As a daily commuter into NYC via Metro-North to Grand Central Terminal, followed by two subways to my office, I go through one of the busiest transit hubs anywhere twice a day. Since it’s tourist season, I also get to see lots of silly things tourists do. And since I live here and love the city, I’ve got a few suggestions, both of things to not do, and things that you shouldn’t miss. So, based on my observations, here are a few tips for NYC tourists this season.
- Don’t come to Grand Central Terminal during rush hour. GCT is a really interesting building, and I understand why you’d want to see it. It’s definitely
worth a quick stop – the architecture, the famous star map on the ceiling, and
the laser light show are all worth a visit. But it’s an astonishingly busy place
during rush hour. You won’t enjoy your visit during the rush hour crowds. Instead, come in the evening after dinner to see the light show, or come during the afternoon to see the sunlight through the windows. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
- If you must come to GCT during rush hour, please don’t stand
in the middle of the terminal taking a picture of the ceiling. There are thousands of people crossing through; it’s crowded, noisy, and difficult enough as is, without
the obstacle course of tourists who are wandering around staring at the ceiling,
not looking where they’re going. And if you’re taking a picture of the ceiling during rush hour, walking backwards to compose your shot, and you bump into someone and knock them over, remember that you are the one who wasn’t looking where they were going. It’s not the fault of those mean NYers. (I saw this happen on three separate occasions this week, and two of them went into a rant on how rotten NYers are. Come on, if you were on your way home after a long day’s work, and some idiot crashed into you because they were walking backwards staring at the ceiling, wouldn’t you be grumpy? Don’t blame the person you collided with!)
- NYC has gotten a lot safer than it was back in the 70s. That doesn’t mean
that you shouldn’t be careful. If you want to count your wad of cash, do it
someplace unobtrusive! Last week, I saw a tourist get robbed, because he was
counting his cash. He had a thick wad of 20s, and he was obviously far-sighted,
so he was holding the wad of cash out at arms length. And he was doing this during
rush hour in the middle of the main concourse at Grand Central Terminal. Naturally, someone
grabbed his cash and ran away. It sucks to be robbed, and there’s no excuse for
the robbers, but at the same time, you’ve got to use your brain! Even if less
than one percent of the people in the terminal are dishonest, that means that there
are at least a couple of dozen scumbags in the crowd. If you do something stupid
to make it easy for them, you’re going to get robbed. And there are definitely
pickpockets wandering around GCT looking for victims – so don’t make yourself
an easy mark. Just use a bit of common sense, and you’ll be fine.
- When you’re riding a busy subway train, do hold onto the rails if you’re
stuck standing up. I don’t care how great you are at surfing – the subway isn’t a
surfboard. If the train brakes suddenly (and it probably will), you’re going to
fall, and you’re not just going to hurt yourself – you’re going to hurt the people
you crash into.
- If you don’t know where you’re going, step out of the crowd while you figure it out. If you stop at the top of the stairs at a subway stop, blocking the entrance for all of the people behind you while you study your map, they’re going to be grumpy. That’s not mean NYers being rude; that’s you being rude.
- If you’re on a subway platform, and you’re not sure where you’re going, don’t just stand there being confused; feel free to ask random people on the platform for help. (Seriously!) The NY subway system is very confusing; those of us who ride it every day realize that it’s confusing, and NYers really aren’t mean scary people. Most people will be glad to take a few seconds and help you. You’re not going to get beaten up, stabbed, mugged, or pushed onto the tracks for asking. Really!
- While you’re getting around town, take the time to check out the buskers at some of the major subway stops. There are some really great performers. Union Square, 42nd street, Penn Station, GCT all frequently have some really good buskers! (There’s a brass band that frequently performs at Union Square during the evening rush that’s really excellent.) Just try to keep the stay out of the walkways where people
are trying to get to their trains while you’re watching.
- Check out some of the smaller NYC restaurants. One of the really great things about NYC is food – you can get just about any kind of food you can imagine. Don’t come to NYC and eat at MacDonalds or TGI Fridays. You can get much better food for better prices from some of the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. For example, up around 98th street on Lexington Ave, there’s a tiny little Jordanian restaurant that makes the best falafel I’ve ever had. Five bucks will get you an amazing falafel sandwich, and a nice chunk of absolutely terrific baklava. There are similar tiny places serving Greek, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Armenian,
Vietnamese, etc. (Alas, my favorite example of this closed recently; there used to be an absolutely incredible Chinese noodle restaurant on Columbus and 88th street.) And don’t be afraid of the street vendors – the best shishkabob I’ve ever had came off of the cart of a street vendor in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Don’t miss the Museum of Natural History. It’s amazing. It makes the
Natural History museum at the Smithsonian look like crap. It’s really one of
the finest museums of its kind in the entire world.
- If you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you don’t need to pay for admission. They have a suggested donation, and they do their best to imply
that it’s the real admission fee, but it’s not mandatory. Part of their deal with the city is that they’re not allowed to charge admission. So don’t miss the Met because you can’t afford the tickets – for the regular exhibits, you don’t need to pay. (That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay if you can afford to; it’s only fair to support the museum if you’ve got the money.)
That’s all I can think of for now; NYers, feel free to add your own tips in the comments!