Pick a good place as your home base. Know the area you’re staying in and most importantly, don’t be afraid to stay outside of Manhattan. Me and Kat stayed at Hotel BPM, which is in Brooklyn. We got a fantastic room at a really great price through a flash sale they were doing, and with a bit of quick googling I saw there was a subway station a block away, perfect for getting into Manhattan in less than 15 minuets. There’s plenty of overpriced and seriously tiny hotels in Manhattan, as well as everywhere else, find the right one for you, and make it your insta-home. As long as you know how to get to where you want to go from where you’re at, and you can at least blend a little with the locals, you’ll be fine. Eyes open and easy smiles go a long way.
Visit Bryant Park. Just do it, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes. You’ll end up in the middle of almost everything you could want to visit and surrounded by mostly native New Yorkers reading the paper, chatting with friends and you’ll realize that this is a place millions of people call home and to treat it accordingly. Understand that “NYC” encompasses the boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island (as much as they might want to deny that) besides just the glitter of Manhattan, and get an idea of the immensity bred here. There is so much history, pride and love here, you’ll enjoy your time better once you feel that.
Take your time in Central Park, if thats the kind of thing you like. Probably it is the kind of thing you’ll like, if you’re even a little alive inside. This place is HUGE, seriously, just ever so huge and you probably won’t have enough time to spend exploring it all, but just enjoy the time you spend there and relish the beauty and calmness that is cultivated here. Also, take a photo of that damn Balto statue that took you and your friend over an hour to find even though you were pretty much on top of it half the time. Watch out for joggers and skateborders, smile to the beverage cart vendors.
Know how to use the subway system. Seriously gods, this is so useful. Even if you can afford to take a cab everywhere, just don’t. You’ll be stuck in traffic more often than not, and apart from taking one to and from the airport, they really won’t get you there faster or more efficiently than using the subway. Get an app, use the handy maps at pretty much every station, get one from a station worker. Get comfy with getting on and off trains, listening for your stop (or counting the stops if you can’t hear or see ’cause the car you’re in is insanely packed). Put more money on your MetroCard than you think you’ll need, chances are you’ll miss a stop or get on an express train or the stars will align just right and you’ll end up halfway to the Bronx when you were aiming for the Met. And just consider it a given that you’re going to eventually come across a slightly mentally disturbed person on at least one of your rides, and basically, just be polite if you’re pushed into a conversation and consider it a rite of passage here.
Go where you want to go. Seriously, visiting NYC can be so expensive, if you don’t make the most of the time you have here, you’re going to regret it like nothing else. So. Go to the museum you want to visit, and take terrible photos to send to friends! Go to the Disney store that smack dab right in the middle of Times Square to get your boyfriend that Star Wars t-shirt you’ll know they’ll love, even though there seems to be thousands of people already in there. Just, if it’s what you want to do, do it. Wander around Chinatown, a little lost and out of place, enjoy the disorientation. Explore, walk around and just enjoy the time you have here, if you’re not a native, you don’t have an excuse for not making the most of everyday here.
Eat at that dingy corner fast Chinese food place with the oddly dirty floor, I promise the egg rolls there will be delicious, they’re friend to an inch within their life so you’ll be fine, plus the elderly couple most likely working there will be really nice, probably, and give you two free ones. Pop into that really fancy and slightly loud restaurant that smells so good walking past it when you’re on the Upper West Side, as long as the menu isn’t dusted in gold, you can probably afford it, just check the menu posted outside if you want to make sure. The service won’t be the best, they’re rushed and it’s a busy night, but the food, no matter what you get, will be excellent, and you’ll enjoy the time you spend there. When you go to China town, because you heard they have great food there, you probably won’t know where to eat, everywhere will look good. So just pick one. Pick the one that shines the brightest and has happy looking people inside. Pick the one that goes down narrow stairs and you can smell something delicious wafting up. Just pick and sit down, smile and laugh with your server and let them give you a fork and spoon with your chopsticks, it doesn’t matter if you DO know how to eat with them. Whatever, really. Order a lot and stuff your face, it’ll be worth it.
Duane Reade will have what you need, they are everywhere, and from that emergency umbrella that you drop in to buy when the skies open up to drown you a little, to the sunscreen moisturizer you come to see as miraculous on overly sunny days, they really will most likely have what you need. If not, there are an insane amount of random specialty shops all over Manhattan, just a simple walk down any street will have you finding that thing you really needed but forgot to bring. Also, buy souvenirs. Yes, for at least 15 minutes of your trip, be a total and unabashed tourist. Buy tons more postcards than you think you really need, and at least a couple of nice keychains. Don’t be the person who visits NYC and doesn’t bring back nifty souvenirs for their friends and family, even if they didn’t ask, they’re expecting it and really, postcards are so inexpensive compared to the slight guilt trip you’ll avoid with them. Also come on, you want a fridge magnet, just admit it.
Enjoy the time you have here. I know I said that already but, it needs repeating. I was born, grew up here, and yet I cherish the days I get to visit this grand city. It is unlike any other, and from the crowded streets to the places that are almost deserted, you can find yourself both overwhelmed and slightly disappointed when things don’t click like you thought they would, when places you’ve seen so many times on film seem less bright then they were on screen, when you realize you can’t make it to everywhere you want to see in the time you have. NYC is not a perfect place, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is so much imperfection here, so many flaws and scars and quietly groaning mistakes…..but that is what makes NYC as a whole, beautiful and amazing and worth the attention. It is most definitely a life changing experience, it’s going to be magnificent and fantastic and worth every minute, and basically you’re going to love it here.
And finally, before you leave, on the day you leave, take a selfie. Artistically shot, terrible lighting, doesn’t matter. Send it to a friend, share it with everyone on facebook, or just keep it for yourself. You’ll understand after you’re back home, going through your photos of the trip and you finish with the one of your face, bright eyed and slightly exhausted, ready to go home and never wanting to leave this fantastic place.