New York City isn’t just a place featured in movies or a big apple. It’s a feeling of being overwhelmed by so many great things and feeling inspired to do great things too. It really is one of a kind. I’ve been to quite a few places in America but none of them have drawn me like New York City has. This is a South African’s guide to experiencing New York City.

Geography of New York City
New York City is made up of five boroughs, you can think of them as really big suburbs. The boroughs are: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and The Bronx.

  • Manhattan: Main tourist attractions like Times Square, 5th Avenue and Central Park. It is also divided into Upper, Mid and Lower Manhattan.
  • Brooklyn: Art and hipsters. If you’re looking for cheaper accommodation then stay in Brooklyn.
  • Staten Island: Statue of Liberty.
  • Queens: New York City airports.
  • Bronx: Yankee Stadium. Bronx is the only section of New York City that is on the US mainland.

Being a South African tourist you will fly into Queens and likely stay in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

The Public Transport Actually Works
We have public transport in South Africa, it’s just difficult to use because the buses are often late (when the drivers aren’t striking), the taxis are dangerous and the Gautrain is expensive. In NYC, public transport is the way because it’s cheap and on time. I would actually suggest that you don’t get a car because:
a) You’ll be driving on the left-hand side of the road instead of the right-hand side you’re used to
b) New York has a lot of one ways. You don’t want to be that tourist who’s driving against traffic
c) Taxis and pedestrians walking in the road will make driving a nightmare

The main forms of transport are the subway (the map is above), cabs and buses. The subway is really easy to use. You need to know two things before you glance at the subway map. The first is your location and the nearest stations to you. The second is where you need to go, if your destination isn’t right by a station then find out which station is closest. This is important because you might have to change subways while travelling. You follow the coloured lines and see where you need to get off and get on.

I never used the bus system so you’re on your own there but I think it should work the same. Cabs are plentiful, so you won’t struggle with getting them.

Don’t Wear Kak Clothes
If you plan to walk along 5th Avenue or stay in Manhattan you better wear nice clothes. Everyone dresses well. I actually managed to observe fashion trends based on what people were wearing. While looking great you need to wear comfortable shoes. Summer means it will be hot and humid. Sunscreen, sunhats, sunglasses (because you need to look good) and shorts will do nicely. When it rains, because it will, carry a small umbrella and check the weather for updates. Winter means snow and slush. Wellingtons, a beanie, scarves, vests, long johns and thick jacket will do.

You Have To Know How To Shop and Where
Although you can rush to 5th Avenue and the Times Square area. I recommend SoHo, a neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan. SoHo has beautiful cast iron buildings and less tourists, therefore shorter lines. When you go into shops don’t get freaked out when shop attendants are friendly and offer to help you. I think we’re too used to having to run after shop attendants that spend their time hiding. My favourite shops are Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Zara and H&M. Zara and H&M have European backgrounds so I won’t talk about them. Forever 21 has reasonably priced clothes, shoes and accessories.There are two in the Manhattan area, one on 5th Avenue and the other by Times Square. Some Forever 21 stores stock men’s clothes. The one by Times Square has a men’s floor and is insanely big! Urban Outfitters actually reminds of Big Blue! Mostly quirky clothes and gadgets. If you go there you’re looking for something different. Urban Outfitters is expensive when compared to H&M and Forever 21. So just beware of that. Urban Outfitters stocks both men’s and women’s clothes.  If you go to the Macy’s on West 34th Street you will get a tourist discount on the things you purchase. That Macy’s Store is the second biggest store in the world and it’s so old that in some areas it has wooden escalators.

If you’re into gadgets then run to Best Buy. Best Buy will change your life. I’m not an Apple person but they have two awesome glass box stores. One in Harlem and the other is on 5th Avenue, almost by Central Park.

Do the Touristy Stuff! Don’t Be ‘Cool’ and Not Do It.

  • Get on one of those double-decker tourist buses, do a walking tour or even a bicycle tour of New York. You meet other people easily and your tour guides tell you a lot of stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise have known about New York. This also enables you to see a large majority of the famous buildings in New York.
  • Go see the Statue of Liberty and go on a cruise.
  • Go to Central Park! It’s free! Come on!
  • Do the museum and culture track. Go visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. There’s even a Museum of Sex! I went to MoMA. I’m not artistically inclinded at all but I was deeply touched by that museum. You get to see so many famous artworks and also see the works of new artists worthy of an exhibition.

Tips and General Observations

  • Look out for free concerts and shows online. You can see some amazing things if you pay attention.
  • You don’t have to eat crappy junk-food every day. New York has some amazing places to eat. From the cafes at MoMA, Chinese restaurants to Tony’s NY Pizza.
  • If you’re black then don’t be surprised if hobos to come to you with, “My sister, help an African brother out.”
  • The streets sometimes smell unpleasant, don’t be completely disillusioned by it!
  • I don’t suggest you go to New York alone. If you’re awesome at making friends then fine, otherwise it could be lonely.
  • Avoid peak tourist season, go to New York at random times. I hate tourists even though I was one. There’s something about people that wear hideous sneakers and fanny packs, have huge cameras and stand in the middle of the pavements looking confused when you’re trying to walk past that boils my blood.
  • Also because there are so many South African tourists around I suggest you don’t speak in Afrikaans and talk nasty about people you’re around. You might get caught out.
  • You’re safer there, watch your handbags but you don’t have to do it as diligently as you do so when you somehow land up in Hillbrow.
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