When in New York… A Non-Tourists Guide to Showing a Tourist Around NYC

My friend Bryan came to visit last summer. I had only just officially moved into the city a few months prior to his arrival and, as he was one of the things I missed most from my previous Rochester NY life, I was super excited. I asked him what he wanted to do while he was in town. His answer: Canal Street. I laughed, I cried and I loaded him on the 6 train to buy fake designer goods and watered down perfume. I also made fun of him for the next 2 days.

Another anecdote with a different outcome: My friend Tom was in town for the afternoon a few months back. We met at the seaport and had planned to have lunch. That was all we planned. Lunch at the seaport is like a 45 minute event. We wandered around aimlessly, got lost because I had no idea where the places he wanted to see were and – newsflash! – I can’t read a map, and basically wasted a trip to NYC because I played it by ear too much.

To avoid both of these situations in my future friends-are-coming-to-visit scenarios, I decided to compile a guide for how to see the city without “seeing” the city guaranteed to not make you feel like a tourist AND not leave you going “I dunno, what do you wanna do?”.

A. The Water Taxi at the South Street Seaport: The water taxi is awesome. Why, you ask? Because you can go down to the seaport early, get your wristband and then hop-on and hop-off all day as you choose.  The “taxi” (which is a boat that has an outdoor seating area on top and comes with a guy armed with a megaphone to tell you all about the city (there’s your tourist fix!)) stops at these great areas: Fulton Street Ferry (DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge), Battery Park, the Intrepid and the Seaport. You also get to go past the Financial District, Ellis Island/ Statue of Liberty and a couple of other gems. If you sit on the whole taxi, it’s a 90-minute trip. But you can get on and off at any point. My tip — take a full loop on the taxi to start it off. Then get off at the Seaport, enjoy a seafood lunch on the water, maybe walk over to the “beach” and then hop on and cross the river to Brooklyn. Get off and spend the rest of the afternoon there. Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of my favorite spots – so bring a blanket, some tunes, cards, whatever keeps you entertained – and kill the rest of the day bumming around at the park. Then go grab some of the best pizza and ice cream the city has to offer and conveniently miss the last taxi back over, leaving you to walk the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan instead.

B. Outdoor Movies: This is single-handedly one of the best things about the summer in any city, but especially in NYC. There are always great movies playing at parks and on rooftops – and they’re almost always free. Do a bit of research and you’ll find tons of locations and their movie schedules. Most aren’t on the weekends, but that’s the best part — when you’re hard-pressed to find something fun to do in the middle of the week (and have an early start to the next day), you can always depend on an outdoor movie. Make sure you show up early to get a good spot and bring snacks (and drinks!). I kind of love that Bryant Park plays old classics on Mondays. It’s like they know you’re bummed to be back in the office and have a little treat for you to look forward to. And they wave the no booze in the park rule – so bring all the beer, wine and other adult beverages you want.

C. Frying Pan: The Frying Pan is arguably one of the best summer spots in all of NYC. And if the insane crowds are any indication of its popularity, I’m not the only one who thinks this. For those of you who don’t know, the Frying Pan is a big old boat turned floating bar/ restaurant. They sell buckets o’ beer, pitchers of Sangria and whatever else your heart desires. You get to be in the middle of the city, but also right on the water. I picked Frying Pan over Boat Basin — and it was a tough decision. Frying Pan won out for me because: 1) the food at Frying Pan is MUCH better. The fries there will rock your socks. Boat Basin didn’t have fries last season. Really. 2) The Frying Pan is for real men. You’re not near the water like you are at Boat Basin. You’re ON the water. Which means, if it’s a little windy out, you might wanna vom. And that makes it awesome. If for some reason you haven’t gone to the Frying Pan – please, for the love of God, do it!

D. Sunday brunch: Nothing infuriates me more than when a friend comes to visit and takes an early flight out on Sunday. Ummm, hello, Sunday Funday? A Sunday in NYC is not complete without a little brunch action, and if a friend is in town, that brunch needs to include bottomless beverages. There are a million spots in the city that feature $20 – $30 brunch specials that includes all you can drink for a few hours along with a solid meal, so take your pick. When Bryan, my Canal Street buddy, was in town, we hit not one – but TWO – bottomless brunches. We made the mistake of going to the trashy Sunburnt Cow first and then when we were good and marinated in mimosas, we went to the fancy Essex (I recommend doing this the other way around, though you might not have as much fun). We created a scene, and coined the term “double brunch debauchery”. Next time you have visitors, make sure you plan accordingly.

E. Avoid chain restaurants and stores that are commonly found in malls: Ok, so this one is more of a “don’t” than a “do” but this is a big one (and one that should be followed no matter what city you live in or are visiting). No one goes to a new city to eat at TGI Fridays. I swear. So please, please, please don’t do it. You’re going to go out to eat — it’s inevitable. Plan ahead and make reservations at local gems or go with the no plan plan and wander around a neighborhood and find a little hole in the wall that is probably delicious. If your guests want to go shopping — avoid the aforementioned Canal Street, and stay away from places that could just as easily be found in any shopping or strip mall around the country.

Other tips and recommendations… the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, etc are all great places to go check out. If you’re on a school field trip. But if you’re 20 or 30 something, you should probably put some other hot spots on your list. However, if your guest is so inclined to buy an I ❤ NY shirt and get down with the touristy stuff, you should indulge them. Set aside one afternoon and hit everything. It’ll be a blast and you’ll get some great pics. Don’t spend the whole trip doing that, though, and don’t go to eat at the restaurants in that area (they’re likely not as good as those in other neighborhoods, are super expensive and will rush you out if they’re crowded).

Also, plan for your GUEST — if they love live music, find a great band or open mic; big fan of theater? hit up an off Broadway show (I can not say enough amazing things about the Neo-Futurists who perform 30 plays in 60 minutes – AMAZING). Find the things your visitor loves and give them a unique only-in-NY experience around that.

And finally, the biggest thing — have FUN! These are some recommendations, but not rules, to enjoying NYC with an out-of-town guest. I’m sure I left stuff off the list — what are you must-sees and must-dos when you have friends/ family visiting your city (NYC or other)? Let me know!


Posted on July 5, 2011, in new york city, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ok. BEST BLOG EVER!! ❤

  2. Love all of these, I have a little tourist plan too for all of those out of state relatives! I always indulge them in a little Times Square excitement (we do a literal 20 minute walk around the whole thing and then the 2 year old inside of me insists that we go into the big Toys R Us for some Candyland action!) After that I ship them down to Mulberry st to eat the best Italian food, and then we walk up to a little park and stop at the Pinkberry across the street! Of course I always include a trip to Topshop if we’re close enough 🙂

  3. @joanna – thanks love!!!

    @nicole – awesome, awesome… lucky relatives! I suggest doing a little Disney Store rendezvous too 🙂

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