What makes a real New Yorker? Some say you must be born in one of the five boroughs – I wasn't but I've lived here for 14 years, contributed to six Lonely Planet guidebooks on New York, and done everything New Yorkers complain about and covet... 

I've snagged impossible restaurant reservations, seen Tony Award-winning shows long before they went to Broadway, fallen asleep on the subway (do not recommend), gotten caught in summer rain storms while biking along the Hudson River (actually invigorating) – and I don't hesitate to give cab drivers directions if I deem my route superior. I love this city with the uncomplicated clarity of Milton Glaser's “I Love NY” logo. NYC is in my DNA.

So with my NYC credentials established, here are six questions out-of-towners often ask me about experiencing the nation's most populous metropolis like a New York-or-nowhere urbanite.

St Marks Place, the main street in the famous East Village of New York City
Skip Midtown: base yourself in a local neighborhood ​​​​like the Lower East Side © Warren Eisenberg / Shutterstock

Where should I stay in New York? 

Location is king when it comes to lodging. Travel times between boroughs, and even parts of Manhattan, can take upwards of 30 minutes. Decide which neighborhood interests you most and pick a hotel in the area. 

For something central, skip Midtown (its nonstop energy overwhelms) and look instead around the art and park-packed West Village or Chelsea – you’re still close to must-see Manhattan sites. The budget-friendly Jane Hotel houses guests in ship-style rooms initially built for sailors in 1908 and is steps from Hudson River Park's piers and the elevated High Line promenade.

If you're into trendy bars, unique boutiques and a bit of edgy grit, opt for the Lower East Side. The Public Hotel, created by Studio 54 co-founder Ian Schrager, sits where the Lower East Side intersects with shop-heavy Nolita. 

Don't sleep on Brooklyn, either – plenty of well-appointed Williamsburg hotels overlook Midtown's skyline. Check out the Wythe, a short subway ride from the borough's best nightlife venues and one stop away from Manhattan. 

When low price points are paramount, try Harlem Flophouse (shared bathrooms in a 19th-century townhouse) or Pod Brooklyn (compact rooms in Williamsburg). Avoid travel around major holiday weekends – you'll pay a premium – and look for deals during Hotel Week from January through February. 

Cyclist riding in a bike lane at the Park Row financial district.
Cycling is an increasingly popular way to get around in New York, but you do need to be confident on a bike © JJFarq / Shutterstock

What's the best way to get around NYC? 

New York is a pedestrian town. You can take leisurely strolls around brownstone-lined blocks in the West Village and Brooklyn Heights, but the pace here is generally fast. New Yorkers use sidewalks for commuting and follow a set of unspoken rules: traffic flows to the right, walk no more than two people side-by-side and if you need to pause, step out of the way.

NYC's 24/7 subway system, operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), is great for long distances – and though navigating the underground network can be confusing for newcomers, nearly all locals use it thanks to its low cost and efficiency. OMNY is the MTA's fare payment system. You don't need to download an app to use it; just tap a contactless bank card or smart device and go. 

My preferred mode of transport is biking. The city has over 600 miles of protected bike lanes, and rolling around town lets you experience the shifting architectural landscape. Use Citi Bike, NYC's bike share program, to join the pedal palooza (download the app; day passes cost $19) and obey traffic laws. Avoid cycling if you aren't confident on wheels – fellow cyclists and drivers can be aggressive.

The cost of cabs is prohibitive. Reserve rides for special occasions like late nights, torrential rain storms or if you have limited mobility.

For navigation, I usually use Google Maps, though the Citymapper app shows even more ways to get around town – including ferries. You can hail and pay for cabs using the Curb app and check when the next subway car arrives with Subway Time NYC

SP-and-Scarrs.jpeg
Left: Onion rings, fries and a grilled cheese from S&P Lunch; Right: Pizza from Scarr's (worth the wait!)

Where should I eat – and how do I get restaurant reservations? 

NYC's foodscape has it all: Michelin-starred meals (try South Indian at Semma), old-school luncheonettes (stop by S&P Lunch), delicious vegetarian dives (eat everything at Superiority Burger), some of the tastiest pizza this side of the Atlantic (wait in line at Scarr's) and the best bagels in the world (head to Absolute Bagels and dare to disagree). You can take a cheap dumpling-and-bun tour by strolling Bayard St in Chinatown and spend half a day grazing grub at Smorgasburg – a seasonal al fresco food bazaar. 

I tell everyone to try Thai Diner in Nolita – it's a blast of Bangkok and a soupcon of greasy-spoon NYC, where you can gobble massaman curry disco fries while twirling on a swivel stool. If unsure where to go, I consult the Infatuation – a trustworthy restaurant recommendation website.

When restaurants take reservations (usually through the Resy app), I usually make one a few days to a week in advance. Popular spots – like seafood-forward Sailor in Brooklyn – start taking reservations two weeks to a month prior, and if you want a table, it's imperative to act quickly. For assistance with hard-to-get reservations, download the TableOne app, which sends alerts about openings at popular restaurants. 

Another option for snagging in-demand tables: get to the restaurant at opening and put your name on a waitlist. If I don't have a reservation at Thai Diner, for instance, I'll join the waitlist and then grab a cocktail around the corner at Little Rascal to pass the time. Occasionally, the stars align, and I'll snag a bar seat without waiting.

Cosmopolitan cocktail at a bar in New York.
Yes order the Cosmopolitan, but check out your local mixologist's specialities too © Charlotte Machin / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Where should I go out for drinking and dancing? 

If you want to bounce between cocktail joints with expert mixologists, base yourself around the East Village and Lower East Side. There's the kitschy speakeasy PDT (enter through Crif Dogs), craft cocktail connoisseur Attaboy, bitters-forward Amor y Amargo, plus some exemplary spots for wine (try Ruffian) and beer (taste what's on tap at Proletariat). 

North Brooklyn is best for breweries. Talea, a city chain with fruit-forward ales that started in Williamsburg, is NYC's first women-owned brew house. Grimm Artisanal Ales makes juicy, funky flavors – plus they've got a rooftop with views.

When it's time to dance, head to industrial warehouses in East Williamsburg, Bushwick and Queens. For Berlin-style beats, try getting into Basement at the Knockdown Center (the door policy is exclusive). You can hear indie bands and international DJs at Elsewhere, and you can dance outdoors during the seasonal Mister Sunday party at Nowadays — an uber-inclusive, queer-friendly EDM club. Pre-purchase tickets and search for events using the Dice and Resident Advisor apps. 

Speaking of queer-forward spaces, you'll find some of the best in Hell's Kitchen (home of pretty boys and Broadway babies), Chelsea (the jockstrap-happy Eagle is Manhattan's hottest gay bar), the West Village (unpretentious Julius' and femme-forward Cubbyhole are favorites) and into East Williamsburg (dance at queer bar 3 Dollar Bill; order craft cocktails at The Exley). 

Broadway theatres in Times Square New York city
Plan ahead if you want to see a show on Broadway or you can try your luck on last-minute tickets © aluxum / Getty Images

What is the best way to see a Broadway show?

First, decide if there's something worth seeing. Only a handful of splashy musicals have staying power (The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Wicked) – great for first-timers looking for a classic Broadway experience. Then there's a rotating roster of productions – like limited-run dramas and smaller musicals – which, when done well, offer fresher perspectives than long-running hits. Check reviews in the New York Times and Vulture for recommendations. 

Theater tickets cost anywhere from $25 to $250 and up. If I'm adamant about seeing something (usually a buzzy New York Times Critics' Pick), I buy tickets on the TodayTix app, which offers discounted pricing and digital lotteries. 

If you're pinching pennies, try same-day digital rush and lottery programs – just remember you might end up empty-handed. (Scan Playbill's cheat sheet for show-by-show policies.) There's also the Theatre Development Fund's TKTS booth under Times Square's red steps, with up to 50% off same-day shows and next-day matinees. Try to arrive around 5pm, when theaters release extra tickets for upcoming performances. 

Broadway isn't theater's end-all-be-all either. Off-Broadway is Broadway's creative incubator, with many of the same actors, directors and writers producing some of NYC's best work. Take a chance on shows playing at places like Playwrights Horizons and the Public Theater – you might be seeing New York's next big hit. 

Pedestrians and cyclists on Brooklyn Bridge.
Strolling across Brooklyn Bridge is a top free experience in New York © Christian Mueller / Shutterstock

What can I do without breaking the bank? 

As of 2024, Manhattan is the most expensive place to live in the US – but there are plenty of ways to enjoy NYC for free. Wander through Central Park's 843 acres; ride across New York Harbor on the Staten Island Ferry for Statue of Liberty views; stroll the Brooklyn Bridge; see summer concerts in Prospect Park; catch the Public's Shakespeare in the Park series. Plenty of museums offer free days, too. My favorite is the Whitney Museum of American Art , which goes gratis on Fridays from 5pm-10pm and all day on the second Sunday of every month. (Jump to the permanent collection for paintings by Hopper, Warhol and more.) Many others are pay-what-you-wish, like the Museum of the City of New York, which chronicles over 400 years of local history. 

When it comes to dining, keep an eye out for happy hour specials (usually 4pm-7pm with select drinks and apps discounted), gorge yourself on $1.50 pizza slices from 2 Bros, order two tacos for $5 at Los Tacos No. 1, nosh a bodega BEC (bacon, egg and cheese) for roughly $6 or nab a plate of Indian street food for under $10 at Punjabi Grocery & Deli

My happy place 

After grabbing an egg galette from Poppy's, or a raspberry croissant from L'Appartement 4F (depending on whether I'm digging savory or sweet), I love to amble along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade – a ​​1826-ft pedestrian walkway with views that stretch from Lady Liberty to Lower Manhattan's skyscraper forest and up to the Empire State Building (and beyond).
 

Explore related stories

Three friends on a train laughing

Tips & Advice

Stories from the road: What we do when things go wrong

Jul 9, 2024 • 9 min read