I love being a tourist in my own city. For nearly 7 years that city was New York, and I loved discovering it for myself as much as I loved showing it off to guests.
A great way to see – and show – the city in all its impressive scale and majestic beauty is by taking a…
1. New York Water Taxi.
What you get: breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn and lower & midtown Manhattan panoramas with all the major landmarks, quick and easy on-off, all the beer you might want to bring aboard (drafts conveniently served for take-out a few yards away from the boarding dock) and fun historic narration by a local guide who is more of a DJ. What you avoid: multi-hour lines, insane crowds and security checks of the official Statue of Liberty boat tours. I had taken nearly a dozen NYC Water Taxi rides during my time in the City – pretty much with everyone who’s ever come to visit – and never ceased to enjoy them.
Once your feet are back on solid ground, another touristy yet fun thing to do is to hop onto a double-decker for a…
2. NYC Sightseeing Bus Tour.
I see you rolling your eyes, but hear me out. I took my first bus tour after I’ve been living in the city for two years, and already considering myself a local. But I had a new boyfriend, who had just relocated to the area, and I thought it would be a cute date activity. Indeed, it was SO. MUCH. FUN. First of all, the folks hired to narrate the tour are full of fascinating city trivia. Fellow tourists are usually friendly and excited, which adds to the positive energy of the whole experience, even when stuck in the notorious NYC gridlock. For a newbie, it really is a great way to see all the major sights in just a few of hours with minimal exertion of energy (there are 4 routes – mid & lower Manhattan, mid & upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx). For a resident or a been-there, done-that traveler, it’s a relaxing ride during which you pick up all sorts of interesting tidbits and – sitting on the upper deck a – get to know the town from literally a brand-new angle.
Tired and hungry from all that sitting around on boats and buses? It’s dinner time!
3. Dining out
…in NYC, is not something you do for sustenance in-between actual activities. It is a priority activity all onto itself. Eating out is a way of life. You have your dedicated breakfast and lunch and dinner places. Sunday brunch is sacred. The hangover cure comes not from your kitchen but from a corner bodega (egg and cheese on a roll). You pre-game with artisanal appetizers, hop over somewhere else entirely for a hearty entrée, and finish off the night with dessert and coffee at week-old but already Michelin-recommended café that seats 6 – before getting your night cap at a super-exclusive non-name dive bar. In NYC, eating — and drinking — out is a cult. You must join, and down the fusion Cool Aid in big gulps.
Dine out as much as you can. This is one city that guarantees that with minimal research your French will be authentic French, your Japanese – authentic Japanese, and your Laotian – you get the idea. Make a plan ahead of time, coordinate your food itinerary with your sight-seeing one. Make reservations – or at least call to check if they will be needed. Even the most inexpensive/low-key places get booked up in advance. Get pizza. Get sushi. Get steak. Get a proper martini.
If you’re not a ‘plan in advance’ type, no worries. There are culinary gems to be discovered in every neighborhood of Manhattan. Just follow these basic rules: if you’re a lady, don’t eat anywhere you can walk to from Times Square in 5-inch heels without your feet hurting. If you’re a gentleman – consult your female companion. If you’re a gentleman traveling solo or with a gentleman companion – imagine walking in 5-inch heels and how long you’d last if you were doing it on a dare with a $500 at stake.
4. It’s window-shopping time!
I have been in every prime shopping destination in the US and Europe and absolutely nothing compares to the Upper East Side section of Madison Avenue in New York. It’s GLORIOUS. Even if you can’t afford to actually shop there — it’s certainly outside of my budget — it’s still so much fun just to look!
Here’s why it’s better than checking out the same merchandise — whatever it may be — online, in a magazine or even a luxury department store:
Every upscale brand is presented here in its own store, often in an antique mansion. From gowns and jewels to race cars and cigar cases, from shoes and luggage to antiques and gadgets, luxury items on Madison are inhabit carefully curated spaces. Here you will find every I-just-saw-it-in-Vogue/ Bond movie/on HBO item, and the music, décor and atmosphere that match it to the T. There’s no assault on senses, no cacophony, no clutter. Instead, a museum of modern luxury, in its purest form.
Time to unwind from all that window-shopping? Just a block off Madison, in the heart of Central Park, is the rather compact (6.5 acre) Central Park Zoo, where, after visiting the penguin house and checking out the new inhabitant of the polar bear pool (RIP, Gus) you can partake in one of the most joyous activities known to man (besides beer-drinking):
5. Feeding the Sea Lions!
In the center of the zoo there’s a Sea Lion pool. The cute creatures frolic in it all day long. Three times per day the keepers come out to feed them and the sea lions (April, Clarisse, and Scooter) perform all sorts of tricks and get up on the pool borders — while you’re sitting on the amphitheater steps so close you can almost reach out and touch them and….SQUEEE! Seriously, that’s the only word to describe the experience. The sea lions are so cute and wild and playful and RIGHT THERE! It’s AMAZING!
For more of My City series, check out MY MOSCOW: 5 PLACES.