I'm taking a break this week from my New Orleans posts to share a bit about my home city!
While Jono was visiting me for 5 weeks this past summer, I took him on a tour of New York City. Although we did not get to do everything we wanted to, what we did do represents a really good outline of "must-do's" for first-time visitors to the Big Apple.
Lists like these have been done before. But what mine includes is a lot of insider tips you won't get elsewhere.
I discuss some of the most typical experiences you should try to have while in New York with tidbits on the best ways to do it. These are experiences only a life-long New Yorker comes to know how to navigate—but now you'll know it, too!
1. Visit Central Park
Most visitors to New York don't realize that Central Park is enormous. Don't expect to see the whole park in one day. I certainly have not seen all of it, so you probably won't either.
To help you navigate to the best locations, I suggest checking out the Central Park Conservancy online. They have really handy self-guided walking tour maps where you can create your own schedule to follow.
Use the GPS-enabled Central Park app (for iOS and Android) complete with celebrity audio tours and hundreds of features and activities to find around the park. Alternatively, grab a map from one of the visitor centers.
The most famous locations you should try to include in your plan are The Mall, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, and the Bow Bridge. They're my favorites!
2. Watch a Broadway Show
Musical theater or stage performance is not for everyone, but I say Broadway is. There's usually at least one show that would appeal to even the most uninterested patron.
Like rock music? Go see School of Rock. Enjoy smart, silly comedy like South Park? See Book of Mormon. Nostalgic for old Disney movies? Get tickets to The Lion King.
Jono and I decided to see Aladdin during his visit. This was a great choice because Jono is not necessarily a fan of musical theater. He is, however, familiar with Aladdin the movie and we both enjoyed it as kids, so it was the perfect option for both of us!
Tickets can easily run well over $100 if you want decent seats to a Broadway Show. But they don't have to cost that much!
If you have a little flexibility in your schedule, you will score some cheap tickets. Try the Theatre Development Fund's TKTS Discount Booths around New York. Stand on the line at locations in Times Square, South Street Seaport, and downtown Brooklyn to purchase discounted tickets for performances on the same day of purchase. Sometimes they are more than 50% off the regular price!
There's also an app for TKTS in case you can't get to one of those three locations.
If TKTS does not offer cheap enough tickets, try rush tickets (sometimes for students only), lottery tickets, or standing room only.
Rush tickets include whatever seats are left. Lottery seats are another option and involve entering your name and being present for the drawing. Back in 2008, I won front row center tickets to Young Frankenstein with a friend who had his name called after we entered the lottery together to increase our odds.
3. Take in Times Square at Night
As the location where the New Years Eve ball drops each year, Times Square is one of the most iconic places in all of New York (possibly the world!). Visit it no matter what time of day, but I think the best time is at night.
You won't know the difference between night and day when you walk around Times Square after dark. When Jono and I emerged from the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street after Aladdin, he was surprised to find it was still "light" out. I chuckled to myself as reality dawned on him. All of the neon signs, glowing billboards and traffic lights made it look like daytime even though it was nearly 11pm!
You'll find tons of people bustling around this area and there are always characters to spot. For example, we found this guy working out with resistance bands as if he, too, was not aware it was 11 o'clock at night!
4. Eat, Eat, Eat!
Don't even bother to visit New York if you don't plan to eat like a New Yorker.
Here are the musts:
A thin-crust, plain cheese pizza folded in half and eaten while standing up
Street hot dogs or hot dogs from the original Nathan's in Coney Island
An everything bagel with cream cheese and lox from Tal's Bagels
Corned beef sandwich and an egg cream soda from Katz' Delicatessen
Dumplings from the Seafood Jewel Restaurant in Flushing, Queens.
And don't stop there. Keep eating!
5. Go to the Coney Island Boardwalk
Coney Island is probably best in the summer, late spring, or early Fall. But if you're there for Nathan's hot dogs anyway, you might as well stick around regardless of the weather.
In the summer, drink margaritas and people-watch. It's my favorite thing to do in addition to lounging on the beach, jumping in the water, or catching a ride at Luna Park. Yes, Luna Park is the original park with the sister park I saw while visiting Melbourne, Australia!
You could also check out a live show at the Ford Amphitheater. Jono and I caught Ziggy Marley live in concert this past summer.
We had just missed the Mermaid Parade which takes place in June every year. Check it out if you're there for it—it's an incredibly funny, creative, and sexy parade of sea life! Here are some photos I took in years past:
6. Catch a View of the Skyline
Many choose to go to the top of the Empire State Building for its views of the city. Alternatively, you'll get the iconic Empire State Building actually in all your photos if you go to the top of the Rockefeller Center instead!
Or hop on a subway to view the entire iconic skyline of New York from one of these two locations:
Historically used to quarantine criminals, the mentally ill, or physically ill, you won't find many tourists here (or many people at all, for that matter!). Roosevelt Island is a part of Manhattan, once removed.
It's far enough for an excellent skyline view, but not too far to get there, as it only takes a quick air tram ride across the East River or one stop on the F train toward Queens.
Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge Park
Another quick ride to Brooklyn on the F or A/C trains will get you to the area known to New Yorkers and Brooklynites as "DUMBO" or Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.
The city has been putting a lot of work into the area stretching along the river to Brooklyn Bridge Park recently. Pathways and seating have opened up, artistic installations have sprouted, and lots of greenery has been planted along the walkways.
Construction is ongoing, but that doesn't diminish the views. You will spot the Statue of Liberty from here as well as the downtown Manhattan skyline.
While you're in the area, you might as well walk across Brooklyn Bridge!
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was something I never had done until this summer. But every single one of my native New York friends have!
Oh, and apparently, tying headphone cords to bridges is the new thing to do in place of heavy locks! I wonder if people expressing their love on bridges in Germany and around other parts of Europe have caught up yet?
7. Spot the Filming of a Show or Movie
When you live in New York City for a while, you start to catch onto all the celebrity activities going on.
For one, you may spot parking notices on telephone poles informing residents and business owners to refrain from parking on that street on certain dates. These notices are usually a good indication of a television show or movie coming in to do some filming and park their trailers along the sidewalks.
Earlier this year, they parked them directly in front of my Upper East Side sublet. Then, a few days later, there was another show happening a few blocks over.
Other times, you'll be walking down the street and someone will suddenly rush by you, chased by a group of people carrying boom mics and camera equipment. Dozens of times I've found myself wondering, "Was I just in the background of that shot?!"
A perfect example is when Jono and I were walking around DUMBO. We noticed people blocking the street up ahead and then an explosion went off from the top of a nearby building. People came running toward us and that's when a guy with an earpiece told us the street was closed for filming. We captured the moment on camera:
Apparently, they were filming Stephen King's up-and-coming The Dark Tower! The people running were extras and the street was closed so we wouldn't accidentally enter the shot (or get hit by exploding objects).
This was exciting to witness even as a native New Yorker! As a tourist, you can check out this schedule to catch sightings of celebrities and bump into some filming action during your visit.
8. See the Statue of Liberty
Visit Liberty Island and Ellis island for $18 per person or see it for the fare of a subway ride ($2.75) on the ferry to Staten Island.
If you pay the $18 fare, you will be taking a tour boat that stops at both islands so you can actually get out and walk around. Climb the statue or liberty or look to see if you have any relatives in the records at the National Museum of Immigration.
On Ellis Island, an immigrant search costs an additional $7 per 30-minute session. Before Hurricane Sandy, there was no cost, but they have since had to make up the cost of damages to the island from the storm.
I say it's worth the extra bucks. I was able to find a few of my relatives including the names of the boats they came to America on!
9. Check Out A Museum
Speaking of museums, New York has a ton!
One of my favorites is the Museum of Sex where you can currently go in an adult-sized bouncy house of boobies! Yes, I am serious. I have not been yet, but I most certainly will! When will I ever get a chance to do something like that again?!
Jono and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during his visit because it was on our way out of Central Park.
I had always neglected the Egypt exhibit whenever I visited the Met in the past. So I really wanted to check it out.
And Jono had an interest in the Ancient China section since his ancestors were immigrants from China and Hong Kong to New Zealand.
We had a great time exploring these parts of the museum for only $1 each! That's right! All public museums in New York have a suggested donation as the entry fee. This means you can pay whatever you want!
10. Walk the High Line
The High Line park is one of my favorite places in New York to take visiting friends and family. From 1934-1980, the High Line was used for freight transport in the meatpacking district. It was turned into a park nearly 30 years after it shut down.
I've been going since it first opened in 2009. A portion of the park was totally new when I revisited it this summer. Developers only finished constructing the High Line while I was traveling internationally from 2014-2015.
There's history laced into modern art and nature on the High Line. Remnants of rail tracks are seen embedded in the walkways and grass, purple and yellow flowers decorate the edges of the path, and art installations can be seen throughout.
You'll find food and drink vendors and new art installations along the walkway in addition to seating for views of the Hudson River to the West and busy streets below and to the East.
Open from 7am until 10pm, the High Line is the perfect place for a stroll after a meal or for lounging when the weather is nice.
Narrowing down the activities to focus on when visiting New York City is a difficult task.
As a native New Yorker, I've outlined for you exactly what I think are the highlights.
First-timers to the Big Apple who follow the above will get the perfect sampling of what the city has to offer—with insider information to know what to expect and how to plan ahead.
As always, feel free to comment or message me with your questions, especially since New York is my home city!