It’s easy to fall into the tourist trap and find yourself jumping from one popular place to another. Especially along with 50 million other people coming to New York City every year (crazy, right?).
What I propose instead is to stay away from tourists to get your own feel of the city. Without the pressure of a “To do” list – true freedom. My suggestion is just to go the opposite way of where others are going – simple as that. It usually results in nice and authentic views and even cool experiences.
New York City is huge and there are tons of ways to feel like a local. Here are some things to get you started.
Stay with locals
I can’t emphasize it enough – renting rooms from locals, or using couchsurfing gives you more space to explore and enjoy the city. Locals can give you tips on their favorite places to hang out, point you to hidden gems not marked on tourist maps, or even take you for a night out.
My strategy in any city is to just get out and walk where my eyes and legs take me. Without any specific destination you are forced to listen to yourself and what excites you. Experience the place as it is and it will help you mentally unwind and get the real first impression.
The New York vibe
Now that you’re successfully lost from other tourists and are on your own path, it’s time to look for that famous New York vibe.
Ride a subway
Start off slow – New York’s iconic subway is great for people watching. If you are lucky enough, you may even catch the dance performance inside the subway car (which is illegal in NYC). Do tip the guys, but watch out for your stuff, as there are usually only a couple of dancers and a lot of support staff in the face of small children.
Take the most of city’s parks
New York has a lot of parks around the city, not just the Central Park. Instead of just walking around as an outsider, take part in all the fun – go for a run or a bike ride, have a picnic, join one of the free Tai Chi or Yoga classes (do research when and where these take place). There are so many alternatives to just walking around!
Treat yourself with a quick bite
Hop on the local doughnut, bagel, muffin or any other trend and treat yourself with something sweet.
Rent a bike
Even though the city’s subway system is cheap and convenient, a great way to explore it is by bike. There are many bike lanes around the city and even if sometimes you have to maneuver around parked vehicles and trash, you’ll see how many locals are doing it. For extra fun do get a tandem bike if you’re not alone.
Listen to a street musician
If you stumble upon a street musician, don’t just walk past it as quick as possible to avoid tipping (I’ve done that some time ago) – do stop, take your time and listen. Music is relaxing and music in a foreign city is able to bring colors and romance to it if you stop to listen and enjoy. Don’t forget to tip!
Grab a Pizza
As locals say New York has the best pizza in America and the best pizza in New York is in Brooklyn. I can’t blame them – the best pizza I ate was at Juliana’s, just across the Brooklyn bridge. If you ran out of fuel in the middle of Manhattan, though, grab a slice at Joe’s, or get a whole pizza for two at Patsy’s.
Work in a coffee shop
I don’t know why but to me it’s very New-Yorky to get a cup of tea/coffee and stay in the coffee shop to write a blog, do homework, or just read a book. There are so many locals doing that, you’ll definitely get a nice feeling out of it.
Watch a movie under open sky
If weather permits, a great way to spend the evening is to catch a movie in one of the open air cinemas across town (most famous and with a nice view are in Bryant Park, Riverside Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, etc.). Free movie screenings is a summer tradition in New York and many take that opportunity to take their significant others to a date, or just enjoy the evening with friends. Locations change from day to day, so check the Internet first.
Watch a Knicks, Yankee, or Rangers game
Skip the cheesy Broadway show – mostly tourists go there. Instead, join thousands of other and go to a hockey/basketball/baseball game instead. The price would be roughly the same, but emotions and energy you get is much bigger.
When thinking of New York the word Manhattan comes to mind and all the images from films we all grew up on came to mind. In reality, Brooklyn (the New Yorks East borough) is very underrated and has a lot to offer as well. There are less tourists and more locals hanging out, so in terms of vibes you’ll definitely find one there.
Check out Brooklyn Heights and East River State Park for nice views of Manhattan skyline, head to Coney Island for a day at the beach, or visit Brighton Beach to taste the Russian culture and cuisine.
Have a night out
You have had a packed agenda already, so do take the time to unwind. Grab a drink or two in one of the New York rooftop bars early in the evening. After that, head to one of the city’s hundreds of bars and clubs to dance the night off.
Finally, nothing connects you to the place better than just plain walking. Walk through city’s many neighborhoods and follow along as the life changes in every one of them. My personal favorite is the Village district, as it has this classic Manhattan touch that you can often see pictured in films.
Are you a local? Let me know of your favorite things to do. Are you visiting? Let me know of a cool place you’ve discovered!