New York City is world-famous for many reasons. Perhaps it's the ever-present New Yorker drawl synonymous with a gritty, no-nonsense aura that engulfs the city. It could be the endless, lovable TV sit-coms we've grown up loving like Seinfeld, Friends, or How I Met Your Mother that glorify life in NYC and bonds us inexplicably to this town. With any number of foodie fantasies we have, be it the delicatessen pastrami sandwiches, all of the bagels, or walking through Brooklyn with our folded pizza slice - one thing is certain, there's no shortage of New York nommyness.
When visiting NYC it can be easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of experiences that we planned that we might miss the moment to observe the city like a true New Yorker. Maybe we're so busy asking our friends what they liked best on their recent visit that we forego the practical, often low-key advice from those who actually live there all year round.
A horse and carriage ride through Central Park? Making it to the top of the Statue of Liberty? Rather than forcing these typical tourist experiences, let's examine some of the often overlooked practical insights of locals to authentically appreciate what the city has to offer.
20 NYC Street Hot Dogs Aren't Awesome
Don't believe that any self-respecting New Yorker is really eating these things on a regular basis, despite the hype. Affectionately (and more so accurately) referred to as a 'dirty water dog', these hot dogs are boiled in hot salty water that is then soaked up by the lacklustre white bread bun.
They are small and unremarkable but for some reason often considered a 'claim to fame' in NYC. It can be worth it to grab one if you're on the go because they're pretty cheap and fast but don't expect anything too tasty (or hygienic) to emerge from these uncharacteristic carts.
If you are willing to splash out a bit more moola, you can try one of the newer 'organic' hot dog vendor options that have emerged near Central Park in response to the more widespread underwhelming 'dogs'.
19 Cockroaches and Rats Are Your Fellow Pedestrians
While you're walking along during your explorations, there may come a time where you will encounter the most vile of New Yorkers, the pests. The risk runs higher on garbage day in particular where stacks of smelly trash bags attract some of the city's critters like their Home Alone made famous pigeons, as well as roaches and rats.
Roaches are more likely during the summer months since they love the dirt, grime and humidity. You will see them arriving via sewers and walking along the city sidewalks just like everybody else, sometimes with a tiny briefcase yelling into a phone. Kidding aside, if it's your first time to NYC it can be nothing short of harrowing but alas, it is a reality. We figure that if you know to expect it, it can help to take a bit of the edge off when it happens.
18 Taking The Subway is Key
When you tell your friends that you're heading to NYC for a holiday, most of them will tell you 'make sure you bring good walking shoes!' because much like Paris, it is a town where people tend to walk a lot. While taxis move at a snail's pace and virtually no one will recommend that you take a bus, the subway is the lifeblood of the city and a much more viable option for getting around.
It operates 24/7 and can get you to most any part of the city you need to go. While you may be tempted to try and walk everywhere, it's simply not possible if you want to see everything.
17 Forget about Driving
Road trip to NYC? Good idea in theory, terrible idea in practicality. Not only is it completely inconvenient trying to battle the hoards of traffic but the parking is difficult to find and largely unaffordable. Among the seeming never-ending chorus of horns, there are the fearless pedestrians that dart in between cars and feel free to cross at incredibly inopportune moments.
It can take a college course alone just to understand their rules and regulations about where you can and can't be with your car, with restrictions changing frequently on two sides of the same street. It's not just you though, in a 2018 study Wallet Hub compared 100 US cities, ranking on things like traffic and infrastructure and safety. New York was number 94.
16 The Staten Island Ferry Is The Best Free Tour
It is one of the best-kept secrets of NYC that hopping on the Staten Island Ferry gives you optimal views of the city and Lady Liberty - for free!
Perhaps the biggest perk of the ferry is that it runs 24/7, is totally accessible and allows you to bring your bike (not car) onboard. You will have to debark on the other end so why not take a quick bike tour of Staten Island before heading back. While the ferry can hold quite a few passengers, you'll be best to avoid rush hours of 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm at all costs.
15 There is Lots To Do for Free!
Even if New York is one of the most unaffordable destinations, you'll be happy to know that most of their museums offer 'free admission' periods where guests can enjoy a budget-friendly visit. Chelsea Art Galleries, The 911 Museum, Museum of Art and Design, even The Museum of Modern Art - theses are just a few spots you get free access to if you play your cards right.
In addition to museums, NYC is famous for consistently having fabulous events and activities. Why not hit up Brooklyn Brewery for a tour or try your luck at scoring tickets for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon? Not only are they both awesome, they're both awesomely free.
14 Embracing The Smells
It can come as quite a shock when you're used to seeing Carrie and the gang from SATC flitting about in their designer outfits, enduring posh patio lunches without ever seeming to complain.
Like any large city, there are lots of people and that means lots of garbage. The city produces 12,000 tonnes of garbage each day but they don't have their own landfills or incinerators. Garbage is collected and transported either to New Jersey via diesel garbage trucks 7.8 million times a year! The pollution from those 'jaunts' alone has meant higher temperatures and humidity which unfortunately means festering scents and bacteria.
Even if the garbage is moved physically, its stench can breeze back over the river via strong winds. Probably best to forgo the patio on those days and nestle yourself among the air purifying trees of one of the many parks.
13 Grand Central Station is a Food Mecca
When asking for food recommendations from friends or fellow travellers, you better prepare a scroll. With over 25,000 eating establishments in the city, it would take you nearly 23 years of eating out consecutively before you ate at them all.
Now that we've sufficiently bombarded you, we're going to let you in on a little secret; if you're in doubt about where to go for your next meal you should head to Grand Central Station! It even has its own food festival in October called Taste of Grand Central and prides itself on providing local eateries only. There's no doubt you'll sample some of New York's favourites here in the stunning, historical marvel that it is the station itself.
12 There is No North or South
Since we are encouraging tips from the locals, before you brave it and stop a New Yorker to ask them for directions remember two things: 1. to keep it short and sweet, they don't want to know where you're from or that you're on holiday in NYC to visit your great Aunt Edna and 2. Uptown means North and Downtown means South.
Going in with this knowledge can mean an efficient exchange of information, in typical New York style. If you are able, state up front that you need directions, and if it's not a totally inopportune moment (like rush hour or while they are yelling into a phone), most people will be happy to help you out.
11 Their Measurement System is in Blocks
Speaking of directions and using the New Yorker language, they use 'blocks' to measure distance and time when asked how far something is. For distances running north/south 20 blocks is the equivalent of a single mile. On average one long block between avenues is estimated at 3 'normal or short' blocks, or 750 feet. It's estimated that there are 7 avenues to a mile.
It isn't an exact science and is still pretty confusing to anyone NOT from New York but it helps to know the reasoning for their math. If you're still super confused, grab a local sim card and stick with good ol' Google Maps or relish in the more plausible scenario that you will eventually get lost but also see cool things when you do.
10 Prospect Park is the New Central Park
Prospect Park is a 526-acre park located in Brooklyn that was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their completion of Manhattan's Central Park in 1867. In the park there is everything you need for a full day of fun from baseball, soccer, tennis, biking, and birdwatching to the historical boathouse and natural conservatory.
Every Sunday from April through October you can visit Smorgasburg, a famous outdoor food market that features 100 local food vendors at affordable prices. Why not grab lunch before heading over to the Prospect Park Zoo prided on its ethical treatment of animals and educational focus for guests? Now that's what we call a lunch and learn!
9 Time Square = Limbo
Time Square is where people like to document their first trip to NYC but we're uncertain as to why.
It is the definition of a tourist trap with horrible restaurants and goofy costumed mascots pushing themselves into your pictures.
You will feel like a salmon swimming upstream as you try to make it through the crowd of selfie-stick wielding fanatics while simultaneously being blinded by the megawatt ads at every angle. Once you arrive you will soon realize why New Yorkers don't really like this overrated hub of tourism.
Do yourself a favour and swap it out for a less overwhelming, more endearing New York City experience.
8 Hostels in NYC Are Choice
Hostels are the gift travellers give themselves because of their budget-friendliness. By staying in one it allows you to allocate your bucks elsewhere whether it's a nice dinner out or special excursion. In NYC, seemingly average hostels have dorms that start at 50 dollars per person per night. If you're traveling in 2, it can seem like the cost of a regular old hotel room by the end of the stay. Well, maybe the cost of a hotel room anywhere but New York...
In the city that never sleeps and where real estate is at a premium, hotel rooms have a nightly rate that starts at $200 per night on average - yowza! Not to mention that high price hotel room will, in most cases, only be slightly bigger than a bunk bed anyway, so may as well make the most of a hostel situation.
7 Tipping 20% is Normal
Tipping culture is different all over the world and even within different parts of the USA. In NYC, your servers and cab drivers are making less than a livable wage in an exceedingly expensive city. Even if the suggested tip is 15-20%, most locals are leaving 20% on top of their restaurant bill automatically. An easy way to calculate it without going crazy is to simply double the tax on the bill as your tip amount at 17%. Anything more than that is icing on the cake.
Shelling out singles to every service person who helps you on your holiday in NYC is the norm. It's customary to tip $1-2 to taxi drivers, bellhops and bartenders each and every time. Make sure that you have cash.
6 All Black is Best
Even if you're not a fashion blogger it's possible to blend in with this city's trendy and large body of celebrity residents by donning its most adored wardrobe staple: all black. If you really want to dress to impress you can accessorize with a colourful bag or shoes but all black is always totally acceptable.
Why do New Yorkers love black so much? Not only is black slimming but its modern and edgy. They know that they have a tough reputation and all black is their uniform that endorses it. A total symbol of power, elegance and modesty - it's the absolute answer if you want to blend in with this metropolitan crowd.
5 NYC's Chinatown is the Biggest in the West
Lower Manhattan's Chinatown district contains the largest Chinese population outside of Asia in the Western Hemisphere with an estimated population of 90,000 - 100,000 people. It is also one of the oldest with the first Chinese immigrant landing in 1850. Here you will find buildings that are rich with history and can partake in self-guided or 'pay what you can' foot tours that tell the neighbourhood's story.
Take a rest in Columbus Park and you may witness residents enjoying card games, tai-chi or live Chinese musicians playing lutes. You can't leave China town without a visit to Aji Ichiban Candy Store which serves up authentic Asian snacks and candies that you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city.
4 Headphones Can Help
New York is a massive city so naturally you will encounter all kinds of noise. With never-ending construction, symphonies of honking cars and of course those 'friendly strangers' whom you do not wish to talk with, most locals would agree that headphones can help!
Popping on some over-the-ear headphones signals to the world that you are in DND mode which is especially important in any kind of public space. Unless you find yourself in a soundproof recording studio, it will be difficult to find moments of peace while in NYC, so you are better off creating them for yourself. Pop on your (preferably noise-cancelling) headphones, cue up a soothing nature mix on YouTube or Spotify and you're made in the shade!
3 There's No Time to Smell The Roses
There's no time to dawdle in NYC. If you're planning to take a picture you will have to look both ways to ensure that you are not getting steamrolled by fast-paced pedestrians on their way to work/lunch/the spa. If you do stop in the middle of the sidewalk, you may get bumped or told to 'move it' which is maybe where the city gets its 'tough love' reputation.
The people of Manhattan in particular value efficiency above all else so have your coffee/bagel/sandwich order ready to roll by the time it's your turn to order and wallet out to follow up with payment quickly. If you're wanting a more leisurely pace of life, we hear France is nice this time of year.
2 Make Reservations
If you have plans to dine at some of the nicer establishments of NYC, you're going to want to make a reservation. Otherwise you could end up being disappointed (or straight up -hangry!) when you're left to stand and wait for upwards of an hour for a table to open up.
There really is no disadvantage to calling ahead or using a service like opentable.com to book online. This is especially true if your time in NYC is limited and you have your heart set on a particular restaurant - it's simply not worth the risk (or the wait) resulting from the lack of a reservation in advance.
1 Oysters Are A Part Of NYC History
In 1609, New York had approximately 350 square miles of oyster reefs in the harbour and surrounding area at the time containing half the world's oyster population! The surrounding river area was regarded as one the most biologically productive, diverse, and dynamic environments on the planet due to the filtering ability of the oysters.
Since the oysters were in abundance they were always affordable. What is much loved by New Yorkers as 'buck a shuck' happy hour today was 6 cents for all you can eat oysters back then. Sadly, by 1906 NYC was completely depleted of oysters and the water quality was too poor for regeneration which brought about the Clean Water Act in 1972.
This October the harbour's Billion Oyster Project is celebrating its 15th anniversary and hopes to have 1 billion live oysters and 100 acres of reefs to regenerate what it once had by 2035. By achieving their goal with numerous volunteers and ongoing charitable donations, it will make NYC the oyster capital of the world once more.
Reference: Wallet Hub, Business Insider, NYTimes, prospectpark.org, billionoysterproject.org