Top 5 tips for visiting New York City (from a Manhattan tour guide)

NYC tour guide Jeffrey Tanenhaus ona  double decker busWe’re excited to feature Jeffrey Tanenhaus as today’s guest writer. Jeffrey brings New York City’s attractions to life as a double-decker bus guide.

He’s also the author of the best-selling New York City Essential Guide, available in Apple’s App Store. (Scroll down for a free download of the guide).

We met Jeffrey this summer at a travel tweetup in Manhattan.  A few days later, we were delighted to run into him on the street while he was leading a tour of the Bowery. Read on for Jeffrey’s top tips for those who are new to town.


Top 5 NYC travel tips

New York City neon sign in Times Square

#1. Look like a local

Nobody wants to stand out as a tourist, and fortunately you don’t have to. The city is so diverse that it’s easy to blend in as long as you avoid common missteps. First, don’t navigate with the free subway map. Unfolding it will instantly blow your cover. So will shopping bags from M&M’s World, Abercrombie & Fitch and Forever 21.

New Yorkers love to take pictures, so a fancy camera won’t draw undue attention. But standing in the middle of the sidewalk forces locals to break their stride. If you need to stop for a picture, pull over to the side and let the foot traffic zoom by.

Finally, please don’t ever say “the Big Apple.” The moniker – whose origin requires a three-part explanation – is acceptable in written form, but play it safe and call it “the City.”

View from NYC's Empire State Building

#2. Take small bites

You can’t see it all your first time, or even your first lifetime. Rushing around to check off a dozen famous sites in two days will leave you exhausted and unsatisfied. Consider exploring fewer areas in depth. A walking tour is the best way to see the city. Dozens of operators are reviewed on TripAdvisor, including those specializing in neighborhoods, food or TV/film locations. Comfortable shoes should be a priority on any packing list.

NYC subway entrance photo by Jeffrey Tanenhaus

#3. Venture underground

“How many of you have used our subway?” I ask that every tour, and at most 20% of hands go up. A double-decker is great to get the lay of the land, but the bus won’t take you everywhere. The subway can, and an unlimited 7-day pass is only $29. Weekday ridership tops 5 million, and with an average of six crimes reported per day, the system is considered safe even at night.

Photo of NYC skyline by Jeffrey Tanenhaus

#4. Leave Manhattan

Postcard-perfect skyline views await just one subway stop from Manhattan. Two waterfront favorites: Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens and Brooklyn Bridge Park are green reincarnations of industrial areas.

Mc Donalds restaurant and taxis at NYC's Times Square

#5. Don’t eat in Times Square

The most frequent question after my tour is where to eat nearby. Locals already know to avoid Times Square traps. Passable options include Carmine’s for family-style Italian and Junior’s for cheesecake. Stage Deli and Carnegie Deli are New York traditions since the 1930s, but head to Hell’s Kitchen (a neighborhood, not a devilish restaurant) along Ninth Avenue for affordable, diverse cuisine beyond the glow of chain restaurants.

Bonus tip: Go digital!

Essential NYC Guide app by Jeffrey Tanenhaus In the city that never sleeps, paper guidebooks can’t keep current. It seems that 1 out of 4 New Yorkers has an iPhone. Smartphone apps make trip planning and city navigation easier, especially underground.

I rely on two free transit apps. For quick reference, KickMap Lite makes the I’m-not-from-around-here jumbo paper version obsolete. NYC Mate goes a step further to provide service alerts, bus routes and inaccurate train arrival times – but at least you can verify which lines are operating from a given station and the frequency of trains.

Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Fodor’s have digital apps that cost less than their printed counterparts.

Independent guides also exist, ranging from free to $5.99. However, those on the lower end often siphon content from Wikipedia, which is not the best resource for concise and current reviews.

An informative app will keep you in the know and, best of all, looking local.

Exclusive discount

Jeffrey is offering special promotion for readers of Downtown Traveler. The first ten people who contact him will receive promo codes for FREE downloads of the New York City Essential Guide, which works on the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

To get your free code, write to jeffrey [AT] essential-nyc.com or contact him through the website www.essential-nyc.com.

Follow Jeffrey on Twitter (@essentialNYC) for more New York City travel tips.

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This guest post was written by a Downtown Traveler contributor. If you are interested in writing for us, visit the "contacts" page.