New York City is my home. It’s a metropolis of diversity and hidden fun activities for all types of people. From the authentic Dominican food in Spanish Harlem to the hipsters in Williamsburg and even to the weird people who jog every morning around central park (what do these people do anyway?), you’ll find anyone and everyone you would or wouldn’t like to meet. Your only restriction is your willingness to try new things (and money… money is important – this place can get pricy).
Things the City does well:
- Food of all flavors. Sushi connoisseur? Ramen snob? Meat lover? Adventurous eater? Vegan? Whatever you prefer, you’ll find a restaurant that will exceed your expectations, or at the very least, scratch the itch. I’ve been exploring new restaurants in NYC for the past 7 years and I’m still always pleasantly surprised.
- Tall buildings. I didn’t realize skyscrapers were so rare until I traveled the major cities in Europe. Of all the places I’ve been, NYC is the only place that engulfs you with this feeling of insignificance, importance, and loneliness.
- Street names. Manhattan is a grid. Avenues run North and South with numbers growing to 10th Ave East to West (10th Ave is West Side Highway and near 1st Ave is FDR drive). Streets run East to West with numbers growing to 200’s at the North end near the Bronx. 1st St near East Village is Houston St. Following Broadway, which diagonally cuts North West, there are a few important landmarks: 14th St is Union Square, 23rd is Madison Square park / Flatiron Building, 34th is Penn Station / Madison Square Garden, 42nd is Times Square, 59th is Lincoln Center / the beginning of central park, 116th is Columbia University. South of Houston (or SoHo) following Broadway will go into shopping district and lead to Chinatown and Little Italy. Going further South there’s less of the grid structure and more confusing names in the Financial District.
- Convenience. There’s a bodega and semi-decent restaurant on every block (or at most 2 minutes of walking). You can walk a Street in approximately 1 minute and Avenues take around 2 minutes.
- Nightlife. Whether you’re going clubbing, sipping cocktails on a rooftop, enjoying scotch in a lounge, or drinking cheap beer at a dive bar, there’s a place for you. Also, restaurants don’t close at 11pm like in most cities in Europe so there’s some great night grub around the corner if you get the munchies.
- Broadway shows. Although slightly expensive, these are all wonderful musicals that will get you in a singing mood for the rest of the week. You should definitely go to one if you’re a Gleek. I suggest Wicked or Book of Mormon (if you can get tickets).
- Specialty shops. If you’re looking for a certain style or niche market (e.g. vinyl, books, anime, comics, etc) you’ll find a unique place to buy these and chat with passionate geeks in these spaces.
Things the City could improve on:
- Driving. i don’t like driving in the City because the taxis are relentless when fighting for customers or just speeding to make the light. To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents. If you’re not an aggressive driver, you will be honked off the road and feel like an old chinese lady driving. The worst is the one-way streets alternating every block. Even-numbered streets go one-way East and odd-numbered streets go one-way West. Major streets like Houston, 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, etc are often packed with buses and have these no-turn signs into avenues so you’ll wind up taking this weird route. Any street above 59th St is cut off by Central Park, so you’ll take forever to cross between East and West side. Seriously avoid the headache and just take the subway.
- Subways. I’ve gotten used to the frequent delays and changes, but what’s ridiculous is the subway announcements. We have the technology! Why does the conductor slur all of his/her words into an inaudible series of noises? I can’t imagine the difficulty tourists have when they’re trying to understand delays/reroutes/transfers. Also, the trains that come into the station are not always the right train numbers. 2/3 numbered trains sometimes show up on the 4/5 track so the electronic subway map at the top is just says “different route”. Throughout Europe and Hong Kong, you can easily spot vast improvements.
- Homeless population. It’s often saddening walking through the subways and streets of NYC because you want to help everyone, but you can’t. Everyone has a sob story worse than the next and my heart crushes every time. New Yorkers often just avoid eye contact and continue listening to their music while looking at their phone when peddlers come onto the train to ask for change. It’s very easy to get desensitized to this, but I do hope that people at least listen and be thankful for what they have.
Suggested half-day itineraries:
I’ve split these into half-day neighborhood walks and activities. These are the things I never get tired of and often use for dating. I would pick these itineraries based on the weather because walking is definitely a major plus for seeing more of the sights. My friend suggested 2-3 hours in one area, resting for lunch/coffee/tea-time, and then going to another area for another 2-3 hours.
- Penn Station, Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, and the Macy’s (where they usually have the Thanksgiving day parade with the huge Snoopy) are all in the same few blocks radius around 32nd Street. I personally have never gone up to the top of the Empire State Building because it’s so touristy, but I can imagine it’s a wonderful sunset view on a clear day. MSG is a great place to see a basketball or hockey game. Around there is also the Flying Puck, if you want to go somewhere to drink a beer and watch a hockey game (look-up when the Rangers play).
- Times Square is unavoidable and probably a must-see for most tourists. Try to go outside of rush-hour (5-7PM) so you can see the famous bright lights on Broadway and gawk at the tourists always looking up and taking pictures of those billboards. You’ll probably join in with the photos. With good planning, walk through this area while heading towards your Broadway play of the night..
- Flatiron building and Madison Square Park. Besides the great view of the famous flatiron building, there’s also a pretty little park and 230 Fifth for a rooftop view of Manhattan.
- I love Battery Park’s south of Manhattan view. I remember walking from the Ritz Carlton off the 4/5 Bowling Green stop and walking North along the West side of Manhattan towards the financial area. You’ll be able to see the statue of liberty and decide whether or not to take the ferry to get a closer look. There are a lot of romantic spots in this area that I’ve always wanted to bring a girlfriend. Towards the end of the walk by the pier, you’ll be able to see the Freedom Towers construction.
- Washington Square park and Soho. This is more for shopping and scenery. While you’re here, you can cover Chinatown and Little Italy as well. My usual route is to get steamed soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe, but if you’re Chinese, skip eating Chinese food and just have some cheesecake from Ferraras.
- On the West side around 23rd Street is Highline Park. Walk atop this old train rail and head South towards the Standard Hotel around 14th Street. The Standard Hotel’s rooftop is perfect for a 6PM view. Drinks are ridiculously overpriced, but the view and their live classy music is usually worth an hour.
Uptown / Central Park:
- Central Park walk. Central Park is pretty huge, but it’s beautiful all season around. There are also some great museums around the area. The Guggenheim is classy, but too expensive without a corporate pass. I’ve found the exhibits there to be too abstract for my taste. The MET and MOMA are also great choices. For the MET, I personally like the Greek/Roman exhibit. I can lie down on that marble bench and stare at marble for hours.
- Rent a bike and do a nice day touring NYC. There’s a fun and easy trail along the Brooklyn park looking into the city. It leads into Red Hook and maintains a beautiful scenery of the water. I think there are a few distilleries down in that area as well..
- Brooklyn / Dumbo and the Park overlooking NYC. Walk along the side on the weekend and have a picnic lunch or possibly grab something from the frequent fairs they have near there.
- Take the ferry from Brooklyn to Roosevelt island. It’s a free East River ferry, but I’m not exactly sure what there is to do once in Roosevelt island.
- Walk the Brooklyn bridge. It gets crowded when the weather is nice, but you’ll get a great view of the Freedom towers.
New York City is a phenomenal place. I’m here for all the little underground things that give any city personality, and trust me, there is no shortage of personality here. As with any city, you need to make an effort to make the most out of it. The tourist mindset makes you purposefully try new things and explore new areas.
As a New Yorker, I feel like I’ve never really found a need to explore my own home. I’ve done all the suggestions I’ve written, but there’s so much more out there to investigate. Take a tour. Meet some new friends. Live life in the eyes of a tourist. Always interested. Always curious.