Yes, despite what we’d have you believe, New Yorkers do hang at the big tourist sites. We do go to Broadway shows, the Met, and Central Park. How could you live in the greatest city in the world and not take advantage of some of the world's best attractions?
The difference, though, is this: we know how to do it better than the tourists. Here are some tips on checking out the best tourist spots in New York City, the way the locals do.
Visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art, maybe not the Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of the biggest draws to NYC is the museum scene. There are around 100 museums here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Museum of Natural History are the heavy hitters, receiving millions of visitors each year.
Obviously, New Yorkers visit these museums. The Met’s and the Museum of Natural History’s donation-based entry fees are hard to pass up. MoMA’s free Fridays (though uncomfortably crowded) make for a great first date.
But a lot of New Yorkers don’t make a habit of hitting up the big museums more than once or twice a year. The Brooklyn Museum of Art (BMA) is where all the cool kids go to check out shows.
For one thing, BMA shows a lot of contemporary Brooklyn art, which means you can browse the permanent exhibits in the impressionist, modern, and Egyptian art galleries before checking out the cool hot thing.
Its free Fridays also blow MoMA’s out of the harbor. BMA hosts a freakin’ dance party in the museum, on a giant glass dancefloor in the impressionist wing.
Honorable mentions: PS1 and the City Reliquary. Also great; also not the Met.
Try Bar SixtyFive at the Rainbow Room, not Top of the Rock
You won’t see too many New Yorkers at Top of the Rock anymore.
It used to be a pretty cool secret. "Go here instead of to the Empire State Building. It’s less crowded. It's less expensive."
Nowadays, everyone knows about Top of the Rock. Which means New Yorkers only come here if they get pressured by out-of-town guests to do so. And tickets are now upwards of $34 a pop for adults. That’s like three drinks in Brooklyn. Maybe two in Manhattan. What’s a hip, starving artist to do?
Luckily, we have Bar SixtyFive at the Rainbow Room. It’s a swank bar that’s one floor below the main observation deck at Top of the Rock. You can stay inside; you can go outside. Either way, you’re getting basically the same view as you would get with a Top of the Rock ticket. The elevator up to the bar is free.
Of course, nothing in New York is really 'free'. You’re going to have to buy a drink here, and drinks aren’t cheap: most of them cost around $25. But before you start pulling your hair out at the costs of drinks in the city, let’s do the math, shall we?
One drink is cheaper than your Top of the Rock ticket. And you get a drink. Best. Math. Ever.
Honorable mention: the rooftop at the Met (open May through October) has awesome views, and comes as a perk of admission.
Go to the Upright Citizens Brigade, not the Comedy Cellar
Sure, New Yorkers go to the Comedy Cellar. We also see big-name comics at Madison Square Garden. But neither venue is cheap (nor cool enough to visit on a regular basis).
Madison Square Garden will charge you close to $100 (or more) for a ticket. The Comedy Cellar charges a $20 cover and a two-drink minimum (though the two-drink minimum is liberally enforced) and you don’t always know what comics you’re going to get on any given night. The only guarantee is that you will be sitting next to tables full of German tourists.
For $5-$10, you can head to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Yes, tourists know about it. No, locals don’t care. In case you haven’t heard, UCB is where shows like Saturday Night Live often scout for new writers and comedians.
You may have heard of a little show called Broad City. No? Google it. It’ll change your life. How about Amy Polar? Whew. UCB has become a huge stepping stone for comedic talent and improv comedians.
On Sundays, you can expect to see some big-name comedians making an appearance to pay homage to their roots and prove that they can still keep it real.
Honorable mentions: The Bell House (see below) and Q.E.D.
See a show at the Bell House, and maybe on Broadway
Broadway shows are half the reason to live in NYC. Every New Yorker I know spends a stupid amount of time every day signing up for the Hamilton lottery.
But New Yorkers also know that one cannot survive on Broadway shows alone. There’s just so much more the city has to offer.
The Bell House is one of the most popular places to see a live performance in Brooklyn, and the cool thing about the Bell House is they don’t just focus on one thing. They do music, comedy, and spoken word shows (including podcasts).
One of their most popular offerings is The Moth story slam, a monthly storytelling competition that’s been featured on the TV show Girls.
Know the Bodegas. Reconsider the food trucks
I know you’re probably not planning on it but it’s inevitable. You might even be telling yourself “There’s no way I’d eat a $3 hotdog that’s been sitting around in lukewarm water all day."
But there’s just no way around it. It’s 3 AM, and the smell of street meat is wafting its way to your nostrils. And you have no idea why, but it smells goddamn delicious.
When you come to New York, you’re probably going to find yourself eating at a halal truck or a dirty-water hotdog cart at least once during your stay.
Let’s face it, we’ve all done it. No judgement. But if you can resist the siren call for long enough to get thyself to a bodega, then do it.
Bodegas are a part of New York City’s cultural and culinary fabric. Sure, they sell one-ply toilet paper for $3 a roll. Yes, they look like a front for a much shadier operation. And no, you are not just super drunk: the place is indeed crawling with cats.
Yet if you can find the right bodegas, you’ll thank me in the morning. Some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life has come from a bodega. And not just because I was eating it to chase a bellyful of beer.
If you happen to be close to Harlem, I’d recommend hitting up the Blue Sky Deli for their chopped cheese. Known as New York City’s answer to the Philly cheesesteak, the chopped cheese is a cheeseburger, chopped up with sautéed onions, and slapped on a hoagie roll.
Most of the bodegas that sell chopped cheese price them at just under $5. This delicacy originally hails from the Bronx, so the further north you venture in Manhattan, the better your odds of finding one.
Sit in Prospect Park as well as Central Park
As much as New Yorkers love taking a jog through Central Park, we hate getting harassed by the pedicab drivers, offering to take us anywhere we’d want to go. We hate dodging tourists. And we groan at the thought of leaving our boroughs.
The rule of thumb is generally that if you live in Manhattan, you go to Central Park. If you live in Brooklyn, you go to Prospect Park.
Prospect Park is Central Park’s little sister. Located in the center of South Brooklyn, the park was developed by the same guys who created Central Park just a few years before. Just like Central Park, Prospect Park has a boathouse, a Grand Army Plaza, a Beaux Arts arch, an ice skating rink, and a Great Lawn.
The biggest difference? Fewer tourists.
Take the East River Ferry, not a New York Water Taxi
Dozens of tourist ferries dot New York City’s waterways. Occasionally, I would have to assume that a few New Yorkers set sail on them too.
Okay, that’s probably a lie. No self-respecting New Yorker would ever ride a floating tourist attraction. Especially when we have a perfectly good water taxi that costs a fraction of the price of the Water Taxi.
For only $2.75, you can take the East River Ferry on a 40-to-80-minute ferry ride up and down the East River.
If you go on the weekdays, the boats are a lot newer and cleaner than the ones on the weekend, and they even serve wine and beer.
You can get great views of the city without tripping over tourists to get that perfect shot of the Brooklyn Bridge. And you can save a few dollars in the process. Avoiding tourists and saving money…what could be more New York than that?
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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