We're in a recession and work's slamming you hard -- two good reasons to nix the vacay, even though the travel bug is biting you. But before you resign to Netflixing in your Snuggie, we'll show you how to be a tourist in your own city - whether you've got twenty minutes, two hours, or two days. It might not be caliente like Cabo, but we guarantee you'll feel like you've gotten away from it all - without busting your budget or leaving the city.
So suit up in your Searle and check out these rules to tour by. Just don't forget to bring a map!
Rule #1: Open Your Eyes
Remember what it was like when you first moved here and everything felt foreign and new? When even your corner bodega was an unchartered territory filled with promise? That wasn't just because it was new; it was because, as a newcomer, your senses were heightened and open to everything that was thrown your way, even if it was covered with graffiti and smelled like trash.
The key to being a tourist in your own city is to regain this sense of curiosity and see where it takes you. Explore that community garden you pass every day; check out a local artist's gallery; hang out for a few minutes and listen to the steel drummer in the subway. These things don't take much time, but they'll transport you to another place, even for just a minute or two.
Don't think you can overcome the New Yorker numbness to newness? Tote a camera with you wherever you go; it will literally force you to see the city through a different lens, and you'll even have the keepsakes to prove it.
Rule #2: Be Bold
Good touristing requires that you get outside of your comfort zone. Lucky for you, New York makes this one easy, since walking just one neighborhood in any direction is likely to yield a complete change of scenery. Live downtown? Take a trip up to Washington Heights and get some authentic Dominican food, or visit The Cloisters Museum and Garden. If you nest in the Upper West, take a couple of hours to explore the backstreets of Chinatown, or hop on the ferry to Ellis Island from Battery Park.
Have more time? Dedicate one full weekend to exploring another borough. Trekking all the way out there might seem like a lot of work, but honestly, how well do you actually know Queens? With a little pre-planning (and some generous help from your other-borough friends), you can land a weekend getaway replete with quaint neighborhood strolls, cultural cuisine, river views and - if you're lucky - some cozy crashing-on-the-couch time with bon amies.
Rule of Tourism # 3: Think Outside the Box
When most people think of tourism, they think of excursions that require money belts, time off work, or rollable luggage pieces. But believe it or not, lunch breaks are great times to take mini-vacations, and all you need are an open mind, good shoes, and a plan of attack.
Don't worry if you're on a tight schedule, there are plenty of places to explore in under an hour -- you just have to seek out quality over quantity. Churches are great places to soak up some visual and cultural inspiration, and you don't have to be religious to appreciate the grand architecture -- plus, they're often a cache of historical information, too. Same goes for most branches of the New York Public Library, which not only stun on the visual front, but also feature mini-exhibitions that can be viewed within a short time frame. Just don't get stuck perusing the book stacks, or your quick jaunt to the library might turn into a literary all-nighter.
Rule of Tourism # 4: Eat Your Heart Out
One thing tourists know how to do is eat. Why? Because experiencing a culture through its culinary efforts is one of the best forms of exploration there is. New York's cultural diversity and penchant for palate pleasing helps to get this one done, since you don't have to walk more than a block in most neighborhoods to find some high-quality eats.
But being a tourist requires that you take your quest beyond the starry ratings of MenuPages and Yelp.com. Try out those kitschy "holes in the wall" between the laundromat and the video store, or take a risk on some more esoteric ethnic fare, like Ethiopian in the East Village, Halal Thai in Brooklyn, or Albanian in the Bronx. With choices like those, your taste buds will be jetlagged, but you won't.
Rule # 5: Take a Cue from Actual Tourists
Chances are, the guy sporting that "I Heart NY" sweat suit who's scarfing down Nuts 4 Nuts and snapping photos off the top of a double-decker bus is having more fun than you. So why not join him?
Scoff all you want -- the best part of being a tourist is, well, being a tourist. This doesn't mean you have to spend a ton of money on NYC keychains and shot glasses; it simply means indulging in and celebrating the totally awesome place you call home.
Now's the time to do all those things you've been meaning to, but never actually got around to. Never seen a Broadway show? Get some student or rush tickets and see it for half the price. Feeling physical? Rent some skates (or even better, snag a vintage pair for cheap on EBay!) and take a spin on one of NYC's many ice rinks. Gather up some friends and split the cost of that carriage ride through Central Park. Heck, throw in some of that slightly questionable "Street Meat" for good measure - you know the smell of it has always made your mouth water.
You might not recognize yourself by the end of your travels, but at least you can say you've experienced New York.
And what's a New Yorker without some experience? Well, a tourist, I suppose.
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