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How To Experience New York City Like A Local

Find out where New Yorkers really go and what they do.

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These days, more and more people are looking for authentic local experiences when they travel. No matter if they’re visiting Cambodia or Paris, they want to see what life is like for the people living there. They want to get a feel for the culture, they want to avoid tourist traps, and they want to eat the same foods that the locals do. For many people, this is what a perfect holiday experience is; to live life in the shoes of someone from a different culture or place.

When it comes to New York City, there are just so many different cultures and nationalities in just one city. With diverse neighborhoods around every corner and a myriad of authentic cuisines to dive into, New York City is truly one of the most amazing places to visit in the world. But since it’s such a popular destination, there are undoubtedly going to be loads of tourist traps and scams that are looking to snatch your money.

So to help you avoid that, we’ve put together this helpful guide to help you experience New York City like a local. We’ll be talking about some of the cultures and neighborhoods, but also some of the best places to stay if you really want to get involved with the city and its activities.

Picking a great accommodation spot

There’s no shortage of extravagant hotels, cheap hostels, and comfortable Airbnbs in New York City. If you want an authentic local experience then going with an Airbnb is usually the best option. However, you need to understand that the location is often more important than just the accommodation itself. For instance, if you want to wake up and feel the hustle and bustle of New York City, then getting accommodation in an area such as Manhattan, Queens, or Brooklyn can be a great option. This is especially true if you’re in neighborhoods like Chinatown or Queens.

However, another great option is to look for a hotel with good parade views in NYC. New York City is home to loads of fantastic parades that occur every year. For instance, there’s the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade early in the year, The Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Manhattan, and also the St. Patrick’s Day Parades in multiple different areas like Brooklyn and Long Island. If you can pick a hotel that gives you a fantastic view of several parades, then you can really get involved with the different cultures that live within NYC.

In short, pick a great accommodation spot that allows you to wake up nearby other locals for an authentic experience, or find a hotel that gives you a fantastic view of the parades and activities around New York City.

Museums are a great attraction even for the locals

New Yorkers love a good museum and there are so many great choices to pick from. Here are just a couple of ideas to help you get started:

  • New Museum is a seven-story building that has an interesting look. From a distance, you could definitely mistake it for something out of a sci-fi film. It has loads of contemporary and modern art pieces, and often runs interesting exhibits that change all the time.
  • MoMA-PS1 is a unique art museum that offers a collection of over 200,000 contemporary art pieces. It’s one of the most interesting structures in NYC and is a fantastic place to visit whether you’re a local or visiting from abroad.
  • National Museum of the American Indian New York is a museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the histories of over 1,200 different indigenous cultures in the Americas. It includes ceremonial objects that were once used by indigenous people, artwork made from carved wood and bone, traditional clothing, and even photographs.

There are so many amazing museums in New York City that it’s hard to name them all. There are so many to choose from and residents of NYC love visiting them for all of the different exhibits that rotate on a monthly or seasonal basis.

Visiting the different cultural neighborhoods

New York City has many different cultures mixed together, but there are usually neighborhoods where some of these cultures congregate. This allows them to express their culture through things like food. For example, New York’s Chinatown has the highest concentration of Chinese people outside of Asia and is split into two different portions. The western portion is the original side that is mostly home to Cantonese-speaking residents. The other portion is made up of people that come from Fujian.

In reality, New York City doesn’t have just one Chinatown–it has nine! This allows you to experience all different kinds of cultures and cuisines within New York City, making it a fantastic place to visit if you love Chinese culture. If you plan to travel to NYC and want to experience it like a local, then you definitely have to tour the many different Chinatowns in the city.

Another brilliant neighborhood to visit is Woodlawn in the Bronx. Woodlawn is known to many in New York City as “Little Ireland”. This houses many Irish Americans and it has become well-known for its Irish shops, restaurants, pubs, and even pastry shops. There are even some old churches that are wonderful to tour around.

Lastly, we can’t forget about NYC’s most well-known Italian neighborhood: Little Italy. While much of Little Italy has been taken over by New York’s incredibly popular Chinatowns, there are still five blocks of Manhattan dedicated to Italian products, restaurants, and stores. Whether it’s coal oven pizzas or delicious homemade pasta, there are still loads of places to visit if you want to experience Italian culture.

These neighborhoods are a fantastic starting point if you want to go on a tour of the different cultures of NYC. However, if you’re just interested in one of these cultures then it’s perfectly fine to focus on that alone. They’re great for walking tours and many people frequent these neighborhoods just to try out all of the different cuisines available. You could even find accommodation inside of these busy neighborhoods if you want to get the most out of your visit to NYC!

Experience NYC like a local through transportation

New York City has one of the most robust transportation systems in the world. If you really want to experience NYC like a local, then you should get used to using public transport in NYC. Not only can it take you basically anyway, but you can also save a lot of money and time. New York City is well-known for having extremely busy roads, especially during prime working hours. You can get to your destination much more quickly if you take the subway. Although it’s not a very pretty form of transportation, it does let you experience the city as a New Yorker.

Just try to avoid rush hour when possible! When things get bad, it can turn into a really horrible experience. If you have to travel during rush hour, then we do suggest that you either try biking or just walking. Subway delays can be frustrating to deal with and although it’s part of the authentic local experience, it’s definitely something that nobody will recommend to you!

Alternatively, you could hop into one of New York City’s iconic yellow cabs. However, these aren’t cheap and if you’re going to be stuck in traffic, it’ll take a while to get to your destination. However, these are a great way to travel when the city is starting to slow down a bit at night. It’s common for people to use cabs and car apps to help them get home later at night.

Go shopping like a local in NYC

Lastly, we can’t forget about shopping. Whether it’s thrift store hunting in NYC or visiting unique boutique stores, there are countless options for you to choose from. The side streets in Nolita and Soho are a great place to start, and they’re usually much better options than malls because you’ll find independent designers with extremely unique pieces to buy. Another option is to go thrift store shopping in NYC. There are loads of stores such as Goodwill, but you’ll also see curated stores in East Village that are perfect for people who are hunting unique pieces.

However, if you’re into the big-name brands and iconic international designers, then there are plenty of high-end stores for you to browse as well. Luxury stores are all over New York City and you’ll find massive flagship stores that will satisfy your shopping urges.

Hopefully, this brief guide has given you an idea of how to experience New York City like a local. There are plenty of neighborhoods to tour, unique museums to visit, and places to stay that will really put you at the heart of the city. It’s all about experiencing unique things and saying no to typical tourist attractions that will leave you feeling unsatisfied.


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Filed under: Travel Guide

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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