Though traveling to a new city is an extraordinary experience, being a tourist is not. No other group of people is so vulnerable, so misunderstood and so loathed by a city’s natives than the slow-moving, camera-toting, wide-eyed tourists meandering the streets in fanny packs. With more than 58 million visitors on average every year, tourists have staked claim to many of New York’s more iconic sights, but locals have the inside scoop on where to go and what to do in the city while the out-of-towners are clogging up Times Square. Here are a few suggestions for beating the crowds and getting an authentic taste of the Big Apple.
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Take the high road
If you’ve already fought your way through the obligatory trip to Central Park, consider taking in the city through a different perspective by visiting the High Line, a different kind of public park that perches above the busy streets of Manhattan. Running from the Meatpacking District’s Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street and across 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue, the High Line is man-made botanical delight built on a historic elevated freight rail line that was originally established in 1934. The freight line fell out of use in 1980, but city advocates steps in with a plan to creatively preserve this piece of New York history, and spend decades acquiring the land and converting the High Line from an abandoned railroad trestle into a unique, lush landscape for the community (and the occasional tourist) to enjoy.
For those guests to the city who want to begin their days in quiet focus and reflection, the High Line offers weekly Tai Chi and meditation sessions in the morning provided by local studios. If looking for a fun and engaging activity, High Line walking tours take guests on a physical and intellectual stroll through the park’s innovative urban planning design and horticultural as well as the original art peppered throughout the establishment. Depending on the day and time of year, the High Line also offers live music, dance parties, dramatic performances and audience-participation events for those out-of-towners wanting to get a feel for New York’s eclectic arts and culture.
Avoid the living, pay respect to the dead
One effective way of seeing NYC without rubbing elbows with other tourists is to go where few brave to travel. The New York Marble Cemetery on the Lower East Side rests behind the notable Bowery Hotel, which itself is a rather notable New York City landmark. But few know that in gazing out the back window of the Bowery Hotel lobby that the vivid, grassy pasture spread before them is actually a cemetery.
Founded in 1830, the New York Marble Cemetery rests in what is today’s East Village and it is one of the oldest public burial grounds in the city. It is also one of the most difficult to find since those laid to rest here are placed in marble underground vaults which on marked only by plaques, not the more conspicuous tombstones. It’s also hard to access; the entry gate to the cemetery sits at the back end of a thin alleyway set off from Second Avenue, and the cemetery is only open to visitors on the fourth Sunday of each month, and even then, only for a select few hours. It’s the most exclusive graveyard around.
Attend a Broadway show (under the radar)
Although it will likely require traveling through the most horrid, high-trafficked, tempestuous and cacophonous tourist trap in all of New York — Time’s Square — there simply is no substitute for seeing a Broadway play in the City that Never Sleeps, so side-stepping distracted gawkers and slow-moving groups for a one-block radius, when you are front and center enjoying Hamilton, Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, Stomp, Wicked, Kinky Boots or The Blue Man Group, it will be worth your effort.
The secret to experiencing a Broadway show like a local instead of a tourist is to procrastinate. Though it sounds counterintuitive, it’s New York, so not everything is as it seems. When you wait and get last-minute tickets to Broadway shows, they tend to be less crowded and more intimate. The second option for those in the know is to purchase tickets toward the beginning of the year during Broadway Week. Normally sometime in January or February, for one week only, tickets for lots of Broadway shows are specially priced as buy one get one free.
Chomp like a champ
NYC is renowned for its many delectable offerings, possibly none so much more than the bagel. So while the mainstream tourists flocks are falling over each other to get into way overpriced and overhyped restaurants, those enjoying a true taste of New York can be found at 3 Hanover Street off Stone Street in the Financial District at Leo’s.
Considered by many locals as the first true New York City bagel shop to open in the Financial District, Leo’s Bagels is tucked away among the downtown towers and boasts hand-rolled, kettle-boiled bagels as well as a full-scale deli counter. The shop was founded by a former Merrill Lynch vice president, Adam Pomerantz, who decided on the name “Leo’s” for two specific reasons: Pomerantz’s great uncle was named Leo and because it’s an acronym for Lox, Eggs, Onion, a favorite combination of flavors atop a bagel on the Lower East Side.
If it’s a veritable New York City experience you want, you may have to break away from the sea of out-of-state license plates and avoid the Empire State Building. All the good stuff is closer to the ground anyway, and though you may have to do a little digging to find it, a bona fide taste of NYC is down the path that’s a little less taken.