The whole bagel obsession is overrated
You may think the Instagram community is making a whole lot of hullabaloo over just your average breakfast carb. Try telling me that after you’ve had a freshly baked circle of dough straight out of the oven of one of New York’s finest. And speaking of New York’s finest–the battle wages on as to who deserves the crown, be it Russ & Daughters, Ess-A-Bagel, Black Seed Bagels, Murray’s Bagels, Zabar’s, Zucker’s Bagels, Barney Greengrass (…or H&H Midtown Bagels East, Kossar’s Bialys, Bagel Oasis, Beygl, Absolute Bagels, The Bagel Hole, Terrace Bagels…stop me anytime…). The jury is still out, but talk to any New Yorker and chances are they will not only have an opinion on the matter, but a very strong one. Bagel loyalty runs deep. But the simple truth is you haven’t done the city right unless you’ve lent your taste buds to the conversation. Whichever side you land on, the fact remains that few things are more quintessential “New York” than the bagel. Believe the hype.
Skip the tourist spots
Many people will tell you that New York tourist spots are too overpriced, overcrowded, and overhyped, and that you’re better off skipping them altogether. They are certainly hyped, no doubt. Crowded? Definitely. And I would never go so far as to say they are reasonably priced. But skip them altogether? Do not. There’s a reason people travel from all over the world to see them—be it history, beauty, culture, taste, or any combination of the four. The history of our country and the history of New York City are inextricably intertwined. From Ellis Island to the Tenement Museum to the Top of the Rock to Dominique Ansel Bakery, I could honestly go on forever. These sites are iconic. When you’re gazing out at the Statue of Liberty, or you’re looking up at One World Trade Center, that’s when it hits you—it hits you right in your gut—you’re in the greatest city on earth. And that exact moment is worth the trip alone.
Only go to the tourist spots/center your trip around these tourist spots
The above being said, the best parts of the city are off the grid. Sure, if you’re going to visit New York, you have to see a few of the iconic tourist spots and, of course, act out your favorite movie scenes at least once (be it When Harry Met Sally or Ghostbusters—something for everyone). But Hollywood aside, the tourist spots won’t give you any sort of picture of the real New York today. It will be astonishingly obvious when you notice that you’re surrounded by scores of other tourists, with not a single New Yorker in sight. Yes, visit some of these attractions for a time, but don’t let them be the focus of your trip. So once you’ve had your Meg Ryan or Bill Murray moment, toss out that map (or rather, move the Google Maps app farther away from your iPhone homepage), and go out and discover what actual living, breathing New Yorkers are up to.
You won’t be sweating in Winter. Who needs deodorant?
You do. All the time, every time. Apply heavily before leaving the house. In fact, don’t walk out the door without an extra stick on hand, because you WILL want to reapply at least five times a day. Whether you’re roasting in the 95% humidity during the summer months, or you’ve stepped into the hotbox of the New York subway in the winter, you will sweat. It doesn’t matter the month of the year or the temperature outside. Your sweat glands don’t discriminate. Repeat after me: deodorant, deodorant, deodorant.
Be prepared to spend a ton of money
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need to! Which is great news for those of us who can’t afford to roll into the Gansevoort Rooftop Bar and make it rain. It’s true that if you neglect to keep an eye on your bank account, you might wake up on the last day of your trip with an overdraft charge and a voicemail from said bank investigating whether or not you’ve been the victim of credit card fraud (say yes, by the way). It takes a little bit of extra effort to hunt for all of those money-saving deals, but I assure you they are plentiful. New York is long on cheap (and fantastic) eats. Pizza by the slice, food trucks, and holes in the wall will make sure you don’t go hungry, and unbelievable happy hour deals will make sure you don’t stay dry. Many of the city’s premiere museums and galleries offer either pay-what-you-wish or free admittance options. And if you demand to not only look at art for free, but to do so with a complimentary glass of wine in your hand, New York has so generally blessed you with Chelsea’s free gallery openings nights.
If you want to see live music and save your wallet from spontaneously combusting, Terminal 5, the Beacon Theatre, Hammerstein Ballroom, Webster Hall, Bowery Ballroom, Irving Plaza and Music Hall of Williamsburg are right up your alley. And if you’re strapped on cash but are dying for some live music, Baby’s All Right, Mercury Lounge, Elvis Guesthouse, Rough Trade, Pete’s Candy Store, Cake Shop, Rockwood Music Hall and Pianos book fantastic up-and-coming performers and underground staples you can enjoy for the price of a fancy cocktail. And all sorts of special events for that matter– parades, cultural festivals—are probably harder NOT to stumble on. And don’t forget that the city’s innumerable parks and views of the skyline are always free—beautiful sights and sounds on the house. See? Now that doesn’t seem so hard, does it? Trust me, you can do New York right, on any budget.
Get lots of rest
It’s called the City That Never Sleeps for a reason, folks. I hate to break it to you, but if you want to really experience New York, you won’t be getting many good nights’ sleep. The city comes alive after dark. You and your friends can be casually drinking beers around 8 PM, and then before you know it, you’re all singing karaoke with Rod Stewart, eating a hotdog in a speakeasy, drinking a cocktail in a hotdog stand, debating the political repercussions of the surrealist movement at a warehouse party with a Lady Gaga looking figure, offering to hop on stage at a burlesque show, or yelling “B-15!” at a secret underground bingo rave. Do venues even close? It’s unclear. Either way, the best stories from your entire trip will happen between the hours of 1am-5am, will probably involve a man with an eye patch, pierogies, and a drag queen named Sparkle. You’ll lose your dignity, but you’ll be telling the story of how it happened for the rest of your life. So take my advice, nap often, stock up on your caffeinated beverage of choice, and embrace the wild beast that is nighttime in New York.
Make sure you see/do everything
You can’t. If someone says to you, “Oh you’re going to New York! You must see/do everything”—be very skeptical and don’t ask them to do your taxes or housesit your dog, because seeing and doing everything is flat out impossible. And if you try, you will wipe yourself out. Especially if you have paid careful attention to the very important piece of advice just discussed. You can live here for 100 years and never see everything—it’s like the Mary Poppins bag of cities. And there’s just no need. One of the best ways to spend the day in New York is just being there, without doing anything. There are endless quaint little coffee shops and perfectly placed park benches to people watch, to breathe the air, to nurse that hangover, to be open to the chance encounter, to soak up the greatest city on earth.
It’s not much of a sports city
Go ahead and tell that to the guy at the corner of the bar with a tattoo of Joe Namath on his bicep and a dog named Yogi, and tell it to his 6 million friends while you’re at it. Which brings me to the next very important point…
Wear lots of Red Sox memorabilia in a New York sports bar
Only if you aren’t very attached to your teeth, or your dignity.
Make sure to go to Penn Station (or anywhere within a ten block radius of Penn Station for that matter).
Ew. Your life will be no worse for missing this “landmark” (if you can call it that). It will most certainly be all the better for it. To all those New Jersey folk and Long Islanders who suffer through the daily commute from hell, I mourn the loss of your mental and emotional well-being. Penn Station is ugly, grimy, confusing, dark, windowless, stuffy, claustrophobic, filthy, and all the other terrible things. It’s one of the last places you would ever want to get lost, and the bitch that irony is, its unintelligible labyrinthine tunnels make it the first place you probably will. No air circulates through, no daylight gets in, and no hope gets out.
Keep to yourself—New Yorkers are the un-friendliest of folk
The notion that New Yorkers have no interest in talking to or meeting new people is a myth. With 8.4 million of them, they can’t all be jaded, cliquey, and rude, can they? One of the most wonderful things about New York is that so many people who live there aren’t from there, meaning they don’t necessarily have pre-existing, deep-seated roots and tight knit, impenetrable social circles. There are SO many other travelers, recent settlers, and–wait for it–actual friendly people who live in this massive city, you will have a pretty easy time finding someone interested in chatting over a beer. Besides, this big ol’ city can get especially lonely for everyone, even the most tried and true of New Yorkers. Don’t be surprised at how many people actually jump, leap, twirl, chasse, at the chance to meet a new face and make a connection. Go ahead, give it a try! They won’t (always) bite.
Don’t go to Central Park
Well that’s just silly. You’re too smart to fall for that one. Central Park is truly one of the city’s greatest points of pride, and well deserved. I believe the words majestic and awe-inspiring are appropriate here. You won’t be able to decide if you are in the center of the world or in a whole different world altogether, but wherever it is (hint: it’s both), you’ll be glad you’re there. 843 acres of fields, ponds, gardens, performance venues, fountains, hills, waterfalls, bike trails, and a ZOO, smack in the middle of one of the most bustling cities in the world—I mean come on. It truly is incredible, and the ability to escape there is the sole reason why millions of New Yorkers are able to maintain their sanity in the concrete jungle. There are few places in this city where I feel happier than laying on a blanket in Sheep’s Meadow on a sunny warm day in the spring, in no small part because everywhere you look, you will see people out enjoying the day, one another, and this beautiful green gift from the urban gods. And I mean to be surrounded by thousands of happy, blissful people in New York? Now that is quite the feat worth seeing for yourself.
If you must go to Central Park, be sure to go at night—it’s beautiful, so peaceful and serene
To get the most out of your Brooklyn Bridge experience, walk towards Brooklyn
Noooo no no! Wrong! If you are going to brave weaving through the selfie sticks and cyclists to walk the Brooklyn Bridge (which you absolutely should be doing by the way), and if you are only going to be walking in one direction, it must towards Manhattan—the views of the skyline all the way up the east side can’t be beat. First, spend the afternoon enjoying the beautiful and lively waterfront of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Once you’ve had a day, start making your way to the bridge about forty-five minutes or so before sunset, so that you’re perched between Brooklyn and the island right as the sun drops behind the skyline—I assure you, it doesn’t get better and your Instagram will thank me.
Stop in the middle of busy streets, maybe text on your phone for a while, and better yet, do it facing oncoming foot traffic.
It’s the best way to make friends. Just kidding. It’s not. Don’t do it. New York is a city on the move. Things are always happening. It’s electric. You can feel it in the air and you can see it in the streets as New Yorkers fly to their next destination like their lives depend on it. Disrupt that movement and you risk messing with the order of the universe. If you absolutely must stop to find that perfect emoji, respond to that snapchat, or locate the nearest Shake Shack, do all of us (and yourself) a favor and please step to the side.
Skip the High-Line
The Highline is a 1.45 mile linear greenway built atop an elevated portion of the old New York Central Railroad. Not only is it free, but it’s also a magnificent display of exceptional architecture and plant design that you can enjoy sandwiched between views of the city rooftops and the Hudson River. It changes your perception of the city’s physical space, as a little garden oasis perched simultaneously in the heart of and atop an urban labyrinth. There’s a reason it gets 5 million visitors annually, but don’t be dissuaded by that impressive number. Relish in the fact that for a change, the heightened crowds clog up the pathways for the better, forcing you to slow down and smell the roses.
Go to Times Square!! See the lights!!
Okay, so this one is controversial. You won’t know it if you ask any New Yorker though, because their response will undoubtedly begin with a shudder, followed by a long exhaled “ughhhhh”. It’s the ultimate tourist trap. You will be bombarded on the streets with paper flyers in your face and aggressive sales pitches for bus tours, restaurants, and every kind of gimmicky performance you can imagine, each one of them apparently “New York’s Best”. And take my word that whatever it is, “The Best” it most certainly is not. And to top it off, it is impossibly and unbearably crowded, all the time, even for a city of 8.4 million people who are used to constant crowds. You will desperately try to run from the borderline verbally abusive salespeople, but not so fast. First you must maneuver the thousands and thousands of other tourists stopping in the middle of the street (in just that way New Yorkers love) to take selfies, ogle at the billboards, pose with the creepy guy in the dirty Spiderman costume, and search for the Naked Cowboy. Take heed, dear friends, take heed.
Just skip Times Square
But, the above points being said, if you have never been to New York before and have never experienced the electricity, both literal and figurative, of Times Square, it truly is something to behold. The first time you find yourself in the presence of those lights, the sounds, the humming in your bones, the magnificence of it all, your breath will catch in your throat, all of your five senses will go into shock, and you’ll understand the true meaning of the word AWE-some. It packs quite the punch. It’s one of those bucket list items that I will concede you must cross off in your lifetime. So, the real way to handle the beast that is Times Square? Visit it. But only do it once. As briefly as humanly possible, and make sure to sharpen your elbows first—it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.
Don’t carry around extra cash
You’d be surprised at how many places are still cash only in New York in this day and age, and at how often it happens to be the exact café in which you’ve already ordered your gluten free toast and organic, farm-to-table egg white omelet, or your triple deluxe black bean and guacamole burrito—whichever floats your boat. Better safe than sorry, so be sure to have extra cash on hand at all times so you can pay for that delicious and oh-so-hip matcha latte. But be warned, having those extra singles within reach will present you with the unenviable moral dilemma of choosing which of the fifteen thousand street performers deserves to be the new owner of your dollar.
Make lots of eye contact with strangers, and hold it
On the street, on the subway, wherever you are, be sure to catch the eyes of those with whom you cross paths, hold on to them, and don’t look away. New Yorkers just love that. Then grab a paper towel because you may want to clean up that puddle of dripping sarcasm. It’s an unwritten rule of the city that making and holding eye contact with strangers is a no-no, and a sure fire way to make all parties on the receiving end extremely uncomfortable. If you do want to play a little game, smile really big and say hi to everyone you pass in the street. Then, smugly chuckle to yourself as they look around and behind them in confusion, wondering where your friend is, because you can’t POSSIBLY have been talking to them.
Don’t go in the winter
Okay, if given the choice among visiting New York in any of the four seasons, Winter certainly wouldn’t be my first choice either. Come February each year I wonder what sick joke the universe was playing on us when snow was invented, and why haven’t I moved to California yet. But it’s hard to deny there is something magical about New York during the holiday season. There’s just something in the air, whether you’re skating in Central Park, admiring the store windows on Fifth Avenue, winding your way through more winter markets than you can count, channeling your inner Macaulay Culkin at The Plaza Hotel, dancing through the twinkle lights on every street corner, or sipping on warm drinks in cozy coffee shops. If you have to be somewhere in thirty degree weather, I recommend being here.