Planning a trip to New York City can be daunting. Especially, if you are an introvert like me. Big cities are not normally my first choice to visit.
This post outlines things to do in New York that will make any introvert feel comfortable and right at home.
I love New York. It’s something I can’t really explain giving how big and noisy it can be. But there is a charm, an appeal, especially when exploring its many boroughs, away from the tourist areas.
New York is a place on many people’s bucket lists. Let’s face it we have grown up with it and see it regularly on TV, and in the movies.
Merely mentioning the name New York usually, draws sighs from people. But ask what they want to see most and the answers are mostly the same, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, shopping, Times Square.
For me, New York is so much more than that. Even as an introvert.
Usually, I find bustling, crowded, noisy places overwhelming. Feeling depleted and drained. But during my visits to New York three times I found quieter places to recharge. I knew which places to visit quickly and get out and others I was happy to linger.
I hate crowds, with a passion, which can prove to be somewhat of a challenge when I travel. But I have developed strategies like venturing out early morning, having downtime during peak tourist hours and going out in the afternoon, early evening.
But in New York, above all else (and strangely so), it is the sound that I find captivating and the constant rhythm of this eclectic and vibrant city that never stops.
I love nothing more than settling into my hotel and cracking open the window to let the sounds of the city in. Then I feel I have arrived.
My Preferred Location to Stay
Upper West Side
I would always choose to stay in a borough (neighbourhood) in New York and never in a tourist area like Times Square.
My preference is the Upper West Side.
I also like the West Village but for me, the Upper West Side is easier and more convenient for exploring the rest of the city.
Located in Manhattan, the Upper West Side is easy walking distance to Central Park, Times Square and Broadway. It is the perfect combination of city living and a family-friendly neighbourhood.
Full of beautiful brownstones, with a good variety of places to eat, it is filled with families and lots of well-groomed pooches! The neighbourhood has a warm and inviting atmosphere that makes me feel comfortable and at ease.
This is the perfect place to enjoy some “real” time in New York and get that taste of “living like a local”.
Of course, there are other neighbourhoods that have the same vibe, but their proximity away from the central hub of the city makes them less appealing to the first-time visitor. But they are certainly worth considering if you come back.
Next time I travel to New York, I will consider the East Village. I have heard great things and because I have already visited three times, I am looking for a more casual, laid back experience. Somewhere I can enjoy a neighbourhood cafe, build some familiarity and a slower pace.
Some of the neighbourhoods of Brooklyn would probably be worth a stay too.
My preferred hotel is the Hotel Beacon located on Broadway, on the Upper West Side, this hotel has large rooms and suites with kitchenettes.
For travellers like me who have some dietary issues and prefer to cook for themselves occasionally, this provides the best of both worlds.
And with the Fairways Supermarket across the road, it couldn’t be better. You have the choice of buying supplies, picking up something delicious from the deli or going upstairs to the cafe if you don’t want to cook
Stay away from Airbnb in New York City. Although the website does have listings, you may find yourself in trouble. Airbnb rentals are illegal in some cities around the world, New York is one of them. People are finding ways around the laws, but my advice is to not take the risk.
Getting Around the City
With the Theatre District, only a 10 -15 minute walk away, seeing a Broadway show easy as well as visiting Times Square.
Central Park is a 10-minute walk as is the Natural Museum of History.
I prefer to walk rather than take public transport if I can, but for excursions farther afield the subway station is only a block away from the hotel.
I hate public transport, well buses anyway. And I was worried about the Subway. But we mastered it and travelled all around Manhattan.
On a visit with my daughter, we bought a 7-day Unlimited MetroCard, current price $33 USD. One ride (regardless of destination or length) costs $2.75 USD.
We averaged four rides a day which would have cost us $77 if we paid for each individual trip.
An easy way to see a destination is via the Hop on Hop off buses, but it also depends on your budget. The convenience may be worth it if you are visiting for the first time and unsure of getting around.
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Getting to and from the Airport
Taxis to JFK Airport charge a flat rate. Currently, it is $52 USD with a surcharge of $4.50 USD during peak hour. You will also need to add a tip.
I was nervous about getting to our hotel from the airport and didn’t want to worry about paying. I made it easy on myself and put the cash plus tip in an envelope. That way I had it ready when we arrived. Jet lag has me seeing double sometimes, so it’s easier if I don’t have to think about the small things.
There are also airport shuttles and a train. Each time I paid for the taxi. I found the convenience was worth the extra money.
Eating like a Local
As an Australian, there seems to be the assumption that American food is things like bacon with added sugar, hot dogs with every topping imaginable, burgers with fillings oozing and spilling out the sides.
It can be, but its also possible to find great-tasting, healthier food especially if you get out out of tourist areas.
My favourite café, The Fairways Cafe, makes the best salmon, creamed spinach and sweet potato fries. I also love that it is frequented by locals, telling me it is a neighbourhood favourite.
I will admit though, that a trip to Crumbs for a Peanut Butter Cupcake has become a pilgrimage I make soon after arrival. There are so many flavours to choose from that next time I think I will have to change it up a bit.
Free Things to Do
So what would I recommend to first-time visitors? And particularly those who are introverted like me?
Obviously, there are the big sights you have to see and do (or not) The Empire State Building, maybe a visit to the Top of the Rock, some shopping on 5th Avenue and Grand Central Terminal. What did I miss?
I understand that everyone wants to visit Times Square. I get it, but for someone like me who hates crowds, it might be best to avoid it.
At the very least, make sure your hotel is not located in this area so that you don’t have to deal with the crowds the minute you walk outside. Nice to visit, but great to escape!
BUT what about great stuff to do that’s totally free and less busy?
Here are five of my favourite things to do in New York and best of all they’re all FREE. Make sure you check them out on your next visit.
- Central Park Conservancy Tours – run by volunteers and cover different areas of the park. Some of these are paid tours, but there are still free tours available.
- 79th Street Greenmarket – Chat to locals and buy great local produce.
- The High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on the west side of Manhattan.
- Staten Island Ferry – an excellent way to cruise past and see the Statue of Liberty (beware do this when energy levels are up because it can be VERY crowded).
- MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) – free admission on Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm.
On one visit I joined City Rover Walks for a walking tour of the Chelsea Markets, the Meatpacking District and Greenwich Village. They were excellent and I highly recommend them.
I have also joined the Brooklyn Food & Culture Tour, twice. Both times were fabulous. It was a great way to see Brooklyn. It also meant I didn’t need to pay for extra lunch or dinner as there was so much food to try.
What to do next time?
If I am lucky enough to return to New York I would plan to stay in The Hotel Beacon again, if I don’t decide to stay in the East Village.
I would spend some time relaxing in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park soaking up the sun, enjoying a picnic, indulging my inner shopaholic at Century 21 and spend evenings relaxing at wine bars and restaurants.
I might go and see a site or two, but I would like to enjoy New York as a local does.
What are your favourite things to do in New York?