The NonGuidebook Version of What to Do (and Not Do) in NYC

Its that time of year: New York City is flooded with tourists. Thanks to the weak American Peso, the place is just thick with ’em.

There are lots of standard guides you might find helpful to use (i.e., NYC Guide for Tourists), but they are primarily designed for that gullible visitor, the double decker riding, Hawaiian shirt wearing, one born every minute visitor — the Rube.

That’s not you. You are much hipper than that. You want to be in the know, plugged in, well connected.  Well, ya came to the right place. I’m going to give you the straight dope, the inside info that the guidebooks don’t tell you about. This is real insider trading, "Blue Horse Shoe Loves Anacot Steel" type stuff that people go to jail for. Not you or me, but people. Some people. Mostly tourists.

Anyway, instead of relying on a Fodors or Let’s Go NYC, consider these suggestions from a born and bred Nu Yawkah (I even got dah aksent dat gos wit da place). A Brooklyn born guy who works in finance and has worked in NYC most of his Adult life, this guy knows a thing or two about Gotham.

These suggestions will help make your stay in the city enjoyable and safe. It well help you get the most out of your visit here. As an added bonus, I get to keep all of you birkenstocked, rucksack wearing, slow walking, camera snapping touristas out from underfoot of us locals.

Enjoy.

~~~

A New Yorker’s Guide for Tourists: 20 Ways to Make Your Stay in New York City More Enjoyable

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1. DO NOT DRESS ALIKE. This is for your safety, as well as for the benefit of the typical New Yorker’s highly refined aesthetic sense. At all costs, avoid wearing identical
matching outfits. Worse than looking like hicks from the sticks, you will look like a group of out-of-towners begging to be mugged.

I don’t mean literally mugged by a criminal element, but rather, robbed by
unscrupulous taxi drivers and retail merchants alike. They will spot you
as a rube, and be all too happy take advantage of your apparent
naivete to lighten your wallets.

You might as well carry a sign that says "Rob Me!" — and they
will.   

The corollary to this is to avoid festooning every item of clothing you have on with "New
York, NYC, or Yankees" logos — No one is THAT big of a fan — for the same reason as above.

~~~

2.  BATHROOMS:  Here’s the thing: There just aren’t many public bathrooms in NYC.

Why? Its a long story, which I don’t have time to go into, but there just aren’t that many. Plan accordingly.

Where_to_go_2Your best bets are as follows:

Department stores
Starbucks
Barnes & Noble/Borders Bookstores
Restaurants
Hotels

The nicest public toilet in the city is Bryant Park at 42nd Street between 5/6. Sometimes there is a wait.

For those of you who have real, um, reallygottagonow issues, its best that you plan ahead. Get a copy of Where to Go: A Guide to Manhattan’s Toilets. Thats right, the NYC toilet situation is so absurd that someone wrote a book about it.

On the plus side, the Rainbow Room and the Grand Havana Club have some of the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever been in — floor to ceiling windows, right next to the urinals!

~~~

3.  Tipping: The city has a service-based economy, and tipping is encouraged/demanded/insisted upon.

Some basic suggestions: 15% of the bill for "Fair" service, 20% for
"Good" service. This applies to waiters, waiteresses, bartenders, cab
drivers, call girls, etc.  Note that you can easily ballpark 15% by
doubling the tax (~16%).  Chamber maids should get $5 per day.

Leaving a 5-10% tip is considered a complaint — but stiffing
(leaving nothing) is not perceived as a complaint, but as a sign of
cheapness/cluelessness.

Note that for large parties (6 or more) some restaurants
automatically add the tip to the bill, so double check that bill (don’t
double tip).

Letterman~~~

4. See a LIVE TV Show: This requires some advanced planning, usually 6 months to a year ahead of time. I suggest Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Saturday Night Live (email SNL TIckets).

If you did not plan in advance for this year, no worries: Just diary this for next December or January to order tickets for Summer 2009.

Imagine where the US Dollar will be then — we’ll practically be paying you to come here!

~~~

5.  Do a bunch of local New York things: Hang out in
Central Park, Explore Brooklyn, wear black, enjoy the
free WiFi in Bryant Park (use the bathroom there — nice). Attend a
lecture at the 92nd ST Y, go to
Chinatown in Queens. Buy junk at a street fair, and eat street meat (don’t ask). Have a cigar at the Grand Havana Room (members only). Catch an author speak at a Barnes & Noble (use
the bathroom while you are there). 

Spend a weekend at Fire Island or the Hamptons (make arrangements first). Go to a designer sample sale. Do the NYT crossword puzzle on mass
transit. Jog around the reservoir in Central Park. Go to a
Woody Allen retrospective. See the Mets at Shea.

The ultimate New Yorker
activity? Buy the Sunday NY Times late Saturday night; skim it, then
lounge around early Sunday morning, with the paper — and a pot of
strong coffee — in bed Sunday morning. Heavenly!

~~~

6.  iPod walking guides 

Continued  —  A New Yorker’s Guide for Tourists: 20 Ways to Make Your Stay in New York City More Enjoyable

>

6.  iPod walking guides

There are lots of really cool guides to various Manhattan
neighborhoods. I haven’t done all of these, but I’ve done a few — most of these come highly
recommended.

Soundwalk
– www.soundwalk.com – lets listeners walk in the shoes of locals for an
uninterrupted hour. They have a 15-tour library includes many New York
neighborhoods (Manhattan Chinatown, Little Italy, Lower
East Side, Meatpacking District, Times Square, Wall Street,
Williamsburg, Bronx hiphop/graffiti, Yankees, Brooklyn Dumbo) $12 to
$25.

Essex House the Central Park Walking Tours

Soundwalk.com/Manhattan

Soundsforsights

Big Onion Walking Tours

Google Mashup Walking Tour

Turn Your iPod into a Travel Guide   

Art Mobs
mod.blogs.com/art_mobs – compiles the work of Marymount Manhattan
College students as they look at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in
critical, cynical, and comical lights. Free (go to "browse audio guides.")

National Geographic Society Traveler Index

Must See NY Guided Tours

Also worth knowing about:

Book: Manhattan on Film 1: Walking Tours of Hollywood’s Fabled Front Lot    

Subway Map for your iPod

Lastly, note that Apple’s iTunes Music Store and Audible.com also
offer a wide catalog of audio tours for purchase and many are for no charge.

~~~~

7. Watch out for DELIVERY and MESSENGER BIKES!  Most
people can easily
avoid getting run over by buses, trucks, and cabs — they are large and
visible, and frequently go the right way on one way streets.

None of the above applies to bicyclists. Many are
suicidal maniacs seeking to save money on the cost of cyanide, and by
ignoring all road rules, they hope to meet their makers that much
sooner. You don’t want to join them.

Be aware: They run lights,
jump up on sidewalks, go the wrong way down one way streets.
Look for them when getting in and out of cabs, or crossing midtown
streets, or popping out between parked cars. They can be bone crushers — be careful.

~~~

8. DO NOT DO THE FOLLOWING:  Walk four abreast holding hands;
Congregate around busy street corners, hang around stairways or active
doorways; Do not clutter up Grand Central Station during rush-hour (8-9
and 5-6) — its much nicer around 11am; 

These are just a start — there are many other DO NOTs I can think
of, but rather than list them, let me impress upon you the importance of Situational Awareness. This is a military and aviation term, but it also refers to any complex environment where errors in the decision making process has significant repercussions. "Situation awareness has been formally defined as "the perception of
elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the
comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status
in the near future."   

Just please try to stand a
little bit out of the way while making such future status projections.

~~~

9. Taxis:  Two things you should remember about cabs: They work 12 hour shifts
that end around 6:00,  so getting a cab between 5 and 6pm is always a
challenge. Also, as soon as it starts to rain, the available cabs
become invisible. (No one knows why).

On Duty: Look at the light on top of the car — 4 or 5 random letters and numbers, like GR45.  When it’s lit, the cab is available; See the off-duty sign on either side? When they are lit, the cab is unavailable. Easy!

~~~

Gerry_frank 10. Buy the following books:

Zagat 2008 New York City Restaurants (If you travel a lot in the US, consider Zagat.com)

Gerry Frank’s Where to Find it, Buy it, Eat it in New York 2008-2009

Also, bookmark the following NY Magazine webpages:

Best of NY
New York’s Best Cheap Eats

~~~

11. Go on, ask us something, ANYTHING. Surprise! New Yorkers are
much nicer people than you have heard. Want a photo taken? Need directions? Anything else you might think of — we love to show off,
so feel free to ask. 

Despite our gruff reputations, far fewer of us are the assholes you have seen in the movies.

Except that guy BIll — He’s a jerk. And that guy Larry is no prize, either. But other than those two guys, we are nicer than you would think . . .

~~~

12.  Hey Buddy! Get outta the way!  Despite the above, let
me remind you that this is a working city. This is not like Washington,
DC, or Las Vegas — places that are artificially supported by the hard
work of fools from other cities.

No, this is an actual working city with real industries:  Wall
Street and finance, advertising, publishing, film & broadcast
television, fashion, theater, media, real estate, dining, and tourism.
Also on the list: bioscience, web design, software development, game
design, sex, food-processing and internet services. Despite 35% of NYC
jobs being related to the Finance industry, we actually have quite a
diverse economy.

Do us all a favor, and try not to get underfoot too much.

Zagats~~~

13. Travel Worldwide via Food:  You can travel around the
world’s view the restaurants in Manhattan alone Burmese, Thai, Tibetan,
Afghanistan, Turkish, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Peruvian -– and that’s just
in my neighborhood.

Excellent steak houses, killer brick
oven pizza, great hamburgers — pretty much anything you desire in
terms of culinary creativity or excesses can be had in New York.

Decide on your budget, do a little research, and off you go!

~~~

14. Go Shopping!  With the American peso down 40% since 2001,
everything here is tremendous bargain. From the high-end stores found on
upper Fifth and Madison Avenues; to the jewelry districts (48th
between fifth and 6th Ave), we got lots of stuff for sale on sale. Or, you can take a bus to Woodberry Commons
or Tangers — large designer brand outlet centers located a few hours from Manhattan
with even cheaper prices.

~~~

15. Enjoy Live Entertainment: We have Jazz clubs, big bands,
Stand up comedy, Classical concerts, Poetry readings,  Central Park
concerts, authors reading their works, lectures. See what’s at NYU or
Columbia. Ballet, Opera, Modern Dance.

Pick up a Village Voice (free in Manhattan) or check out Flavorpill.com/newyork for all of the recent listings.

 
~~~

16. Enjoy Art & Sculpture

See some Art galleries — we have 100s. Museums? We have scores of em (see Google Maps for NY Museum). Check out Soho. Walk through the Village.

For a fascinating day trip, take a ride up to Storm King Sculpture Garden, about an hour north of the George Washington Bridge, to see tons (literally) of enormous outdoor artwork in a pastoral, 500 acre park-like  setting .

~~~

17.  Buy an unlocked iPhone or 3 — cheap!  And, the
merchants here love to haggle!

Just make sure you understand what you
are getting. These are normally locked into a 2 year contract with AT&T. We can’t use the unlocked ones here, but I you guys
can back home. Double check with a local geek from your home country.

~~~

18. Lose the Rucksack:  Look, I’ve stayed at hotels all
over the country — leaving iPods, laptops, expensive watches lying around the room.
Nothing has ever been stolen.

Why do you people feel the need to carry
everything you own on your backs? Are you climbing Mount kilimanjaro? No? Then why pack like that? No one needs to travel with their entire assets on their back

~~~~

19.  Wheely carts: I Hate ‘em; so does everyone else in the city. They trip people, get in the way, and generally are a pain in the arse. Unless you have to schlep it with you, please leave your stuff in the hotel (Don’t worry, no one wants to steal your stinky clothes anyway).

If it’s that heavy, leave it in your damn hotel room, and stop tripping everybody.

~~~

20. Do a bunch of touristy New York things: Okay, just in case you wanted to know all the usual crap:

Go to Times Square, see the
Statue of Liberty, take a Circle Line ride around Manhattan, go to the top of the Empire State Building, spend a few hours in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit the best collection of Modern Art in America at MOMA, eat in Chinatown, ride a horse drawn carriage thru Central Park, see a Broadway play or
two, catch a show at Radio City Music Hall, go to Yankees game. Take in a mass at St. Patricks Cathedral. (Skip the WTC, its just a big hole in the ground).

~~~

UPDATE: May 14, 2008 11:30am

Since so many of you have asked:  This started with friends from California who were coming to visit NYC — they
had never been before — and wanted what they described as the nonGuidebook
version of what to do in NYC. So what began as an email exchange turned
into a list of 20 Ways to Make Your Stay in NYC More Enjoyable. I
polished it up, thinking readers from out of town might appreciate this — it is
definitely NOT Fodors material…

>

Any other suggestions? Add them in comments!

>

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. ajw commented on May 14

    Outstanding list!

    Would only add one thing: take the ferry from downtown over to Ellis Island on a nice day.

  2. Brian M commented on May 14

    I feel compelled to add: Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

    It’s a gorgeous and totally famous structure – with a gorgeous view to match and you can see it up close for free!

    But BEWARE of the bikes in the bike lane! The bikers are quite possessive and unforgiving so stay on your pedestrian side.

    And please don’t go during rush hour .. (see Grand Central Station above)

  3. dark1p commented on May 14

    OK, this is for a very small minority–

    Do not go strolling on the west side bike path!

    Thanks. And don’t come to the East Village. Nothing there. Empty. Waste of time. ;-)

  4. Dan commented on May 14

    A couple of suggested changes:

    1) Bring a light coat, and not a red one. Black, grey, beige if you have to. Otherwise the big flashing “tourist” (and therefore, “rube”) light will appear.

    9) Cabs tend to switch over at 4ish PM, and if you’re going somewhere near 59th street (the Queenboro Bridge) or a bit further south (the Queens/Midtown Tunnel) you can usually pick up an “out of service” one.

    13) I think you weren’t strong enough. If you are in NY, and you eat at a Fridays or McDonalds or any other nationwide chain that you’ll find in Any Suburb, USA, you’re missing the best parts of NYC.

  5. brasil commented on May 14

    Circleline ..born and lived in NY for 35 years ..used to love that thing..especially there was this older gent (guide on the microphone) who really knew and was passionate about the cities history ..would do the Circleline with most people who came to visit ..just great..

  6. riverrat commented on May 14

    Very interesting and excellent guidance. As a longtime (former) guide myself, I’ve kept 1000’s of people safe on the Colorado and various Alaskan rivers where I feel very much at home. I often joked with my clients that NYC would be the “wilderness” for me – an utterly foreign environment. But it wasn’t really a joke. I’d love to visit.

    Before my coffee this a.m., I misread this – “…slow walking…touristas…” as slow TALKING touristas. I remember my first boatload of New Yorkers and being astonished at how FAST they talked. And all at the same time.

  7. Michael Donnelly commented on May 14

    Picnic in Central Park at night, especially if you can catch a play or music.

    Roller blade in the Park

    Back when I lived on 83rd & York, I loved running along the river from Gracie Mansion into the 60’s on the East side of Manhattan, you’ve got the river to look at, and the bridge too.

    Don’t forget about Washington Square Park there were some good music bars down there back in the day…

    Bryant Park is a great place for lunch along 6th Ave, sometimes you’ll catch some music in the park. Plenty of cheap eats in the area and the energy from all the suits is intense. Plus you can stop in and see the libary on 5th before or after.

    Speaking of intense, I loved Grand Central Station. Not only beautiful, but it had the most amazing magazine / newspaper stores, you could pick up a magazine on any subject imagineable. I recommend “Military History”

  8. Howard Veit commented on May 14

    I Second the tip on rest rooms. I was an actor for five or so years in the city and in that capacity I had to walk all over town to interviews. Not knowing which restaurant, hotel, or shop where one can just “take a leak” means your stay in New York will be miserable. You cannot afford to drink liquids during the day without knowing the “stops.”

    BTW, if you are stuck you can just casually do it in public, if you are a male.

  9. Barley commented on May 14

    Wear comfy walking shoes – its all concrete baby! Oh yea, they should look somewhat used not new, shiny ones that scream “look at my beutiful air sole walkers”.

    When I visit, I often attend some church services (even though I’m not of any faith) – its a great way to watch people and get a feel for what on folks mind. I like St. Pauls @ Columbus and 60th. And, Chabad of the West Side is a wonderful group of folks – they do organize a “Friday Night Out” for family and friends at various resturants/hotel eateries – we have done this twice and met some interesting people, and made some lasting friends!
    Tip -if you must carry a foldout map, tuck it in a magazine.

  10. Mike commented on May 14

    Just got back from NYC last night as a first time visitor. I had a wonderful time and the biggest suprise was how friendly the people were. I really mean that, because the media spin is that New Yorkers are curt to vistors. I found that the only place that compares to their friendly attitude is Dublin Ireland.

    Just my experience.

  11. Graham commented on May 14

    Barry, do you or did you have a career writing travel excerpts? Like the first poster said, outstanding. Where do you find the time?

    Thanks

    ~~~

    BR: This started with friends from California who were coming to visit NYC — they had never been before — and wanted what they described as the nonGuidebook version of what to do in NYC.

    So what began as an email exchange turned into a list of 20 Ways to Make Your Stay in NYC More Enjoyable.

    I polished it up, thinking readers from out of town might appreciate this — it is definitely NOT Fodors material.

  12. ECONOMISTA NON GRATA commented on May 14

    What ever happened to the Statue of Liberty, the top of The Empire State Building, the Automat…? How about joining the live audience at “What’s My Line”….?

    Those are fun things to do, as I recall….

    Econolicious

  13. vhehn commented on May 14

    sounds like a place to avoid. give me a national park any day.

  14. gjg49 commented on May 14

    barry,

    i used to attend the goldman sachs tech conference which they held in nyc during feb back in the early 90s. one time i brought my wife along, she visited the sites while i attended the conference. my wife and another friend happened to arrive at the path station in the wtc around 4:30 pm, just in time for rush hour for the financial hordes. she said that it looked just like an army of me–all dressed alike in trench coats and either blue or gray wool suits with ivy league ties. i know that has changed since the dot-com boom (a few jerry garcia look-alikes probably on wall street now), but i had to laugh at the irony of your first comment.

  15. Steve commented on May 14

    If I was gonna take my wife to NYC for 3 days or so where should we stay location wise. (part of town or specific hotel)?

  16. Paul commented on May 14

    Bathrooms, taxis, and tips. Three fundamental reasons why one visit was one to many.

  17. scorpio commented on May 14

    excellent. my advice: make no plans at all, just stroll through the West Village over to LES on a weekday, and thru Central Park on the weekend.

  18. ECONOMISTA NON GRATA commented on May 14

    Oh yeah…! and I almost forgot….

    One should visit the New York Mercantile Exchange, where one can witness what makes New York the financial capital of the world in the potato ring….

    Econo

  19. chris bayer commented on May 14

    best area to stay imo …West Side 60’s to 80’s can get to anywhere fast ..safe at night ..Central Park ..great restaurants …Lincoln Center…

  20. Michael commented on May 14

    Sunset in Brooklyn.

    Take the L train to the first stop in Brooklyn (Bedford Avenue), leave the station, and walk West toward Kent Avenue and the river. Find a nice place to watch the sunset with Manhattan lighting up in the foreground. Afterwards, enjoy downtown Williamsburg (go here for more information: http://www.billburg.com)

  21. Fermi Pyle commented on May 14

    West Coaster asks: Is it true people “riding” an escalator must stand to the right for people “walking” up or down? Overheard some NYer comments at LAX. This is not in our politeness awareness.

    ~~~

    BR: That is correct — stand to the right, walk on the left . . .

    That’s good situational awareness.

  22. MShapiro commented on May 14

    I completely agree on number eleven, most people (at least me) are usually happy to oblige with questions as long as they’re within reason. Some (like me again) might even give you their own two cents since we’re very opinionated.

    One thing you forgot – for a great view of Lady Liberty, NY Harbor and a lovely boat ride on a beautiful spring day take a cruise on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, yes free, and you can avoid all of the hideous masses on the Circle Line.

  23. sgv commented on May 14

    Regarding #11—THAT is sooo true!!! I love New Yorkers. I love to take my kids to the city (ages 10 and 12) and they love it, too. People are friendly, helpful, warm, chatty…We are native Californians, and the minute I land at Burbank I notice the difference in people’s attitudes–cold and rude.

  24. GW commented on May 14

    “Hey Buddy! Get outta the way! Despite the above, let me remind you that this is a working city. This is not like Washington, DC, or Las Vegas — places that are artificially supported by the hard work of fools from other cities.”

    Woah! Offensive. DC works hard. Next time you go see the air show at Jones Beach, remember who made that possible.

    ~~~

    BR: Yes, with taxes from other states.

  25. David commented on May 14

    Skip NYC, go to Chicago, if you’re a furriner interested in stretching your newly bought American pesos (el Peso de Estados Unidos?) even farther. You can buy everything in Chicago you can in NYC for 1/2 the price of NYC, so coupled with your new-found currency wealth, that’s like 80% off.

    Want history? Chicago’s got it. Theater? check. Great restaurants and steaks? Check. Great architecture? check. And we talk slower.

  26. AndrewBW commented on May 14

    Hang out at the Sheep Meadow. On a warm summer day probably my favorite place in all the city.

  27. russell120 commented on May 14

    I lived in Queens for a couple of years and often worked in 4 of the 5 boroughs (never made it to Staten Island).

    New Yorkers are very friendly. But the commuters who often are traveling 3+ hours a day are understandably stressed out.

  28. The Financial Philosopher commented on May 14

    Don’t look up. This identifies you instantly as a tourist in awe of the tall buildings and will also increase the odds of bumping into someone on the street…

  29. Imissit commented on May 14

    For your safety cross at the crosswalks and stay on the sidewalk. Cabs, buses, and bikes will run you over or take a limb just for good measure. Jay-walking in NYC needs to be practiced. A lcoal can always tell who the tourists are by watching them trying to cross Avenues.

  30. LtShinySides commented on May 14

    To all the commenters saying they would never go to NYC in the first place, what then brought you to a post telling people what to do while in NY? If you’re never going to go, what’s the point?

  31. Pfft! commented on May 14

    On a rainy day watch out for the umbrella-in-the-eye from the person in front of you. I got wacked a few times the last time I was there.

    Otherwise, NYC is a delightful city, with lovely neighborhoods and too many interesting things to do.

    Although very touristy, I second the idea of a trip to Ellis Island especially if your ancestors might have come through there. It was quite a moving experience to see where so many came for the American dream.

  32. Groty commented on May 14

    1.) It should be a law that slow walkers are required to stay on the right side of the sidewalk.

    2.) On a nice, summer weekend day, you will see incredibly talented street performers in Washington Square Park. You’re almost guaranteed to see musicians, but I’ve also seen mimes, magicians, and acrobats. You might be approached by someone trying to sell drugs, just ignore them. They’re harmless.

    3.) The 3 Card Monte hucksters prey on tourists. Don’t make eye contact with anybody in a small group of people watching a guy do card tricks on top of milk crates, a folding table, or cardboard boxes. They’re all shills. Keep walking.

  33. Mark E Hoffer commented on May 14

    nice post BR, as a +, seems that it could be used as general guide for travel to most cities, as well..

    though, Am I the only one who thinks that, for the large majority of the time, that the Zagat recommendation is the Kiss Of Death/ Sign of, exactly, the kind of restaraunt to be missed?

  34. Metroplexual commented on May 14

    I would second seeing a show (TV) Colbert was very funny, th eguy who warms up the audience was especially funny. BTW, he says you can spot the tourists, they are not wearing greay or black!

    I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Jersey so it has always been the city I compare others to. While everyplace has something interesting, the others always fall flat somewhere.

  35. B commented on May 14

    Tourists: We love you all, but please, try to avoid deciphering your handy subway map while standing in front of the turnstiles.

    Move to the side to figure out where you are or where you are trying to go. If you stand in front of the turnstiles, we will have to push you out of the way.

    Also, once on the subway, try not to look terrified, as if you expect to die at any moment. While there is a (very) slim chance that someone will try to kill you, the odds decrease dramatically if you don’t look a clueless and frightened out-of-towner.

  36. JerryN commented on May 14

    Great list. I’d add this: take the subway if you have to travel any distance during the day on a weekday, it’s going to be a lot faster than taking a cab, it really is safe, and if you’re not sure about what stop to get off at or where to transfer, don’t be afraid to ask directions (see #11).

    To the person asking about where to stay, I’d second the recommendation of the West Side 60’s to 80’s and add that Gramercy Park / Murray Hill area (East Side 20’s and 30’s) is also a good choice – close to Union Square and Chelsea, easy to get to the Village, SoHo and the East Side museums.

  37. VennData commented on May 14

    Visit a friend.

    There’s nothing like visiting friends in New York. They’re always into some thing, got the angle on another thing and you’ll end up at a spot they don’t need sell you on because they know you’ll love it.

    Don’t have friends in New York? Make some.

  38. daveNYC commented on May 14

    Skip NYC, go to Chicago…

    Pizza fight!

    I’d really like to endorse the not strolling slowly four abreast. It’s blocking the entire sidewalk and forcing all the fast movers (which is pretty much everyone else) to dodge around you. If anyone doing that asks me for directions, I’ll do my best to convince them to go to the new MoMa branch over in Journal Square.

  39. David commented on May 14

    I like the Oyster Bar at Grand Central, Staten Isl Ferry (50c? harbor tour, back in 1987), rooftop sculpture garden at Met Museum (also Egyptian & Chinese exhibits), skating at Wolman rink (winter), eating hot dog from street vendor, tea at Plaza…

  40. Mike G commented on May 14

    Skip the massive lines and cattle-yard ambience of the Empire State Building, and go to the Rockefeller Center observation deck for equally spectacular views without the crowds.

  41. Innocent Bystander commented on May 14

    I still remember that old guy on the Circleline tour. He used to wear a blue blazer and a captains hat. He knew everything about New York. I went there with my wife in 1971. I took my kids in 1987 and he was retired. Made an impression though. Their highlight was meeting Bobby Brown in the elevator of the Marriot Marquis. He was going to a birthday party for Whitney Houston. HEE HEE, Little did he know.

  42. CaptiousNut commented on May 14

    Trendy shops, good people watching, $20 fake Gucci purses in *East New York* of Brooklyn. Best time to visit is after dark!

    [Okay, that was a joke. Bear Grylls might not survive a landing there.]

  43. Robert Wegner commented on May 14

    Barry,

    There’s no wait for David Letterman tickets. I’ve been on the East Coast and NYC in particular three times this year, every time I’ve seen David Latterman people hawking tickets for that days show.

    They are usually within a couple of blocks of his studio and near the Marriott at Times Square–I would look for them around 10:00. I believe Letterman does shows Monday thru Thursday.

    Also, for an interesting skyview of the city, take the tram from 59th and Third to Roosevelt Island. The Sylvester Stallone movie, Nighthawks, was partially filmed at the Tram.

    And, you have not lived as a New Yorker until you have had a burger at Jackson Hole.

  44. Dervin commented on May 14

    Century 21 for clothe shopping.
    Zabar’s for anything food related.
    B&H & J&R for anything with a plug.

  45. Ken H commented on May 14

    Very nice, that’s why I really like your blog BR. Some variety,..no FNJ last week though?

    Thanks!

  46. me commented on May 14

    “take a Circle Line ride around Manhattan”

    Highly recommended! Plus 7 layer chocolate cake at the Waldorf.

  47. gc commented on May 14

    I had reason to visit New York for the first time last September. When I first went to use the subway, a helpful transit person showed how to purchase a pass and directed me thru the turnstiles. While standing on the platform, I was asked and gave directions three times. Does this qualify me as a friendly New Yorker for #11?

  48. catman commented on May 14

    For the worlds outta town golfers who dont have a gold plated four iron up their behind you can play the oldest public course in America – Van Cortland Park. You can play one of Americas former bottom 100 (dead bodies and junked cars) at Pelham Bay, or walk in the footsteps of the original black pro golf tour at Split Rock -same clubhouse as Pelham but a much tougher track. Go alone or as a twosome and play golf with the natives you wont regret it.

  49. catman commented on May 14

    For touristy the Tibetan Museum on Staten Island is nice and you get to ride the ferry. Two for one.

  50. emily commented on May 14

    As far as touristy things go, DON’T ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The tourists are the only reason that the industry still exists, and those poor animals are shackled to a lifetime of dangerous labor and a terrible quality of life. Several horses each year are killed or injured after being hit by cars. Find something more humane to do with your very valuable euros, please!

  51. SteveInChicago commented on May 14

    You did a great job — I haven’t been to New York in 7 years, and I’m overdue for a visit.

    My advice would be the same as any other large city — Find a neighborhood that fits your vibe and wander. Stop when something looks interesting. Peoplewatch. Live like a local and check out street fairs, festivals and free concerts.

    The best food is often ethnic, and I’m glad you brought that up. New York is quite a melting pot, and it’s one of the few places in America where you can eat your way around the world authentically. It’s also a great way to stretch your budget.

    New York specific, I’d add going to a deli (Katz’s would be a great place to start.) I think of Papaya King and the Donut Plant as quintessential New York too.

    You can’t stress enough to avoid South Street seaport. Your time in Times square should be minimal.

  52. bassface commented on May 14

    FYI:

    Might want to look up “penultimate” in the dictionary.

    Great guide otherwise. I’ll be going “home” to visit this week!

    ~~~

    BR: Fixed

  53. Mephisto commented on May 14

    For love of god, and your own coolness, don’t call it HYOO-ston street.

    It’s HOW-ston…dammit.

  54. Cmdr. H commented on May 14

    About walking on busy NYC streets… There is a phenomenon of physics here. Have you ever wondered how we can all move so well without (for the most part) bumping into each other? It’s all about the eyes! DO NOT make eye-contact while walking. If you do, you’ll walk right into each other. Just look away, and you’ll each automatically miss each other. Not sure, exactly why, but all NY’ers instinctively know this and it’s really pretty cool! :) Try it while walking thru your busy neighborhood Mall….

  55. JP commented on May 14

    Great list. I’d add that unless you’re going to see a Broadway show, stay away from Times Square in general. The only people who go to Times Square are tourists and pickpockets. If you like neon signs, Las Vegas does a better job with them, and you can eat at the Olive Garden or buy a Hershey bar back home.

    BR – Burmese food? I only know of Mingala in NYC. Is there another one somewhere? (If it is Mingala, have you tried the Mandalay Nungyi Thoke – amazing!)

  56. Liesl commented on May 14

    And for heaven’s sake, hold onto the bars inside the subway cars, for your safety and everyone else’s. I saw a group of Southern high school girls chained up four deep to each other because only one of them was brave enough to touch the “disgusting” stainless steel pole. At every stop, start and swerve, they fell into the laps of their neighbors and their bags spilled everywhere.

    But do carry Purell.

  57. Rex Anderson commented on May 14

    Walk up Hudson St,. from Chambers, and barhop all the way to 14th St. on a Saturday Evening. (tip from a rube from Minneapolis).

  58. Todd commented on May 14

    Avoid crowded Midtown. Spend copious time in Soho, Tribeca, the Village and Chelsea. Meet New Yorkers. (As a native NY’er no longer living there, I don’t miss the physical NY but I do miss New Yorkers a ton.)

    For a real treat, go up to Boston for a 2 day trip. See the Red Sox play in Fenway Park. Stroll down Newbury Street. Check out Faneuil Hall and Harvard Square. See the South End and the North End. Makes for a hell of a nice change of pace and you’ll get a feeling for another great American city.

  59. tom a taxpayer commented on May 14

    Walk up 5th avenue from 42nd street to 59th street, with a side excursion to Rockefeller Center. If you have more energy, then west on 59th to Broadway, then down Broadway to 42nd Street. Or, vica versa.
    Travel the the east-west subway line from Grand Central Station to 42nd street, and enjoy the musicians, mimes, and other “underground” performing artists.
    For those with a time machine, visit the Stork Club, and tip your fedora to Sherman Billingsley and Walter Winchell.

  60. MarkDM commented on May 14

    This Southern Californian can vouch for No. 11 – on our visit to New York last fall, almost everyone we talked to was friendly and helpful.

    My favorite exchange was with a transit cop:
    Me: Sir, is this train going to Grand Central? (Stupid question, but I wanted to make sure.)
    Cop: Only for you.

    Great nonguidebook guide.

  61. Captain Ned commented on May 15

    BR:

    Is Katie O’Tooles still there on Reade Street in TriBeCa? Killed many a brain cell there back in the day listening to all the Irish illegals bitching about their housekeeping or nanny jobs.

  62. prostratedragon commented on May 15

    The ultimate New Yorker activity? Buy the Sunday NY Times late Saturday night; skim it, then lounge around early Sunday morning, with the paper — and a pot of strong coffee — in bed Sunday morning. Heavenly!

    Yes! If staying on the west side from about Lincoln Center to Morningside, get some Zabar’s Sat eve to go with that.

    Also: Walk Riverside Dr. Start just above Grant’s Tomb/Riverside Church at the viaduct and enjoy the view of the George Washington Bridge**, then on down the drive to Soldier’s and Sailor’s monument at 89th. On the way, just below 106, look to the east side of the street and see the statue of Shinran Shonin* at the New York Buddhist Meditation Center, that survived at Hiroshima (and that I believe you also see in situ in the film Hiroshima, Mon Amour).

    Now, that’s a nice walk, probably well under an hour, after which you can continue your afternoon or evening feeling surprisingly refreshed. Or, you can keep on going down to the 79th Street Boat Basin, which retains just enough of a hint of Portrait of Jenny seediness and romance to be one of my favorite New York places to stroll and sit for a while.

    ===
    * A saintly Japanese Buddhist monk. This Times article about the Manhattan Project tells a bit more about him near the end, though not about the plaque that at least used to be there, ca. 1980, commemorating the dedication of the statue on Sept. 11, 1955. The skein of circumstance winds on …

    ** The walk across the bridge, day or night, isn’t bad either, if you have time, though frankly I recommend winter for that.

  63. Ed commented on May 15

    Cmdr. H

    Wow, things have changed. As a Brit when I first visited NYC about 25 years ago one of the most noticeable things was the aggression on the streets, the jostling, the games of pavement chicken ending in a bump and a hard stare.

    At the time you could walk across the whole of London without touching anybody, Brits tending to require personal space about the size of the English Channel, and oddly that person who moved carefully out of your way with a polite nod could easily be the wealthiest most powerful individual you’d meet all day.

    I haven’t been to NYC for several years but it sounds like we are meeting in the middle.

    Time for another visit.

  64. expat commented on May 15

    I left NYC twenty years ago and still miss it. Went back to visit my parents and took everyone on the Circle Line. fantastic and something a real New Yorker would never do because it’s too touristy.

    Other great ideas:

    Engage the few remaining street people in heated debates about Ed Koch and George Bush. It’s free, fun, and educational. Have styrette of Thorazine handy.

    Go to the South Bronx and discuss the War on Drugs and racial equality with the locals.

    Drop by Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment on the Upper East Side. Seriously, just ring and he’ll buzz you in and leave his door open for you. Bring donuts.

    Visit Little Italy and talk like you learned on the Sopranos. Fuggedaboutit! They won’t understand you anyway since Little Italy is now entirely Chinese.

  65. Dave Vogt commented on May 15

    Go to a street fair. It may even be possible to eat free courtesy of NYU.

    I’m curious as to how resident New Yorkers feel about NYU, if they feel about it at all.

  66. jJohn commented on May 15

    Tipping. I spend a fair amount of time in NYC so I know the rules of the game. Basically 15% covers the spectrum from mildly bad service to quite good service. Sometimes the service is so appallingly bad there should be no tip but most people are cowed into submission by the clueless label. I’m not as it happens and very occasionally if it’s mega bad don’t leave a tip. Sometimes this evokes a challenge from the waiter or whatever and you have to be prepared to stand your ground. Usually this provokes a shrugged “well maybe you’ve got a point” or “it wasn’t my fault it was the kitchens” but sometimes these folks can get quite abusive. So the timid can continue to cough up, the cantankerous (like me) have to be prepared for fireworks.

  67. 25yearNewYorker commented on May 15

    Best cheap tour in NY – Ground Zero is an attraction, but on a nice day/eve walk west to river (thru WFC) and up to commuter ferry barge. Few bucks will get you to Hoboken (worthy of some time if you have it; Amanda’s is excellent) for great views north/south (Verrazano to GWB). At Hoboken walk thru station and downstairs to PATH (subway between NY/NJ) and ride back to WTC. You will come into bottom of WTC “bathtub” for unique view of GZ with tie-backs and major construction. Hurry, it will all be enclosed some day.

  68. Patrick commented on May 15

    > Am I the only one who thinks that…Zagat > …is the Kiss Of Death

    Nope, you’re correct; Zagat is pretty useless if you’re serious about food.

    My #1 tip to tourists visiting NYC: leave the guidebook at home. Instead, stop at any local news stand and buy a copy of that week’s Time Out NY magazine.

    #2 tip: if you want to get into a great DJ club but worry about doorman hassles, look up Turntables on the Hudson (uh, in your copy of TimeOutNY). If they’re doing a show when you’re in town, buy an advance ticket and you’re in.

    #3: there’s no good reason to ever visit Long Island unless you’ve been invited to a fabulous party at someone’s fabulous house. Instead, take the Seastreak ferry over to Sandy Hook.

  69. Casey commented on May 15

    Taxis and rain: standard cost-benefit. It’s also crap for them to drive in the rain, carting wet passengers around. When it’s raining they can, very easily, pick up sufficient fares, then bunk off themselves.

    Remember, taxi-drivers are just people – they won’t simply pick up all the fares waiting, they have their own benefit-cost trade-off going on. They’ll pick up some immediate chain-fares, probably do well on tips. Why keep driving throughout the day, if they’re happy with their earnings for 12 hours after only 4? We tend to impose a making-hay-while-the-sun-shines motive onto them, but it isn’t so.

  70. ead commented on May 15

    do not wear open toed and/or high heels when riding the subway. should your train get stuck for any reason [remember 9/11?] you do not want to walk on the subway tracks in anything but sturdy, sensible shoes.

  71. Steve in TN commented on May 15

    I travel once a yr to NYC and find the waiters (usually young) to be very good. Friendly and 95% give great service.

  72. Rockitz commented on May 16

    Nice list. I’ve gotten to NYC numerous times over the past few years and the only thing I would add for the inline skaters in the audience is to do the Tuesday and Wednesday Night Skates. See http://www.empireskate.org/EmpireSkate.html for hardcore TNS which is not for the faint of heart and has regularly kicked my butt in past trips. See http://www.weskateny.org for the tamer and better attended WNS. Rolling through Times Square or down 5th Avenue on skates at night is the trip of a lifetime. Central Park and the bike path from Battery Park to the GW bridge are also great, not-to-be-missed rolls as well. They may have extended the bike path north of Battery Park since I was last there.

    BONUS: Smith & Wollensky at 49th Street & 3rd Avenue is outstanding for the carnivores in the crowd!

  73. Ben commented on May 16

    Haven’t read all the comments, but you forgot about _ordering_ and _coffee_.

    1) Ordering: Know what you want before you get to the front of the line. Better yet, know what you want before you walk in the deli or restaurant. Be able to say it quickly and succinctly. Order like this: “One everything bagel: cream cheese, slic-a-tomato, lox.” No chitchat. No stammering.

    2) Coffee: At the real New York establishments, if you want coffee, your coffee will come with milk and two spoonfuls of sugar. You must specify what you want. Regular coffees start with the works. Order instead like this: “Large coffee. Milk, no sugar,” and be done with it. Again, no chitchat. Say your piece and get out of the way.

    3) As for walking: If walking, do not stop abruptly. Walk like you mean it. Pick a destination and go there.

    Barry, the list is awesome. I haven’t lived in NYC for three years, but your guide has me wishing I were there.

  74. Wyatt_Earl commented on May 16

    Tip: If you’re in town for any time at all, $24 will buy you a week pass to the subway and the bus system. Subway is faster, but the bus, while slow, has it’s own particular view of the diversity that’s NYC.

    Question: I understand tipping the cabbie from the aiport to the city and vice versa, but what’s the deal on the bridge/tunnel tolls? Did I owe him that or is it considered part of the fare?

  75. David commented on May 18

    Another tip: Visible luggage is like repellent to cabbies. Hide your rollonboard while you flag a cab, and DON’T tell them you’re going to the airport until your inside and the door is shut!

  76. kathryn commented on May 20

    Love the bathrooms tip. New York doesn’t want you to get anywhere on time (stupid MTA), get sick (traffic snarls around racing ambulances), or use the restroom (“for customers only” signs everywhere).

    You owe them the tolls, too, Wyatt_Earl, unless they say otherwise. Most cabbies will pay via EasyPass. They’ll usually tell you what the total fare + tolls are if tolls are applicable. Pay attention to the meter, so you know what your fare was, regardless. Ask for a receipt if you’re unsure. I always err on the side of tipping more rather than less, especially after the strike.

    Hail a cab by raising your arm. Never have heard anybody do it by whistling or yelling “taxi” unless they work for a hotel.

    David, some cabbies actually LIKE bringing people to the airport, if you’re hailing them from Manhattan. Of course, it’s dependent on time of day. Most of the time, they’re pretty much guaranteed a fare back into Manhattan.

    Cabs will usually know intersections and general locations. Rarely will they know addresses (this is where Google Maps mobile comes in handy). When you get in a cab with a TV in the back, turn the damn TV off, as it will start blasting boring canned “news” content at you.

    Walking in NYC is like driving in a town with no stoplights, and nobody has turn signals. You gotta merge gracefully and be aware of your surroundings. I like the phrase “situational awareness” that is used above. So: look for people weaving in and out of traffic. Watch out for children and pets, the sick, the elderly, and those with heavy loads. If you want to stop and gawk, step aside, out of the path of traffic.

    You’d get mad if I cut you off and slammed the breaks in my car right in front of me, so don’t do the same to me on the sidewalk. Or at the subway entrance or exits. Or at the subway turnstiles. Or at the top or bottom of an escalator. Slower traffic to the right, faster traffic to the left. Look around you before stopping, and make it obvious when you’re pulling over to the side to check your map. Don’t travel in a large pack (4+ people) going slower than everybody else.

    Pedestrians in NYC walk briskly, with purpose, and like they’re ten minutes late to something. They’re just going able their normal lives: work, home, groceries, errands, seeing friends, going to the dentist, etc. You may be on vacation, but we’re probably not. :) So hurry it up! The only place I go for a nice stroll in is the park.

    On the subway: let the ALL people off before you get on, especially if there’s an express across the platform. Sometimes this means stepping off the train briefly to let others off, and then stepping back in. Step all the way inside the train when you get on. Grab onto a pole and hold on, as the car can jerk suddenly. Let the women, children, elderly, disabled, and those with heavy loads sit down if there are empty seats. Let the shorter people grab onto the poles that are further down; they can’t reach the overhead ones a lot of the time. Don’t lead on a pole, blocking other people from using it. Beware of strollers and bikes. They’re large, awkward, and constrict the flow of traffic on a train. Note that the side of the train where the doors open can change dependent on whether you’re at a local or express station (especially important for door leaners).

    BTW, putting your feet up on a seat might garner you a ticket (thanks, cops!). So might putting your bag. Or having a beverage. So put your bag on the floor. Put it down beneath your legs if you’re standing up. Please don’t hit people in the face with your backpack if you’re tall. And turn your iPod down, unless everyone around you also thinks that song is awesome.

    Very few people say things like “the yellow lines” or “the red lines” but rather the exact letter and number of the subway line. This is because they usually start and end in different places, often in different boroughs. The system is quirky. The lines in the same color family run together for only part of their route.

    Learn and love the grid system in Manhattan from 14th Street up. When you get off the train, use the signs like NE corner and SE corner to help you figure out which way to go towards your destination. Step aside, and get your bearings (don’t do this at the top of the stairs). If you can see the street sign for the corner one block away, you’ll know if you’re facing uptown (north-ish) or downtown (south-ish). From there you can figure out north, south, east, and west, and be on your face. Or, carry a small uptown/downtown compass to help you figure it out.

    White athletic shoes (especially pristine ones), fannypacks, and Hanes beefy tees are a dead giveaway that you’re from out of town. Dress sharp, but casual. Actually a messenger bag will probably help you blend in with the natives. So will a pair of Pumas or Converse.

    Madison Square Park is not near Madison Square Garden. The Met can mean The Met Museum of Art, or the Met Opera.

    Don’t stay in a Midtown hotel. Times Square is boring and expensive.

    Checkout chowhound.com for dining advice based upon your neighborhood, cuisine, price, and atmosphere preferences. Eat bagels and smoke salmon, pizza, pastrami sandwiches (on rye with mustard), burgers, steak, sushi, etc. Street pretzels are usually stale. Street halal food is usually better. Dirty water hot dogs will do in a pinch. Frozen yogurt is the new cupcakes. Cupcakes were the last big food trend. Cupcake bakeries are everywhere.

    Chase Banks are everywhere and the most common ATM branch. Duane Reade pharmacies have horrible layouts and terrible customer service but they are everywhere. They even had Chase Banks in them! When a store closes in Manhattan, it usually becomes a bank or a Duane Reade. Sigh. Between Duane Reade and your local bodega, you can get most any household/drugstore item 24 hours a day.

    Please stop by the Union Square Greenmarket if it’s a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday, and support the farmers.

    If you want knockoff designer bags, wander around Chinatown, look for the women holding pictures of the bags, saying brand names quietly. If you pass muster, they’ll take you into their locked warehouses (really just crappy, run down apartments).

    Yes, NYC is expensive. Yes, real estate is insane. People who live here have accepted it, but we’re still here, aren’t we? The vast majority of NYers came from somewhere else. Often times that somewhere else is another country. Love the diversity, don’t fight it or gawk at it, it’s part of what makes the city tick.

  77. coco commented on May 22

    Skip the Times Square TKTS booth for discount broadway tickets – the one at South Street Seaport is quieter and has shorter lines.

    There is no cellphone coverage in the subway. THAT came as a shock.

  78. Sandra commented on Jul 10

    I’m looking forward to visit the city in september!! I hope i’ll enjoy my holiday, because there are so many facilities to spent the vacation. I’m from Austria, i just want to eat a real burger and a donut and of course a bagel :)
    thanks for the do’s and don’ts. :-)

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