The prospect of visiting New York City can be overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying all this great city has to offer. Here’s some advice to help you make the most of your visit and experience the city like a local.
Look the Part
If you’re concerned about standing out as a tourist, don’t be. Most New Yorkers welcome visitors and are happy to help when asked. It’s never wise to advertise that you’re on unfamiliar turf, though. Wear jeans or business-casual attire as urban camouflage, and carry valuables in a front or inner pocket. Forget the day-tripping tote or man purse. Women should wear an easy-to-secure handbag and men a backpack or messenger bag. Don’t stand around studying maps or pointing cameras at everything in sight. Use your smartphone’s GPS and camera features and you’ll blend right in with local cell phone addicts.
Parts of New York City are laid out in a grid pattern, making it an extremely walkable city. Even the jumbled sections, like Lower Manhattan, make for great strolling if you don’t mind an accidental detour or two. Traveling on foot is a wonderful way to discover hidden gems you’d otherwise miss.
Another thing that makes New York City so tourist-friendly is its extensive, 24-hour subway system. Limit taxi-taking and head below ground to experience New York the way New Yorkers do. Forget decades-old stories of subterranean crime and filth. Today’s subway is clean and safe, though maybe not well ventilated. As an added bonus, some great entertainment happens in subway stations and cars, from puppet shows to violin concertos. Just don’t be overheard calling the subway “the underground.”
Some tourists come to New York to experience fine dining, and they will. But everyone should leave room in their trip to eat the way most New Yorkers do—on the go. Grab lunch from a street vendor and people-watch from a park bench for a meal you’ll never forget.
While in the city, avoid chain restaurants and fast food. Instead, choose a sandwich from a busy deli or a hot dog from Papaya King. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience cuisine from around the world, too. Find a little trattoria like Pesce Pasta for an authentic Italian meal, or head to Little Italy and immerse yourself in Italian culture. Chinatown, mid-town’s tiny Korean enclave, and lesser-known Little India or “Curry Hill” just south of Murray Hill are other places to sample authentic global cuisine.
Go to the top of a skyscraper, because every tourist should. But did you know the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a roof with a view as well? Hit all the major museums, but check out lesser-known repositories of art and artifacts like the NYC Fire Museum, one of the nation’s best collections of fire-fighting equipment and art. Visit Times Square for the once-in-a-lifetime experience it offers, but don’t eat or shop there—it’s a tourist trap.
Don’t spend all your time in the concrete jungle. Stroll through Central Park, but visit the riverfront, too. Take a historic tram to Roosevelt Island, and view the rest of the city from afar. Check out Lighthouse Park, home to a lighthouse built in 1872.
No matter what you’re looking for during your visit to New York City, you’ll find it in this wonderfully eclectic metropolis. Just keep calm and carry on exploring. You never know what amazing discoveries await on the next block.