Tour NYC Like a Local With These Insider Tips

Right off the bat, three things I bet you didn’t know about New York are:

  1. You can get a free hot dog at any street vendor on the first Tuesday of every month
  2. City Hall dolls out a piece of New York’s famously glittering sidewalk to each and every visitor
  3. People sing loudly to themselves in public in hopes of getting discovered by roving agents; this is how Rihanna and Madonna got picked up, after all!

Hungry for more of where that came from? To optimize your trip to New York, we contacted local guides for the inside scoop on how NYC works. Without a doubt, the best way to get the most out of the city is to take a guided trip with an in-the-know New Yorker, but knowing a thing or two about The Big Apple before you get there can’t hurt.

Thanks to New York City’s guides galore, read on to learn the secrets to getting everything you want and more out of what has been described as the cultural and financial capital of the world.

Grocery stores? Forgedda ’bout ‘em. Visit Union Square Farmer’s Market

For over a decade, Phil has been leading walking tours around Greenwich Village, a must-see part of New York that showcases eclectic buildings (for example, rare wood-framed houses, as well as the narrowest home in the city), hidden gardens, and several charming churches. But when he’s not giving you a solid walking workout, Phil heads to the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Why? Well, for one, “It’s the perfect place for a picnic,” and two, the market supplies the city’s best produce; Phil says, “I have been shopping here for more than 34 years, and I would not buy my produce anywhere else!”

Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art during its down time

In addition to divulging the source of NYC’s best fruits and veggies, Phil dishes out invaluable advice on how “to see fewer bodies and more art at one of the world’s finest museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The lowdown: “Show up at 5 PM on a Friday or Saturday…The museum is open until 9 PM both nights, giving you plenty of time to see the art without the crowds.” Phil adds, “You could even enjoy dinner at either the Cafeteria, which is the more economical choice, or the American Wing Café, which is a bit more pricey, but has a grand view of Central Park.”

On weekends, go West

Wise Phil’s final tip is to “skip the more famous Central Park on the weekends, and go West to Riverside Park instead.” Phil praises Riverside Park for its greenery, historic monuments, and sweeping view of the Hudson River. Plus, he says, “The apartment houses along Riverside Drive, mostly built in the 1920s, have beautiful façades that are worth checking out.”

Map it, then attack it

Ronald G Paterson, a guide who has lived in NYC for the past forty years —mainly in Manhattan— after moving from Trinidad, West Indies, reminds visitors to New York, “Know where you are going and how you will get there before you leave your hotel;” lack of planning caused by an uncontrollable excitement to explore the city may result in precious lost time.

Don’t stand in the line of fire

Paterson also kindly warns that if you’re not moving, or if you’re simply taking it slow, step aside; New Yorkers have places to be, so they don’t appreciate obstacles that compromise their mission. Phil adds, “A sure-fire way to pass comfortably on the sidewalks of New York is to walk on the right hand side, and if you’re in a group, walk in single file.” For his own practice, Phil says, “I like to step next to a tree or fire hydrant when I’m checking my phone, consulting a map, or admiring a sight; this way I become one with the street objects, and just as nobody walks into a tree, nobody will walk into me!”

Hail a taxi without wasting time at Grand Central Terminal

The last thing you want to do in a city as bustling as New York City is to waste time hunting for a taxi. And this is where cunning guides like Alexandra Maruri, a Bronx genius, come in extra handy. Not only is Alexandra a fantastic tour guide who knows literally everything about the Bronx, she’s got the scoop on where to catch a taxi in New York: “By standing near Grand Central Terminal or Port Authority Taxi stand.”

Default to Italian restaurant, Zero Otto Nove

When you’re looking for a good meal and everywhere’s full, panic not…Alexandra shares that Zero Otto Nove is a fantastic place to go, especially for their oven-baked pizza.

Know your Midtown from Downtown

Besides the taxi and Zero Otto Nove tip, Alexandra has useful information regarding food prices in Manhattan: “In Midtown, the most inexpensive places to eat are usually on the Westside, the pricier ones are on the Eastside; Downtown, it’s the other way around.”

On your average day out, dress for hiking

Considering how fashion-centric NYC is, it’s hard to don a pair of hiking boots there, but Geovanni Rey, a New Yorker born-and-bred, insists that visitors should, “pack as if [they’re] going on a hike.” Geovanni says, “tennis shoes, basketball sneakers, Tom’s, and flats” don’t cut it; instead, he affirms, “nothing is better than hiking sneakers or boots, depending on the season.”

Invest in a Chinatown foot massage

Geovanni also suggests, “When your dogs are barking, find a place to get a foot massage for one hour, and you’ll be ready to tackle another day of exploring the metropolis.” His go-to is Chinatown: “there is [a foot spa] on every corner.”

Hit the hidden bars

Amada Anderson, a multitalented tour-guide-cum-award-winning-actress-and-singer who has featured in a plethora of television shows, encourages trying NYC’s off-the-beaten-path bars. One of her personal favorites is the hidden bar above the famous Sardi’s Restaurant, “the toast of Broadway for 90 years.” She says, “Instead of dinner in the main room, I take people upstairs to the bar that overlooks the street…While [guests on my Musical Theatre Walking Tour] enjoy glasses of wine, I share legendary Broadway gossip and stories.”

Play “The Lottery” on Broadway

Amada has a bonus tip to New York concerning how to get discounted front of house tickets on Broadway: by playing The lottery. She says, “All of the Broadway theatres have a special event a few hours before the start of the show called ‘The Lottery,’ which was started by the famous Nederlander Theatre while they were showing the musical ‘Rent.’” Amada shares, “Usually between 5:15 and 5:30 in the evening (for an 8pm curtain), you will find a crowd of fans who enthusiastically place their names into the hat to win $35-$40 front of house tickets.” Following this top tip, Amada adds, “Call the box office ahead of time to confirm if the lottery will occur that day or not.”

Amada concludes her secrets to getting the best out of Broadway by suggesting not running off once the show’s over: “If you are into the more superstitious side of Broadway, wait until the very end of the evening when the stage manager brings out the ghost lamp…All Broadway theatres do this to ward off evil spirits!”

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