NYC feels like my hometown. Though I was born in TN and only lived in NYC for 3 years, I try to return at least 3 times each year to see my friends, visit my old church, and hang out with my City. Since I love it so much, I want you to love it too!
Sometimes it’s hard to love NYC as a tourist. Its rapid pace, intricate subway system, and unique street patterns (and the language associated with it) frustrate most visitors. On top of that, many tourists fear asking for help from locals, who seem abrupt and harsh.
I’d love to help debunk some myths and demystify some code language for you. Every bit of information should make things easier for you, making your trip less stressful and more enjoyable. I’ve compiled some helpful tips for you, as well as a list of my favorite spots to grab some a bite while you’re making your way around Manhattan.
2. Navigation Tips
3. How to be a Lovable Tourist
4. Suggested Spots
NYC is made up of 5 smaller cities (aka “boroughs”): Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Manhattan is the part of NYC that most people think of and refer to as “the City.” Since I rarely visit the outer boroughs, I’ll only be dealing with things in the City. I’ve attached a map of Manhattan below.
2. NAVIGATION TIPS:
* Avenues run north to south
* Streets run east to west
* 20 street blocks = 1 mile
* 5 avenue blocks = 1 mile
* BUT none of those things apply below Houston St (the street just south of 1st Street, essentially making it a kind of “zero street”). The numbered grid system doesn’t exist below Houston Street.
* In NYC, Houston is pronounced “HOW-stun” not “HYEW-stun”
* Uptown = above 59th Street
* Downtown = below 34th Street
* Midtown = 34th to 59th Streets
* The east side / west side division occurs at 5th Ave
* When people list cross streets, the order is Street then Avenue. You’ll often hear things like “The coffee shop is on 10th between 3rd & 4th,” (i.e. 10th Street, between 3rd & 4th Avenues) or “It’s on 10th & 3rd” (i.e. on the corner of 10th Street and 3rd Avenue).
* If you drive, no right turns on red
* Don’t fall asleep on the subway, no matter how tired you are
* Take cabs or Uber after midnight
* Subway lines are referred to by number or letter, not color
* People say “uptown / downtown,” instead of “north / south”
3. HOW TO BE A LOVABLE TOURIST:
* Walk fast.
* Walk faster.
* When stopping to check a map or convene for a discussion, move against a wall. In NYC, the sidewalks are the main routes of transportation. If you stop spontaneously or walk slowly, it’s akin to slamming on your brakes or doing 35 mph on the Interstate.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Just know what you need and ask directly. People appreciate directness in NYC, and they love to help, but they don’t like to waste time beyond that.
* Many of the best things about NYC aren’t in a travel guide. Ask the locals what they recommend.
* If at all possible, avoid eating in Midtown (near Times Square). Prices are ridiculous. Actually, if you want to experience the “locals” NYC, it’s best to avoid Midtown altogether once you’ve done the obligatory trip to Times Square and Rockefeller Center. These areas are mostly full of tourists, and once you venture into the more neighborhood-like places (East Village, West Village, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, etc.), you’ll find there are less people, things slow down a bit, and the atmosphere is friendlier.
* As much as possible, eat local. Don’t waste your time in NYC eating at the Sbarro you can find in your local mall’s food court (but for twice the price). Opt for local coffee shops instead of Starbucks.
* Bodega (“bo-DAY-guh”): quick-stop corner shop (like a gas station, but without the gas). You’ll see these everywhere. They’re a great place to stop for water or gum or cheap flowers, but they won’t let you use their restroom.
* Use the public restroom at every restaurant, coffee shop, or museum you visit. Restrooms are hard to find, and you don’t want to be in a bind.
* Many places are cash only, so carry cash with you.
* Restaurants will not split the check (90% of the time), so decide who will pay, then everyone else can Venmo the money to that person, or pay them in cash.
* No free refills. Sorry. Just drink water and you’ll be fine! It’s usually free!
* Do NOT use street ATMs or the ones in bodegas. That’s a quick way to get your identity stolen. Instead, use the ones at bank branches.
4. SUGGESTED SPOTS:
I don’t list any actual restaurants here, because cuisine preferences and budgets vary widely from person to person. I also don’t list anything healthy, because you’re on vacation and probably don’t care. Here’s the best, most delicious trash food the city has to offer. You’ll be hard pressed to find things like this in most of America’s towns.
– Best Hot Dog: Crif Dogs
113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009
(“St Marks Place” is essentially E. 8th Street, between 1st Ave and Ave A.) Get a “Chihuahua”. It’s a bacon-wrapped hot dog with guacamole and sour cream. I don’t understand why it’s so good. It just is. Lots of people like the tater tots. Tots are not my fave, but feel free to give ’em a go if you’re a totter.
– Bonkers Shake: Black Tap
529 Broome St.
There’s a line for these 1400 calorie, $15 shakes. Over the top and down the sides.
– Really Good Shake: Shake Shack
Madison Square Park (Madison Ave & E. 23rd St)
Get a “black and white”. This place recently franchised, so there may be a Shake Shack where you live. But still, if you wanna go to the flagship in a beautiful park, hit this one.
– Protein on the Go: Nuts 4 Nuts
– European Dessert: Wafels & Dinges
Their truck is usually parked at Columbus Circle & Central Park South OR 5th Ave & Central Park South. Get the wafelini, spread with nutella and chocolate, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream. This is very important: DO NOT let them put the chocolate on top of the ice cream. It will harden and you will not enjoy it as much. Have them put it directly on the wafelini where it will stay warmed up a bit.
– Best Cookie: Levain Bakery
164 W. 74th St, New York, NY 10023
Get the chocolate peanut butter cookie. The others are good, but the CPB is the hands-down winner. Give it a few minutes (3-ish) to set up. They make them fresh, and they’re a little TOO gooey until you let them cool a bit. Also, there will be a line. That’s okay. The longest I’ve ever had to wait (even with a very long line) was about 10-15 minutes and absolutely worth it. The cookie is $4 but weighs about a pound. By the way, forget Magnolia Bakery (where every tourist goes), because THIS is where the LOCALS go. Because they know. 🙂
– Cool Park: Highline Park
It’s an old, elevated train trestle now decked with landscaping, lawn chairs, and cart vendors. Bonus: cool views of the City!
This is easily the most confusing, defeating part of visiting a new city, especially if you’re not used to riding the train. Here are some pointers:
– Train Lines: Each color shares the same train track, at least for a while. On each track, there are Local trains (these stop at every station) and Express trains (these only stop at major stations along the same route). For example: on the A/C/E line, the A is Express, while the C and E are Local. The C and E hit a lot of the same spots in Manhattan, but will eventually split off to go in different directions, so pay attention to which trains stop where. Express trains are typically faster, but they come less often. Check out this map to see more info.
– Train Directions: Each train line goes 2 directions (uptown/downtown or “crosstown”), and you want to make sure you’re heading the right direction, so if you’re wondering if you’ve chosen the right train platform for the direction you’re heading, just ask someone standing at the platform before the train arrives. “Is this the train to Times Square?”
Strangely, the train directions are sometimes listed by what’s at the end of the line, not by what’s next on the line. If you’re at Times Square and you’re heading downtown to the World Trade Center, the train will say “Brooklyn bound”, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to Brooklyn next — it just means that’s the direction the train is headed. Learning a bit about the outer borough layout will help.
– Google Maps: Download the app if you haven’t already. This is a great option if you don’t know which train to take. Choose the “public transportation” option, and it will even tell you how to walk to the train/subway station from where you’re standing!
– Phones: Some trains and stations have wifi, but others don’t. If you’re going underground for a while and don’t need your phone, put it on airplane mode, because the battery will drain faster than you can imagine.