New York City Travel Guide: Tips from a Long-Term New Yorker
I’m back with my Travel Talk interview series, and today we’re talking about a city that’s captured the hearts and imaginations of travelers all over the world: New York. Our featured traveler, James, originally comes from Australia, but fell in love with a New Yorker while on vacation in NYC, eventually got married and became American, and has now lived in New York City for eleven years.James has been to almost 80 countries (he has me beat!) and continues his love of travel through his blog Travel Collecting, which helps people have remarkable travel experiences of their own. He provides an in-depth New York City travel guide, featuring the tourist destinations and off-the-beaten path secrets that make the city unique.
Thanks for chatting with me about New York, James! What do you love about the city? What makes it special to you?
The very first time I arrived in New York City, I fell in love with it. Even now, driving from JFK and seeing the cliff of skyscrapers as I approach Manhattan makes my heart pound a little with excitement. New York is gritty—there is constant construction, garbage on the streets, the subway stations are boiling hot in summer and street corners are icy slush in winter, but there is an energy to the city like nowhere else in the world. It is full of iconic sights, great shopping, amazing food, some of the world’s best museums, and people from all around the world.
New York has a reputation for being expensive. Do you have any tips on ways to save money?
New York can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. In summer, there are lots of free things to do, including free movies in Bryant Park and free Shakespeare in the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park. In winter, there is free ice skating in Bryant Park if you have your own skates. And, of course, people watching is always free. There are numerous parks in New City to sit and watch the crazy people in the city do their thing.
What are some of the city’s must-see museums?
There are dozens of museums in New York, but my favorite is the Met, where there are must-see spaces to experience. Where else can you have a drink on the rooftop balcony with great views of Central Park and visit a complete Egyptian Temple and a Chinese garden before heading uptown for a coffee in one of the Cloisters’ medieval courtyards? When you visit the Met, be sure to pop across the road for the often overlooked Neue Galerie (pronounced Noya) for some cake and coffee in their adorable cafe (and some Klimt).
The whale and T-Rex skeletons at the Museum of Natural History are favorites for kids and kids-at-heart. I also love the Morgan Library for their amazing collection of old books and interesting temporary exhibitions.
Tell me about your favorite restaurants in Manhattan.
One of my favorite restaurants is Vatan. This Midtown restaurant is set in an adorable Indian village. Multiple tiny dishes of delicious vegetarian are served and you can order as much as you want. For a totally different Indian restaurant, I love the over-the-top Milon in the East Village. It is the size and shape of a railway car and hung with so many decorations and colored lights that you sit in a tiny tunnel of lights. I also love La Lanterna in Greenwich Village for great pizza in a lovely covered garden courtyard. In summer, it’s hard to beat a glass of wine and a slice of apricot pizza next to the river at Industry Kitchen in the South Street Seaport area Downtown.
You shouldn’t miss weekend dim sum in a crowded restaurant in Chinatown in Manhattan, where carts of steamed dumplings, fried spring rolls, boiled chicken feet and more are brought around to your table to order if you like. Other great food you must try in Manhattan includes an enormous pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side (just try to eat it all), the best soul food at Sylvia’s in Harlem, a slice of authentic New York pizza at one of the ubiquitous pizza shops, and, of course, you have to start your morning with a bagel slathered in thick cream cheese from any deli.
What about eating out outside of Manhattan?
Most travelers tend to stay in Manhattan, but there are many more places outside of Manhattan to visit, and New York’s ethnic neighborhoods are the best places for authentic dishes from around the world.
Just across the East River in Queens, you can have souvlaki in Greek Astoria or kebabs in the Middle Eastern Steinway Street. Continue deeper into Queens for an Indian buffet in one part of Jackson Heights or empanadas in the Latin American part. Go further still along the 7 Train to Flushing for bibimbap in a Korean restaurant or hotpot in a Mongolian restaurant.
Brooklyn is where the whole hipster movement started, and Williamsburg is the center of it all. Or, for something completely different, head to Brooklyn for Russian pierogies in Brighton Beach or Polish sausages in Green Point.
Up in the Bronx, you have to have a hot dog and beer at a Yankees baseball game and try Irish soda bread and sausages in Woodlawn or great pasta on Italian Arthur Avenue in Belmont.
So many great suggestions! What are some ways visitors can relax in New York?
$30 foot massage anyone? A tuina massage by a Chinese masseur is cheap, and these places are found all around the city. Get a great—and inexpensive—manicure at one of the many Korean nail salons.
For a cool experience, head to Spa Castle in Flushing for a traditional Korean spa. You can spend all day being pummeled by warm water jets in the outdoor spa area (especially great when it’s snowing!) and soaking in the hot water indoor baths.
What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?
Avoiding crowds is hard to do, but a couple of tips:
- Visit the Statue of Liberty the first thing in the morning. It gets crowded, and you will spend a lot time waiting in line for the ferry to Liberty Island then to Ellis Island and then to Manhattan—but if you go on the first boat from Manhattan, lines are shorter than later.
- For the Empire State Building, late afternoon is my favorite time because you can enjoy the view during daylight and nighttime in the same visit. Plus, most tourists are getting ready for dinner at this time, so lines tend to be shorter.
- Times Square is ALWAYS busy—plan enough time to walk slowly through there, as rushing is not an option. The multitude of costumed characters roaming Times Square can get aggressive if you take a photo and don’t tip them. Seeing a life-sized Elmo rudely demand a dollar is not the best thing for anyone to see.
I can’t imagine it would be. Do you have any insider tips for visitors?
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-do; the view of Manhattan never gets tired. My recommendation: take the subway (A, C) to High Street, which is the first stop in Brooklyn. Walk around Brooklyn Heights, which is residential but beautiful, and don’t miss the Brooklyn Heights promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park for incredible views of Downtown Manhattan from both places. Then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan.
Most people do this in the opposite direction, but this way you get Manhattan views the whole way. The bridge is long, and you won’t want to walk both ways. It’s also steeper than you expect. Also, there is a bike lane and a pedestrian lane. Don’t walk in the bike lane! New York cyclists can be aggressive, and it is not safe for them if tourists stand in their lane taking photos.
There is a street called Houston Street. This is basically street zero on the street grid and is the street behind Soho’s name (SOuth of HOuston). The street is not pronounced in the same way as the city in Texas. If you want to sound like a tourist, say HOOston Street; but if you want to sound like a local, say HOWston Street.
Anything else you’d like to share about New York?
Yes, don’t be afraid to ask for help. New Yorkers are busy and they walk fast. They also tend not to make eye contact with strangers and rarely say hello in the street, BUT this doesn’t mean they are not friendly and happy to help you. New York is an amazing city, but it can be a difficult city sometimes, and no one knows this more than the people who deal with it every day.
New Yorkers are also crazy proud of their city and are very happy to help travelers navigate so that they appreciate it just as much. New York is also the most multi-cultural city in the world, so having an accent or speaking poor English will not matter. Everyone is welcome in New York!