Non-Americans tourists to NYC: what was the hightlight of your trip?
May 9, 2010 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Non-Americans who have visited NYC: what was your favorite and most memorable thing to do/eat/see?

I have a friend coming to visit from Italy, and she is bringing some girlfriends who have never been to the US before. I live in NYC but am really clueless about the touristy stuff. I have always wanted to take one of those double-decker bus tours, so we might do that. And I know Italy hasn't any good Mexican food, so I'll take them somewhere like Rosa Mexicana for the Theatre of Guac.

All the previous NYC travel questions are from out-of-towners asking what to do. I thought I'd ask how it went after the fact: did the usual tourist stuff do it for you, or were there things you stumbled on that weren't in the guidebook that you remember more fondly?
posted by CunningLinguist to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sure you'll get plenty of great advice, but the fondest memory I have of my most recent 24 hours in NYC was simply walking around and soaking it all in. No particular sites (or sights) stand out, but it's somewhere you know so well from films, TV etc, it's simply a treat just absorbing the atmosphere.
posted by jontyjago at 2:02 PM on May 9, 2010

I made this for my visit a while back, and friends have seemed to find it useful.

I didn't visit every one of these places, but did a fair few. It's a collection of sights, AskMeFi recommendations and places recommended by ChowHound.

I'll see if I can update it as this thread rolls on.
posted by djgh at 2:04 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: djgh - which did you like best?
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: Prune restaurant was a highlight - it's a tiny place, tucked away, but with incredible food. I hadn't realised how (comparatively) expensive it was going to be because I completely forgot about tax, so felt really bad when I couldn't leave a decent tip (long story short, I'd previously nixed my card with three wrong PIN entries at an ATM, so was reliant on cash. It was my last-night-in-town meal, so I thought I'd stretch the budget). But I rocked up on my own, and they squeezed me in on a lovely summer evening, didn't hassle me even though I was taking up a two person table on a busy evening. So next time I'm in town I'm going back with my pocket full of tip money.

I'd recommend grabbing a drink or snack, and just wandering through Central Park to the Met. It just feels so great, and it's a great break from the touristy "let's rush everywhere!" approach. The friend I was with had studied the Park, so had some really insightful stuff on it and its history - so if you could show off your local knowledge, I'm sure your friends would love it. Also, late afternoon drinks on top of the Met were good after a long day trudging.

I also loved MoMa - I was quite lucky here. Last afternoon we had, after doing the Rockefeller (better than Empire State, btw, as you can see the Empire State and also you're out on top of the building. Also, pop into Magnolia afterwards - my two buddies declined to buy cupcakes, and then devoured mine when I offered. Gits.), hadn't left much time for it. Ran pretty much all the way there, guy on the desk let me in free. I'd go back just for MoMa. The inside of the Met, less so.

Next To Normal is a fantastic show, by the way, if you're into that - although the TKTS queue is looong, it felt like an experience, and we spent some time gawking in the square whilst our buddy queued. So maybe you could offer to queue and let them gawk?

Staten Island ferry really gave me a sense of New York as not just the city, if that makes sense? Just seeing it recede in the distance, then re-approaching it, made me really appreciate it. It's hard to explain - I felt a bit awed.

Katz's deli was cool, but more because it felt like a locals thing to do, what with its ordering and paying system. Obviously, it probably gets a lot of tourist traffic, but hey - I liked it. The pastrami was massively filling though. One between two would suffice.

Just let them soak it all in - I didn't manage to do nearly all the stuff on that list, it was more a handy thing to have on my iPod Touch if we were in an area and suddenly hungry. If you've got a few days, I'd split it up by area - wander around a place for a bit, do something specific (e.g. museum), grab some food, wander a bit more.
posted by djgh at 2:26 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I knew someone who visited NYC from Italy and fell in love with peanut butter, especially sandwiches and desserts from the Peanut Butter & Co restaurant on Sullivan St.
posted by dayintoday at 2:27 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is both dated and second hand, but I was struck by my friends British cousin and his then girlfriends account of their first trip to New York City. They remarked that the "whole city smelled like pizza" and that everyone they met was really friendly. The only touristy thing that they mentioned doing was going up the Empire State building so maybe that was a highlight for them.

I guess I'm just seconding jountyjago, that it may not be any one thing that you do that sticks out, but rather the general energy and ambiance of the city. And for what it's worth, that conforms to my memories of my first visits to foreign cities. I just bask in the overarching memory of how it felt just being there and on the small unexpected discoveries (smelling the lilacs on the walk from the train to Versailles, seeing roses in the bathroom sink while touring Corbusier's Villa Savoy, etc.). All things that might not have stuck out to me as a "must do," even if someone had recommended it. But I've always been a "do some planning and research, but go where the spirit moves me while I'm there" type of traveler.
posted by kaybdc at 2:28 PM on May 9, 2010

In short - the guidebook stuff was great, but I was really glad that there was some down time. I think that's where your local knowledge can come in - I can't list the places we chilled in (random restaurants, cafes, bars, parks), but they all added to the overall experience. If it were somewhere cool you knew, I'm sure your friend would be raving about when they get home. Everyone loves to have been somewhere off the beaten track, and be able to pass on that knowledge to other people. And walking is definitely the way to get around.
posted by djgh at 2:30 PM on May 9, 2010

I would definitely recommend taking a trip to Brooklyn, esp. Park Slope. Just wander around, have some coffee and food, etc.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2010

I found my happy place in Madison Square Park. It was amazingly peaceful despite all the zoom-zoom-zoom going on all around. Was disappointed by the static (my daughter spent the whole of our stay with her hair radiating out from her head like a figure from an Early Northern painting) and the complete absence of saxophones. The grumpy polar bears in Central Park Zoo were fun.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2010

The Tenement Museum is really cool.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:02 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, late afternoon drinks on top of the Met were good after a long day trudging.

The rooftop bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is nice in that you can see across the treetops in Central Park to the Upper West Side, parts of Midtown, etc. There is currently a huge and intricate bamboo treehouse as the art exhibit up there, too. You can get tickets to walk in the treehouse itself if you show up at the right times to get the free tickets, sign the waivers, dress sensibly, but no cameras or personal items are allowed in the treehouse itself. There is no shade, though, so it gets rather warm during the middle of the day, and they close in inclement weather.

Last afternoon we had, after doing the Rockefeller

Formal name of the observation deck is "Top of the Rock." I'd buy tickets in advance; entry is timed.

the TKTS queue is looong, it felt like an experience, and we spent some time gawking in the square whilst our buddy queued. So maybe you could offer to queue and let them gawk

There are now two TKTS kiosks. One in Times Square, right in the middle of everything and close to a lot of hotels. Naturally, it sees longer lines. The one down by South Seaport isn't as popular.

Staten Island ferry really gave me a sense of New York as not just the city, if that makes sense? Just seeing it recede in the distance, then re-approaching it, made me really appreciate it. It's hard to explain - I felt a bit awed.

I think you mean to say, a sense of Manhattan and the Manhattan skyline? :) New York City is not just Manhattan and while as a tourist you spend more of your time in Manhattan itself, you gotta leave Manhattan to see the skyline.
posted by kathryn at 3:12 PM on May 9, 2010

I first went to NYC 13 years ago and have been back regularly. The most memorable thing (apart from the MeFi meetup we had in '04!) was going to Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks 3 years ago. I've been hooked ever since.

That said, I'm guessing you'll be playing host before October when the season starts up again...
posted by i_cola at 3:40 PM on May 9, 2010

I liked the Staten Island Ferry. Also, getting tix to Letterman. Mostly just wondering the city was fun.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:32 PM on May 9, 2010

Best answer: When I went, the two things I enjoyed most were looking round Ellis Island (I can't remember if you had to pay extra to get the audio guide, but it was worth it) and the UN HQ. Both were really interesting and informative, but actually fun and they didn't completely overload you with information.

Oh, and we went to Le Pain Quotidien near Central Park. (I think it might be a chain, but we didn't know at the time.) They have amazing bread and cake and jam, so we went there for tea twice. Admittedly we're English, and rather fond of afternoon tea, so YMMV, but we really enjoyed it.

We didn't really do any non-tourist stuff because we were only there for a few days, and we didn't have a New Yorker to guide us. So if you know some great places that are off the beaten track, then by all means take your friends. (But do let them do the touristy stuff as well!)

On preview: didn't notice this before, but seconding pseudostrabismus with the Tenement Museum. We combined that with a trip to Katz's.
posted by badmoonrising at 2:21 AM on May 10, 2010

Going to a baseball game was insane fun for me.
posted by honey-barbara at 3:57 AM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: I spent 10 days in NYC a few years ago and the things I remember most / enjoyed were:

- Gugenheim Museum
- Wandering aimlessly around the lower East Side finding all these unusual boutique clothing shops.
- Pizza by the Slice (which is not done in Australia) but italians will probably find that boring and well its not as good as italy
posted by mary8nne at 4:03 AM on May 10, 2010

A surprising number of non-Americans have raved to me lately about walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise or sunset.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2010

Response by poster: This is such a great list of suggestions, thanks. I'll offer almost all of them up. (Not a sports person and won't make an exception, even for out of towners)

(And I'm glad that my own opinion that just walking around NYC is the best thing to do has been vindicated.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2010

If you're there for long enough, rent a bike from somewhere and ride down the Greenway on the west side of Manhattan. You won't see any tourists, it's not really a tourist thing to do.
posted by exhilaration at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2010

Also there's nothing like riding a bike in Manhattan traffic, it's exhilarating.
posted by exhilaration at 12:33 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: The Strand bookstore has to be my favourite "I didn't know about this before" place in NYC. And I found I could stare at the Brooklyn Bridge for hours.
posted by bardophile2 at 12:44 AM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: Well they came, they saw, they conquered.

Sadly, apart from the one who was my old friend, the rest of the ladies were interested mainly in shopping for clothes (not my forte) and avoiding food they didn't recognize. I took them for Mexican in Hell's Kitchen and Middle Eastern on the LES and they weren't terribly impressed by anything except the ginormous portions. They liked Brooklyn lager though. And they found Le Pain Quotidien on their own and raved about it, as badmoonrising predicted.

Ah well. Thanks for all your help.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:46 PM on June 9, 2010

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