Don’t mistake the neon lights of Times Square for the real New York City. Teeming with sneaker-clad tourists day and night, the area is avoided by true New Yorkers, who prefer to hang out in the distinctive neighbourhoods and villages that make the city so vibrant. Get out and hit the pavement to truly discover the pulse of this world-famous city.
Central Park, with its buskers, cycle paths, rollerskaters and secluded picnic spots, is a destination in its own right. Munch on a pretzel or hot dog as you stroll, enjoying the people-watching and city architecture surrounding the park.
Eat your way around the Upper West Side, SoHo or Little Italy on a walking food tour (cityfoodtours.com). Head from the downtown Financial District all the way up to Harlem, or along the 2.3km-long High Line (thehighline.org), and see a hundred and one different pockets of the Big Apple, best consumed in bite-size pieces. The Pod Hotel (thepodhotel.com) even offers free guided walking tours for guests.
the Pod’s rates are remarkably low (starting at under US$100 per night), considering that finding affordable accommodation in NYC can be a challenge, but the rooms are tiny. Luxe hotel rooms can easily run to three or four hundred dollars (or more) per night. Negotiate like a New Yorker on sites such as priceline.com where cut-price bids are placed on “secret” hotels; the hotel name is revealed after the bid is accepted.
Another good option is to make like a local and stay in a sublet apartment, where you’re likely to find more space and amenities than a hotel room. Check listings on airbnb.com and vrbo.com. As soon as you get off the island of Manhattan, prices drop, so consider staying in Hoboken, Long Island City or Brooklyn – all easily connected by public transport to the city.
With all that cash you’ve saved on lodgings, you can splurge on shopping. Whether your taste is for quirky Brooklyn boutiques, mega department stores such as Macy’s, upscale emporium Bergdorf Goodman or weekend flea markets, the strength of the exchange rate against the greenback is in your favour.
New Yorkers never pay retail, so take their lead and wait for the sales (Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the best) or battle the crowds for major discounts year-round on top brand names at Century 21 (c21stores.com) and T.J.Maxx (tjmaxx.com). A day trip out of the city to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets (premiumoutlets.com) is worth the effort for great bargains at the outlet stores including Coach, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s.
All that walking and shopping is hungry work. Fill your belly and your senses at food trucks, the latest NYC culinary obsession. There are more than 3000 food trucks roaming around the city selling tacos, waffles, ice-cream, dumplings and more. New Yorkers love to chomp on “street meat”, bagels, pretzels and chilli dogs, available from just about every corner.
If fine dining is more your style, time your visit to coincide with Restaurant Week (nycgo.com/restaurantweek). Held in winter and summer, the event entices diners to try three-course meals at some of the best restaurants in the city for the bargain price of around US$25 (lunch) and US$38 (dinner). It’s an authentic slice of New York’s finest eateries.
The wealth of culture on offer in New York is delightful, abundant and can put a dent in your wallet if you’re not careful. New Yorkers take advantage of free or discounted entry days at museums (freemuseumday.org) and galleries. A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without seeing at least one Broadway play or musical, so do your research to nab deeply discounted rush, lottery, and standing-room-only tickets on the day of the performance (playbill.com).
New Yorkers are passionate about their sport, so join in as they cheer on their favourite football, baseball and basketball teams at landmark venues including Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. The newest arena to open, the Barclays Center (barclayscenter.com) in Brooklyn, is home to the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. Expect sports bars to be packed with fans in team colours whenever a decider game is played.
When visiting New York during the summer months, enjoy free outdoor concerts and festivals throughout the city (see nymag.com for listings).
Harlem’s renaissance is now, making it one of the most exciting neighbourhoods to stay, eat and play in New York City today. The diverse Harlem culture – shaped by the soul, style and sounds of the many African-American residents who have long called this uptown community home – is celebrated and redefined, as the blocks north of 110th Street again ring with infectious energy.
Don’t miss the soul food at chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster (redroosterharlem.com), where the basement nightclub pulses on weekends; stop by bustling Corner Social (cornersocialnyc.com) or Harlem Tavern (harlemtavern.com) for a nightcap. For French bistro dining and live music, you can’t go past Chez Lucienne (chezlucienne.com), while traditionalists beat a path to the door of Sylvia’s Restaurant (sylviasrestaurant.com).
Resident artists and a dynamic roster of exhibitions make The Studio Museum in Harlem (studiomuseum.org) worth a look, while at the Apollo Theater (apollotheater.org) amateurs get to prove their star quality every Wednesday night before an audience of enthusiastic hecklers.