9 Ideas for New York City Tourists

Posted 08/13/2010

Hey tourists: Did you ever wonder what a New Yorker does for fun? I mean, eight million people live there, so it must be for more than just going to the top of the Empire State Building and riding the Staten Island Ferry. Make no mistake, these are fun things to do, as is catching a show on Broadway and getting a ticket for Letterman, but the fact is there are a lot of other great things to do in this incredible city, things that tourists never even hear about. So here's a list of some of those things complete with directions on how to get there or how to pull it off. Some of them are season-specific, but every season in New York City has something incredible to offer.

Go to the Promenade

Most tourists think the best view in the city is from high atop the Empire State Building. It's impressive and worth seeing if you don't mind the wait, but locals know that the best view in the city is actually at the Promenade in Brooklyn, which isn't as scary a place as it's depicted to be in the movies. To get there, you take the 2 or 3 train to the Borough Hall Station. Get out on Montague Street and walk west, towards the river. In about five blocks you will be on the Promenade. The view is spectacular: The Verrazano Bridge, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Manhattan Bride, all lit up; lower Manhattan all lit up; The Empire State Building shining its colors; the Chrysler Building shining its silver spear; the Statue of Liberty. The view will take your breath away, but only if you go at night.

Eat the Pizza

This is a small thing, but few things are more soul-crushing to New Yorkers than to watch tourists fly a thousand miles to their city, deal with the hassles of La Guardia Airport, then, for lunch, step into a Domino's or Pizza Hut. This city has some of the greatest pizza in the world. It's not the pan of thick Chicago-style pizza, which is its own little blessing from heaven; it's thinner and sold by the slice. Everywhere. So instead of going to Pizza Hut, just stroll a few blocks and head into one of those tiny pizza places. You'll see a row of pans with different kinds of pizza. Tell the guy behind the counter, often genuinely Italian, how many slices you want and what kind, and he'll pop it in the oven. It'll be ready in less than five minutes.

Take a WFUV Blues Cruise

This is one of those season-specific events, but if you're there at the right time, it's great. A local station, WFUV, which specializes in alternative rock, country, folk, that kind of thing, hosts a series of concerts over the summer. What makes them great, though, is that they take place on a boat that's cruising around Manhattan on the Hudson and East Rivers. It's a uniquely terrific thing to do. The music isn't some local band trying to get its start; it's an accomplished musician or band, generally folk, blues or alternative rock. You can jam in the concert area, or you can go out on the bow of the ship and listen to the music in the background while you watch the city at sunset. The way to find out about the concerts is to go to the WFUV website. There are only a few of them, and they're during the summer (June, July, August), but if you can make one, don't miss it, even if it's some band or singer you don't know or don't particularly like.

Picnic in Central Park

Tourists often go to Central Park because they've been told they're supposed to, but once they get there, they really don't know what to do except buy some stupid little souvenirs at Columbus Circle of pay a fortune for the horse-drawn carriage ride. If you want to do what the locals do, have a picnic. It hardly matters that you left your picnic basket, silverware and quilt at home. This town caters to people eating on the go, so just pop into any deli near the park, order some sandwiches, chips and dessert, and head on over. You can picnic near any of the number of musicians playing in the park, such as a cellist under a tree or a violinist over by some bushes. You can also picnic at Bethesda Terrace, which you get to by entering the park around 72nd Street. But the best place to picnic is this tiny little cove called Shakespeare Garden, which is just to the west of Belvedere Castle, which is also a nifty thing to see. Just enter the park around 79th Street. If you enter from the east, go just past the castle. If you enter from the west and run into the castle, you've gone too far.

Go to The Strand

It's the best bookstore in the world. It's huge. Even people who never read books go there and find something. Really, the place is amazing, and there's at least one book in there that you'll want to take home. The prices are sinfully inexpensive, too. Plus, you don't have to worry about lugging those books around all day. For no extra charge, the store ships the books to your house. All you have to do is request that service when you're paying. It's easy to get there. Just take the subway to Union Square. The trains that run there are the 4, 5, and 6 and the N and R. The bottom of Union Square is Broadway and 14th Street. Walk two blocks down Broadway to 12th Street, and there you are.

Go See an Opera

No, really, go see an opera, especially if you've never seen an opera before, but go to the Metropolitan Opera and not New York City Opera, which is less of a spectacle and more for the hardcore opera lover. If you don't like the music, you can leave after the first act, but you should still go, and here's why. First, it's the cheapest ticket in town. Broadway costs $100 bucks. An opera costs $26. (It costs a lot more, too, but you can get a decent seat for $26.) Second, don't worry about not understanding what's happening. Each seat at the Met has a little screen on the back of the seat in front of you so you can read along, and you don't have to read at breakneck speed. It takes a minute to sing four words. And you're probably thinking you have to dress up, but you don't. Most folks (especially in the $26 seats) wear jeans; late in the season, some people even wear shorts. Lastly, if you're not interested in the opera, you will be interested in the spectacle of the opera. It's a beautiful building with incredible chandeliers, and the sets are a sight to behold. Honestly, a night at the opera is not as high-falutin' as you think. The crowd is a lot like the crowd at a bull fight. To get there, just take the 1 train to 66th Street.

Midsummer Night's Swing

Speaking of the 1 train to 66th, here's another great event, but it happens only during July, and not every night. It's called Midsummer Night's Swing, and it's an outdoor dance concert at Lincoln Center, which is the same place where you'll find the opera. It's free. It's literally an outdoor concert at night, and the music is catered to people who are there to dance, so you might get some reggae, or you might get some jazz, or you might get some old time swing. To get the details on who's playing when, just type in Midsummer Night's Swing on the Internet.

Go the Film Forum and See an Old Movie

How many chances do you get to see an old movie on the big screen? And by old, it could be anything from The Wizard of Oz to Casablanca to the Sean Connery James Bond flicks to John Wayne's westerns. Film Forum is always showing old movies. It may not be showing the old movie you want to see, but it's still worth it to catch an old movie on the big screen. To get there, take the 1 train to Houston Street, and it's right there on the corner of Houston and Varick. Go early and have an espresso and pastry in the cinema coffee shop. Afterward, for dinner, you can stroll over to Greenwich Village just a couple of blocks away.

Eat Italian

But don't eat it in Little Italy. Tourists go to Little Italy for their Italian food, and they get some decent food and a faux Italian spectacle. The locals, for their Italian, go up to Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. Dominic's is the most popular restaurant, but really, all the restaurants on Arthur Avenue are pretty incredible. The only downside is that there's no easy way to get there via mass transit, so you're best off getting a cab. Just don't tell the cabbie where you're going until you're sitting in the car. He doesn't make a lot of money driving all the way to the Bronx then driving back to Manhattan without a fare, so if you say, "The Bronx," before you're in the car, he'll drive off without you. Seriously.

And those are nine great non-touristy things for New York tourists to do. One more word of advice. New Yorkers sometimes get a bad rap for being rude. They're not rude, but they usually are in a hurry, so they can come off as brusque. That said, New Yorkers are phenomenally proud of their city, and if you have any questions about mass transit or directions or anything, they really will be more than happy to answer them. You just have to ask.

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