As a native New Yorker—I grew up smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan—I’m always tickled by some of the myths and misperceptions visitors come to New York City armed with. Here are a few lesser-known pointers to make a trip easier:
- Public restrooms do exist.
There is a gorgeous, centrally located restroom with fresh flowers at Bryant Park (on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th avenues), and you’ll find other convenient and relatively clean bathrooms in Grand Central Terminal (downstairs near the food court) and in Pennsylvania Station (near the 8th Avenue entrance). Otherwise try a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, department store, or hotel lobby.
- You’ll sleep better on a high floor.
Manhattan’s garbage trucks pick up massive amounts of trash on the main thoroughfares in the middle of the night—and they’re noisy. If you book a room up high, you’re less likely to be woken between midnight and 6 a.m. by back-up horns and clanging dumpsters.
- You can get nearly everywhere by subway.
It’s the fastest way to zip around, and you won’t sit in gridlock with a taxi meter ticking. An Unlimited Ride MetroCard gives you a week’s worth of subway (and local bus) rides for $31.
- Allow extra time to get between the East and West sides.
If you’re trying to make an appointment, just know that riding in a north-south direction can go swimmingly fast but riding in an east-west direction can take forever.
- Overlook New Jersey at your own risk.
You can save money by staying across the Hudson River in Hoboken or Jersey City (with a Manhattan skyline view) and zipping into the city within 30 minutes via the PATH train. Newark Airport can cut your airfare in half. And don’t forget: The Statue of Liberty is actually in New Jersey.
- Grand Central Station is a dining destination.
There are 35 eateries inside it. Grab a hearty bowl of clam chowder at
- When a show is Off-Broadway, that doesn’t mean it’s inconvenient.
“Off-Broadway” doesn’t refer to a theater’s location; it refers to its size (generally, between 100 and 499 seats). Some Off-Broadway theaters are physically located closer to Broadway than Broadway theaters are.
- The best time to hit the Times Square TKTS booth is 4 pm.
The TKTS Discount Booth is, of course, where people buy same-day theater tickets. At 4 pm you should encounter no more than a ten-minute wait (which means you’ll save yourself about an hour in line), and you’ll likely get a 50% discount on a show that evening. (You can save the ten minutes—and typically 40%—by buying discount tickets before your trip via Playbill.com or Theatermania.)
- It’s easy to avoid the touristy, overpriced chain restaurants of Times Square.
Just walk a couple of blocks west to 9th Avenue for affordable and interesting eateries.
- Walking in Manhattan can be just as tricky as driving in it.
Each year about 4,000 N.Y.C. pedestrians are seriously injured in traffic accidents and 250 die. While you’re waiting for a light to turn green, stand on the sidewalk away from the curb, and look both ways before crossing.
- Don’t worry if you see cops in military garb carrying machine guns.
They often patrol Times Square and transport hubs. It doesn’t mean an attack is imminent.
- If Elmo approaches you to pose with him for a photo, you’re allowed to say no.
Even New Yorkers are annoyed by those mangy costumed characters—including Minnie Mouse, Hello Kitty, and assorted superheroes—that hang out in Times Square bugging tourists for money. If you see or experience harassment, tell a policeman.
- Friday night is a good time to visit museums.
Several of them are free on Friday evenings. The Museum of Modern Art is free from 4 to 8 pm, the Morgan Library & Museum from 7 to 9 pm, the Rubin Museum of Art from 6 to 10 pm. While it’s not free, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also open on Friday (and Saturday) nights—till 9 pm.
- Rockefeller Center isn’t the only place to ice skate.
The rink at Rockefeller Center has too long a line (because only 150 skaters can fit at a time) and is too pricey ($25 per adult; $12 skate rental). Instead go to Trump Rink (formerly Wollman Rink) in Central Park, which has magical nighttime views of the 59th Street skyline, or to Bryant Park, where the skating is free.
- New Yorkers are friendlier than you think.
They’ve gotten a bad rap for decades, but they’re actually very helpful to strangers. You just need to be the one to initiate the conversation. So go ahead: Ask a local for help. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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