Heads bent over their chess game, two New Yorkers decide to spend their lunch break in pursuit of skill and strategy. Washington Park is famous for its chess 'scene' – people will sit and play games all day in return for payment, while others will offer the opportunity for bystanders to gamble on the result.
New York - Travel Tips

5 things to do in New York on your first trip

Photo by Shirley Barenholz

New York - Travel Tips 5 things to do in New York on your first trip

New York: where to begin? NYC has it all, from Chinatown to Coney Island.

Alicia Butler
Alicia Butler

Here's my pick of five things you have to do if you've never been to New York.

Prospect Park

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

NIKON D3000

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180/10 mm

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Central Park's little sister has all the charm of its more famous sibling in Manhattan, just without all the tourists.

Take photos at the boathouse, check out a free concert in the summer or go rollerskating or ice skating at the Wollman rink.

On the northern edge of the park is Grand Army Plaza and Brooklyn's own version of the Arc de Triomphe, where you'll find one of the best farmer's markets in the borough on Saturdays.

The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Library and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens are also nearby and are considered the holy trinity of weekend leisure time for the neighborhoods that flank the park.

Hotel lobbies

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The lobby at the NoMad. Photo by Website

Website

Website

The lobby at the NoMad.

Okay, bear with me on this one. I know telling you to hang in hotel lobbies sounds kinda strange.

But think of how many cool, iconic New York City hotels there are.

The Plaza, The NoMad, the Beeckman, the Algonquin, the Waldorf Astoria--the list goes on and on.

Just walk into any of these hotel lobbies, take a seat and get comfy, and you'll likely be hanging with New York's rich and famous.

In fact, it's actually a New York City tradition to rub elbows with the rich and famous in hotel lobbies. Celebrities used to converse with the common folk all the time at the (now defunct) Hotel Theresa.

Smooth your hands over that expensive upholstery, have a drink at the bar, and whatever you do: by god, you'd better use the bathroom here. Your tush might never experience such luxury again.

The best part is that it's totally free. (Well, drinks will cost you. But I've been known to find a wealthy traveler -- or two -- to cover the cost of mine.)

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

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Brooklyn Heights Promenade Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Canon EOS 6D

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Brooklyn Heights Promenade

This 1,800-foot promenade offers the best view of Manhattan from Brooklyn.

Built in the 1960s to hide the noise of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that was built just below, the promenade cantilevers out from the side of the hill.

From here, you'll see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor's Island, Freedom Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Woolworth Building and the Municipal Building - - just to name a few.

Chinatown

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Chinatown, Manhattan. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Chinatown, Manhattan.

Don't be intimidated by Chinatown's crowded, winding streets. If you want to truly get the best of the Big Apple, you're going to need to fight for it.

Chinatown has some of the coolest photo opportunities, including several outdoor markets, supermarkets with live eels, hidden alleyways, and -- of course -- the giant "Welcome to Chinatown" sign.

Keep your ears open for the sounds of cards slapping tables in high-stakes games in Columbus Park. You'll also hear traditional Chinese music here. And don't forget to get your fortune told from the ladies on Mulberry Street before you leave.

One of my favorite attractions is MoCA, the Museum Chinese in America. Wander through interactive displays that document the living conditions in Chinatown throughout history. You'll also hear stories straight from the shopkeeper's mouths through their audio preservation program.

Of course, you can't visit Chinatown without trying dim sum, noodles, dumplings, buns, crispy duck, ice cream...

The rooftop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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New Yorkers at the Met's rooftop bar. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Canon EOS 5D

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ƒ/10/1
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1/400
ISO
400
Focal
30/1 mm

New Yorkers at the Met's rooftop bar.

When the weather turns warm, from May through October, millions of tourists head up to the rooftops of famous skyscrapers in Manhattan for great photos.

I head to the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met's rooftop is somewhat of a local secret. The museum doesn't really advertise its existence. Most visitors only discover it if they grab a copy of the daily program of events when they arrive.

From the Met's rooftop, you get a great view of Central Park and Midtown.

Plus, there's also beer, wine, and...more art! One of my favorite art installation of seasons past was a replica of the house from the movie "Psycho" built from old, abandoned barn doors. (Hey, I didn't say I got the art, okay?)

 

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Alicia Butler is a New Yorker and owner of NYC in a Day, her website offering travel tips and guided tours that make tourists feel like a local.

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