It doesn't take much to make me happy. Take me to a farmers market, and I'll roam around for hours. Put me in a park, and I'll people watch (read: fall asleep) for inordinate lengths of time. Make me walk the streets of a new city, and I'll probably never stop wanting to know what's on the next block or around the upcoming corner. My trip to The Big Apple, The Empire City, The City that Never Sleeps, The Concrete Jungle, whatever, went something like that.
Yes, there's singers/dancers on Broadway who are so talented I contend they might not be real people. There's the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Queen's Museum of Art. And there's so many cafes, coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants that I wish my stomach was a bottomless pit or that I had my 19-year-old brother's appetite. But my advice: Do those things, but in small doses. The real joys of NYC lie in its streets and parks and markets. For free.
Three things you'll need
A subway map, an iPhone app or someone with a really good sense of direction: I'm directionally challenged and never in a hurry to get anywhere. That's sooo not New York. I highly recommend figuring out what subway stops you'll need before you're standing in the middle of the street in front of the station with rushed New Yorkers whizzing by and tossing brief, poignant glares in your direction. Or make sure to bring along a friend with an iPhone. (There's a good, free app called NYC Subway.
A small purse or bring back the fanny pack: You're going to be walking a lot. Leave behind that purse that holds up to a year's worth of receipts and business cards (or maybe I'm just a pack rat) or, guys, bring a money clip to stash a small amount of cash. I promise it'll make the trip easier.
An umbrella: Trust me, you don't want to pay for one. And trying to get a taxi in the middle of a torrential downpour is like trying to get take-out delivered to the center of a cornfield.
Three travel tips
Walk as much as possible: The subway's handy, and about every other car on the road is a mustard yellow taxi. But walking is exercise that leads to exploration. My family and I were wandering around Chinatown and ended up walking toward the new World Trade Center - a site I'm glad I didn't miss. Cheers to walking.
Do the touristy thing, but also don't: This may sound like a contradiction (it is but it isn't). Make sure you pay Times Square a visit and stroll down Fifth Avenue. Get a feel for the rush of the city. And then go somewhere different, a bit quieter and immerse yourself in reality again.
Talk to a native beforehand: New Yorkers know what's up. They can tell you the dive bars or the best place to snag a slice of pizza or which Halal Food Carts are better than others. If you don't know any New Yorkers, do some research. You'll want to know what's crowded when, and what's not.
Three things to do or see
Times Square at night: I saw a lady walking a goat on a leash, buff guys with their shirts off doing pull ups on traffic lights, The Statue of Liberty (OK, it was probably a costume) and Spider-Man in a span of 15 minutes. Go there, and see what's in store for you.
Chelsea Street on Saturday: Start walking toward Union Square near NYU. Stop at the parks and peruse the farmers market. Buy some fresh-made bread, organic fruits/veggies and maybe a dessert or two. Then walk the blocks upon blocks of street vendors selling handcrafted jewelry, cornbread grilled cheeses and paintings galore.
Walk the High Line in Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge: You'll get a different view of the City. And some nice pictures.
One thing to skip
Wandering around Little Italy: I've heard the food is delicious, but there's really not much to actually see.