New York is Times Square and 6 other myths busted

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Times Square New York
Definitely snap photos in Times Square, but don't mistake it for New York. Photo: Sri Dhaanush K

Over the past few months, EuroCheapo correspondents have been debunking common myths about Paris (no, not everyone is rude), London (not all polite), Barcelona (not all friendly) and Amsterdam (not all high), so I figured it was time to do a little New York myth-busting too. Like any, well, mythical city, New York is the subject of many an idea that is not necessarily true. Here’s the down-low on some of the common misconceptions about New York City.

1. New York is Times Square

The vibrant lights of Times Square are often the first thing non-New Yorkers think of when they picture the Big Apple, but the busy, iconic area is actually only a tiny microcosm in a city of of riverside promenades, picturesque treelined streets and rustic brick. In fact, although Times Square is indeed a sight to behold, most New Yorkers sidestep it whenever possible—its mascot Elmos and Spidermen, flashing lights, chain restaurants and sky-high billboards feel like a sort of Disneyland surrounded by the “real” city.

So, while you should definitely snap some photos and catch a Broadway show, and while there are even some affordable hotel options in the area, be sure also to get out of Midtown to enjoy the historic Lower East Side or the maze of picturesque streets that is the West Village.

Related: Budget-friendly, non-chain hotels near Times Square

friendly new yorkers

New Yorkers are always ready to offer directions, recommendations, or even hugs. Photo: federicoravassard

2. New Yorkers are mean

There is a general cultural understanding (outside of New York) of New Yorkers as a rough bunch. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When I first moved to New York, visions of irritated tough guys and cutthroat tycoons shouting and pushing and jostling for space in my head, I was amazed every time (and it was often at first) someone stopped me on the street to ask if I needed help finding something. And I very quickly learned that residents of this city are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

It’s true that New Yorkers are often frenzied—a rush-hour subway crush can drive anyone mad—but on the whole New Yorkers are helpful, supportive, and oh-so-open. My theory has always been that because so many of us are transplants from somewhere else, we are extra open to meeting new people, and because we know what it’s like to be new to (or lost) here, we love to give back when we finally know what’s up. Plus, we’re proud of this fabulous mecca in which we live, and we love to show it off—so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation or ask for recommendations. Chances are, you’ll end up with some unexpected sights to see, surprising places to eat or possibly even a new friend.

3. New York is unsafe

Like any big city, New York has its share of unsavory characters, but the crime-rampant, graffiti-laden city of the ’70s and ’80s (and often of Hollywood) is largely cleaned up. Yes, you’ll want to be watchful over your belongings and aware when out at night (as you should always). However, come 2013 results crime levels in New York were at historic lows, and New York was ranked the third safest large city in the United States. To put that in more personal terms, as a female resident of New York, I feel completely comfortable walking around at night, or taking the subway, which tends to be well populated until around 3 AM.

morgan library

Enjoy the great collections at The Morgan and other museums on their free days. Photo: sfbart

4. New York is expensive

True and not true. Real estate in New York famously comes at a premium, and travel here can feel extravagant as well. But that does not mean that it’s impossible to enjoy New York a la Cheapo. In fact, the city can even be frugal-friendly if you’re smart about it. The beauty of restaurants on every block is that many serve up delicious fare sans outrageous prices, and there are all manner of local markets and food stalls that also offer great bargain meals.

Entertainment-wise, many of the city’s famous sights are free, and even those things that can often run up the tab—think museums and Broadway—can be had for a song (or nearly). There are many options for snagging bargain Broadway tickets, and most museums have at least one free or pay-what-you-wish day of the week. As for the city’s famously high hotel rates, that depends on where you stay. There are plenty of affordable (and lovely) options all over the city.

Related: Free tours in New York City

5. All New Yorkers are fashionistas

No, it is not required to dress like you just stepped off the set of Sex and the City. New York is indeed a fashion-lover’s cream puff, but in a city so large, anything goes. You’re just as likely (possibly more so) to see faded tees and Toms as you are to see haute couture ensembles. Like everything else in New York, fashion is often an experience, so you’re also likely to see some pretty outrageous looks. 

manhattan skyline

Believe it or not, the other boroughs are just as interesting as Manhattan (plus, they have views). Photo: Aleks Ivic

6. Everything is in Manhattan

Even those who know that Times Square is not the most accurate representation of New York are often prone to thinking that Manhattan is New York. But spending all of your time in Manhattan means you’re missing out on a number of wonders the rest of the city has to offer.

New York City is actually the name for five distinct boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. And each borough has its own distinct flavor and its own sights to see. Greenery lovers, for example, should venture up to the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx, while Queens is great for cute neighborhoods and great Greek food. And Brooklyn these days is a destination in its own right, with a surge of arts and restaurants and parks that may even give Manhattan a run for its money.

nyc cabs

Walking, biking, and public transit tend to be easier than cabs. Photo: J Blough

7. Everyone takes cabs

Yellow cabs are ubiquitous in Manhattan, but they are far from the best way to get around. For one, they can often be hard to flag down, especially during peak hours, but more importantly every cab journey is only as good as the traffic on your route, so a cab ride can often take longer—and cost far more—than a subway ride would. Plus, all the starting and stopping can often, no joke, leave you feeling a little sick.

My favorite way to get around New York (weather and time permitting) is walking, as it affords so many more experiences and ways to interact with the city. Beyond that, New York public transit is efficient, affordable, and oh-so-easy. The subway can zip you just about anywhere, and buses are a great option as well.

About the author

Suzanne Russo

About the author: Suzanne Russo thinks of herself as equal parts California Girl and New Yorker. She moved from San Francisco to New York four years ago to pursue her MA in English, and her obsession with all things New York life and history hasn’t dwindled yet. She is a freelance writer, director of the San Francisco-sponsored, New York literary pub crawl, Lit Crawl, and constant wanderer.

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