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.

The year-round, 90-minute tours  depart every 45-minutes from Pier 16 of the charming, US-colonial-style South Street Sea Port (main stop) and can be hopped on/off at several other locations.

Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. Shopping, dining, drinking, museums and NY Water Taxi boarding.

Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. Shopping, dining, drinking, museums and NY Water Taxi boarding.

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.

Views of Manhattan and Statue of Liberty.

Views of Manhattan and Statue of Liberty from the water taxi.

Brooklyn Bridge, as viewed from the boat, in the middle of a rain storm. Rough seas and all!

Brooklyn Bridge, as viewed from the boat, in the middle of a rain storm and rough seas!

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.

Photos from my very first bus tour, in 2007: NYC City Hall and Park, Empire State Building and Times Square.

My very first bus tour, in 2007: NYC City Hall & Park, Empire State Building, Times Square.

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.

I want it all and I want it now.

I want it all and I want it now! Clockwise from top left: cappuccino and Moretti, salmon sashimi (attention, Russians: THIS is what you get at a sushi restaurant!), salmon eggs Benedict, Hellboy and Grapeful Dead pizzas, and cake pops.

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.

Times Square: high on tourists, low on quality dining.

Times Square: high on tourists, low on quality dining.


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!

The fashion aisle. Image credit: Must See New York.

The fashion aisle.            Image credit: Must See New York.

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.

Ralph Lauren: American luxury. Image credits:

Ralph Lauren: American luxury.       Image credits: Vogue, The New York Times, The City Review, NYC loves NYC.

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!

SO CLOSE! Seriously, how cute are these guys?!  Image credit:

SO CLOSE! Seriously, how cute are these guys?! SO CUTE!        Image credit: Parent Dish.

For more of My City series, check out MY MOSCOW: 5 PLACES

34 thoughts on “MY NYC: 5 ACTIVITIES

  1. Great post Anna.I am a huge fan of the bus tours too. Each guide has their own pet interests so you can do it several times and learn something new each time. And the night loop is good fun too. I must get back soon, I haven’t been at all this year 😦

  2. Reblogged this on The Fountain and commented:
    If anyone ever asks why should he to NYC. Here he finds a basket of the same reasons. (Great article by Anna – and many thanks for that)

  3. I love NYC and have been a couple of times…but now I really want to see it with locals! Sounds much more fun. Do you think Joey and Chandler would be available to show me around??

    • Joey would be a fun guide! Not sure how much you’d learn, but you’d have fun and mealtimes would be 2 hrs apart, which in that city I am all for 🙂

  4. You’re giving me itchy feet 😉 I did a bus tour when I was there and thought it was great! When you’re short on time, it’s the perfect way to see a city 😉 The one in Dublin is really great too – the guides are really funny and have some great stories. The one in Barcelona is quite possibly the most boring experience I have ever had. 🙂

  5. The dining out is far and away my fave part of visiting NYC – sooooo many awesome restaurants – so many options for every level of taste. All types of fine dining, steak houses, family restaurants, breakfast places — hell even wonderful fast food options when the kids just wanna burger and a shake. And the pizza… yum. The bagels… awesome. Just love looking up all the great places to check out depending on the neighbourhood or mood we’re in, or just stumbling upon them, or… just eating, eating and more eating every time I go there. Love that damn city.

    • HAHAHA. Yup, when I go back once a year, I schedule everything else between my special breakfast, lunch and dinner destinations, which are a mix of old haunts and new & exciting outposts I read op on throughout the year @Grubstreet.

      • I’m glad its not just me! Sure we work out things to do like doing Central Park, seeing a Broadway show, all of that awesome stuff – but – we always START with what restaurants do we want to ensure we get to — and are there attractions near them, that we’re interest in seeing as well? — Yeah, love hitting the fave spots and of course finding new ones too… was just there back in August… might have to go again in the Spring I’m starting to think 🙂

          • We usually have the kids with us and are anchored pretty close to the touristy Times Square area – but on our 20th anniversary some years ago now – we managed to get there for a quick Friday and Saturday get-away. We stayed at the London Hotel – and I know Ramsay has gotten a bad rap and such – but we tried out his restaurant there – had the tasting menu and I for one freakin’ loved it! The next night we went to Mario Batali’s Babbo — I was a little hung over and ordered the duck for some bizarre reason (I don’t really like duck) but it was pretty memorable nonetheless. — With the kids we love Carmine’s – family style Italian and John’s Pizzeria – great brick-oven ‘za.

          • Ugh, I HATE to do this, but that’s exactly what I had in May and it was…underwhelming. Esp the starting courses – a bit heavy, dense. :-*(

          • Noooo – say it isn’t so *sniff* 😦 — well it was going to be a whole lotsa pasta… so thanks for the save actually 🙂

  6. Bus touring is every Muscovite’s true religion, btw… which brings me to the question: how many excursions have you been on in Moscow and Moscow area? (NYC is my heartbreak, I’m still not safe thinking about it…) So, did you do financial writing in NYC?

    • Well, the Russian bus tours – to monasteries, Golden Ring, etc – are SO lectury. I dont really miiiiind, bc I zone out. I am not engaged. I hadnt been on one in Moscow per se, bc I grew up here with my mother giving tours to all of my father’s visiting foreigner colleagues (with a tween me translating), so I had my fill pre-US, but now Moscow is gonna have its own double-decker tour, and I will check it out if I can get free tix through work (RT did multi-lingual voice-over).

      In NYC I did a mix of different kind of writing (publicity, research, financial), and biz-dev in finance. I like what I do now much better 🙂

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