Explore New York like a local
Eat, walk, travel and enjoy like a New Yorker on your next trip to the city, Shruti Arora tells you where to go and what to do
Manhattan is a grid city, placing streets and avenues horizontally and vertically. And streets keep adding as you go north. So it’s not unusual for people to guide you to a location by mentioning a junction on a particular avenue.
Ditch the tour guides and get yourself a subway ticket. A seven-day metro card allows you unlimited travel for an entire week. Don’t call the train a metro, call it a subway like the locals do. New York’s local and express trains are like Mumbai’s slow and fast trains respectively; locals stop at all stations.
Walk, walk and walk. Everyone walks! Wearing sneakers and blazers is common place. But don’t stroll. Locals walk at a high pace and sudden stops could cause accidents.
Must do like the locals
You can skip Fifth Avenue, the tourists’ favourite for shopping. But Times Square, though the tourist’s hub, is certainly worth a visit for the lights, glamour, feel of the city and of course, the Broadway shows! Your New York experience is incomplete without it. Book seats at the box office (ticket booth on Times Square) rather than online, and try to get last-minute deals. Another touristy thing I highly recommend is going to the top of the rock at the Rockefeller Centre when the sun is setting. Enjoy the spectacular twilight view and fall in love with the city.
Central Park runs across 59th Street to 110th Street. Yes, it’s that big! If you really want to experience the park, grab a sandwich, hire a bike and cycle away! Get together with some fellow cyclists and bring out the sandwich. Stick to the special cycling tracks and follow the signals! For tougher stuff, go rock climbing at Rat Rock. You can also walk to the High Line Park, a train track converted into a garden. It’s a great place to lounge, soak in the summer sun and meet new people.
Jazz lovers head straight to Jazz at Lincoln Center on Broadway, 60th Street, Upper West Side. You can use Yelp and remember, you’ll be paying entertainment charges for visiting jazz clubs. For art and design, there’s Greenwich Village, East Village or Dumbo in Brooklyn. Though honestly, in New York you live amidst art.
Soccer to America is what cricket is to India, it’s never difficult to chat up with the locals if you know soccer.
Invest in a Micheal Kors bag. It’s hanging down most shoulders in the subway.
Feeding off the Food Frenzy
Food is one of New York’s highlights. Don’t bother with restaurants that are part of a chain, they’re usually more expensive here anyway. Instead, try a new cuisine everyday. Each neighbourhood offers a different vibe–a Mexican restaurant in Times Square has a very different feel from one in Soho or Greenwich Village. Download Yelp on your smartphone, pick a locality, then a cusine and a budget and checkout locals’ reviews.
As you somehow ensure that the Grand Central Station is a part of your tour, stop by the food court and grab a banana custard pudding at Magnolia Bakery. Its divine!
Visit a diner for breakfast and if you really want to do it like the locals, take the subway to Brooklyn and line up outside Tom’s Diner. It’s worth the wait and the staff keeps you busy with free munchies and coffee. But on a weekday, a New Yorkers’ favourite breakfast is a bagel and coffee on the go! Be prepared for queues and familiarise yourself with the options; once you are at the counter, no one appreciates a delay in ordering.
Tipping tips and local tricks
New York has a serious tipping culture, if you decide to leave no notes behind you’re sure to offend. An average tip of 20% is expected even for average service in both restaurants and cabs, but a 30% tip is common practice by locals.
Drink tap water. Its clean, hygienic and free! Locals don’t buy bottled water in restaurants. Also note that whatever the weather, you will be served water or soda with lots of ice. If you want it otherwise, specify.
Avoid, avoid, avoid the big clubs on Friday and Saturday nights. You’ll only find visitors, pickup artists trying to scam them and kids too young to know better. Locals and A-listers go clubbing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
New York is a city to experience not visit, a city to meet, explore, taste and indulge yourself in. New Yorkers are a world people and even if temporarily, you get a chance to be a New Yorker, then be. Its worth it!
Shruti Arora is a freelancer