Common NYC myths debunked by a New York City tour guide and travel writer
As someone who has been staying in New York on and off since 2008 and leading tours since 2015, I’ve encountered my fair share of predictable questions regarding NYC myths. “How can you have a car in New York? Is it safe to ride the subway?” Over the past 14 years, hearing these questions has become as common as a subway delay or the sound an ambulance passing through my street seemingly as often as the A train pulls into Penn Station during rush hour.
So for 14 years, I’ve been storing these questions in the back of my mind. The result is this ever-evolving list of NYC myths debunked by a New York City tour guide and travel writer.
A similar version of this list first appeared on CheapTickets.
Times Square is the most exciting part of New York
This is one of my favorite NYC myths. While Times Square does give seemingly new meaning to the saying, “bright lights, big city,” most locals see it as a place to change trains or catch a play. Most people who work near Times Square can’t afford to live there and are more likely to spend their leisure time in their own neighborhoods. There’s no harm seeing what all the fuss is about, but if you spend more than 10% of your time here, you are missing out on the real New York.
Instead, check out some of the exciting ethnic neighborhoods in the outer boroughs or hop on the tram to Roosevelt Island. Subway cards accepted.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is the best way to experience Brooklyn
Just like taking the Staten Island Ferry to St. George terminal does not constitute a proper visit to SI, walking across the famous Brooklyn Bridge does not equal a true Brooklyn experience. NYC’s most populous borough is home to some of New York’s most unique ethnic neighborhoods, quirky museums, and sought-after pizza pies and slices. Walking across the bridge is an essential Brooklyn experience, but so is riding the elevated Q train out to Coney Island or Brighton Beach, also known as “Little Odessa.”
It doesn’t cost you anything to stroll through Prospect Park, which is Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park. In addition to famous pizza and Junior’s cheesecake, you can also find affordable West African food along the A-C line between Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy.
The Bronx is dangerous
Like the rest of the NYC boroughs, The Bronx is a series of neighborhoods. While the northern parts are more suburban and spread out, the South Bronx has a more gritty, urban feel. But the idea that you should avoid the only NYC borough that’s connected to the USA mainland is another one of those unfortunate NYC myths. There are walking tours available if you are looking to dip your toes into the South Bronx, which has a lot of interesting hip-hop history and street art. You can walk there from East Harlem as well.
Every day, hundreds of tourists make the journey to 187th Street and Arthur Ave for a taste of The Real Little Italy. There’s also the New England fishing village feel of City Island, which you can visit by bus from the end of the 6 line. It may not rival the Caribbean, but The Bronx also has Orchard Beach, which you’ll pass on the way to City Island.
Queens is just where the airports are
Thinking of Queens as the borough where you fly in and out of is probably the number one mistake tourists make when visiting New York. For me, this is THE most frustrating of the NYC myths.
Andrew Zimmern said that if Queens were a separate city, it would be the world’s greatest food city. You can find some of the best food in New York along the elevated 7 train, and it’s far more affordable than what you’ll get in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Ideally, you can start at 74th & Roosevelt and enjoy some Himalayan momo from the numerous food trucks in the South Asian section of Jackson Heights. Once you hit 80th Street, you’ll find Colombian bakeries, Uruguayan steakhouses, and Central American food trucks. This continues into Corona before you hit Flushing, which is the final stop along the 7. Here, you can find the other Chinatown, which is slightly less congested and a bit more affordable than the one everyone tends to think of in Lower Manhattan.
Queens also has several museums, including MoMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum, Museum of the Moving Image, and the Louis Armstrong House.
A ride on the State Island ferry counts as a visit to the forgotten borough
While Staten Island is by far the most suburban feeling of the five boroughs, there’s more to the forgotten borough than St. George Ferry Terminal. The SIR (Staten Island Railway) runs from the ferry terminal in the northeast of the island to Tottenville in the southwest. Many of the island’s tourist attractions are conveniently located along the SIR, which means there’s really no reason to just turn around as soon as the next ferry back to Manhattan is available. Instead, check out some of SI’s museums, including the National Lighthouse Museum or the Sri Lankan Arts & Culture Museum. If you want to venture out to the end of the SIR line, check out The Conference House, which is one of NYC’s under-the-radar historic houses.
Staten Island also has more affordable food options than Brooklyn or Manhattan. If you’ve never tried Sri Lankan food, check out Lakruwana. They have a weekend buffet, which will give you the chance to try different dishes without breaking the bank.
There’s only one Chinatown
While Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown is still the most famous, it’s no longer the largest. And depending on where you are staying, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park or Flushing, Queens may be more convenient options. With more than 30,000 Chinese-born residents, Flushing is one of the fastest-growing Chinatowns in the world. It’s also easy to get to thanks to the 7 train and the Long Island Railroad stop. If you’re visiting on the weekend, you can get the LIRR City Ticket, which is only $5 each way (compared to $2.75 for a subway ride).
In Brooklyn, 8th Avenue from 41st to 61st Street is the main thoroughfare. All you have to do is take the D to 9th Ave and walk south on 8th or take the N to 8th Ave and walk north.
The best Italian food is in Little Italy
The three blocks of Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal are replete with multi-generation bakeries, restaurants, specialty stores, and tourists taking selfies in front of those seemingly obligatory pictures of the Sopranos cast. While a bowl of seafood squid ink pasta from Umberto’s and cannoli from Ferrara Bakery are seen as an essential New York experience by many, most locals would scoff at the idea that the best Italian food is in Lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. In fact, the Belmont section of The Bronx (made famous by A Bronx Tale) is known locally as “The Real Little Italy.”
Like many things in New York, some of the best Italian restaurants are in areas where tourists rarely venture out to. For example, Queens has several local neighborhood gems that seem to always be full despite less than convenient locations. Whether it’s Don Peppe in South Ozone Park, Corona’s Park Side, or any of the upscale Italian restaurants along Cross Bay Blvd in Howard Beach, there are places that will feel much more exclusive and rewarding if you make an effort to venture out of Manhattan. Brooklyn and Staten Island have their own neighborhood gems as well, including Bamonte’s, Joe and Pat’s, and L & B Spumoni Gardens.
the best hotels are near Times Square
Times Square hotels are popular for a few reasons: EWR Airport, Penn Station, and Port Authority. If you’re arriving by bus, train, or flying into Newark, Midtown will be your first bite of The Big Apple. It’s tempting to get the nearest hotel to Penn Station or Port Authority and use that as a base for the duration of your trip. After all, most of the NYC subway lines intersect between Grand Central Station and Port Authority. You can go in nearly any direction from Times Square. But if you’re flying into LGA, you should consider staying in Long Island City, Queens, which is one subway stop from Brooklyn or Manhattan and has many more affordable lodging options.
Even if you do arrive by bus or train, you should still consider Manhattan neighborhoods like Chelsea, Koreatown, or the Lower East Side, all of which have a more authentic feel as well as more affordable hotel options.
Central Park is the city’s only green space
While locals love Central Park for many reasons, it’s not the only must-see green space in NYC. It’s not the largest either. That distinction goes to Pelham Bay Park, which is also the final stop on the 6 train. For many tourists, Central Park conjures up images of Ghostbusters, Home Alone 2, and When Harry Met Sally, but Flushing Meadows-Corona Park has the famous Unisphere as well as remnants from two World’s Fairs. And while eating at one of Brooklyn or Manhattan’s outdoor markets could set you back more than the cost of a sit-down meal in The Bronx or Staten Island, the Queens Night Market (located inside FMCP) is affordable to the point where many of the vendors have items for as little as $5. Don’t forget about Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, either.
New Yorkers are impatient and downright mean
Thanks in part to popular culture, this is another one of the common NYC myths. Consider that majority of people from outside North America probably think of New York when they think of the United States. Just imagine nearly 67 million tourists visiting the place that you call home in a single year. Do New Yorkers have a right to feel like they live in the center of the world? Either way, seeing tourists posing for selfies in front of famous landmarks in the city you call home can make you feel special.
New Yorkers are friendly people IF you can keep up with them. The saying “New York minute” is still used for a reason. You have to know how to get right to the point when approaching a New Yorker, especially if it’s someone who was born and raised in The Big Apple. Clerks and wait staff will be polite IF you know what you want and don’t spend endless time deliberating whether you want to go for the round or square slice. As long as you don’t hold up lines or make people’s jobs more stressful than they already are, you’ll be safe in New York City, just like the AC/DC song.
The Hop-on Hop-off bus is the best way to see New York
If you know nothing about the city and only have a few hours before your train pulls out of Penn Station, then the Hop-on Hop-off Bus is the best way to see New York. It will take you past 25 NYC landmarks, which you can snap pictures of to show your family and friends that you visited New York.
Assuming you have more than a few hours, skip the bus, save some money, and pick a subway line that stops along some of the city’s lesser-known attractions. Most run above ground in the outer boroughs. If you’re a foodie, try the 7 train between Jackson Heights and Flushing Main Street. If you love beaches, take the Q train out to Brighton Beach or Coney Island. The 6 train runs along the Museum Mile on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and terminates at Pelham Bay Park, which is the largest green space in NYC. There’s no boring subway line. It just depends on what you are into.
A Broadway show will set you back at least $200
Expensive and hard-to-come-by Broadway show tickets are among those NYC myths that have some merit. Although there will always be hot tickets in town, not every Broadway show is comparable to Hamilton or Springsteen on Broadway. And thanks to sites like CheapTickets and apps like TodayTix, you can attend Broadway shows for as little as $20 per person. TodayTix started in New York and has tickets to dozens of different local events available at any given time.
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