The below assumptions are based on years of reading and responding to traveler’s questions on the NYC Forum of Tripadvisor. In a perfect world, every visitor to NYC would read Tripadvisor prior to arrival, but for those who don’t, this will dispel some myths.
It’s Dangerous. Not really. According to 2009 FBI statistics, NYC is ranked 269th for crime in among US cities. In most parts of city where a visitor would go, people are on the sidewalks night and day – unlike most deserted downtown areas in the rest of the country. We don’t have teams of skilled pickpockets here either, with mustard or fake baby tossing schemes. Your bag dangling behind you agape on the subway, or hanging off the back of the chair puts you at the greatest risk for victimization.
It’s Expensive. Well, it can be, depending on you. Your hotel cost is probably the bulk of the expense, and you can economize by looking for deals, or staying at a hotel near a subway line in Brooklyn or Queens, or on the PATH train line in Hoboken or Jersey City. Moderate priced hotels are opening up all the time in Manhattan. Check Kimpton Hotels, Yotel, Gem Hotels, The Cosmopolitan, or search on Tripadvisor.
There is mass transit to get to Manhattan from the major 3 airports (JFK, EWR and LGA), and you can bring your luggage on the subway. Just don’t put it on a seat, or block the doors.
Most museums have a free or pay as you wish night. There are 1000s of free events every week (check the listings in the New York Times or Time Out New York - or search online).
Excellent food can be found at economical prices. In addition to the gourmet food trucks found all over the city, there are numerous places for inexpensive food. Xi’an Famous Foods for hand-pulled noodles; Danny Meyer hamburgers+ at The Shake Shack, Nate Appleman’s inventive cuisine at the Chipotle branch in Chelsea; decent slices of pizza everywhere. Restaurant Weeks and extended Restaurant Week deals all year. And, that’s just in Manhattan. Queens and Brooklyn have a wealth of low cost ethnic food spots.
When I was 22 I never needed to buy dinner, because all of the bars on 2nd Avenue from about 52nd to 56th Street put out Happy Hour snacks. Now, many of those same bars have free drinks for women on weeknights after 6pm. There are bars all over the city that have bar snacks or other free food. One place on East 14th gives away personal pizzas with every drink.
Times Square is the Center of the City. Not according to anyone who lives here. We avoid it like the plague. We only go if our office is unfortunately located there, if Toys R Us is the only option, for a great show at BB King, or to be very kind to a visitor. Whole years pass without me setting foot in that neighborhood now that my nephews prefer cash instead of toys. Of course, a first time visitor to NYC should visit Times Square – at night.
Eating in Chain Restaurants is Best. Only if you want to overpay for mediocre food in a city where excellent food abounds for all budgets. Of course, fine dining “chains” that started here, like Nobu, don’t apply to my disclaimer. Even if you’re a person who eats to live and doesn’t want to spend a minute doing restaurant research – any cab driver or hotel employee can direct you to a better place than an Italian chain restaurant, for example.
Never Leave Manhattan. If I was a recent college graduate – or under 30 – moving to NYC, I would live in Brooklyn or Queens. Why? They’re much cooler. Manhattan has gotten very homogenized, dare I say, bank or chain-store-ified. Red Hook, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and Astoria are where all the new, interesting restaurants, bars and stores seem to be opening.
You Will be Killed if You Take the Subway. As GreenWhiteBlue, a regular poster on the NYC Forum of Tripadvisor (and a NYC Transit Police Officer) states, the subway is safer than any of the neighborhoods under which it passes. There are 4-5 felonies on the subway a day, including pickpocket incidents or ipods being snatched. Many of these crimes take place among teenagers who know each other – and in the afternoon. The image of being mugged on a deserted train at midnight is just that. You will have as much trouble finding a seat on a train at midnight as you would at 4pm.
For GreenWhiteBlue’s very detailed “Idiot’s Guide to the Subway” click here.
All New Yorkers Are Rude. Well… I like to think of it as direct, and I for one, appreciate directness over wishy-washiness any day.
If you’re lost or have a question, it may be a good idea to make a quick assessment before stopping someone on the street to ask questions. If a person is barging toward you at a rapid pace with bulging eyes – they’re probably not the one to stop to ask a question – and you probably want to get out of their way. For every one of those rushed people, there will be 3-4 just hovering around on a corner, smoking outside an office building, or hanging out in front of their store. Those are the people to ask.
Also, I wouldn’t ask directions from someone who is obviously a suburban commuter (white sneakers and ankle socks with a hose and a skirt are a good clue - as are men carrying thermal lunch bags or wearing khaki pants – unless you’re the Upper East Side). Most commuters know the fastest route from their subway station to their office – they rarely leave this path. They probably won’t be rude, but they will not be able to answer the question, and may give you convincing but wrong information.
Renting an apartment is better/cheaper than a hotel. Maybe, but short term rentals (under 30 days) are not legal, and it can be risky. Since it’s not legal, you never know when the owner or tenant of the apartment is going to be warned or evicted by the co-op/landlord – and you could arrive to find no place to stay (and good luck finding a last minute discounted hotel room here!). And, many of these apartments are scams. If $150/night for a 2 bedroom apartment with a river or park view sounds too good to be true – it is. Although you probably don’t care, these short term rentals screw up the entire housing market for residents – and bring transients into our homes.
Hop On Hop Off Buses are the Best Way to get Around. These buses are a great thing in sprawling cities to get an overview and visit harder to reach sites, but they shouldn’t be used in place of mass transit. They’re slow moving and make frequent stops. If I was visiting a city like NY, I would probably take the bus tour on the first day to orient myself, then rely on the regular mass transit to get around. Don’t be afraid to use the subway – we get lost too. City buses enable you to see more, but they can be slow.
No Malls? What’s up with that? Malls were invented to bring a city experience to places where it didn’t exist. We don’t really need malls – the whole city is one. But, we actually do have malls. For a real American-style large mall, you can go to Queens Center – or the smaller Manhattan Mall. We also have the small, upscale Shops at Columbus Center (aka the Time Warner Center Mall) and the probably not-long-for-this-world Limelight Marketplace. Chelsea Market, which is more of a food-centric mall, is also worth visiting for a large Anthropolgie, Bowery Kitchen Supply and a basket store that features cookbooks authored by Food Network stars.
Time Out New York - new release!
Next up… Greenport and the North Fork Wineries….