30 Things a Beginner Should Know About NYC
The Big Apple. I don’t even know what that means. I guess it’s referencing NYC being so great, you want to take a bite out of it. I’m not much of an apple fan. I like donuts and pizza. That’s fine, we’ll stick with Apple.
On December 12, 2014, I took my wife to NYC for the first time. It was an eye-opening learning experience for both of us. If you’ve ever wanted to visit there, this list is for you. If you frequent there, or live there, maybe you’ve forgotten what it’s like to experience it all for the first time. Here’s your chance to see your city from the eyes of a beginner.
So, here are 30 observations from a New York City NEWbie.
1. PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Public restrooms are hard to find. In fact, most bathrooms, even in restaurants, seem like after the building was built, somebody said, “Oh man, we forgot to put bathrooms in here!” So they cleared out a closet and threw a “toilet” and a sink in there. Also, having someone to maintain these bathrooms appears to be optional.
Stay in midtown. It gives you great access to Central Park, Times Square, Rockefeller, and all the shopping on 5th Avenue. You can walk pretty much anywhere but downtown. Also, just knowing that you are in midtown and not uptown or downtown, puts you ahead of the game.
3. DO NOT RENT A CAR
Do you live in New York? If you answered no, DO NOT RENT A CAR. Believe me, you don’t know how to drive there. The people there don’t know how to drive where you live. They’d all be arrested. But there, it’s normal. Lanes are optional. Red lights are just a suggestion. There are bikes leeching on to automobiles like those little fish you always see on the underbelly of a Great White. If you rent a car, someone will die. Flag down a cab, or just walk.
4. ENJOY THE RIDE
Get your face out of your phone. Look around, see everything. Including how unbelievable your driver is at keeping you and others alive.
5. PACK LESS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED
You’ll bring a lot of clothes to have “daywear” and “evening wear.” Yeah, screw that. Once you leave in the morning, you’re gonna be wearing that all day. Don’t even fight it.
6. CHOOSE COMFORT OVER FASHION
Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk a lot, even if you don’t want to. And it’s all right because there are tons of things to look at.
Do your research before you go. Watch movies set in NYC. See something you want to see? Google where they shot that scene, then go there. The whole city is a movie set. Everything looks familiar, but it’s cool if you know exactly where you are.
8. SEE A SHOW
I know if you are like me, your automatic reaction is, “Nope.” But you have to. Once you start walking around the theater district, and you WILL walk around the theater district, the shows just draw you in. Go to a matinee. That way, you have time for lunch before and dinner after.
9. IGNORE THE CONCESSION STANDS AT THE SHOW
Don’t get sucked in to buying drinks from the concession stand/bar. Unless you like spending money for no reason. And since you’re vacationing in NYC, that’s probably the case anyway. So, go ahead. If you like paying $7 for 5 oz. of Coke, and then getting it refilled for $4. Good times.
10. DO MORE RESEARCH
Also do research about where to eat. There are a LOT of places to eat on EVERY street. Sometimes the best places may be off the beaten path a bit. You’ll end up eating local, instead of at the touristy places. (Although, some of those places are touristy because they’re pretty awesome.)
11. ROCKEFELLER PLAZA AT CHRISTMASTIME
You know how when a place is really crazy busy and somebody says, “This place is like Grand Central Station”? Yeah, well I went to Grand Central Station; it was pretty subdued. You know what wasn’t? Rockefeller Plaza at Christmastime! It’s worth it, but be prepared to know what that family next to you had for lunch, or the approximate time since their last shower.
12. **BONUS TRAVEL TIP**
If you’re staying in a high rise hotel, and if you’re in NYC you are, request a room on one of the upper floors. Here’s why. In the mornings, when half your hotel is checking out, the elevator stops at every floor on the way down. If you are on one of the upper floors, it’s annoying to have to stop at every floor, but it’s FAR less annoying than being on the 7th floor, and every time the elevator stops on your floor, there are 30 other floors of people already going down.
In turn, if you are on one of those upper floors, when you exit in the lobby, push the button for one of those lower floors where people are desperately waiting. This will send the elevator to that floor, instead of all the way back to the top. #RandomActsofKindness
They say rats outnumber people in NYC. That’s scary, because there are people everywhere. As a tip, don’t hang out around the garbage bags that line the streets at night. Once the people traffic calms down, well, it’s buffet time.
14. BE A TOURIST
Is there a place in NYC you’ve already heard about? Go there. Chances are, you’ve heard about it for a reason. Carnegie Deli, Empire State Building, Central Park, The Plaza, etc. Just go. Yes, it’s the touristy thing to do, but who cares? Three quarters of the people you’ll see there and on the way there are tourists too. Locals go somewhere else.
15. BE A COURTEOUS TOURIST
If you’re going to take the subway, avoid rush hour. The locals can tolerate that you are in their city, they can’t tolerate if you are clogging their train when you’re trying to find a tasty matzo ball soup, and they’re trying to get to work, or home.
16. INTERESTING OBSERVATION
I saw 4 million cars in NYC. All of them running. I didn’t see one gas station. Not one. Not gonna lie, that’s impressive.
17. SEE IT ALL
See the whole city, not just Manhattan. Go to Harlem, Brooklyn, Soho, The Village, Little Italy, Chinatown, Queens, Washington Heights, the Bronx. Do it all. See what living in NYC is really like.
18. BE FRIENDLY
Talk to the locals you encounter. Waiters, bartenders, hotel staff; find out where they like to eat or hang out or whatever. They may send you somewhere amazing that only New Yorkers know about. They could also send you somewhere to die, so be careful which locals you ask.
19. STOP PRETENDING YOU’RE NOT A TOURIST. YOU ARE.
We were warned that there will be people hounding you if they think you’re a tourist. Now while it’s true that happened more than it did say, out in front of my house, it’s not constant and it’s not annoying. Just keep walking. Even listen to what they have to say, they may actually be offering you something you want to do or have. Just don’t automatically pay what they’re asking.
20. STAR GAZING
Be alert. You may be shopping or eating next to a celebrity. Don’t be a jerk though. The two of you meeting is far more interesting to you than it is to them. These people don’t get asked for autographs anymore. The selfie is the new autograph. Which is unfortunate for them, instead of just signing their name, now they have to pose with strangers 321 times a day.
21. TOP OF THE ROCK
Don’t go to the top of the Empire State Building, unless you’re only interested in going to the top of the Empire State Building. If you’re wanting to go up there to see the city, you’ll be missing the best part, The Empire State Building. You can’t see it if you’re on it. Go up to the top of the Rockefeller Center. Same views, except you get to see NYC’s shining jewel.
22. CENTRAL PARK IS HUGE
Going to Central Park? Have a plan. Know what you want to see in there. Or better yet, know what you’re seeing. You don’t need a bicycle tour guide or a horse-drawn carriage for that either. You just need Google. Otherwise, you’re just walking through a park. You can cover it in a day, but you’ll walk a lot, so tackle it in two days, or just hit the spots you want to see. Also, don’t believe them when they say they’ll take you to the fountain from the opening of FRIENDS. That was shot in a studio in L.A.
23. SPEAKING OF FRIENDS
You can see the building they use in the external shots of Monica, Rachel, Joey and Chandler’s apartment. It’s in Greenwich Village. There is no Central Perk. Stop looking for it.
24. MORE RESEARCH
You want a good movie to watch to prepare you for NYC? “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s 25 years old, but it will give you lots of ideas, ideas that are still there. I hear “Sex and the City” is a good source too. I wouldn’t know, I’m not a 30-year-old girl.
25. BE A POSER
Dress nice and go into stores you can’t afford. You never know who you’ll see in there. (I can’t just rub elbows with Barry Manilow at Sharper Image)
26. BE SMART
This should go without saying, but when you pay for things on the street, with cash, don’t pull out your 3-inch wad of cash and thumb through it like you’re made of it. You never know who will see you there. Or how far they’ll follow you. This is true for NYC, Mexico, the mall, yeah, it’s pretty much true anywhere.
That being said, the New York City streets don’t feel dangerous, depending where you are, when you’re there, and how many others are there. Just be smart.
27. THE PO-PO
There is a significant police presence in the heavily trafficked touristy areas. Most of them don’t have a sense of humor, so if you think an, I can’t breathe joke would be totes hilar, yeah, you’re wrong.
28. TAKE A PICTURE, IT WILL LAST LONGER
I may be in the minority here, but don’t be afraid to be a dork and take pictures. See something you like, capture it. You probably won’t ever be there again. However, make the picture more interesting. Put yourself and whoever you’re with in the picture. You can download a picture of The Plaza online, you don’t need to take another generic picture. Try to avoid the triple chin selfie. See if someone around you, also trying to take a selfie, will take your picture for you and you take theirs. Most of the time, they aren’t going to run off with your camera.
29. **BONUS TRAVEL TIP, PART 2**
Don’t hand your camera to someone who’s going to run off with it. Unless you’re faster than them.
If you can, go at Christmastime. It just adds another level of magic to the trip.
There you go. Take it from someone who has nearly 90 hours of NYC experience, you’ll love it!