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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Although many people dream of moving to New York, I resisted this move for as long as possible. Everyone told me it was a natural fit for me; that this was the place for endless possibility, creative connection, and self-discovery.
The pressure placed on NYC irked me. I’ve always been someone who likes to stand out from the crowd, and I didn’t want to be a cliche. Surely there were other cities that could offer this abundance?
However, my curiosity won in the end, and I’ve officially been here for one month and eight days.
Although it hasn’t been long, I can confidently say that New York is worth the hype. I don’t subscribe to the belief that a city can change you or solve your problems, but I do think the city gives back what you give it, and it is generous in these offerings.
There are many reasons to move here, but the most compelling reason of all is simply that every day when you walk out of your door, anything can happen. This unwavering thrill is why I love it here.
That being said, there are many things about NYC that I wish I had known before arriving. I had a lot of misconceptions about the city, the people who inhabit it, and the life I would lead.
When traveling via train or car, expect a travel time of around 30 minutes, and 45-50 during rush hour.
Also, know that although New York is a walking city, that doesn’t mean that walking is the premiere mode of transportation.
The city is enormous and really spread out, so taking the subway or bus is almost always your best bet and there are usually some form of delays.
I already knew before coming here that New York is expensive, which is why my roommate and I painstakingly created a budget spreadsheet.
However, what I didn’t account for is the never-ending list of expenses that always seems to arise. Everything from groceries, laundry, and bar cover will cost slightly more than you expect.
My advice is to over budget before coming here to avoid disappointment.
The rude New Yorker stereotype persists, and it wasn’t until coming here that I cracked the code.
It isn’t that locals are rude, but that they’re so focused on getting to where they need to be that they simply do not care about you.
The only time they’ll care is if you become an inconvenience for them. This blissful ignorance is one of my favorite things about New York. There is immense freedom in knowing that you can do or say anything in public and no one will notice you or care to judge you.
Something I didn’t consider before moving here is how hard it is to feel content. In a city where you can do anything and everything, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the extent of choices.
Remind yourself that you have time to do these grand things, and that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
One of my strongest beliefs about NYC was that it was an intimidating place and that this intimidation was palpable. I thought that everyone here knew where they were going and what they were doing at all times.
However, since moving here, I have come to the shocking realization that New Yorkers are human beings who make mistakes just as we do.
In a city as chaotic and crowded as New York, I assumed that finding serenity and clarity would be difficult.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that you can find repose from the city that never sleeps.
This is found in your neighborhood, in the city’s beautiful parks, in your apartment, in the book you’re currently reading, or in the random acts of kindness from the strangers you meet (shout out to that man at 96th street station who swiped me in when my Apple pay wasn’t working).
Now that we’ve established what I wish I knew before moving, let’s delve into the pros and cons of living in the city.
Over three million of New York’s residents are foreign born, and this ample diversity and cultural expression is reflected in every aspect of the city.
Living here means you are constantly exposed to new languages, cultures, and traditions, which expands your mind and personal growth. My favorite activity when I go to the MET is to count how many different languages I can hear; it always makes me feel like I am traveling somewhere new (a girl can dream right?).
One of the biggest ways that this cultural expression is demonstrated is through the city’s versatile cuisine.
Any culture or subculture you can think of is reflected in the food scene here. Whether you want low-key street food, or the
Plus, most restaurants deliver directly to your door, which really comes in handy during the winter blues.
New York is the home of dreamers for a reason. The city offers vast opportunities and connections from a wide variety of industries, making it the perfect place to kick-start your career or accomplish any of your goals.
Because of this, New York has a highly ambitious and powerful energy that I view as a whole other pro. It is quite inspiring to be surrounded by people with such drive and determination, and it often gives me the energy I need when I feel depleted.
New York is spilling with creativity. While there are the major institutions like the museums, NYC Ballet, Broadway, and Lincoln Center, there are also hundreds of small theaters, event spaces, galleries and more to discover. Almost every great artist has passed through this city, and you can feel it all around you.
The famous line that “nothing in New York is free” couldn’t be more true. The city is an expensive city—everything from food and drinks to toilet paper costs more here.
Although easier said than done, the key is to over prepare yourself for these costs, and after a while, an $18 cocktail will lose its shock value once you’ve established it as the norm.
There are few real estate markets as competitive and as over-saturated as New York City.
Unfortunately, this means you inevitably pay way more than the space you get. The reality could very well be that you don’t have a true “living room” space, unless you are willing to pay much more than you planned.
My roommate and I ended up finding an apartment with a true living space and even a small dining area within our tight budget, so never lose hope! It may just take searching through lots of wrong apartments before you find the perfect space.
Because the city is so big and widespread, it requires tons of stamina to get around here.
Whether you are running errands or trying to catch a show across town, it’s going to take a lot of effort in a city this crowded.
Whenever I go for my weekly grocery run, I have to think twice about buying that crate of LaCroix because I know I won’t be able to carry it along with my two other tote bags back to my apartment.
Proper planning and strategy is essential for living here.
With the spirit of New York comes the stench. The crowded nature of the city means that trash inevitably piles up, causing an unpleasant aroma, especially in the summer.
To be fair, some areas are stinkier than others. I live on the Upper West Side and I don’t realize how pleasant the air is until I get off the subway in Midtown…
I moved to New York in February and I stand by the fact that this is the best time to move to the city.
As a whole, fall and winter are considered off seasons. Because everyone and their mother wants to move in spring or summer, rental prices are typically lower and can be more affordable. You’ll also get the added benefit of watching the city transition from winter to spring, which is such a beautiful sight to see.
However, with less demand comes less supply, and therefore there are fewer apartments to browse overall. With this, it takes more effort to find an apartment that checks off every box on your list since there are limited options.
The housing market is much more competitive during the spring and summer, and although there is a wider breadth of options, spaces tend to go much faster.
So, if you choose to move to NYC in the spring or summer, be prepared to make decisions quickly, and expect that rent prices will be higher due to increased demand.
If you have your heart set on moving to New York during the warmer months, it is wise to save up at least 4 months of rent. It may seem daunting, but money goes fast, and it is always nice to have a safety net prepared.
Once you’ve decided on moving to New York, when do you start looking for an apartment? I like to break this down into two phases, each of which are equally important:
Phase 1 is essentially window shopping, and this occurs 4-6 weeks before your planned move. During this time you’ll casually browse the various rental options, gaining a sense of which neighborhood you’re drawn to within your budget. If you’re from out of town like me, this will be implemented through countless hours on StreetEasy.
Phase 2 occurs once you’ve gotten a sense of the price range you are comfortable sticking with and the neighborhood you want to concentrate on.
During this phase, you will actually tour places (or in my case, have your local roommate tour for you) and be prepared to rent once you find a keeper. This typically occurs 2-3 weeks before move-in, which sounds crazy, but that’s just the name of the New York real estate game!
I feel that New York is one of the greatest places to spend time with yourself. The city offers ample places to explore as well as spaces to reflect. Some of my favorite solo activities include browsing book stores, visiting the met, reading in Riverside Park, trying out new coffee shops and people watching at Tompkins Square.
Although I deem the city as a wonderful companion, a girl needs her friends. Moving to New York can be lonely, and that’s why having a core group of people to rely on is so important.
To be honest, I still haven’t cracked the code on finding friends in the city, but I think that being open to any form of connection is essential.
This can be done by saying yes to any invitation, even if you think it’s “silly” or won’t amount to anything. The key is to capitalize on the existing relationships you have in your life, because you never know who you could meet through them or how they may develop.
You can also seek out like-minded people; if you enjoy yoga and wellness, try out a local yoga class; if you really value community, volunteer at a local organization in your neighborhood. Putting yourself in the places you actually want to be will ensure that the relationships you make are true to your authentic self.
One of the most important steps when moving to New York is selecting your neighborhood. To help with this, let’s go over the basics:
New York is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Manhattan is the most populated borough in this group, but more and more people are choosing to reside in Brooklyn with the rich culture and solitude it provides.
Each borough is made up of various neighborhoods. In Manhattan, you have three main areas, ranging from south to north: Downtown (Financial District, Chinatown, SoHo, etc.), Midtown (Garment District, Hell’s Kitchen, etc.), and Uptown (Upper West Side, Upper East Side, etc.).
Each neighborhood comes with its own advantages, and it really comes down to what you want.
Downtown neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and East Village are artistic hubs filled with niche music venues and exciting nightlife, while the Upper West Side is defined by its greenery (Central Park and Riverside Park are both located here) and residential charm.
Brooklyn is not divided up as clearly as Manhattan, but the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as Prospect Park, act as benchmarks for northwest neighborhoods such as Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope (just to name a few).
Brooklyn has asserted itself as a thriving borough for young people and families alike because of its natural landscapes, thriving art scene and overall community feel.
Like anything else, there are pros and cons to any borough you choose. Manhattan has all of the concentrated happenings, but also steep prices, whereas Brooklyn offers a more chill vibe and affordable living expenses.
The next question is then, which neighborhood suits me best?
When choosing your neighborhood, it is important to consider how you realistically like to spend your time and how you see your daily routine.
When I first started looking at apartments, I convinced myself that I wanted to live in the East Village, because as a 22 year old new to the city, I thought it was the only way I could make friends.
But after much contemplation, I decided I wanted the solitude that the Upper West Side provides. I chose nature and repose with a longer commute to midtown, while some would rather be in the constant action and have little to no commute at all.
Really take the time to consider which neighborhood aligns with your personal values.
Before moving to New York, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the numbers. Besides high rent, the majority of apartments in NYC come with a security deposit and a broker’s fee (which typically is the equivalent of first month’s rent).
If you’re looking to avoid paying a fee, most housing apps such as StreetEasy offer a “no broker’s fee” filter where you can weed out apartments that charge these fees.
Although it’s common sense that apartments with nice amenities cost more, in the city this takes a whole new meaning.
For example, an apartment with laundry in the building vs. an apartment without, could mean a price difference of $1,000 a month. You’ll most likely find yourself having to make compromises in order to stick to your budget.
Before I moved to the city, my roommate and I created a budget spreadsheet together, which offered me immense peace of mind during this process.
Even if you don’t want to make something this elaborate (I wouldn’t have done it without her encouragement), take the time to contemplate what you roughly spend per month and write it down for reference.
This will help to offset any fears or anxieties you may have when you arrive and see your bank statement getting smaller and smaller…
The New York apartment search is not for the faint of heart. It is a competitive and stressful process, but as long as you map out what you want before beginning, you will be more than fine.
It’s important to know that you won’t get everything on your checklist. That being said, have 1-2 non-negotiables that you stick to for your search (as long as they are semi-realistic; if your non-negotiable is to have a balcony, I wish you all the best).
As previously mentioned, many apartments charge broker’s fees and almost all require a security deposit. Although this may seem like a non-negotiable, there are many cases where it’s worth investing in a place for your overall happiness.
I thought that I would never be willing to pay these fees, and I ended up paying both for my apartment because it was the exact space and location I wanted, and I knew I could see myself here for a long time.
Like I’ve said and will continue to say, it is never a bad idea to start saving now for a move to New York. Whether or not you pay a broker’s fee, it’s always great to have that safety net.
Something I quickly learned after moving to New York is that the term “New York charm” is really just a coverup.
Even if you think you’ve found the “dream” place, be prepared for some challenges. I thought my apartment was perfect until I moved in and discovered a family of pigeons that live directly on the ledge of my bedroom window.
I still haven’t gotten quite used to their constant cooing, and I often wake up in the middle of the night from their dreadful harmonies.
Also, be sure to Google your building before signing the lease to ensure that there aren’t any major complaints about the management company. The last thing you want is to be in an uncomfortable or hostile living environment with no escape.
And if possible, spend time in your neighborhood before committing to it. During my work trips, before I officially moved, I spent time on the Upper West Side to get an overall feel of the neighborhood.
I always joke that every prospective New Yorker should receive a real estate manual, as there are specific rules that you won’t find in other cities.
First, it is important to know that for almost every apartment in the city; you need to make 40x the rent.
If you cannot prove this, (which you show through bank statements), then you’ll need a guarantor, someone like a parent or relative who co-signs your lease in order to “guarantee” your rental fees by promising to pay it if you can’t.
Where rentals are concerned, stick to StreetEasy and Zillow, as they are the most organized and straight-forward of the rental apps. Through these apps, you can contact real estate agents/brokers directly for questions about the property, gauge prices and book showings.
When you rent an apartment, have at least 3x your rent handy, in case you need to pay a broker’s fee and/or security deposit. When paying these fees, and your first month’s rent, you’ll most likely need to do so in the form of a bank teller’s check/cashier’s check.
These checks can easily be acquired by visiting your local bank. Just be sure to ask your broker who the check needs to be made out to and for how much, as you’ll be charged a small fee for writing this check, and you want to be sure it’s done right the first time.
Given that most New York apartments do not have an elevator, moving all of your items up a small and sweaty staircase is far from ideal.
I came to New York with only two suitcases, which were so stuffed that they both broke at the seams and had to be carried like coffins up to my fourth-floor apartment.
Thankfully, I had my roommate to help me with this task, but if you are coming to the city alone/don’t want to suffer through this, hiring movers is your best bet.
Below I have listed the top-rated moving companies for both New York locals and those coming from out of state:
Although it is the most creative and fun process of moving, buying furniture gets expensive really fast.
As a 22-year-old starting out her career, I know I don’t have money to throw around on furniture that I’ll likely not keep for a long time. When you’re starting out in the city, investing in new furniture is wildly wasteful, considering the ambiguity of your path ahead.
With that in mind, I recommend buying used furniture if and whenever you can. Facebook Marketplace essentially sponsored my entire apartment, and I highly recommend checking out sellers in your neighborhood for amazing deals.
I also suggest joining your local Buy Nothing Project group on Facebook or simply downloading the BuyNothing app. This app connects you to people in your neighborhood who, due to a lack of storage or need, give away items for free.
BuyNothing requires more patience than Facebook Marketplace, but if you wait long enough, there is always a treasure to be found.
I also suggest checking out HousingWorks, a thrifty store with home and clothing goods that has multiple locations throughout the city. It’s one of the few thrift stores in the city that has actually low prices (I got a gorgeous Murano glass vase for only $15).
There are also multiple Goodwill locations, but these often carry smaller home items like dishware, rather than large furniture.
As mentioned before, the constant hustle of New York can be exhausting. The pulse and speed of the city manifests into an exhilarating yet tiring atmosphere.
For me, visiting one of the many parks in the city is always the energy shift I need to relax. Whenever I need to ground myself again, I find repose in the city’s greenery, and it truly does feel like the city ceases to exist.
If you are looking for an indoor escape, taking a solo museum trip is always a great way to tune out the city noise and focus on the present moment.
You truly can never say you’re bored in New York City. Between museums, experimental art galleries, Broadway, music venues, and iconic landmarks, there is ample activity across the five boroughs.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by these options, but when this happens, try to remind yourself of how lucky you are to live in a city with this much diversity and creativity.
You could dedicate your entire life to exploring New York and still not see it all, which is truly a gift.
The main vessel for getting around the city is the subway—it’s by far the most accessible transportation service.
However, for those moments when you don’t feel like being crammed in a subway car (sometimes the subway fatigue is too real), you can always call a cab or take an Uber or Lyft.
Another great thing about moving to NYC is how close you are to surrounding East Coast cities. For weekend trips, there’s a direct subway line that takes you to Penn Station or Grand Central.
At Penn Station there are a plethora of buses and trains that can take you directly to a number of nearby cities (Boston, DC, Baltimore, etc.).
Head to Grand Central for trips out to Connecticut or upstate.
As someone who is still very new to the city, I can attest that exploring your neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable experiences.
I have also asked long-time residents about this and even they still love discovering new neighborhood gems, as there’s always more to learn about your little corner of the world.
I like to play a little game of “direction of the day”, where I will choose a different path to walk on in my neighborhood.
I try to put my phone away during this, and instead note specific shops and restaurants I want to explore, conversations being had between residents and just general happenings.
This not only helps me to gain confidence in navigating my neighborhood but also gets me excited for future adventures.
So there you have it, a complete guide to moving to New York City.
Although it is important to prepare yourself before moving, just remember that you will never be “ready”. I kept waiting for the day that moving to NYC did not scare me and it never came.
I still agree with my seventeen-year-old self—moving to the “Big Apple” is a cliche.
However, I think in this case, that is actually a spectacular thing, because it simply means that it attracts people who want to experience a once in a lifetime existence.
And I don’t know about you, but wanting that doesn’t make me feel ordinary at all.
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