So your friends and family are ready for the big visit to the home that you now call New York City. How do you make sure to show them the best time they’ve ever had in the Big Apple? And, more importantly, how do you not become overwhelmed playing guide and host to your nearest and dearest? Check out these suggestions for a few things to consider before embarking on that tour.
Eating: easily accessible, good food no matter where you are
When I have visitors, one of the things I try my hardest to do is give them a great culinary experience. I try not to eat within a 5 block radius of major landmarks and sites, because there is a good chance that I will pay a lot of money for terrible food. To avoid this, I plan parts of my itinerary around a specific restaurant that I want to visit, which a nice rest stop for my visitors that also serves as an authentic NYC experience too. If you can’t swing the advanced planning or you’re hard-pressed for time and have to eat, try going down a street, not an avenue; you’ll have a better chance of finding something decent and well-priced.
For reference, here are some very reliable neighborhoods for good food: Hell’s Kitchen, LES, Alphabet City, Chelsea, and the West Village. And if you have a smart phone, make sure you have the Yelp app to use in a clutch.
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Moving: getting around the city
One of the most stark differences your visitors will likely notice is the process of getting around. Most people travel from place to place by car, with a limited need to walk, take public transportation, or maneuver in congested areas. The best advice I can give is this: Know your audience. You don’t want your poor elderly grandma walking 13 blocks to go from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Times Square. You probably don’t want to squish her in the crosstown shuttle either. Although they’re not my favorite, there are tour companies which offer a ride around the city in double-decker buses with an audio tour. This may be a great option for granny so she can see the city in relative comfort without much hassle. With a younger crowd, say with a judgmental friend visiting from London, you most certainly don’t want to commit that friend-faux pas of toting a native around on a British-inspired, cheesy bus tour. In any case, make sure you think ahead and do a bit of research on what modes of transportation best fit your guests.
Quick tip: check out the package fares for the MTA to save your guests some cash.
Seeing: landmarks, site seeing, and entertainment
There is so much to see in NYC that it’s pretty much impossible to do it all in one trip. Trying to squeeze everything in at once can make the outing seem like a job rather than a vacation. To make your guests’ visit an activity-packed, yet enjoyable one, I recommend picking a few of your favorite places and making an itinerary. Give it some variety and mix it up: plan to see some of the “classic landmarks” (Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building) as well as a few of your own unique finds (that awesome dive bar, your favorite brunch spot, the best place in Central Park to throw a frisbee), all the while making sure you have some good rest stops in between (e.g. the Chelsea Market).
To get you started, here are some great lists of things to see and things to do. For more inspiration, grab yourself a copy of Time Out New York; it’s a terrific resource for all things local – eating, music, museums, unique events, one-time special offers. When planning, be skeptical of package deals and tour company offers – use your keen New Yorker senses to determine if these are ripoffs or well worth the money.
Finally, I can’t resist plugging a few of my favorite spots that I share with my visitors:
- Impress your guests by explaining to them what color the Empire State Building is today and why.
- Enjoy the views from Top Of The Rock rather than the Empire State Building. It has way better views of Central Park, not to mention the Empire itself. It’s also less expensive, and generally has shorter lines.
- Visit the Tenement Museum, a preserved tenement apartment building from the mid-1800s. You can almost step back in time to a New York of another era, when immigrants were trying to live out the American Dream. It’s really pretty awesome.
Finally, to save a little cash, think about all of the outdoor activities and things to see for free in New York. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t cost a dime, and neither does an afternoon in Central Park. You can stroll along the High Line or get a stunning view of Manhattan in the Brooklyn Bridge Park gratis. And although it’s not altogether free, many people don’t know that admission to the Metropolitan Museum is suggested only.
Staying: finding the right accommodations
Finding your guests the right place to stay for their visit is paramount to your success. Hotel rooms in NYC are not cheap, and good ones can be hard to come by in a busy season. Just like you would for any other destination, try using hotel searching sites like Priceline.com or Kayak.com to find a good deal. If your guests are staying for more than a few days, Craigslist is also handy for finding a vacation rental – your guests can get not only a room but also a kitchen to cook a few meals in. Also, don’t rule out hotels in – say it with me – New Jersey. There are plenty of great, and considerably less expensive, hotels just across the Hudson in Hoboken and Jersey City. To get to the city, they’re just a PATH stop away (about 10 minutes).
New York City also offers several “boutique” hotels, like the Library Hotel, the Roger Smith Hotel, a few W Hotels and the Gansevoort Hotel for your guests that have extra change to throw down towards an extra-unique hotel experience. And then there is always the Plaza.
To really save some cash, your guests could check out the hostel scene, try out couchsurfing, or if you’re up for it, they can crash your place. If you opt for the latter, it’s worth investing in a blow-up mattress or a futon as an inexpensive bedding option.
Weather-ing: preparing for the elements
While touring NYC, the need to be outside often makes you and your guests especially vulnerable to whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Most non-New Yorkers won’t be used to dressing for the weather. If it rains in their home town, they likely wouldn’t ever think of wearing a pair of good boots, a water-proof jacket and an umbrella. However in New York, it’s pretty much a necessity to prepare for the elements. For example: Flip-flops + run-off water + unknown greasy trash residue = really f’ing gross. Also, think about how cold the city gets around the New Year – most aren’t prepared for the frigid, windy torture that is a New York winter. Ever wonder how those street vendors make so much money selling those plain old scarves and hats? Yea, it’s from ill-prepared tourists. So just give a kindly reminder to your guests that they should pack the right clothes, shoes, and accessories for the season in which they are visiting.
Well, that’s it. I hope you and your guests have a terrific time touring the greatest city in the world!