I feel it is important to familiarize yourself with the five boroughs of New York City before you go. There is Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.
I got this image on Wikipedia. There’s some good information on the page about the different boroughs, so I recommend you go take a look.
The only times I have ever felt uncomfortable or not safe in NYC was once in 1991, but much in the way of security has changed since then. The last experience was a few years ago in the Bronx when I ended up lost in areas you do not want to be lost! I recommend seeing them all, but if you venture into the Bronx, do be careful and don’t go there at night if you can avoid it. It is much different from other areas of NYC. On Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, you will find the best Italian food (not Little Italy as you may believe)! The Bronx is also where you will go to see Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo (I liked it, but it’s a zoo – like many others I have seen).
Most likely you will spend your time in Manhattan, so it is also important to understand the different sections the city.
I found this great image and some good information on Wikipedia.
I do NOT recommend renting a car. There are just too many variables: Traffic, pedestrians, tourists, buses, trucks, bicyclists, joggers, just to name a few. Additionally, I hardly ever take a taxi. They are costly and not always timely (again, the traffic). The times I have taken a taxi, is when I needed a quick exit from an area, or if I am unsure of the subway route (sometimes there are express routes that won’t make the stops you need, or there are lines that only operate during the day).
So, typically I walk or take the subway. Depending on how long my stay is, I usually get a seven-day MetroCard. You can get your MetroCard from a vending machine in the lobby area in each subway. Below is a map of the subway routes. When going into a subway station, pay careful attention to which direction the subway is going (north or south).
Downloading an app is very helpful (but remember that phone service is sketchy when you enter the subway area). But an app will have a good map and also show the different lines.
Here’s the official subway route map and website.
It might take a little bit, with all the skyscrapers, to figure out which way is which. I pick out landmarks to help me with that. Central Park is north unless you are in Harlem, then it is south (by the way, I highly suggest you go to Harlem. I have eaten some fantastic food and gone to church there, so I will be suggesting some of those spots a little later). The Statue of Liberty is south; Ground Zero/WTC/911 Memorial is south. This also means that the Financial District is south.
It is also good to remember that if the street numbers (numbered streets run east and west) are going down, then you are going south; if they are getting higher, you are going north. This gets a little tricky because, in Lower Manhattan, there are streets with names and not numbers. So plan on getting lost and turned around! Likewise, the area around Alphabet City is a little confusing.
Avenues run north and south and increase in number as you go west towards the Hudson River (where you can see New Jersey). As avenues decrease, you are going towards the East River with a beautiful view of Brooklyn.
There isn’t enough time in any one visit to NYC to see it all (I’ve been almost a dozen times, and still there is stuff I haven’t seen). So decide your “must-sees,” pinpoint where they are in each part of the city and see what else is also in that area that you can do while there.
Walk as much as you can!!!! Use your best judgment with what I am about to tell you: True New Yorkers walk when it says “Don’t walk.” What will set you apart as a tourist is if you wait for the “walk” signal at crosswalks. Do as New Yorkers do and cross, but watch traffic and be very careful crossing streets. The only time I have had any trouble is when I wasn’t paying attention to the bike riders (they are very rude and obnoxious).
I find New Yorkers to be extremely efficient and helpful. Their system of getting around is what I consider a well-oiled machine, and they don’t want that disrupted. So you will find they are ready to assist you with directions because they need to help you get on the move so you are no longer disrupting the flow of things.
DOS AND DON’TS
- Do see a Broadway play. I have seen several, and my all-time favorite was Jersey Boys (if the “f” word is going to bother you, though, you might want to skip it… but if you can tolerate it, the show is absolutely funny, entertaining, a great depiction of a great band and their music). My new all-time favorite, however, is now Waitress.
- DO NOT expect to get cheap tickets for the newer and more popular shows. But If you want to try to get cheaper tickets to other shows, go to one of the TKTC Discount Booths. (I prefer the South Street Seaport Booth – But I also love that area of the city). Click here to visit the TKTC site for up-to-date information.
- The Times Square Booth sells day-of-performance discount tickets. At Window #1 you may purchase full-price tickets to future performances for all shows and same-day full-price tickets to shows that aren’t being discounted.
- The Downtown Brooklyn Booth sells tickets to evening performances on the day of the performance and matinee tickets the day before as well as tickets to Brooklyn performing arts events.
- The South Street Seaport Booth sells tickets to evening performances on the day of the performance and matinee tickets the day before.
- DO NOT waste too much time at Times Square. Go, see it and move on to something less touristy (if you really want to see NYC, it is not in Time Square). AND DO NOT EAT THERE if you actually want to experience good New York Food venture out to other parts of the city!
- DO go to Ellis Island, but DO NOT get off at the Statue of Liberty. You pretty much get all the viewing you want of the Lady from Manhattan, on the ferry over there and while you sit there parked next to her. Stay on the ferry at the Statue and go on to Ellis Island and DO get the audio tour. This outing will eat up much of your day, so purchase your tickets online before you go and get there early.
- Do go to the Met, but DO NOT pay the suggested price. They put the suggested price, and you think that is the ticket price but is only a suggestion because the MET is run on donations. So you can pay what you want (don’t be cheap, but just know that you do not have to pay what they have posted). Also, when you go to the Met, it might be a good time to walk around in Central Park since it is right there so is the American Museum of Natural History
- DO NOT take pics of school and school children (I am not a weirdo nor anything, but I do like taking “in the moment” type of photos and was unaware that in the background of my potential photo was a school releasing children for the day). You will find out there are cops where you did not know there are cops.
- DO the hop on hop off bus – yes it is a touristy thing, but you can learn a lot and get a feel for the layout of the city.
- DO two of the best views of NYC
- Brooklyn Heights (in Brooklyn). I suggest walking the Brooklyn Bridge an hour or so before it gets dark so that you can get a breathtaking night view of NYC.
- Top of the Rock (do this during the day, if you are afraid of heights, this is not for you).
- DO see the Empire State Building, go inside, but skip going to the top. Do the Rock instead.
- DO Walk the Brooklyn Bridge!!!! (Financial District) At the base of the bridge in Brooklyn George Washington and his troops narrowly escaped from the British due to an unexpected fog that came in just before dawn. Had they been captured, which was inevitable had it not been for the mist, the result of the war would have been entirely different. Also, research the construction of the bridge – fascinating to find out that a woman is largely responsible for its completion!
- DO download a subway app
- DO use Yelp!
- DO Italian food in the Bronx (go during the day!) on Arthur Avenue. I like a place called Roberto’s, 603 Crescent Ave, Bronx, NY 10458. If you want to experience Italian food, go here, not Little Italy.
- DO see the Flat Iron Building. It is my favorite building in NYC. And explore the area while you are there.
- DO DO DO go to St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero. You will not leave without crying!!!!!! While there you can also see Wall Street, the Bull, Trinity Church, and Ground Zero. Pay close attention to how close St. Paul’s Chapel is to Ground Zero, and yet nothing was damaged at this Holy Church. George Washington attended church here, and his pew is still there. Also, in the Financial District, you will see a statue of George Washington on the spot where he took his oath. This section of the city has a lot of history and yet, people pass it by as if it’s nothing.
- DO go see Grand Central Terminal and look at the ceiling to find the small area left from before its restoration. Thanks to Jackie O, Grand Central was spared from demolition. She fought to have it restored to the magnificence it was intended. If you are lucky, a manager will spot you, and you will get a personal tour! Such a thing happened to me and I got to see the basement, the original chart they used to log schedules, the upstairs behind the glasses, where I could look down below at the people. Also, there are some amazing restaurants in the terminal (and it is a terminal, not a station!)
- DO go to the Ed Sullivan Theatre and Do go to nearby Hello Deli (around the corner), you have a VERY good chance to see Rupert (he made appearances on David Letterman).
- Don’t do Bronx Zoo (glad I went, but wouldn’t recommend it). If you have kids or just love that sort of thing, go for it.
- Do go to the Standard Grill (was not at all impressed with the restaurant at the top of the hotel, though) if you want to spot someone “important” (but you will need reservations if you want to eat there. I suggest going after lunch and before dinner and stopping in for a drink and appetizer. I don’t recall the food being phenomenal, but the atmosphere is and I met Tommy Hilfiger). It’s located at 848 Washington St, New York, NY 10014, b/t 13th St & Little W 12th St in West Village, Meatpacking District.
- Do go see the Tenement Museum (Lower Eastside). But get tickets in advance because they sell out quickly!
- DO DO DO go eat at Katz’s!!!!! And when you enter tell them you want to sit down – if you have time for the wait. Otherwise, you deal with the chaos of ordering at the bar – it’s kind of fun, but a little overwhelming too. If you sit down, then you have time to process what you want to order.
- DO go see Grant’s Tomb and Columbia University. It is in upper Manhattan in Morningside Heights Area. While there go see the breathtaking Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.
- Do see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Tiffany’s, and Trump Tower – all are on 5th Avenue.
- DO pack comfortable shoes and layered clothing.
- DO Central Park (It is huge so you might not get to see it all). I suggest a horse and buggy ride. On the Upper East Side at the Dakota, you can see where John Lennon was shot and killed and across the street in Central Park, you can visit a memorial to him called Strawberry Fields.
- DO go to Gramercy Park. It is said to be the quietest place in the city. You cannot go inside the park, but as you get close, you will notice a startling silence. I think it’s pretty neat. The park is only for tenants in the nearby homes (for people like Julia Roberts).
- Do go to the Snack. 105 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012, b/t Spring St & Prince St in South Village. It is a fascinating part of the city where some Beat Generation leftovers are walking
- Do go to Harlem. It is lovely, and the food is awesome (this, in connection with Grant’s Tomb and Columbia University, make a good combo). Sylvia’s is fantastic soul food. 328 Malcolm X Blvd. While here you can also go by The Apollo. While I was there, I went on a Sunday and attended Church at Mother African Methodist Episcopal Church. It “was the first black church in New York State, founded in 1796. The church, known as the Freedom church, became a stop on the Underground Railroad. The church was also a focal point of contemporary black social activism, attended Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. The church relocated to Harlem in 1925 to its present-day location at 140-7 W. 137th Street. (NOTE: There is a discrepancy in the address–158 abolitionists Church Street is a couple of blocks away from the Leonard Street intersection. Leonard Street, however, is where the plaque is located.)” (Zamir, Monique: Stops on the Underground Railroad in New York)
- DO get a New York hot dog from a street vendor (I have tested this, and they are the best, better than GRAY’S PAPAYA!)
- DO Halal Guys! Honestly one of the best eating experiences (among many amazing food experiences) I have ever had in NYC. We arrived late and tired one evening. Everyone was hungry, so I checked on Yelp to find a place that was still open, and that was good. The result was the Halal Guys food stand. As we were walking up to the place, I was saying that I sure hoped it was as good as all the reviews. When we rounded the corner, we saw that there was a line a block long (but moving fast). It is INCREDIBLE!
- If you want to splurge, DO The River Café in Brooklyn (but make reservations and be prepared to dress nice and to spend some $$$ – but it is worth doing at least once in your life). It is also near Brooklyn Heights, so you have a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline.
- In Harlem, a must do is Jacob’s Restaurant and Sylvia’s!
- The reviews are just so-so on Yelp, but I actually really liked Black Seed Bagels. YOU MUST DO BAGELS somewhere WHILE IN NYC! They say the bagels in NYC are better than anywhere else.
- Do notice that New York City’s skyline is dotted with wooden water towers that are easy to mistake for vanishing relics of the bygone eras of seltzer bottles and street gas lamps. But what many don’t realize is the towers are hardly antiques — in fact, most drink and bathe from the water stored in them every day.
- I also enjoyed Museum of the American Gangster, so it is a do. It is a little quirky, and the person guiding the tours is also quite quirky. But you do get to see an actual speakeasy with an interesting story.
- And I liked Grimaldi’s. Again the reviews on this place are just so-so on Yelp. But I enjoyed it so do
- Be sure to check the hours on this place – BUT BE SURE YOU GO HERE! DO Clinton Street Baking Company. I gained probably 20 lbs eating here! Loved the banana walnut pancakes!
- And the High Line is a must do – especially during greener, warmer seasons!
- If you like cemeteries, some of the churches I have listed have old cemeteries in them. But one you should attempt to go see (time permitting) is Woodlawn Cemetery. Woodlawn Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in New York City and is a designated National Historic Landmark and has notables such as Herman Melville buried there. It is quite a bit away from the center of the city but is worth it to do it.
I am sure I have left out a lot, so I will do my best to keep working on this blog and updating it.
My favorite place to stay is the Salisbury on 57th street, but I’ve been testing the Hostel atmosphere lately and like that too.
Also, there is a certain way to provide addresses that will help you when providing information to someone like a cab driver: “It’s on 57th Street between 5th and 6th.”
The city is on a grid (mostly), which makes getting around fairly easy. Broadway, however, is a major exception to the rule. Starting on the far Upper West Side and ending up at the southeast corner, it is said that this is the original path the natives took when moving closer to the water for fishing for their food.
Here’s another helpful tool: At 5th Ave. building numbers change from East to West. So if you are looking for a place that is 123 E 57th St, you know it is east of 5th Ave, whereas 123 W 57th St is west of 5th Ave.
Gone, but not forgotten!
These places used to be on my list of dos, but they are now gone. But I still wanted to give them a mention.
- GONE – 5pointz (http://5ptz.com). You will have to venture out of Manhattan into Queens to see it, but it’s really not a bad venture. Subway E from Manhattan to Long Island City will get you there. 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. is an outdoor art exhibit space in Long Island City, New York (in Queens). It is considered to be the world’s premiere “graffiti Mecca,” where aerosol artists from around the globe paint colorful pieces on the walls of a 200,000-square-foot factory building. The name 5Pointz signifies the five boroughs coming together as one but, because of its reputation as an epicenter of the graffiti scene, the industrial complex has actually united aerosol artists from across the world. Legendary writers from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, and all over the United States have painted on the building walls, including Stay High 149, Tracy 168, Cope2, Part, and Tats Cru. On any given day, 5Pointz visitors can expect to find prominent artists, musicians, deejays, Emcees (rappers), and B-boys (break dancers) on site, in addition to filmmakers, photographers, and entire tour buses full of admirers soaking in the more than 350 Technicolor murals.
- CLOSED –Bridge Café. I love the atmosphere here. Food is pricey, but it is good. Dessert is excellent. It’s the oldest running drinking establishment in NYC. It was once a brothel and is now said to be haunted. It is off the beaten path, so you will see a lot of locals there, rather than tourists. It sits at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, at the corner of Dover and Water Street. Take the time while you’re there to walk down Water Street; some very interesting people live in the buildings nearby. If you strike up a conversation with one of them, you can learn a great deal about the spirit of this section of the city. Once I met an artist/writer who had devoted her life to telling the story of the seaman who was once the livelihood of this now quite section of the city. She took their pictures and told their stories, as well as devoting her life to shooting some breath-taking photos of the Brooklyn Bridge. http://bridgecafenyc.com. 279 Water St, New York, NY 10038 Phone: (212) 227-3344, e-mail: email@example.com. This section of the city was once the fish market area. Continue on down to Fulton and/or John Street. There are some nice places to shop.
- CLOSED – If you really want an adventure, try Prosperity Dumplings. The only time I have found a place to eat for less than $5 and be full was when I ate here. Talk about HOLE IN THE WALL! 46 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002, b/t Canal St & Hester St in Chinatown, Lower East Side. You will think you are in the wrong place, but keep on going. If you blink, you can miss it. I like the steamed dumplings the best, but try it all. There is no room for sitting, so I go to the park nearby and sit on the benches.
Zamir, Monique. “Stops on the Underground Railroad in New York.” Untapped Cities. n.p. 17 Jan 2012. Web. 21 Jan 2014. http://untappedcities.com/2012/01/17/the-underground-railroad-in-new-york/