Every tourist in New York City makes these 11 mistakes

Sep 10, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We’ll be here to help you prepare, whether you’re traveling next month or next year.


We know we’re far from the first to tell you this, but New York City is a special place. It has just about everything its 8.4 million residents could ask for — on top of the nearly 50 million who come to visit every year. And if you’re one of them, well, we have some words of wisdom for you. You don’t want to be one of those tourists who ends up on Overheard New York, do you?

New York, like every other city on Earth, has its own customs and etiquette. And as a born and raised New Yorker from Long Island who has lived in Manhattan for five years now, I can assure you, I’ve seen visitors (and locals) make these mistakes in the city at least once.

So, you want to experience the Big Apple like an expert? Top up your MetroCard, pack your comfiest shoes, order a cup of black coffee from the first street vendor you see and avoid these common tourist mistakes in New York City.

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Walking too slow — and other violations

Haven’t you heard? We’re in a rush to get somewhere. There’s no quicker way to infuriate a New Yorker than ambling along the sidewalk — or worse, walking three abreast with your family. If you need to take a selfie, get your bearings or have a conversation with meaningful eye contact, step over to the side against a building or duck into the first cafe you see.

No matter where you are or where you’re going in the city, the key here is just to be mindful of the space around you, because there really isn’t that much of it to go around. In addition to keeping pace on the sidewalks, make sure you’re not walking against the foot traffic, or standing on the wrong side of the escalator. (Hint: If you’re going to stand on an escalator, be sure you’re on the right. If you’re chatting with people, you still need to be in a single-file line. Otherwise, save the conversation for after you’re off the escalator.)

Waiting for the traffic light to change to cross the sidewalk

We’re not telling you to get hit by a car or anything, but be strategic. You won’t see many New Yorkers waiting for a walk signal if the road is free of oncoming traffic. We’re all in a hurry, remember?

Related: A beginner’s guide to New York City

Wearing uncomfortable shoes

If you’re planning on walking, wear comfortable shoes. And even if you’re not planning on walking, wear comfortable shoes. You don’t want to be that person who has to walk 20 blocks back to your hotel after a day of sightseeing, do you?

We know, you packed all your favorite Carrie Bradshaw-inspired pumps. But we’ll let you in on a little secret: Most of us keep a spare pair of shoes in our bag. Nothing will make you look like more of a New York pro than whipping out a pair of collapsible flats or sneakers from the depths of your bag.

Taking cars everywhere

Sure, hailing a yellow cab at least once is a great New York City experience, but we New Yorkers typically prefer to walk or take the subway. Your wallet will thank you, and honestly, it’s usually the much faster way to get where you’re going. Even relying on Uber or Lyft can be expensive and a waste of time, especially during rush hour. You know why they say a New York minute is an instant now, right?

Oh, and while we’re at it: Don’t get on an empty subway car. Just don’t, and thank us later.

Spending time in Times Square

Yes, we know it’s loud and colorful, but it’s also underwhelming and overstimulating. If you’re dying to see Times Square, just make sure you have a game plan. We recommend a drink at The Knickerbocker — the view from high above is far more pleasant than being in the thick of it sometimes — and, of course, a show on Broadway.

Eating at the nearest restaurant

Or even worse, a chain (looking at you, Olive Garden in Times Square). You’re in New York, for crying out loud! Some sources say there are more than 27,000 restaurants in New York City, and you’ll find everything from fine dining to knockout dishes from every imaginable cuisine.

Unless you want to wait in line, try to snag a table in advance using the restaurant booking service Resy or OpenTable, which now lets you redeem OpenTable Dining Points for hotel stays through Kayak. If that fails, the Amex Concierge is going to be your best bet. Select American Express cardholders have access to this special service that will help you with tours, events and yes, even hard-to-get restaurant reservations.

Paying full price for entertainment

Yes, New York City is one of the most expensive places on Earth. No, you don’t need to sell a kidney to have a great time. There are so many ways to have an incredible, entertainment-filled trip without having to drain your savings account.

You can find deeply discounted, same-day Broadway tickets at the TKTS booths in Times Square, South Street Seaport and Lincoln Center, or try your luck in a digital lottery. If you’re interested in the city’s art, culture and history institutions (trust me, you are) you can prioritize pay-as-you-wish museums such or schedule your visit during free times. And instead of paying a premium for a harbor tour, you can enjoy the same views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty for free by boarding the Staten Island Ferry for free instead.

Related: The 12 best things to do in New York City for free

Staying in Manhattan

Sure, a lot of the flashy, iconic New York City attractions are on the island of Manhattan. But you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t venture out and explore at least one other borough.

If you’re craving Italian food, for example, spend a day exploring the Bronx — or take a global food tour just by crossing over into Queens. And you could spend days exploring Brooklyn (you can even walk across the Brooklyn or Williamsburg bridges to get there), which is filled with incredible restaurants, sprawling parks and exceptional museums and entertainment venues.

Only eating pizza and bagels

Yes, we like our pizza and bagels here, but there are so many other amazing foods you should be eating, too. You name it, and we got it. It’s possible to travel the world just by exploring some of New York City’s neighborhoods, including Chinatown, Koreatown and Little Italy. But if your heart is set on pizza and bagels, please don’t wait in line for either (looking at you, Ess-a-Bagel).

Pronouncing Houston Street like the city

Repeat after us: “How-stun Street.” This is important to know, especially if you’re headed to tourist hotspots in the Lower East Side like Katz’s or Russ and Daughters.

Thinking life here is like “Sex and the City” or “Friends”

Don’t get us wrong, we love these shows — and also love this crazy city. But don’t come here under the assumption we’re all walking around in giant apartments (with walk-in closets!), going for brunch every day and only showing up to our jobs for three hours, once or twice a week. Sounds nice, but not gonna happen.

And please, whatever you do, stop with the selfie sticks.

Feature image by Joe Yates on Unsplash.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman. 

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