6. GET LOST!
Hopefully I'll be the only New Yorker to say that to you.
This advice is obviously not for everyone, especially control freaks with no sense of adventure at all. It happens to mesh well with my personality and also the type of journeys I like to have when traveling. Some of my most valuable experiences in other cities have been getting lost in them. Luckily, I have a relatively good sense of direction and never found myself wandering around dangerous neighborhoods until the early morning hours. In the meantime, I always felt as if i were seeing the "real" place, where people really live and work, the places that aren't all shiny and sanitized to impress tourists.
Keep in mind that when I say to get lost, I mean on foot. By no means should you try getting lost on the subway system. That's a great way to find yourself somewhere that you really do not want to be, for any number of reasons in addition to your safety.
There are a couple of reasons why it's particularly good advice for a visit to New York City. Firstly, there really are no areas left on the island of Manhattan (or extremely few, out-of-the-way ones) that are truly dangerous during the daylight hours. So as long as you find your way before sundown and don't cross any bodies of water, you're pretty much okay. Leaving Manhattan would be extremely difficult to do by accident on foot; you'd be pretty likely to notice if you were on a bridge. Unlike cities that sprawl or blend right into their surrounding suburbs, here everything is neatly contained on an island. If you seem to be headed into a neighborhood that doesn't appeal to you, it's also easy enough to just turn around.
The other thing is that Manhattan is quite dense and compact. No matter how lost you were to get, even if cloudy skies prevented referencing the position of the sun, you really cannot walk for more than about fifteen minutes in any direction without smacking right into a major avenue or something easily recognizable on a map. If it does manage to get late or you're tired, you can't stand on a major avenue for more than five minutes before a taxi will come along.
As I'll discuss more later, the most interesting things to be found in the city are furthest from the major subway hubs and landmarks. Around subway hubs are large chain stores, daily-life sort of things like grocery stores, dry cleaners, and banks for the most part. Around landmarks are the most generic tourist-oriented businesses. To find the really cool, unusual stuff, you have to wander away from these areas.
If I had to choose one neighborhood to suggest getting lost, I'd have to say Greenwich Village going west. It's remarkably easy to get lost there. Even I can, if I'm not paying attention. The streets are sort of gridded, but they seem to go in all different directions. But it's also a vibrant neighborhood, charming and older and very safe. It has awesome tree-lined cobblestone streets and beautiful little red brick row houses, including a couple of the only free-standing houses left in the city (that is to say, with no party walls). Some parts are rather industrial, some residential, and you can stumble onto streets lined with little shops. Most corners have a nice bistro, cafe, or friendly neighborhood bar so you're never too far from refreshments. I don't really recommend being there on Saturday night, mostly because I think the crowd gets really tacky, but someone from out of town might find its energy fun.
©2012, Ryan Witte
7. Sightsee by Neighborhood