Get off the tourist trail in New York

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Sure, hit the big sights (they're big for a reason), but take the time to do some live-it-like-a-local exploring. Staffer Ali Lemer, a NYC native, has some suggestions.

 Shop at a farmers market

Farmers Markets featuring fresh, local produce – fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, baked goods, flowers, etc – abound throughout the five boroughs. You’ll find them open several days a week in squares and plazas, and many of them are year-round. (Winter markets have holiday gifts and hot drinks, too.) They’re great for self-catering, or even just a streetside snack. Our favourite is the Union Sq Market at 17th St and Broadway (open 8am-6pm Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat year-round), or take your pick at these locations.

Visit City Island

This small maritime community, off the coast of the Bronx, is like a small fishing village that’s been transplanted straight from New England; indeed, shipbuilding is still a mainstay (seven America’s Cup–winning yachts have been built here). But City Island is most famous for its seafood restaurants, most of which range along its easily walkable main street. Try The Lobster Box (34 City Island Ave) for fresh seafood with views of Long Island Sound, Irish pub The Snug (302 City Island Ave) for Guinness and fish ‘n’ chips, and The Black Whale (279 City Island Ave) for homemade desserts. Take the #6 train north to its last stop, Pelham Bay Park, and then transfer to city bus Bx29 for City Island.

See an art-house film

Forget the blockbuster action movies that you can see anywhere: NYC has a film festival running practically every day of the week, with independent and experimental films from all over the world screening at indie art-house cinemas all around town. Catch a flick at the Angelika, the IFC Center or the granddaddy of them all, the 40-year-old Film Forum.

Go retro

Have a wander through some of the vintage shops of the East Village – try between 6th and 14th Streets and from Third Avenue to Avenue A – such as Metropolis Apparel (43 Third Ave) or Atomic Passion (430 E. 9th St). If you pass Second Ave and 7th St, spare a moment of silence for the late lamented retro-kitsch shop Love Saves the Day, which closed last year after 43 years in business – yet another East Village institution to fall by the wayside (and thanks to the sharp-eyed cgallagher for pointing this out). For a musical blast from the past, check out Club Cache (221 W 46th St) on Monday nights at 8pm, where famed vintage-music expert Vince Giordano and his 11-piece Nighthawks band play jazz from the ’20s and ’30s ($15 cover charge).

Walk the High Line

This former elevated rail line running through Chelsea – built in 1934 to carry freight to local warehouses –  was abandoned in 1980, and for over two decades only keen urban explorers ducked through the cyclone fencing and climbed up to wander through the weeds that had sprung up between the sleepers. Now anyone can enjoy its unique city views, as the High Line was converted in 2009 into a 1.5-mile (2.3km) city park, complete with about 200 species of meadow plants, birch trees and built-in benches. Check the website for opening hours and entrance points.

Want more? Our New York Encounter guide is full of interviews with locals and cut-to-the-chase tips.