Ah, New York, New York. So much to see in the City that Never Sleeps. But where should a tourist start?
No need for this tourist to wonder. Instead, she booked the best tour guides a girl (or guy) can get: two New York City Natives.
Okay, not-natives, but that sounds snappier than “residents.” Neither resident was BORN in NYC (which would make them true natives), but they’ve been living and traversing the city for four years (and visited it multiple times before that).
On this trip, these almost-natives showed us the best way to experience all the city has to offer. In return, we helped them check a few “touristy” items from their bucket list.
Travel by Subway
There are maps. There are diagrams on every platform and in every station. The underground stops are marked above ground with green orbs.
I still would have gotten confused, turned around and ended up in the Bronx without my native guides.
New Yorkers take public transportation. And no matter how many mugging or murder scenes you’ve seen in movies, the subway is a safe, efficient, economical (and somewhat) simple way to get around the Biggest Apple in the World.
Taking A Ferry (or three)
New York City is on an island. So are the many neighborhoods which comprise it.
Traveling via water is the ONLY way you’ll be able to navigate to some destinations on your “must see” list for the trip.
We took a ferry to Staten Island and from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
If you want to go to Long Island, you’ll probably take one. You can take one to Jersey City or Queens.
These are walk-on ferries. Most of the ferries I’ve ridden before are for cars (or walk-on). You can bring your bike or long board on the ferries, but no motorized vehicles allowed.
Tickets at Lincoln Center
Tourists want to see a show or two on Broadway. According to one of my tour guides, “New York is a city of mediocrity. Except for on Broadway. There, New York is World Class.”
See a show on Broadway. But don’t pay full-price for your tickets.
There is a well-known TKTS booth in Times Square. The line is crazy long. If you go to the Lincoln Center, there is no line and if there happens to be one, you can wait in air conditioning for your turn to purchase show tickets discounted at least fifty percent.
Eating in the “Shady” Places
Like all cities who capitalize on tourism, there are restaurants galore that cater to tourist traffic.
Some of them are even worth eating at.
However, a big advantage of tripping around a city with a native is that they know the difference between a sketchy place and a hole-in-the-wall worth visiting.
Our first night, the hole-in the-wall was John’s on Bleaker Street. There we sampled New York pizza (an institution, and you haven’t had pizza until you’ve eaten it in New York City).
Our third day, we dropped into a little place I would have deemed sketchy and passed right by. Beside it, there was a restaurant with a long line-up. I would have went with it had I been touring without the benefit of a native.
But Ed’s Lobster Bar offered up the best hand-cut French fries I’ve had in months and months. And the lobster roll was a buttery delight.
I would have missed out on what my brother feels is the best lobster roll in New York (forget about Luke’s) if the native hadn’t been leading my exploration.
Friday Night in Little Italy (or Chinatown)
Friday night we ate with a small part of ten in the back room of an authentic Italian restaurant in Little Italy. Earlier in the day, we’d walked through a small portion of Chinatown (which borders it).
But when the lights go out, things get a little strange in New York City.
The restaurant employed “two Long Island girls” (my tour guides words are in quotations here) to “entertain” us in “true Italian” underworld style. This meant a keyboard and modified karaoke singing. Meaning we were all supposed to sing along on the chorus…or lead out if the musician didn’t know the song well enough.
It wasn’t a quiet evening. There wasn’t a way to hold a conversation with the six people I didn’t know at the table without yelling.
My head and throat felt like they’d been overexposed to the strep virus by the time the multi-course dinner (with all-you-can-drink wine and beer–for those who drank it) ended.
The best part? My sister and I managed to close out our souvenir shopping while walking from the restaurant to the dessert place.
Well, it isn’t NoHo, Dumbo.
If you’re still clueless about this, it could be because this is all New York City-Speak for three very different neighborhoods in the metropolitan area. Because having a bunch of boroughs isn’t enough for New Yorkers.
SoHo is short for South of Houston (in Manhattan). It follows then that NoHo means North of Houston. And Dumbo? Well that’ll all about being Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in the borough of Brooklyn.
Don’t shop in these districts unless money is no object. However, you’ll want to check them out because they each have a distinct “flavor” of architecture, businesses and foot traffic.
Have you ever toured a city with a native guide? How did it compare to a self-guided tour?