rent an apartment in New York City and pay less than what it costs to rent a hotel room. Many of our wedding guests used this during their NYC stay and they were very pleased. I suggest that you choose the location first, then read the reviews. Remember that nicer apartments are found in neighborhoods that are not necessarily ideal. I suggest you begin with only your ideal areas. Ask you the exact address and check it on Google Maps. Most apartments are walk ups, so ask about how many flights of stairs you will have to walk up. Keep in mind that you will have luggage. Also make sue you confirm everything that is provided such as sheets, blankets, towels, toilet paper, wifi etc. By following these suggestions you will ensure you get a the right place for you stay.
Thank you for reading my post on my home town. I really hope you enjoy New York City and please let me know if you have discovered anything other readers might enjoy.
Like in any city, stay aware of your surroundings. Do not leave bags unattended. Separate your cash from your cards and stay safe. You will notice that there are police officers everywhere. Feel free to ask them for help or even directions.