New York Tips 2014
I came to New York City first for the sights, places I’d heard and read about all my life.
Not long after, my wife and I moved to New York, and I began learning the tips I’ll pass along here.
As visitors, we stayed in a motel a half-mile into New Jersey near the George Washington Bridge. (Or the ‘GW’ Bridge as the historically illiterate sign makers call it.) In the morning, I looked down at a six-lane push of traffic surging into Manhattan.
It was as if power cords had been plugged into the border, and the city sucked in as much as it needed to keep going at an immense level. To this day, it amazes me that such a highly charged city is governable. Yet, it is. It’s even placid in some places. As a traveler, you’re not likely to see New York in this way, but maybe these tips for 2011 can get you closer.
New York Manhattan Black – Berenholtz
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New York City Tips: Introduction
Few travelers notice that we charge admission. Arriving by bridge or tunnel, you must pay for the privilege of entering. If you fly in, the charge is included with your ticket.
We may also require you sit in a sea of exhaust fumes for a half-hour or more, appreciating a claustrophobia-inducing traffic jam that will make a similar experience in Manhattan seem like child’s play.
(Travel Note: New Jersey re-entry is free. Draw your own conclusions.)
If fly in, you land at an airport less remote than other municipal airports around the world.
In Reykjavik, for example, it takes about the same amount of time to travel by bus through a moonscape as it does to go through the ‘Omigod!’ experience of riding through Queens from JFK.
LaGuardia is much closer and easier and less trafficked and may be the only good reason left to suffer USAirways.
Potential visitors frequently ask what the cab fares are from the airports. Let’s put it this way: you could stay overnight at a fairly nice Red Roof near Cleveland for less than a heart-stopping yellow cab ride to midtown, and the person at the Red Roof might even share the same first language.
Cabbies are highly unlikely to cheat you, by the way. The fare, posted in the cab, is both mandatory and unbelievable.
New York Taxi No. 1
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If you come to New York City by train, you have a gift for smart choices. You arrive in midtown, having evaded many initial traumas. You have not for, for example, had to grip a vinyl seat with every strength in your fingers as a cabbie with an unpronounceable name whips you between lanes on either of the laughably named Van Wyck ‘Expressway’ or the Grand Central ‘Parkway.’
(By the way, he drives like that to please you and increase his tip by getting you to your lodgings in less than half a day. Tip fairly. Avoid risking the humiliation I saw one Park Avenue father get when his cabbie threw his insufficient tip back at him and his family as they ran toward the curb. The curse that followed the flying coinage was in a language I didn’t understand, but you can imagine.)
New York Tips 2014 Where To Stay
The cost of where to store your clothes and sleep is another breathtaking consideration. If you came to New York hoping to economize, you’ve already started on the wrong foot.
Locals expect outrageous prices as part of living in the city of cities, but you’ll probably arrive unprepared.
Outrageous is the first discount level for visitors. Paying $300+ per night to share a floor with a high school graduating class from Rangoon should be taken as a privilege, a chance to visit two foreign cultures at once.
Yes, New York is a foreign culture. You may find fewer people speaking the king’s English than in Prague, crowded street corners often sounding like a translation room at the United Nations.
The good new is that, addressing an obvious shortcoming, many less expensive chains and boutique hotels have sprung up around town in the last decade.
They tend to be cramped but nice and well-managed. When booking in advance, always read comments from past customers and understand that the most expensive places pay extra to be featured high on the list. For the best deals, dig down.
Except for most of the Upper East Side, where subways are more scarce than bargain prices, you needn’t worry too much about location. All of New York is safe and easy to get around on by foot or mass transit.
New York City crime is mostly an invention of the cop shows produced here for consumption by viewers who don’t know any better. Don’t worry about it. New York may be safer than your hometown.
Investigate a little more thoroughly before booking with the chain and independent lodgings springing up in the deceptively named Long Island City.
LIC is on the western border of Queens under the dark shadow of the 59th Street Bridge and shows no evidence of urban planning of any kind. Use your common sense and ignore advertising blurbs that claim ‘skyline views’ or ‘walk to subway.’ ‘Skyline views’ is shorthand for ‘you’re not in New York,’ and ‘walk to subway’ could apply to any place in all five boroughs, except Staten Island. Your walk may not be scenic.
These places are popping up to meet tourist demands, and almost without exception, they’re stuck like extraterrestrial landing vehicles dwarfing completely design-free industrial neighborhoods. You will have parking, however. Probably. If you really need to economize, they’re fine, but brace yourself.
New York Tips: Getting Around
There are three ways to get around Manhattan.
On foot is by far the most interesting, if you have the hooves for it. Whether you’re visiting a tourist area or a regular neighborhood, jostling with the crowds gives you a more genuine feel for the pulse of the city.
Cabs are useful and, except when it rains, plentiful. Few New Yorkers take cabs on a daily basis. Traffic jams are no more enjoyable when someone else is at the wheel and the meter keeps rising while you’re stuck. (Yes, it’s legal.)
Public transportation is abundant.
I love the city buses. They’re cheap at $2.50, including transfers to other buses and the subway, with a Metrocard, and they go everywhere.
The MTA’s impressive Metrocard system is effective in making sure you can get on whatever is going your way and are never overcharged. Easy to use dispensers are in many subway stations. Maps for buses and trains are available online, and individual route maps are posted at most stops. The buses can get very crowded during rush hours, but it’s New York, after all, part of the experience.
Times Square- New York
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If you can adjust to the fact that, for example, a major hub on the subway system, West 4th Street, has neither entrances or exits anywhere on West 4th Street, you should be okay traveling underground.
Some New York tips about a few things in the system that daily users are used to and ignore out of helplessness:
1) The underground system is generally filthy and smelly. Half-hearted cleaning efforts may be launched, but you may have a better aesthetic experience in a Third World country.
2) There are rats scurrying busily in some of the track beds. They’re harmless, but if you’re not accustomed to sharing urban spaces with rodents, you might find them unsettling.
3) Despite the presence of many foreign speakers in New York and the fact that Spanish is the most used first language, you’ll find little besides English, except on advertising and warning signs.
The subway is not lacking in maps, both inside and outside the trains, but read directions carefully on the overhangs on the platforms. They were not written for clarity but to keep your brain occupied while waiting for trains.
Keep in mind that you will find no official to help you once you’re on a train, and it’s hit or miss finding a fellow passenger who is not a tourist and knows much about any line besides his or her own.
That said, the subway is almost always the fastest and safest way to go. Breakdowns are rare. You should expect to meet one or more of the ubiquitous panhandlers working the trains, including those with instruments hoping you will be willing to pay them for the the twenty-second segment of music you were forced to enjoy between stops.
New York Tips 2014: Places To See
Aside from the World Trade Center, which is finally rising from a massive dig and political haggling, all the places and things you’ve heard about are worth doing, and with our efficient subway system, mostly easy to access.
In tourist season, expect long lines for the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, the Statue of Liberty and the half-price tickets booth in Times Square.
Places like Central Park, Park Avenue, Grand Central, South Street Seaport, the beautiful promenade along the Hudson in Battery Park City, as well as commercial locations like Macy’s, Bloomingdales and FAO Schwartz are accessible.
Central Park (1961)
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Christmas does, however, force lines around the corner at FAO Schwarz and clog up Rockefeller Center around the tree and the skating rink.
If you want to see a Broadway or Off Broadway show and haven’t bought tickets in advance, the TKTS booths are the way to go. There is a nice, very busy booth in Times Square, which you can locate by looking for the inexplicable bleachers in Duffy Square and circling behind them at 47th Street and Broadway. Sign boards are updated for whatever is available that day. Quick decisions are often required as the lines move along relentlessly.
If you’re going to see the World Trade Center, Wall Street of anything else downtown, a better idea might be to visit TKTS’ lesser known location at the corner of Front and John Streets (at the rear of the Resnick/Prudential Building at 199 Water Street), in the South Street Seaport. This location has tickets for the next day’s shows, instead of today’s, and with shorter lines, offers a much better opportunity to think and plan.
Less popular but worth the effort: Bryant Park at 42nd and Sixth Avenue, behind the Public Library and sporting a great restaurant and watering hole with the best action al fresco in season.
West Broadway, north of Canal, is an elegant street of boutiques and wine bars, and is reputed to be the #1 location for celebrity spotting. Restaurants a few blocks away from the popular tourist avenues are usually better and cheaper than those thriving on visitors.
Ninth Avenue in the 40s and 50s has countless places to eat well and relax. Same with Second Avenue on the East Side, from the Fifties all the way up into the Seventies. In these restaurants, you’ll be with a high mix of locals who know better than to dine in Times Square.
If extreme bargains are your thing, stroll Canal Street. When in Chinatown, you’ll run a high risk of being bowled over by a three-foot lady forcing her way along the crowded streets, so remember to look down regularly.
High Line Park in TriBeCa is our newest and offers unique views of the jumble of the lower West Side as well as places to relax, including a glassed in bleacher area where people actually sit for long periods and watch traffic.
New York Tips 2011: Wrap Up and Links To Detailed Articles
What not to do: There really isn’t much. It’s really hard not to have a good time in New York. Great art museums abound, and Central Park should be considered a wonder of the world.
The city’s ethnic diversity is smoothly blended. Stand on a busy street corner for a few minutes and count how many languages you hear.
Like any charged environment, tensions sometimes rise, but under the leadership of Michael Bloomberg, who replaced the likable only outside New York Rudy Giuliani, civility and public trust have grown beyond what anyone expected.
In November 2011, the legendary and rebuilt Roosevelt Island Tram reopened. The thrill of gliding between buildings after dark and floating soundlessly over the East River is unmatched elsewhere in the world. That’s my last tip. For a $5.00 roundtrip, don’t miss it. Like most public transit, you use your Metrocard.
Anything you can add or would like to ask about?
David Stone, Writer