You’ll find New York right at the top of most people’s wanderlists. It is an experience of a lifetime every time. With so much to see and do you need a strategy on the best way to take your first bite of the Big Apple.
Start planning early to take advantage of good airfares. You might get a great deal to fly in October but it’s also the busiest month for tourists making accommodation prices in an already expensive city stratospheric. City restrictions on Airbnb and other home-sharing sites don’t leave many alternatives to hotels. Consider your budget as an apartment hotel could be your best option to save on meals and snacks. If you love food, grocery shopping in New York is part of the fun. Gristedes, Trader Joe’s or for something more high-end – Whole Foods are an experience not to be missed.
After seven trips to New York, it feels like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Here are a few hints even if you’ve already been and are hungry for more. There is no definitive guide to New York; it simply doesn’t exist. Instead, here are few ways to save some dollars and try some of the best experiences that money can’t buy.
Buy a book. Yes, buy a book. One of the best places to start your New York odyssey is to get your hands on a copy of City Secrets: New York City by architect Robert Kahn – a delightfully subjective guide with contributions by architects, artists and a liberal sprinkling of local celebrities. It’s filled with little gems from attractions, parks, bookshops to burger joints that only New Yorkers know.
Put yourself in the hands of the experts at nyc.go. The official NYC tourism body offers so much more than where, when and how much. There’s great detail on all of New York’s five boroughs. From museums to hotels, Broadway to shopping, nyc.go gives you the lowdown.
nyc.go works with the seasons and special events from Broadway Week to Restaurant Week for great deals on shows or dining. NYC Must-See Week actually runs for a month from mid-January to mid-February. Hardy tourists who don’t mind the cold get buy 2-for-1 tickets to the top attractions and tours.
There are countless lists of the best pubs, free stuff, events and tours. It’s where I found the magnificent Oscar Wilde bar. Located at the former NYC Bureau of Prohibition at 45 West 27th St.
TIP: Go for the otherworldly interiors (including New York’s longest bar), order cocktails and take a selfie with Oscar himself on his park bench outside.
Everyone knows the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. No matter how seasoned (or jaded) a traveller you might be I can guarantee they never, ever lose their magic.
The cheapest and most convenient way to see the sights is with CityPASS. Since 1997 over 17 million CityPASS ticket booklets have been sold for 12 US destinations.
New York CityPASS includes admission to the most unmissable New York City attractions from the Empire State Building to the Statue of Liberty and the Met. Choose between a booklet with the Empire State, American Museum of National History and the Metropolitan Museum locked in with additional choices like the Statue of Liberty or a Circle Line Cruise. There’s also the C3 that lets you choose 3 from 10 of the must-sees. This is the easiest and cheapest way to do all the ‘must-sees’ and in some cases, you can avoid the queues.
TIP: Take a magical Circle Line Sightseeing Harbor Lights cruise. Viewing the world’s most famous skyline, the bridges and Lady Liberty glittering at night guarantees great pictures. The memories will stay with you forever.
BIG APPLE GREETER
Big Apple Greeter was the first program of its kind in the US when Lynn Brooks launched it in 1992. She wanted visitors to be unintimidated and get to know her New York: a great big small town with diverse neighbourhoods and friendly helpful New Yorkers.
Now, over three hundred volunteer Greeters introduce seven thousand visitors per year to over a hundred neighbourhoods.
Retired schoolteacher Barbara welcomed us in 1997. She showed us around some great spots for the kids and schooled us on the subway and the bus. She also knew just the right spots in Manhattan to take a breather.
Greeters are locals who love their city and hope to share their knowledge to enhance your stay. They aren’t professional tour guides but will spend two to four hours showing you around as only a native New Yorker can. (Greeters meet groups of up to six people including kids).
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is one of the breeding grounds for some of America’s most celebrated and talented writers and performers. The UCB4 – Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh produced ‘Upright Citizens Brigade’ for three seasons on Comedy Central from 1998 to 2000. They went on to open theatres in New York and LA.
As one of the country’s premier improv theatres and training centres, it has given us some of comedy’s biggest names including Donald Glover, Kate McKinnon, Ellie Kemper and Ed Helms. The theatres including one in Hell’s Kitchen offer high-quality comedy for as little as $7. We saw a hilarious improv night with some of the regulars from 30 Rock. Absolute bargain.
You can book a tour for as many different interests as there are neon lights in New York. Street art, food, beer, hip-hop, gospel and for life-imitating-art-imitating life there is always the Kenny Kramer aka the ‘Real Kramer’ Seinfeld tour.
When it comes to chocolate and pizza, A Slice of Brooklyn has you covered. It is the only Brooklyn-based company showcasing the borough’s food, history, cultural landmarks and famous movie locations. On the Pizza bus-tour, there’s plenty of delicious pizza and plenty of John Travolta. You’ll be chiming “Manhattan? FUHGEDDABOUT it” in no time.
GETTING AROUND NEW YORK
Navigating Manhattan isn’t hard – always remember it’s a grid. (Except for downtown but that’s another story). Generally, the subway is the quickest way to get up or downtown. Buy a pay per ride MetroCard or a 7-day Unlimited Ride Pass. You can also use MetroCard on the Roosevelt Island Tram for one of the best views of the city. Note that the MTA plans to start phasing out the MetroCard in favour of a new electronic readers system. There are also many apps that help get you from A to : http://web.mta.info/apps/
Walk and you’ll never miss a thing. You might turn a corner and bump into Willem Dafoe, Parker Posey, Kelly Osbourne or Andy Samberg just like we have. There really is another unforgettable New York moment around nearly every corner. And there’s always the architecture. New York might not have the oldest skyscrapers, but it sure does have the most striking.
E.B. White wrote that New Yorkers have “… the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.” Truer words have never been written. Ask a New Yorker if you’re lost. They’re always willing to help and they still do love an Aussie accent.
Disclaimer: The writer and photographer were hosted by CityPASS but all opinions expressed are our own.