Tips From an NYC Insider
I moved to New York in mid-February of this year and have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out the subway system, discovering what places are the best to go to on weeknights, and learning how to best avoid panhandlers, among other things. Through working a few jobs, and making some friends along the way, I have finally started coming into my own in New York. I have also had a few family members and friends come into town since I have moved, requesting tourist destinations in a few of the boroughs, which prompted me to put together an elaborate list of dos and don’ts as tourists in the city. Naturally, this is a very subjective list of feasible tourist activities to do in a weekend in NYC on a budget, but this is in no way an exhaustive list.
1. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
During the journey you will see amazing views of lower Manhattan, as well as the Statue of Liberty. Wear comfortable shoes, and if you are used to walking a few blocks to or from work each day, the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge won’t seem as physically traumatic as some might argue. Once off the bridge, you have easy access to tourist hotspots, such as the government buildings or the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Tip: If you make the 9/11 Memorial a destination be sure to get tickets prior to the day of your visit.
2. Visit Central Park.
Central Park is absolutely lovely, and usually anyone visiting New York plans to see the world-famous park. My favorite spot is on the east side of the park, a few streets down from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, the west side of the park features Strawberry Fields, the “Imagine” mosaic that serves as a John Lennon memorial. A helpful tip: Strawberry Fields is located between 71st and 74th Streets, which you can access at the 72nd Street subway stop. It is definitely worth checking out.
3. Keep your phone charged.
My phone always dies. When I first moved to New York, I used up so much of the battery on location services and subway apps it was a lucky day if my phone stayed charged for more than three hours. I’ve charged my phone literally everywhere in the city; however, I will say my favorite place to casually charge my phone is at the New York Public Library (accessible via Bryant Park or via a quick walk from Grand Central Terminal). Remember to always pack your charger and, if your phone dies while you’re out, head upstairs to the library’s main reading room, past the computers, and make a quick right. I typically head to the section housing reviews and letters from Woolf, Joyce, Kipling, etc. and happily read while bringing my phone back to life.
4. Dine in Times Square at least once—but be prepared for a pricey meal.
If you go out to eat in Times Square, expect to spend an hour or so waiting for a table—and to spend at least $40 a person on one appetizer and one drink. Seriously. It’s so expensive it seems inhumane; however, I would recommend it as something you should do at least once, but know you’ll be paying for the experience, quite literally. Which brings me to my next point…
5. Enjoy happy hour in NYC.
Happy hours in New York City will save your life (and your budget)! A lot of bars in Greenwich Village are good about hosting happy hours. (I don’t spend much time in the Upper West or East Sides, but I’m sure you’ll find good deals there as well.) It sounds cliché, but TGI Fridays at Union Square is a good one if you’re looking for a familiar place with good deals on drinks and food.
6. See a taping of your favorite show.
Look online (well in advance of your trip) for applications for tickets to see the tapings of your favorite shows. For “Saturday Night Live,” you’ll realistically be standing in line for hours, but the prospect of seeing that show, in my opinion, is greater than a lot of others. A tip for seeing the concerts during “The Today Show”: Get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. to arrive at Rockefeller Plaza at around 6:30 to 7 a.m. If you can’t make it to where the crowd is standing, head to the café to the left of the stage (or opposite the studio); for about $3 you can get good views of the outdoor concert and provide your body with enough caffeine to get through the rest of the day.
7. Embrace all things free.
The Apple Store in SoHo has to be one of my favorite places to go for interesting, celebrity-laden, free events. During the TriBeCa film fest, I saw Steve Martin on one evening and Snoop Lion the next. Gwyneth Paltrow did an event surrounding her website and app that next week. It is always a good time and, surrounded by crowd-goers who are either really into music/tech/etc. or who want to get a glimpse at stars, the polarizing aspect of the audience is interesting enough to head that way. In addition, museums have free days during the week, and many offer events at night so check out their event calendars. The Staten Island Ferry is a free way to see the Statue of Liberty and get great views of the city. Do it … when it’s nice out.
8. Bookmark MyFreeConcert.com and Nifty NYC.
While discussing free things in NYC, my most-used sites for finding free (and exciting) things are MyFreeConcert.com and Nifty NYC. Without sounding evangelical, MyFreeConcert.com provides free events as well as some super awesome paid events that either feature special performers or free drinks. The site has a tab specifically for “Free Booze,” and I can definitely vouch for these events on more than one occasion. It is definitely a site to stalk as it is updated frequently.
9. Be mindful of your safety.
Don’t be alarmed by the EXTREME number of panhandlers on the subway. Be aware and remain cautious, but unless you feel entirely compelled to pay attention to the stories they tell know that most New Yorkers keep their earbuds intact and continue reading their iPads. I won’t say how I feel about it one way or another (although I will plug my homeless friend Peter who I’ve seen at the Broadway/Lafayette station; if you’re ever in town, do talk to him and give him a couple), I will say it’s not looked down upon if you do give money, and its not entirely looked down upon if you don’t. Donate if you want, but know it happens all of the time. ALL OF THE TIME. Dancers, singers, etc. are common ways of people seek money, and I’ve seen some great performances at the 14th Street/Union Square station.
10. Don’t worry about getting lost.
Speaking of subways, be comforted knowing everyone has gotten lost on the subway a few times. It took me two whole weeks, night and day, to learn very simple ways of getting around. That was until I found the app HopStop, which I suggest you stop what you are doing and download this instant. You are able to view the “Map,” even while you are underground and have a split second to decide whether to get off, transfer, or stay on. You can also use the “Schedules” tab to see when your next train will arrive or how long a commute will be at any given time. It’s an NYC-lifesaver.
11. Ask if sparkling is an option.
Before moving to New York I didn’t realize restaurants have an option for tap or sparkling water. While living in London I became a sparkling water kind of girl so, when out, I make sure to ask if they have it as a (free) option without having to pay extra for a bottle of Pellegrino.
12. Wear flats.
NYC is a walker’s (or taxi) city so, unless your hotel is right off of a subway stop or you have loads of cash to spend on taxis and tips, be prepared to walk MILES. Comfortable shoes are important; socks or those little foot liners are a necessity. Ladies, for those of you who intend to wear heels for a night out, remember you can wear flats while traveling and carry heels in your purse, or take a cab if you don’t feel like carrying a bag or coat checking it.
13. Travel outside the city, if possible.
Finally, it’s fairly inexpensive to travel outside of the city proper so if you have time for a day trip or two, I would highly recommend it. Trips to Boston, Pittsburgh, and Maryland are super-cheap, and it’s always a good time to visit friends and family.