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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting NY

New York is one of the most stimulating and inspiring cities in the world. But the pulsating hustle and bustle of people, sights and activities can also be overwhelming and confusing. No matter how loud Alicia Keys’s New York State of Mind might be playing in your head, it doesn’t take long to realize that it takes more than a big smile and the best of intentions to make it in New York City. Fortunately, there are unspoken rules and insider tricks to side-step the classic missteps of visitors. Here are a few suggestions to help make the most of your New York minute.

Crossing Brooklyn Bridge from the wrong side

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is a New York rite of passage. Not only is the iconic landmark an architectural feat, but it offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Because many tourists think of New York in Manhattan terms only, they rarely venture outside of “the city” and cross the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn or only cross the bridge halfway. They walk with their backs to Manhattan, straining to catch a glimpse over one shoulder.

While you can experience the awe of standing under the bridge’s soaring arches from any vantage point – and there’s nothing wrong with Brooklyn’s skyline – for the most spectacular views you should really walk across the entire bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It’s also an opportunity to visit Brooklyn as a destination in itself, especially Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo.

You can find the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway at Tilary Street and Boerum Place in Brooklyn Heights or by Dumbo underpass on Washington Street.

PRO TIP: The best times to cross without tourist swarms are in the morning (sunrise in particular), sunset, and at night to soak up the bright lights of the big city.

Getty Images

The view of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry.

Lining up at the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty

The queues to go up the Empire State Building are astronomically long and chaotic, with inflated admission costs to match. In addition, you have to buy tickets months ahead to the observation deck on the 102ndfloor. You can avoid all of this by ascending to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, the 1933 art deco skyscraper. The lines are quicker and better organized and admission is much cheaper. While the Top of the Rock isn’t as tall, you’ll be rewarded with unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, Central Park, as well as the Empire State Building. And if you buy tickets online, there’s minimal waiting.

For amazing views of the Statue of Liberty without the epic lines or inflated costs of visiting Ellis Island, hop on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s a free 25-minute trip with inspiring views of the Lower Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and the majestic Lady herself. You can also take in magnificent views on a harbor tour aboard the historic 82-foot schooner Shearwater or visit Governor’s Islandfor a direct view of Lady Liberty’s face. But if you have your heart set on climbing the steps to Lady Liberty’s crown, plan ahead, because fewer than 300 visitors are allowed per day and tickets sell out months in advance.

Looking for cool in the Meatpacking District

The biggest mistake tourists make is spending too much time in well-known tourist destinations and missing out on New York street culture and the places where the locals hang. Thanks to TV shows including Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, the Meatpacking District is one of those neighbourhoods where visitors imagine spending a night in stilettos with bottles of champagne. Many tourists flock there for the “classic” New York night out, only to discover $20 cocktails and that everyone else there is also a tourist. Instead, follow the locals to the nightlife of the East Village, West Village, Lower East Side, and Brooklyn (especially Williamsburg).

Spending too much time around Times Square

New Yorkers tend to avoid Times Square at all costs. It’s touristy and tacky. The T-shirt vendors, Disney characters, superhero buskers and swelling crowds of tourists aren’t a genuine representation of New York. By all means, get your iconic Times Square photos and see a show, but then head somewhere else – quickly. And when you’re hungry, forgo Time Square’s overpriced tourist-trap restaurants for Hell’s Kitchen’s restaurant row along 8th and 9th avenues, just a short jaunt from the lights of Broadway.

Getty Images

Where Broadway's got all the glitz, New York's real cultural gems are found well off the strip.

Focusing on Broadway instead of off-Broadway (and off-off-…)

Speaking of, while Broadway shows may be the big sellers, the city’s creative heart beats at music, theatre, dance, cinema, poetry, comedy and literature venues across the city and boroughs. Listen to the world’s best classical performers with locals and tourists alike at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall (Lincoln Center). Venture to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theater, and The Joyce Theatre for first class dance and theatre performances. For cutting edge artistic performances check out The Kitchen and P.S. 122. Listen to accomplished jazz and blues musicians at the Village Vangard and Smoke. Yuk it up with stalwart stand-up and skit comedy at The Comic Strip and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

Trying to hail a cab at the wrong time

Catching a ride in a New York City cab is quintessential to the Manhattan experience. You can find your inner New Yorker by confidently thrusting your arm out and yelling “Taxi!” The streets are almost always flowing with a sea of yellow cabs. Roof lights on mean that they’re ready to take your fare.

But if you want to get anywhere fast around 4 or 5 p.m., it’s going to be challenging to nab a cab. Not only is rush hour at its peak, but it’s also when cabbies make their daily shift change. Most taxi drivers are ending their day and heading back to the garage. If you have an important place to be at 5 o’clock, put your smartphone to work with Uber, Taxi Magic or MyTaxi.

If there’s a sudden downpour or a special event like a concert or a sports match, be ready to make a dash and compete with what might feel like the rest of New York. Your best bet is to try to get away from the crowd and dart up or over a block or so. Any free taxi is fair game, just don’t break the unwritten code of grabbing someone else’s cab. You can also get a leg up on the competition with a taxi-finding app like CabSense.

Be careful of attracting cars-for-hire that aren’t yellow cabs, often called “gypsy cabs.” Legitimate car service drivers are only supposed to pick up passengers by reservation, not street-side.Gypsy-cabs roam the city without a licence or regulated fares, so ride at your own risk and agree to a fare before the ride.

You can also always call a car service or just hop on the subway. Take note that there are uptown and downtown station entrances, as well as local and express trains. Watch out for local trains that suddenly switch to express or get re-routed over other lines.

When you do indeed catch your golden chariot, just remember to act like a local. Instead of giving your driver a numbered address, simply say your destination’s closest street and avenue corners. 

Showing up with too careful a plan

Above all else, New York is meant for wandering. Lose yourself in the colourful streets and electric atmosphere where anything and everything can happen. Take astroll along the Hudson River Park, enjoy the urban views and street art from the High Line, roam the charming row house streets of the West Village, people watch in Washington Square Park, venture out on a pub and bar crawl in the East Village and the Lower East Side, uncover the lively and peaceful oasis of Central Park. Venture away from the city’s crowds to the laid-back, charming and eclectic neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. And if you dare, strike-up a conversation with a New Yorker.

Published Thursday, November 26th 2015

Header image credit: Getty Images

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