104 Best Things to Do in New York City: A Local’s Guide
Check out my ultimate local's guide to the best things to do in New York City. Including non-touristy things to do, it'll be a trip you won't soon forget.
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My first visit to New York City was for my 16th Birthday, and I have to admit my mom and I totally stood out as tourists.
We had a marvelous time, but looking back we both made some seriously touristy mistakes on our first trip to the city.
I think we can both look back and laugh at the lessons we learned on that trip.
For example, pedicabs are not actually a cheap way to get around Times Square quickly.
When I moved there at 18, I had a lot to learn about fitting in with the true New Yorkers.
There was a bit of a learning curve, but I can finally say I’m a true New Yorker after calling the city home for over a decade.
If you want to fit in with the locals on your next trip to the city, just follow my advice below on how to not look like a tourist in NYC.
I cannot stress this enough. New Yorkers walk quickly and with a purpose.
Visiting Times Square is a literal nightmare for most locals because of the massive amount of slow walking tourists.
They always walk slowly, stop in the middle of the sidewalk, and sometimes take up the entire walkway without regard for the locals trying to rush to work.
I used to hate working in Times Square for this very reason.
All the locals have major feelings on the slow walking tourists issue.
In fact, some jokingly (and some not-so-jokingly) think tourists should just have their own slow-walking lane in heavily populated areas.
If you want to move slowly, be considerate of locals and try not to take up the entire sidewalk while wandering around town.
If you don’t make room for the rushing locals, I can almost guarantee you’ll get sideswiped by an aggressive New York local power walking to their next meeting.
So, just to recap, if you want to fit in with the locals, pick up the pace, and always be moving toward your next destination.
NYC is world famous for its pizza scene, from dollar slices to the pricier gourmet slices it’s delicious.
Locals and tourists alike rejoice in devouring this local delicacy daily, but only true New Yorkers know the secret to eat it properly.
The trick is to add any additional toppings like red pepper flakes, Parmesan, salt, or garlic powder, then fold your slice in half and enjoy.
It might sound a bit nuts to those who have never tried this technique, but I swear it’s the only way to eat pizza and a sure sign that you’re a New Yorker.
I’m amazed by how many tourists and new city dwellers I see opt to take a pedicab when a real cab isn’t available.
Sure, they can be a fun way to quickly see Central Park, but otherwise, they’re just really expensive, not much faster than walking, and typically a simple way to spot out-of-towners.
If you want to fit in with locals, wear comfy shoes, and either walk, take the train, or hop in a car.
New York City has a lot of nicknames, including “The Big Apple”, “The City That Never Sleeps”, and just “The City”.
Locals almost never refer to New York by name, and they certainly don’t call it “The Big Apple” like tourists love to do, instead, they simply call it “The City”.
NYC has earned the short moniker because it’s the biggest city in the United States.
Also, NYC really is one of the greatest cities in the world, and certainly the greatest city in the US, so it only makes sense that everyone would assume you mean New York when you say “the city”.
I understand that when you’re traveling far from home, it’s comforting to eat at a familiar chain restaurant, especially if you don’t know the area well.
With that said, NYC is one of the best cities for culinary delights in the world, so please venture out of your comfort zone and eat somewhere other than Olive Garden or Applebees.
Don’t be the basic tourist that goes to dinner at a chain in Times Square, eat like a local at one of the city’s thousands (likely millions) of unique restaurants.
I can almost guarantee you’ll have a more original meal, plus you’ll likely meet locals who can give you personalized suggestions on things you shouldn’t miss in the area.
If you’re really feeling stressed over picking a spot to eat, find some food blogs to help guide your meal plans, or shoot me an e-mail and I’ll help point you in the right direction.
Locals can always spot tourists a mile away by their “I Heart NYC” shirts.
If you really want one of the iconic t-shirts, purchase one, then wait to wear it when you get home.
Chances are locals in your neighborhood will think it’s way cooler than any NYC locals who see you wearing it.
Speaking of fashion choices, this is one all the ladies need to hear.
Sex and the City isn’t realistic when it shows Carrie and the gang running around the city 24/7 in stilettos.
The sidewalks are filled with random holes, uneven, and no fun to walk on.
I hate admitting this, but I twisted my ankle in the West Village because of unseen bad patches of the sidewalk.
Locals-only wear stilettos when they have to.
Rarely do women wear them unless they are taking a car service.
In fact, you may even see a woman changing from flats to heels near their ultimate destination.
If you insist on being like Carrie and the gang, I can guarantee your feet will kill you, and locals will laugh at you as you hobble across the street.
The subway system is something that most tourists have heard or seen glimpses of while watching TV shows set in NYC.
The difference between locals and tourists who take this public transportation is obviously their depth of knowledge about where the lines go, but also how they refer to it.
Tourists call will say “riding the subway”, locals will say “riding the train”.
The subway refers to the entire underground system, so saying “riding the subway” isn’t at all correct.
Next time you want to fit in during any transit talk with a local, refer to it as simply “the train”.
NYC is a chaotic place that is pretty loud, so you better be able to be assertive.
This is a city where you need to actively listen, state exactly what you want, and then go after it.
This is especially true when vying for a spot at the bar, hailing a cab, or when getting into a crowded train car.
It’s fine to be polite, in fact, manners can get you a long way, but don’t be a pushover.
Also, don’t take this too far in the other direction, nobody likes people who act entitled or overly important.
Everyone who lives in New York knows you’ve got to be confident with your arm raise to successfully catch a cab quickly.
Tourists meekly try to wave cabs down, typically without bothering to look to see if they’re on duty.
Locals know only to bother with the cabs that have their lights on and to stare down their desired ride while extending their hand in the air.
Honestly, locals hate having to go to Times Square, mainly because it’s mostly filled with slow-walking tourists, creepy adults dressed as cartoon characters, and too many chain restaurants.
Plus, everything is over-priced.
The only times New Yorkers brave this chaotic mess is to go to work or to see a Broadway show.
The city is a place that’s home to millions of people, some of them are famous.
I get it can be super exciting to see a celebrity for the first time, especially if you’ve never seen one in person before.
Just remember, they’re a person just like you, who likely just wants to get on with their day.
Locals know this and treat them like they would any other person.
Obviously, you can still be super excited that you spotted them and brag to all your friends, but please don’t take photos of them or with them. It’s kind of creepy and not cool at all.
That said, if you’re waiting at a stage door or see them on a red carpet, then take photos or try to speak with them.
In those situations, they’re working, and it’s more appropriate to have a fan encounter with them.
I understand that not everyone has an innate sense of direction, in fact my sense of direction outside of the city is awful.
This is where Google Maps comes in, it will give you walking directions to wherever you need to go.
Don’t be that person still walking around with a paper map, or worse, just winging it and asking locals for directions.
Seriously, it’s so easy to put in where you want to go, then use Google Maps to navigate there.
These days there are apps for everything, even the subway and bus systems.
If you need help figuring out your train or bus route, go to the MTA app and they’ll give you step-by-step instructions.
Quit asking locals for help if your phone is functioning.
Often, locals are in a rush and can’t stop to walk you to where you need to go.
Bus tours around the city can be really convenient for seeing things quickly, or simply getting your bearings in a new area.
The downside is riding around on that big bus is a major giveaway that you are a tourist.
Instead of riding the bus around, just explore neighborhoods on foot or by public transportation to get a feel for the city.
It’s easier to discover local gems, get the actual vibe of the neighborhood, and maybe even make some local friends.
Plus, you can walk off all the delicious carbs like bagels and pizza that you should be devouring while in NYC.
I understand people know NYC for its hotdogs and pretzels from the street vendors, but honestly, they aren’t worth it.
Typically, they’ve overpriced and have been sitting there for hours.
Locals know this and will skip them in favor of visiting a Halal cart or food truck.
When in doubt, look for the spot where all the locals are lining up to grab a bite.
New Yorkers gravitate towards wearing black, mainly because it always looks chic, can be dressed up or down, and rarely shows dirt.
It doesn’t take a lot for locals to spot tourists just based on their fashion.
Typically, they’re in baseball caps, wearing a ton of logos, and lots of colors.
I’m not saying New Yorkers don’t wear colors other than black, because we do.
Though, it’s all pretty monotone and lower key than the way a lot of the United States wears color.
When in doubt, keep it simple, chic, and monotone when packing for your big visit to the city.
Oh, also avoid wearing skinny jeans, locals assume anyone still wearing them is a tourist.
In a city where everyone takes public transit, locals have to carry around everything they’ll need for the day in either a purse, tote bag, or backpack.
Anyone who’s been in the city for more than a few weeks knows that carrying an umbrella is necessary.
Cabs and Ubers quickly become impossible to find. The subway inevitably ends up with delays, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
The city doesn’t stop for rain, and locals still have to get to where they need to go, even if it means running through a rainstorm to get there.
Locals especially don’t enjoy having to pay crazy amounts of money ($10-$20) for a cheaply made umbrella from a street vendor.
Even vendors can be tough to find in some neighborhoods, meaning you’ll likely regret not having an umbrella in your bag.
Don’t be a fool, always keep an umbrella handy if there is any possibility of rain while you’re in town.
This really should just be common manners, but it needs to be said.
New York is filled with lots of unique people, all with their own style, vibe, or situation happening.
You’ll see crazy things happening, people crying in public, strange people or pets on the train, couples fighting loudly in public, people with wild outfits, or people who are struggling with their own demons.
Never stare and don’t make fun of them. We all are going through our own crap, and in New York sometimes that means doing it publicly because there’s very little privacy living in the city.
I understand you might want to stare because it’s something out of the ordinary for you to see, especially if you come from a conservative place.
NYC is a place where everyone is welcome and encouraged to be uniquely themselves.
Just embrace it and move on with your day.
I know when taking the train during rush hour for the first time, it’s exciting to see a train car that offers plenty of seating.
If you board that car, you’ll quickly learn there’s a reason that it’s empty.
Typically it smells, has an aggressive person acting strangely (don’t stare), or has no AC making it undesirable.
Just skip the empty train car and head to the more crowded one next to it.
These days I normally eat dinner around 9pm, which seems normal to me, but my family thinks it’s too late.
The crazy thing is sometimes when I was living in the city I wouldn’t have dinner until midnight because I would work crazy hours.
New Yorkers love to eat late.
They consider normally anything between 8pm and 10pm a solid time for dinner reservations.
This way you get in plenty of time to change after work and hit up a bar for pre-dinner cocktails to unwind after a long day.
Plus, it makes it easier to just go straight out to a hot bar or club after a long dinner.
Tourists eat on the earlier side, typically between 5pm and 7pm.
While it’s totally okay to eat early, it’s typically way more fun to hit up a bar like a local before enjoying dinner.
The easiest way to blend in with fashionable New Yorkers is to make black your signature color.
Locals love this color because it’s easy to dress up or down with accessories quickly, and always looks chic and classic.
Also, always walk with a purpose, don’t stroll slowly down the sidewalk while gawking at all the buildings. It’s also totally okay to jay walk. Locals do it all the time, just be cautious about oncoming traffic.
Oh, and this one is for the Europeans. Fold the pizza slice in half and eat it with your hands. New Yorkers never eat pizza with cutlery.
New Yorkers always have somewhere to be, so they walk super fast. If you sit at a sidewalk cafe and people watch, you’ll be able to pick out the slow-moving tourists quickly
You can easily spot a New Yorker based on their attire.
The locals no longer wear skinny jeans, and usually dress in a fashionable but functional outfits.
New York City is a place that millions of people flock to every year.
Most of them are simply tourists, and a few are moving there hoping to start a brand new life.
No matter which category you fall into, I hope this guide helps you avoid some of the classic mistakes that make you stand out as a tourist in NYC.
Let me know in the comments below what you think makes a person stand out as an out of towner in New York!
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