Last month my husband and I were lucky enough to spend a full week in one of the greatest places in the world – New York City. I had been there once before, but it was for a conference, and I was by myself. Although I did see some sights, my time was limited, and I knew there was so much more to experiencing the city.
I was excited to go back to New York City with my husband, who had never been there. Together, I feel like we really got into the nitty-gritty of the city, and it made me appreciate some tips that might help someone on their first trip to NYC.
Before our trip to New York City, I bought the Streetwise Manhattan Map – a foldable, pocket-sized, laminated map of the Manhattan borough, complete with subway and bus information. It helped me get oriented before we even got there, and in the first day or so, I consulted it often to get the “lay of the land.” But after the first 24-48 hours in NYC, one of two things is likely to happen. Either you’re going to figure out the N-S, E-W pattern of the streets, or you’re going to get used to asking locals where you need to go.
Within five minutes of stepping off the New Jersey Transit train that brought us from Newark International to NYC’s Penn Station, a person saw our confusion (and us dragging all of our suitcases!) and asked us where we needed to go. That happened a few times, actually. In our experience, NYC locals were friendly and always more than happy to help.
Chances are, if you’ve told any friends or family that you’re going to New York City, you’ve heard a ton of suggestions on what to see, where to go, what to eat. Everyone seems to have their own list of favorite NYC “must-do”s, and are passionate in their insistence that you heed their advice. My advice is that you do a little research, make a loose plan or itinerary to see the things that interest you most, and then be prepared to be very flexible. There are hidden gems all over the city, and if you only have your head down, determined to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to miss them!
One afternoon during our trip, my husband and I decided to take the subway to Queens to explore Flushing Meadows. When we “checked-in” to the area on Facebook, friends immediately suggested that we look for some good Greek food there. We quickly consulted our Yelp app, and found ourselves at a fabulous restaurant in Astoria, Queens called Taverna Kyclades. By the time we finished with lunch, it had already been a long day, but as we got on the subway (the stop in Astoria being at one end of the line), we realized that this particular train went all the way to Coney Island. We looked at each other and said “What the heck!” About 40 minutes later we ended up on the cold, foggy shore of the Atlantic Ocean at the ghost-town of Coney Island (everything was still closed because of Hurricane Sandy). The trip was never in our plans, but it was fun to get caught up in the spirit of exploring, and it’s a memory we’ll never forget!
And walk, and walk, and walk. At one point during our week in NYC, I told my husband that I felt like I was at boot camp. On our lightest day, we only walked about 2 1/2 miles, on our busiest, it was probably more than 7. While waiting in line at the Museum of Natural History, I heard one lady in front of us – a local – talking to tourists from Paris. She explained that on any given day she walks 3-5 miles, just in the course of her normal, everyday life. I believe it! Of course there are taxis (and pedicabs – that’s an experience!!), but the easiest, sometimes quickest way to get around is on foot. Then of course you can take the subway (which I highly recommend – we were subway pros in no time, and though they are sometimes smelly and often crowded, we always felt safe), but you have to climb the stairs out at every station, which is another kind of workout. All in all, our week in New York was an incredibly physical experience.
And eat, and eat, and eat. Oh, the food choices in NYC – they seem endless! Although you can easily find most familiar food chains – Chili’s, Subway, McDonald’s, etc – I highly recommend you explore the many locally (and in many cases family) owned eateries. We found some great, cheap pizza on several street corners, the delightful Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery, and our absolute favorite – the Halal food carts. You have never had a lamb gyro or a plate of chicken and rice like they serve at these Halal food carts. Delicious!! And make sure to drown in all in white sauce (yummmm). We ate from Halal food carts several times during our week in NYC, and it was always super cheap and super tasty.
Here in suburbia, we’re used to paying for everything with our debit card. But we were surprised in New York City to find some restaurants and other attractions only accepted cash. Good thing we had some with us! I was also grateful to have a few dollar bills whenever we stumbled upon one of the many, many NYC street performers. We saw musicians, magicians, dancers, comedians and more on most subway platforms, streets, and parks while we were there. And you know what? Most of them were good. I think one of our favorites was the man on the grand piano in Washington Square Park. Nevermind how he even got the piano there, he was fabulous. Talent and creativity abound in this city, and it felt good to reward these entrepreneurial individuals with a few bucks for the tip jar.
I share this tip out of pure practicality. We used our smartphones a lot during our week in NYC – for taking pictures, for checking in on Facebook and other social media sites, for getting information about our current location or where we needed to go next. Once you head out of your hotel for the day, it’s not likely you’ll be back to quickly re-charge your phone, so a portable charger becomes a lifesaver. I happened to buy the PowerGen Mobile Charger before we left, which had interchangeable tips for both iPhone and Android. It’s small and easy to fit in a pocket or bag, and was able to provide two full charges. We used it every day!
While it makes total sense to take pictures of landmarks like the Empire State Building or Grand Central Station, at first I was a little shy to take pictures of other things that caught my eye – the interesting architecture or ironic street signs. I worried I’d look like “such a tourist” if I held on to my camera the whole time. But you know what? *Everyone* had their cameras out! No matter where we went, I saw people taking pictures of everything famous and everything random. I quickly shed my worries and had a fabulous time taking more than 400 photos during our week in NYC. So, honestly, don’t be shy. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist. New York is an amazing city, and you should squeeze every bit of adventure and memory out of it that you can.
Some of my favorite “random” pictures taken that week…
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