New York has a vibrancy that is unequaled. You go here, you'll feel alive. You'll also feel squeezed, smashed and probably get more aggressive - but the discomfort and any personality shifts are worth it.
This is the toughest mini guide for me to write because well...New York has my soul (Rio still has my heart of course.) After living there for several years, I came to know many places - each of them unique, exciting or unforgettable in some way. I plan to release a full guide on all of these next year but for now I'm going to give you something different...a guide without any real tourist attractions. I'm going to give you suggestions on enjoying New York City like an active local.
You can visit many times and never truly know New York. It's a place that has so many subcultures that there are multiple versions of the same city for different people. Talk to a musician and you'll hear one thing. Talk to a marketing exec and you'll get another. So rather than focus on too many specifics of where to shop, eat or drink, I'm going to share things that most New Yorkers do or have done in a daytime-daily-life kind of way.
Most people who visit New York will bike across Brooklyn Bridge. That's an iconic trip and you'll take some lovely photos but you'll also be squeezed between hundreds of other tourists with the exact same idea. By all means, make sure to see Brooklyn Bridge but just do it another way, it's not an enjoyable ride (unless you're prepared to go at dawn.)
Instead, opt for a bike ride along the Hudson River Greenway. This path stretches along the westside of Manhattan from Battery Park to Dykman street. It's busy, yes. But it's also the longest path with lots of stopover points along the way that help to minimize congestion (e.g. Riverside Park) Choose a non-peak time (e.g. late morning or early afternoon) in order to maximize free movement.
You can rent city bikes for shorter trips or go into most bike shops on the west side and rent them for the day. Remember to include a detour walk along the The High Line if you haven't seen it yet!
At $30 to $36 dollars per class, boutique fitness in New York City is not cheap BUT it's also world-class. Every year, I make it a mission to do at least three classes here (even if I only have 4 days and jetlag.) Why? The fitness industry here is highly respected; it's considered a real career to be in it and not just something you do on the side. Fitness coaches refine their craft. They innovate. They work on every element involved in giving a class or personal training session. They're also competing with some of the best talent in the world so there's no room for slacking. Classes will be among the toughest you've ever done but you'll feel motivated and glad you made the commitment.
New places pop up every six months (and others close) but these are my three classic favorites:Flybarre
I started my fitness career with a bootcamp in Central Park. I'd arrive before the sun for morning sessions which clients faithfully came to (well done you guys!) I had to slug out of bed and sometimes I'd do it 15 minutes before start time. I'm not a morning person. However, there was always one compensation: sunrise.
This is not a typical sunrise experience. You won't see it properly with all the trees and skyscrapers in the way but there's something magical about not having a single person in sight and watching the light slowly creep into the park. Stay long enough (until about 7:30am, 8am) and you'll see the Park come alive with dog walkers, vendors, kids and tourists. Now, probably most locals won't wake up and go see sunrise at the Park but many of them have will have experienced that rare occasion when it wasn't crowed, when they could just relax. A sunrise trip is the closest that you can get to a guarantee for the same experience. I like to grab a coffee and watch from the fountain at Bethesda Terrace because it's gorgeous here but usually crammed with people at all other times of the day.
Harlem is among the most underrated tourist destination in Manhattan...and I hope it stays that way. I feel conflicted about including it in the guide so please if you go, be respectful. Don't pop out your camera at every chance. Also make a real effort to try the local businesses and not just the hipster cafes.
Get off at 103rd on the east side or 110 on the west and walk your way up. Try different foods as you go. Check out the architecture and street art. Culturally, this is one of the most iconic and interesting areas in New York. (Note: if you're traveling alone or feel uncomfortable, you can always choose to stay below 140th.)
Brunching is a social sport in New York. It can last HOURS with people catching up over amazing food and unlimited cocktails (although this is sadly being restricted more and more.) New Yorkers don't have a lot of free time but they can usually make time for brunch.
To get the full experience, go on a Sunday between 1pm and 3pm. Most of the trendier places will be in Chelsea, Soho, Williamsburg etc. You can find less crowded and more local ones in the Upper East Side. (Upper West Side also has many places but they get busy with families.)
Most people think of going to Central Park when it comes to seeing the skyline among the trees but in fact a better city view is right across the water at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Go on a Sunday for a lazy afternoon of cityscape gazing. If you get hungry, there's loads of pizza places en route back to the subway.
Coffee in New York is like tea in England; it's a sacred ritual. Every morning and late afternoon (aka 2-3pm coffee rush) you'll see most New Yorkers with a takeaway cup in hand. Most of this coffee is garbage; it's the cheap, quick stuff from around the corner at a cart or local stand (although I've have been surprised by high quality before!)
However, you can find some of the finest coffee brewed outside of Italy in the city. As someone who has traveled all over Manhattan with at least a cup a day, one of my favorite spots for a caffeine fix is called Joe on the Upper East Side. It's absurdly expensive and comes in ridiculously small cups but take one sip and you won't care.
This really depends on when you come during the year. New York is fashionable but there's every type here, so bring your own style! Heels only recommended for going out in the evenings.
My favorite healthy place to this day is Hu Kitchen. It's quick and has options for every kind of eater. They also have a coffee bar there (double points.) You can find some of the best healthy restaurants in the world in the city but I wouldn't restrict meals to just that because you'll be missing out.