We all know about the things you have to see in this big city on the US East Coast – the Empire State Building, the sobering memorials of Ground Zero, the shopping mecca of 5th Avenue, and all the rest that comes with it. But what about things to avoid in New York?
Cue this guide. It’s got tips on what you should be certain NOT to have on the itinerary when you get over to the Big Apple this year. It covers a wide range of areas, from simply strolling down the sidewalks to crossing the city from A to B to making sure you make the most of the surrounding state.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty more nuances to watch out for, other areas to avoid, and stacks of extra travel tips to help you enjoy your visit to the full. However, we feel this is a good intro to all the things to avoid in New York as a traveler…
New York City isn’t Ho Chi Minh City. People don’t just step out onto the street and hope that the forever-flow of traffic will glide over them like a river. In fact, jaywalking – as crossing the street is known to the locals in the US – is actually illegal in law for citizens of the Big Apple. Or, as the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law so eloquently and tersely puts it: “Pedestrians are subject to traffic control signals.”
The no-jaywalking rule has actually been a staple of the city since way back in 1958. It’s something that’s been routinely ignored by some and strictly adhered to by others, however a recent crackdown by the NYPD means more and more are now waiting patiently at the stop and walk signs to get across the asphalt.
Getting caught jaywalking will usually end up with a stern warning from an officer. However, police also have the power to issue fines of up to $250 on the spot. We’d say this is something particularly important to avoid in New York City’s more built-up areas, like Manhattan and Brooklyn, where there’s loads cars, taxis, traffic, and people packed into the blocks.
Blocking the sidewalk
“Hey, I’m walking here.” So goes the famous scene from Midnight Cowboy. And it’s true: New Yorkers don’t like things interrupting their getting from A to B. Sidewalks, crossings, plazas, and pavements – they are all no-stop areas. Keep it moving or expect to feel the wrath of a real New Yorker. That’s some wrath!
Standing as a pedestrian on a sidewalk won’t only prove irritating to the folk who live in this city, though. It’s also nigh-on impossible in the main tourist areas of this town, where the bustling thoroughfares of 5th Avenue, Broadway, and Times Square are basically body-packed urban meeting points for millions of folks every day.
And don’t even think about blocking even an inch of the sidewalk with your car or bicycle. That’s where this tip strays into legal territory. Mhmm…There’s actually a rule against clogging up a part of the designated walking zone with your vehicle, to the point where it can cost you a fine of up to $115 if reported.
Forgetting to tip
Here’s one of the things to avoid in New York City that basically applies anywhere in the USA. For those Europeans used to adding 10% to bills, and anyone coming from a country like China or Japan where tipping simply isn’t the norm, you’re going to have to change your way of thinking when you jet into the stars and stripes.
In New York in particular, tipping is a really huge thing. With the high cost of living in the Big Apple compared to other parts of the country, serving staff all but rely on the add-ons they get above and beyond that hourly wage. That’s why it’s customary to add anything in the region of 15-25% on top of the total cost of the bill!
Forgetting to do that will instantly put you on the bad side of the locals, especially if you’ve been given excellent service. In fact, there are even instances when serving staff will be happy to tell you outright that they’re pretty unhappy with the tipping etiquette you’ve brought to the table. Remember that famous New Yorker wrath we mentioned?
Sticking to the city
A lot of people don’t realize that NYC is just the gateway to the whole state of New York. That’s a vast and amazing territory, covering a whopping 54,500 square miles of land that ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. There are oodles and oodles of fantastic things to do if you have the time and readiness for adventure that will pull you away from the hubbub of Manhattan et al.
The Hudson Valley is right there on the doorstep. It’s one of the closest places to the town center for escaping the tooting taxis and whizzing trains. Places like Poughkeepsie have historic bridges, while you also get the great granite climbing domes of Shawangunk Ridge, and the gushing waterfalls of the Minnewaska State Park.
Keep going further north and the so-called Empire State opens up into its wild, mountainous middle. That’s the home of the soaring Catskills, where ski fields combine with floods of fir and spruce forests for a taste of Appalachia. Go further again and you can hit the historic towns of the Finger Lakes, see the winelands of Rochester, or even witness the sheer power of the roaring Niagara Falls.
We know, we know, the classic yellow cab is all but a symbol of New York City. However, here’s something they don’t tell you in the Hollywood flicks: The locals try not to use taxis at all if they can avoid it. Basically, the public transportation system is a cut above anything that you can do in your own four wheels in the thick of the town. Streets get clogged up with traffic faster than you can make a hotdog and it’s not unusual to spend hours stuck on the same block.
On the flip side, the New York City Subway system is something pretty special. It links up all the far corners of the vast metropolis, going all the way from the salty beaches of Long Island to the depths of the gritty Bronx, crossing the sightseeing hubs of Manhattan and Brooklyn as it goes, of course. It’s easy to use. Simply grab yourself a MetroCard, load it with some dollar bills, and scan that every time you enter. Fares are simple: $2.75 per ride, no matter the length.
You will need to use other forms of transport to get to farther flung parts of town but the general point here is that there’s almost always a public transport choice that will trump a taxi. For example, you get the PATH network to go over to New Jersey, or the ferry links to Staten Island.
Brownsville is a wedge of Brooklyn that has one of the most unsavory reputations for violent crime in the whole of the Big Apple. Now, there’s not too much that will pull you down this way from the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan anyhow, but, on the off chance that you get lost while visiting the Brooklyn Zoo or the wave-bashed sands of Coney Island Beach, it’s an important one to remember to avoid…
Brownsville has the dubious distinction of being the “murder capital of New York City”. A whopping three homicides per 10,000 head of population made it officially the worst of anywhere in New York State back in 2010. There were some subsequent improvements, but 2020 was a bumper year for the bad stuff, as the incidence of shootings in Brownsville went up a mega 95% over the course of just half a year.
Let’s reiterate, though: There’s no real big reason why you’d WANT to head to Brownsville as a traveler. The district doesn’t have any big sights or landmarks; it’s not known for its cultural output or culinary flair. The only time you might pass through is on the way to the wildlife refuges of Jamaica Bay and the barrier islands of Long Beach, but even that’s not strictly necessary.
The second of the to-avoid hoods in New York City to make this list of things to avoid in New York more generally is Hunts Point. It’s known for its soaring rates of drug abuse and levels of sexual crime and has even been called NYC’s closest thing to a designated red-light district.
A part of the Bronx, the point sits just to the north of Rikers Island, the home of New York’s biggest jail and prison complex. It’s largely made up of undeveloped blocks of light industry and housing, though you’re likely to notice that many of the local residents don’t have homes at all.
The crime stats that pervade the whole district are nothing short of startling. We’re talking violent crime rates of over 50 per 100k head of population, far higher than the New York average and higher than many of the roughest places in the United States.
Things to avoid in New York – our conclusion
Look, there are a whole load more things to avoid in New York than just the sketchy neighborhoods and jaywalking across the street that we have on this list. But we think this selection is a good start when it comes to finding things to dodge in the Big Apple, particularly if you don’t want to irritate the locals or fall foul of soaring crime rates. It’s also worth saying that none of these things should put you off traveling to this amazing city. So long as you keep your wits about you, this promises to be a destination of wonder, filled with glimmering skyscrapers and the best bagels you’ll ever sample.