How to Navigate New York City Like a Local
In 2016, more than 60 million tourists visited New York City — dwarfing the city’s population of 8.4 million. And the majority of these visitors centered their trip on the (relatively) tiny island of Manhattan — coming in droves to see a Broadway play, sail around the Statue of Liberty, mourn at the 9/11 Memorial, shop, eat, and check out the most vibrant city in the world.
All those visitors make space (and the awareness of it) an even more dear issue to locals.
New York is also a city on the go. As in, everyone needs to get somewhere — fast — in tiny, cramped spaces. (Nowhere else on earth can someone traverse a crowded room with three drinks in one hand, two in the other and not spill one. This is how good New Yorkers are at maneuvering in small spaces.)
And while New Yorkers have come a long way from the bad old, grumpy, mugging days of the 1980s, they can still get tetchy if someone gets (and remains) in their way.
And so, because we want you to have the best experience in New York ever, I present a top 10 list of how to not annoy the heck out of the natives. And remember, if all else fails, just remember NYC’s unofficial motto: Keep It Moving.
1. If you want to drive a New Yorker completely crazy, then walk hand in hand in hand, side by side by side down the street.
The city has very narrow sidewalks and it’s very difficult to pass someone as the streets are full of cars, buses, trucks, and the even more nefarious form of transportation: bicycles. New Yorkers tend to get ridiculously enraged when a sidewalk is blocked by a daisy chain of people — or worse, when they get clotheslined by a couple who just won’t let go of each other’s hands. Think of the busier sidewalks as you would a highway: Stick to the right, and pass on the left in single file please.
2. Speaking of bicycles...
CitiBike is a lovely, wonderful program, and a great way to get around and enjoy the city. However, please don’t ride a bike on the sidewalk and obey all traffic laws. Meaning always ride in the (paved) streets, don’t run red lights, don’t go down the wrong way on a one-way street, and remember pedestrians always have the right of way.
3. The subway is the best way to get around, but there are some rules.
When taking the subway, it’s best to get your subway card out and ready to swipe before heading to the turnstile. Nothing will make New Yorkers grumble louder than a tourist standing in front of a turnstile while a train is coming, rummaging through their purse saying, “I know it’s here somewhere ...”
Also, please go all the way into the subway car, don’t block the doors. And don’t manspread on the seat, don’t talk on the phone,and wear headphones if listening to music. And never, EVER, sit on the ground or steps while waiting for a train, I don’t care how tired you are. That’s just gross.
4. Rules for escalators and revolving doors
Stand to the right, pass to the left. When taking an escalator, or going through a revolving door, do not stop at the top of said escalator to or immediately outside of the door and chitty chat. Keep it moving. Creating traffic jams is practically illegal here — just ask Chris Christie.
5. There are many, many grates on the ground, especially in Manhattan.
They are also really well enforced. So, if you have flat shoes on (which you most likely do), walk on the grates ... leave the ungrated ground for those of us in heels or with small dogs who literally can not walk on said grates without a trip to the veterinarian. And, if worse comes to worst – the grates will fall and you drop ten feet or so — you can always sue the city and earn millions from the fall, thereby effectively paying for your entire trip. Now that's a bonus!
6. Paper maps are passe.
Use a smartphone with a moving map so you know where you are and where you are going. However, if you need to ask someone - don’t be shy. New Yorkers are a lot friendlier than their reputation (especially if you adhere to the rules).
7. New York is a shopping city.
We encourage visitors to shop til they drop. But do note: When carrying shopping bags, carry them in front of you — not to either side, taking up double the space on the sidewalk.
8. New York is also a gawking city.
It’s full of monuments! Celebrities! Subway and park performers! Weirdos galore! But while ogling our oddities, pay attention to space and traffic flows. Stand flush to a building, or out of the way as, once again, blocking the flow of movement is a cardinal sin.
9. Watch that umbrella.
When it’s raining and you are carrying an umbrella, lift it up when you pass people so you don’t jam the spokes in everyone’s eyes or crash into them.
10. Don’t bury your head in your cell phone.
Even if you’re trying to follow your Google Maps directions, don't stare down at your phone. (To be fair, even New Yorkers are guilty of this, too. And we spend a lot of time yelling at each other about it, even going so far as to spray paint “LOOK UP!” signs on the sidewalk.)