Post Overview: How to NOT Look Like a Tourist in New York City.
As a local of the Big Apple, I thought it might be fun to quickly roundup some of the things all of my beloved visitors have in common during their first visit, and that’s looking like a tourist in New York City.
I love living in New York City and enjoy showing the city off whenever friends and family come to visit. Over the years I’ve gleaned a few things that almost all visitors do during their first trip to New York City. In today’s post, I thought it might be fun to playfully point out a few things that give away the goose.
Read on to learn exactly how to look like a tourist in NYC (or the exact opposite, up to you!).
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
This is a playful post, it’s not intended to be taken too seriously. New York City is one of the coolest cities in the world (which is why people pay exorbitant rents to live here). The excitement is understandable, and you SHOULD look like a tourist during your first visit.
Be eager, take too many photos, enjoy yourself! Just don’t hog the sidewalk … but look at me already getting ahead of myself. 😉
How to (Not) Look Like a Tourist in New York City
Don’t get excited about Times Square
I hate to burst the bubble, but if I’m indeed the one bursting it that means you haven’t visited Times Square yet. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room — you should absolutely visit Times Square because it’s iconic and feels like the closest things NYC has to a living room.
However, you should know that Times Square is not all its cracked up to be! In fact, the one thing almost all of my out-of-town visitors agree on is that Times Square doesn’t live up to expectations and I can understand that.
Times Square is heavily portrayed in the media, which is why everyone absolutely must see it for themselves (really), but dang — the place dirty, loud and reeks of weed. There, I said it.
Don’t ask for directions timidly
I’m probably not the first to tell you that New Yorkers are busy people. It seems like we only have two modes: fast-walking and sleeping. But we get a bad rap because we’re not rude, we’re just busy.
Speaking from personal experience, please don’t hesitate to approach locals and ask for advice or directions if you’re lost. Find someone that looks approachable (isn’t glued to their phone, isn’t walking at blazing speeds) and approach them.
The key is to get right to the point, rather than trying to exchange pleasantries (sounds strange, but trust me).
When you approach a New Yorker in the wild, make eye contact and say something along the lines of “Hello, I’m looking for the New York Public Library, which way should I go?” No small talk needed, just spit it out so we can both go on our merry way.
Further Reading: 20+ Helpful Tips for Visiting NYC (Written by a life-long local)
Don’t wait for the walk sign
A surefire way to tell a tourist is to see them waiting on a walk sign, because New Yorkers don’t have time to wait. Is waiting the proper thing to do? Absolutely. But is it the most efficient? Ah, therein lies the rub.
One thing you’ll learn quickly when visiting New York is that locals are all about streamlining and efficiency. Time is precious and we don’t have much of it to waste, so we take shortcuts whenever possible and not waiting on walk signs is what we call an easy win.
Don’t hog the sidewalk
Nothing bothers a New Yorker more than a group of tourists walking hand-in-hand with their posse in tow. It’s inconsiderate and you’re guaranteed to earn some eye rolls. There’s two ways you could inadvertently hog the sidewalk: walking side-by-side in a large group, and abruptly stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, effectively preventing access.
Let’s talk about hogging the sidewalk first. Without exception, the best way to walk on the sidewalk in NYC is no more than two people side by side. Once you introduce a third person into the mix then you risk encroaching on the access for folks walking in the opposite direction.
Be mindful that people have to be able to walk around you while you’re enjoying your vacation. Otherwise they’ll miss their train and won’t get to work on time (or meet with friends, etc.).
Note: The same etiquette used for sidewalks applies to escalators as well. The left side is for passing and the right side is for enjoying the ride.
Don’t randomly stop in the middle of the sidewalk
Here’s a helpful tip from a local: New Yorkers treat the sidewalk like a highway and nobody likes getting cut off on the highway.
Speed walking is a very natural thing in NYC and speaks to the purpose of the sidewalk. New Yorkers use the sidewalk as a means to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Tourists seem to use the sidewalk as a place for learning to walk — stopping every other minute to get their barrings straight.
Here’s the thing: New York City is full of excitement and we absolutely want you to enjoy the sights, but if you abruptly stop in the middle of the street then you prevent access for the sea of people behind you.
New York City gets 65 million visitors per year, imagine everyone one of those visitors stopping in the middle of the sidewalk at random increments throughout the day – the chaos!
Locals view random stops on the sidewalk as rude because it’s inconsiderate to those around you. If you don’t want to look like a tourist during your first visit to NYC, make sure you step to the side of the sidewalk if you need to stop.
Visit museums, even if you’re “not a museum person”
This one happens all the time. I’d argue that most of my visitors don’t care to hide their indifference about seeing a musuem on the itinerary. Most of the time the event is met with a question: “do we have to go?” or a thinly-veiled comment “we can meet up after the musuem.”
And I get it, almost no other city in the country has as many museums as NYC. Home to 83 museums, New York City is often considered the cultural capital of America.
As such, I encourage you to visit a museum even if you don’t consider yourself a museums person because New York City has some of the best museums in the world.
Case in point: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially known as The Met), which is the fifth largest museum in the world (and largest in our country).
The museum is absolutely epic, it houses more than 2 million works of art that span 5,000 years. If you’d like some direction, here’s a quick roundup of the 20 pieces you can’t afford to miss at The Met. If you’re into nature, don’t miss the American Museum of Natural History, considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.
You might enjoy reading: 14 Exciting Museums in New York City (& What to See at Each)
Don’t gawk at celebrities
Do you remember perusing teen magazines and seeing sections titled “Celebrities, they’re just like us.” The magazine would make an argument that celebrities are real people because they take coffee to go and eat at restaurants (gasp).
Well here’s the thing: a lot of celebrities live in New York City and you might just see one during your visit. Locals have learned to accept and appreciate this as one of the perks of living in NYC, but there’s nothing more uncomfortable than seeing celebrities get approached on the street by tourists.
I’ve noticed this a handful of times personally and the reaction from celebs varies greatly. Most just kindly wave a hand in acknowledgement while ignoring a conversation, but some seem uncomfortably roped into an awkward encounter. At the end of the day, I say let them be.
Admire from a distance and then frantically call your friend to brag, but don’t approach. They’re regular people with regular lives and they don’t want to be bothered while taking a walk or enjoying a meal. You wouldn’t want it done to you, so don’t do it to others. But yes, definitely brag about spotting!
Don’t take up two seats on the subway
There’s nothing as inconsiderate as folks that take up two seats on the subway, as if though their backpack takes priority over a person. If the subway is 50% empty and you set your way next to you that’s fine, no party foul. But if the subway is starting to fill up, your items belong in your lap.
Also worth mention — if someone elderly pops on the subway you should offer your seat. It’s the kind thing to do and nothing irks me more than seeing young folks sitting while a 70 year old person is trying to balance using the handrail. Don’t be that guy or gal.
Use your indoor voice on the subway
Okay, so you’re taking up one seat on the subway and being considerate, which is awesome and appreciated. But don’t pat yourself on the back prematurely because if you’re talking on the phone (or with a friend) using an obnoxiously loud voice then you are inconveniencing all the folks around you.
You might get a side eye (or not), but the fact remains — if you’re loud, you’re heard. Think about it, if I’m on my way home after an 8+ hour shift the last thing I want to hear during my commute is why Steven called Charlotte while dating Maggy. Unless Steven called Charlotte to discuss ways I can streamline my raise, I’m not interested. And Maggy should value herself more, just my two cents.
NYC Tourist Giveaway: Wearing the American Flag (and it’s not even July)
A surefire way to look like a tourist in New York City is to wear something with an American flag on it. T-shirts, hats, pants — get creative with it.
Why it makes sense: New York City feels like the epicenter of America and Americans take great pride in that. It’s not uncommon for first time visitors to show their pride! So wear your American garb if you’re feeling like it! But if you’re trying to blend in and look like a local New Yorker, wear black.
And there you have it, a quick roundup of the 10 ways locals can spot a tourist in New York City.