Local Things to Do in New York City: Manhattan Edition
Anna Maria Apostolakis
New York City
Arts & Culture
New York City is packed with tourists all year long. Even on the coldest days of the year, the tourists swarm to the five boroughs to experience New York’s famous holiday festivities. It’s one of the few destinations where tourist season lasts all twelve months. For that reason, wherever you go in New York City, you are bound to bump into other tourists. Regardless, there are ways to be around fewer tourists and experience the local things to do in New York City. I grew up a couple of hours outside of New York city, and took day trips there throughout my childhood. I also lived in New York city for eight years as a college student and young adult. I want to guide you to my New York City.
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Soho Grand Hotel
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Things to do in Manhattan
The subway is what differentiates a New Yorker from any other American. The rest of the United States is known as “car country,” however, the majority of New Yorkers don’t even own a car. When tourists come to New York City, they are convinced that they must take taxis everywhere, which considerably adds to the cost of their trip. The subway map can be intimidating, with its mirage of different colored, lettered, and numbered lines going up, down and sideways, but once you find your desired route, it becomes pretty straightforward to follow. New Yorkers are often stereotyped as being rude or cold, but they are surprisingly warm and friendly when helping tourists with directions. New Yorkers are proud of their city, and are usually excited to help direct tourists through the concrete jungle. Take the Green line at least once to Grand Central Station (not during rush hour). Stand in awe underneath the famous celestial ceiling of astrological murals. Make it a pit-stop for lunch, as there is a bustling food court with dozens of delicious options for busy commuters to grab in between catching trains.
The unique thing about New York City’s subway, is that it runs 24/7. That’s right, it never closes. Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. the trains run much less frequently, but a train will eventually come. You can purchase a MetroCard of either single rides, or unlimited monthly or weekly cards, depending on the length of your trip. The subway can be a more efficient option as opposed to taking taxis, especially during rush hour traffic. Celebrities are even known to opt for the subway, instead of a car, for this reason. You will also be sure to experience some of New York’s finest and free entertainment like “Showtime” – groups of local kids breakdancing, don’t worry, they won’t kick you in the face. The downsides to taking the subway, is that train lines often experience delays due to accidents, train traffic, or construction. Be sure to inquire about any pending train delays.
Bodega is a word that warms the heart of every New Yorker, but sounds foreign to most other Americans. A bodega is typically a fusion of a mini market / convenient store and deli. They vary in size and products they sell depending on each store and its location. I know this article highlights Manhattan specifically, but bodegas can easily be found on almost every street corner throughout the Five Boroughs. Bodegas are the literal life line of almost every New Yorker. When we are in a rush (when are we not in a rush?) and need to eat something quick and hearty on the go, bodegas will save us. Deli style sandwiches sold at bodegas are stuffed with multi-inch-thick layers of your choice of meat, fillings, and condiments. Sandwiches are not pre-made, you can order your own specialty sandwich on the spot, and the guy behind the counter will compile and wrap it up in a New York minute. They are a convenient, cheap, and a filling option for lunch, or really any time of the day, as many bodegas are open 24/7. For breakfast, opt for a bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll from any bodega. This is the quintessential New York City breakfast, along with bagels.
Central Park Summer Events
You might be thinking, “Central Park is full of tourists, what kind of local experience can I get here?” This is and isn’t true. Yes, Central Park does attract millions of tourists every year, but it’s something the locals claim to be collectively their own firstly, before sharing it with tourists. When you live in a city composed mostly of concrete, cement, brick, and steel, you quickly crave greenery, trees, plant life, and fresh oxygen. Central park is a green haven in an otherwise gray city. In the summertime Central Park is known for hosting dozens of events, some free, and some requiring a purchased ticket. One of the biggest and most well-known free events in Central Park is when the New York Philharmonic performs on The Big Lawn every summer, with fireworks to follow. It usually occurs in mid-June, but double check the dates in advance, as it can vary year to year. The Public Theatre in New York is known for hosting Shakespeare in the Park. Tickets are free, but you still need to acquire them to be let in to view the performance. Visiting Public Theatre can help direct you as to how to pick up your tickets. These performances usually run from early June to early August. If you’re planning a trip to New York City in the summertime, this is definitely something that will help you experience New York City like a local. Central Park is also home to The Bandshell, where big name bands / musical artists are known to perform from late May to mid-September every year. The concerts are not typically free, and require purchasing a ticket. A quick Google search can provide you with the information about any / all performances at Central Park’s Bandshell, as each year will bring different acts to this venue.
Suggested Donation - Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, draws countless tourists every year. It is within the top ten most visited museums in the world, and home to the famous Met Gala every year, which is a red carpeted event welcoming the trendiest celebrities for an evening of art and glamor. You might be thinking, how is this a local experience? I have an insider tip for you, to which mostly only New Yorker’s are privy. Upon entering the Met one must purchase a ticket. Adult tickets are priced at $30 (2024). Instead of paying the ticketed price, you can say, “I’d like to make a suggested donation.” Then you will be able to pay any amount. When I was a broke college student looking for some culture, I entered this museum more times than I can remember, and never paid more than a single U.S. dollar for it. Staple exhibitions like Greek and Roman Art, Musical Instruments, Asian Art, African Art, and paintings from Europe’s Renaissance period, attract patrons from all over the globe. My favorite room of the Met is the Temple of Dendur. It is a grand room with an Ancient Egyptian temple on permanent display. This room also features a vast windowed-wall which looks out onto Central Park. Temporary exhibitions are also on display throughout the year. Check with your Fora Travel Advisor to help you find the best exhibitions to visit on your trip to the Met.
Note on visiting the Met: This museum is massive. I have been dozens of times, and still have not experienced all of it. Ask your Travel Advisor to suggest the most interesting exhibits for you to experience. You can then decide how much time to allot for in your itinerary. I suggest spending between two and four hours per Met visit. You will only have time to see a fraction of the Met in that time, so a plan of action of what you want to see there before you arrive is a must.
Rush / Lottery Theatre Tickets
Broadway and New York’s Theatre District is one of the City’s main attractions. Many people think that in order to experience a Broadway show, they have to pay through the nose for it. But that’s not the case. I studied theatre as a college student in New York City, and viewed countless Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. I can’t remember paying full price for any of them. If you have time and are a bit adventurous, then you can visit the box office of any theatre in the morning or afternoon of a performance and ask if they have any “rush tickets” available. If theatre’s are not sold out, they will sell whatever seats they have left for a reduced rate. Some theatres offer a lottery instead of rush tickets. If you want to see a show, you can arrive outside of the theatre about 1-2 hours before the curtain rises, and write your name down on a piece of paper. A representative from the theatre will collect all names, and draw a few names out of a hat. One name will offer two tickets (that way you don’t have to risk seeing the show alone), however, it might not work out if you have more than two people in your group. There is no guarantee that you will get to see the show that you are dying to see with either rush or lottery tickets, but it’s worth a shot. You most likely won’t get to choose your seat either, but the cost of your ticket will be a fraction of a full-priced ticket. Not all Theatres offer rush / lottery tickets Visit www.playbill.com to see what performances will be running for your next trip to New York City. You can also ask your Fora Advisor to help with suggestions for rush / lottery tickets.
Places to eat & drink in Manhattan
Koreatown is one of Manhattan’s hidden gems. It’s not very big, and not the most obvious neighborhood to find, even by the locals. The total size of Koreatown is about two square blocks from West 31st to West 33rd Streets between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. It’s a close walk to the Empire State Building, and not far from Madison Square Garden. It may seem small in size, but these two square blocks are packed with traditional Korean Barbeque restaurants, and Karaoke joints. If you spend a day shopping and seeing the sights in Midtown Manhattan, visiting Korea Town is a great thing to do. End the bustling day with a hearty meal that won’t disappoint. For Barbeque, I recommend trying Jongro BBQ. For a classic / old school food experience, I’d opt for The Kunjip, and if trendy or upscale is more your scene, you can try Joomak Banjum. A meal at any one of these restaurants will ensure a satisfied tummy and a happy heart.
This is a personal favorite of mine, with a quintessential New York City immigrant story. Poseidon Bakery is a traditional Greek bakery located in close proximity to Times Square. It’s situated on 9th Avenue between West 44th and West 45th Streets. It’s been owned, and operated by the same family since 1923 (over 100 years!). The reason why the longevity of this mom and pop shop is so miraculous, is because the family was smart enough to purchase the actual building of the bakery, allowing them to stay in the same neighborhood, and keep their business running throughout the century. Many if not all other small family-run businesses in this neighborhood were forced to shutter their doors indefinitely in recent decades, due to the sky high rents of the rapidly evolving Midtown Manhattan. If you’re spending a day navigating the crowds of Times Square, and want a bit of relief at any point, visit Poseidon Bakery. It will be an experience of old world charm and hospitality, and the perfect opportunity to treat your palate to something sweet.
This is an event I was sure to never miss while I lived in New York City. The City’s top restaurants offer a pre-fixe menu (usually lunch and dinner, sometimes brunch) for either a 2 or three course meal at a very good rate. Outside of Restaurant Week, most of these restaurants would easily charge up to a couple hundred dollars per person for the same amount of courses. However, during Restaurant Week, prices for up to three courses can range between $30 – $60 USD per person. If you’re a foodie, or love fine-dining, this is the thing to do in New York City. Restaurant Week usually occurs for about a month during the winter, and another month in the summer. The exact dates can vary from year to year. Reservations can fill up quickly. Visit https://www.nyctourism.com/restaurant-week/ for more information about dates, prices, and restaurants if you’re planning either summer or winter trip to New York City. You can always ask your Fora Travel Advisor to help recommend and reserve a table for you and your group.
South Street Seaport
This is a historical part of Manhattan. It’s located on the outskirts of Tribeca, the Financial District, and Wall Street. It sits along the coast of the East River, and has traditionally acted as a hub and port for trading, fishing, and importing / exporting all sorts of goods. It’s essentially what helped New York City gain worldwide attention and prominence. The South Street Seaport museum is a great way to experience New York City’s history as an up and coming port city, and how New York City became the thriving Metropolis that it is today. Fulton Market is one of Manhattan’s few farmer’s markets. It has indoor and outdoor areas depending on the season. You can purchase fresh fish here, or a variety of produce and goods. There are also food stalls and restaurants to enjoy a sit-down meal with your family or travel group. Pier 17 is the most widely known aspect of South Street Seaport. The rooftop of the Pier offers free outdoor workouts on the mini-lawn (seasonal) and also has outdoor movie nights (again, seasonal). Not to mention an array of restaurants featuring fish / seafood (of course), Asian fusion, street food, and fine dining! The Seaport is full of shops, from designer, to boutique, to specialty, and more. Whatever you’re in the market for, you can find it at the Seaport.
This is my personal favorite neighborhood in all of Manhattan. From Bleecker and Houston Streets to West 4th Street, to Washington Square Park. This neighborhood is small, but packed with nightlife and entertainment. The classic Manhattan style grid disappears here, and the streets become more circular. They are paved with cobblestones, which graces this neighborhood with a feeling of yesteryear. The Comedy Cellar is the highlight of this neighborhood for me. It’s fair to say that this is New York City’s top and most renowned comedy club. Comedians will work gigs all over New York City for over a decade just to get five minutes on the Cellar’s stage. It’s where some of the biggest names in comedy have gotten their start, and have returned to perform after they’ve reached fame. The likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Lewis C.K., Dave Chapelle, Amy Schumer and more have all graced the Comedy Cellar’s stage. The famous Olive Tree Café is located above the Comedy Cellar and a great spot to get a meal pre or post laugh-fest. Ask your Fora Travel Advisor to help reserve tickets for a comedy show at this classic joint for your next trip to New York City.
This neighborhood is also to the famous Blue Note Jazz Club, located diagonally across the street from the Comedy Cellar. This staple in modern-day Jazz music was opened in the early 1980’s giving jazz musicians a home in which to once again perform. Popularity in Jazz music went way down when Rock ‘n’ Roll came into fruition. Some of the most famous Jazz performers had stopped playing live shows for decades until the Blue Note opened up. Hundreds of well-renowned musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, and Liza Minelli have graced the Blue Note’s stage. This joint also hosts nights featuring Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, Funk and more. You never know who will be in the crowd and called up onstage for an impromptu cameo. The Blue Note Jazz Club is definitely a thing to do while visiting New York City.
In addition, Greenwich Village boasts dozens of New York City’s finest and long-running dive bars such as MacDougal Street Ale House, Off the Wagon, and the Village Tavern. Not to mention great restaurants, pizza joints, and shopping. Whatever you’re looking for in terms of nightlife, food and entertainment, you’ll be able to find it in this neighborhood.
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