The 7 best ways to get to know NYC

By Rosheda Stephenson Published 23/01/2023

You don’t move to New York City to stay locked inside. You want to have actual adventures and stories to go along with those Instagram photos you’ll undoubtedly be taking. And even if you’ve temporarily moved into one of our NYC coliving spaces and plan on leaving after a few months, you want to be able to tell your grandkids (or maybe just your friends back home) about all your adventures in the city that never sleeps.

Whether you’ve moved to New York City permanently or are here on a long visit, you’ll want to get to know the place you plan on calling home for the foreseeable future. To help, we’ve written you the ultimate blueprint for getting to know NYC. And we didn’t focus on the city’s geography alone. We delved into the heart of the city to show you how a newcomer can get to know the real NYC in 7 easy steps. 

  1. Start with small community museums
  2. Enjoy a walking tour
  3. Explore the city by subway
  4. Attend cultural events
  5. Understand the sports culture
  6. Explore the art world
  7. Take the ferry to Staten Island & Roosevelt Island

Step 1: Start with small community museums 

With all its modernity, New York City is quite historic. If you truly want to get to know the city, the first step is getting to know the history of the different boroughs and communities, and how they’ve evolved into the neighborhoods they are today. 

The best way to do this is at the museums dedicated to preserving the history of the various parts of the city. These museums are mostly smaller, niche ones, dedicated to particular neighborhoods. Dedicate a weekend or two each month to exploring these historic museums.

But before you do, check out the larger New York Historical Museum and the Museum of The City of New York for a big-picture view of how NYC came to be what it is today. Once you get a feel for what NYC is all about, here’s a list of a few small neighborhood museums to start with.

Best Museums to Get to Know NYC’s Neighborhoods

 After you’ve acquainted yourself with the various neighborhoods around the city, you’re ready for step 2!

Step 2: Enjoy a walking tour

Like all things in life, it will take some doing to acquire concrete knowledge of New York. You don’t study medicine or coding in a university and all of a sudden qualify as a doctor or a software engineer. Similarly, if you want to know New York City, you’ll want to start visiting and exploring all the places you’ve read about in.

The best way to do this as a newcomer is to take a walking tour. Walking tours introduce you to the geography and history of the places you saw in the museum in real time. While these tours are a great way to begin to know New York City, to truly dive into NYC’s unique culture, you will need to go off the beaten path and explore on your own. But first, let’s look at how you go about finding tours.

Say you’ve moved into our Harlem coliving space and wanted to learn about Harlem. You would take one of these tours. Or, if you wanted to learn about the Lower East Side neighborhood, you would visit the lesser-known Tenement museum and then check out this tour. You can discover other tours on your own, through a museum, or find a walking guide from a variety of websites, after you decide which areas of New York City you want to explore.

Step 3: Explore the city by subway

If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2, you are now well on your way to getting to know the real New York. But to get the kind of experience that will stay with you for a lifetime and make New York City more than an abstract idea, you will need to get into its heart. And you can only do this by understanding the city’s major mode of transportation and using it to go where tourists never get to go.

Arm yourself with a map or your phone’s GPS and use the city’s excellent train network (the subway) to help you reach the places you saw on the walking tour and now want to explore further. Using the subway is a lesson in itself so make sure you figure out how it works. Get lost if you need to. Pass your stop if while on the train you happen upon a particularly interesting performer or a whole group of musicians playing music for tips!

Remember, the subway system is part of your NYC education. Learning how to use it will be just as important as getting to know the places you intend to explore.

After your subway adventures, get off at your stop and start walking around the neighborhood you’re exploring for the day. Go early so you can wander into any interesting sights you may see. Wander into public parks to see how New York families spend a morning. Stop at the barbershops, the laundromats, and the tiny artsy places to truly see New York creativity at work. If you’re in a more touristy area, explore the main streets with everybody else to see the popular sights. But after you’re done, get off the main street and find the back roads to get an authentic feel of New York. 

When it is lunchtime, stop at a corner shop (sometimes called a bodega), a bagel shop, or whatever ethnic eatery or food truck you see in the neighborhood, to get an authentic taste of New York.

You will now be touching the heart of New York. But with all its diversity you may feel like an outsider if you don’t take the time to learn about the culture. Step 4 will help with that!

Step 4:  Attend cultural events

Because New York is a huge melting pot of cultures, to truly understand the city you’ll want to have a basic understanding of the various peoples and ethnic pockets that call the city home. The cultural events always happening is a great way to do this. 

Seek out events like the colorful West Indian Day Parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn where all things Caribbean culture are celebrated, the Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown, and the historic St. Patrick’s Day Parade. There are dozens more but these are the major ones. You may even make a new friend while attending the festivities!

 After understanding the multiplicity of culture in New York, you will want to hone in on those things that are common to all New Yorkers–the quintessential New York things that will never change.

Step 5: Understand New York sports culture

If you plan on living in NYC for any extended period of time, sooner or later you will bump into whole crowds of friends going to sports events or people wanting to talk to you about sports. So that you start to speak and think like New Yorkers you’ll want to know sports culture. 

Basically, you need to know that New Yorkers love baseball, football, and basketball. For basketball, there are the New York Knicks. For football, there are the Giants, the Jets, and the Bills. For baseball, you’re either a Yankee or a Met fan. And the two don’t mix! 

Sporting events are kept at any of a dozen stadiums scattered around the city. The most popular are Madison Square Gardens in Manhattan, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Step 6: Explore the art world

You’ll also need to know something about art as New York City and art go hand in hand. You don’t want to get invited to the opening of a gallery and be lost when everyone is discussing whether a particular Cezanne piece should be considered impressionist or cubist. 

Wander through NYC’s major art museums to get a feel for the art world. And try exploring the galleries in Chelsea and The Lower East Side to prepare yourself for that inevitable day you have to go to an event in one of them!

Step 7: Take the ferry to Staten Island and Roosevelt Island

If you followed steps 1-6, you would have covered everything you need to know New York City well, but there are two last places you must go to become a real New Yorker: Staten Island and Roosevelt Island. These destinations are a bit tricker to get to and may not be as popular as Manhattan and Brooklyn but they are part of the city and you can’t say you truly know New York City until you’ve covered them!

There is no place like New York City so if you plan on moving here, getting to know the city is a no-brainer. If you’re searching for the perfect coliving space to call home, check out the spaces at Cohabs New York for a diverse and one-of-a-kind community. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a new friend who’s just as eager to explore NYC with you.

About the author Rosheda's fingers are always stuck to a laptop. Travel, legal issues surrounding travel, and real estate are her current specialties.