Ihave been fortunate to have traveled to New York may times over the last couple of years, so I’ve put together a PaperCity guide which covers all the basics of the city, along with where to shoot while you’re there. Disclaimer: This is not going to be one of those touristy “10 things you must do in NYC!” posts, so if you’re expecting places like Central Park or the Empire State to have made the cut then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
New York is an immensely overwhelming city, I honestly don’t think that I’ve even really experienced a fraction of what it has to offer. The one thing that I noticed, even during my first trip way back in 2012 was the energy, and how that energy changed from one borough to the next. It really is something that you ought to experience, which is what brings me to my first point.
Walk, walk until your feet hurt, it’s the only way to see a city, and especially New York City. (So it goes without saying that you should pack super comfy sneakers.)
PaperCity Guide: General Tips
Firstly, before you do anything get yourself a local Sim card, I always opt for T-Mobile, the pre-paid month to month plan comes with unlimited data, calls etc for more or less $35-50 odd US depending on which plan you decide to take! Next up – cabs, avoid them if you can (except to get from the airport to your accommodation, I just prefer the drive vs struggling with your bags on the metro, I over pack…) anyway, cabs for day-to-day use adds up and that money is better spent on say, food.
The metro is great for getting around if you’re pressed for time or if you have a really long distance to cover, (get the weekly metro card! It cover’s unlimited metro train rides and bus trips) but if you only need to go a mile or 5 and you aren’t in any sort of rush, then walk. The city is incredibly walkable, and you’ll spot things that you never would have seen if you kept taking the MTR / cabs everywhere. (Plus you can walk off all that food you can now afford to eat since you are saving on cab costs ;))
General Getting Around Etiquette:
- Sidewalk rule: Walking and not sure where to go, want to check your phone? Please don’t just hit the breaks and stop in the middle of the sidewalk, rather make your way to the side of a building away from the flow of commuters and then check your phone and fiddle in your bag.
- Escalator etiquette: When taking an escalator STAND on the RIGHT. WALK on the LEFT. If you stand on the left side you block the way for commuters and people will get annoyed, and they will more than likely think you’re rude 🤷♀️.
- Use Google maps to get around – it even has the MTR stops and details on there, as well as an option Uber with a fare breakdown. For first time traveler’s (especially if like me you’re from a city where the MTR / tube isn’t a thing), don’t stress and panic! It can be confusing at first, but if you aren’t sure about where to go just ask someone. New Yorkers are surprisingly friendly and polite people, despite what you may assume. I’ve had the best random convo’s with friendly New Yorkers on the trains.
- If you’re traveling to New York in the winter pack a good warm jacket, preferably something padded with a hood. The good one’s are a bit more expensive, but it will really save your life (you don’t need Canada Goose or anything that mentally expensive – if you’re from a place where it doesn’t snow it’ll be a complete waste of money as you’ll never be able to wear it). NB: Get some comfy gloves! Shooting in gloves do take some getting used to, but it’ll pro-long your time on the streets – painfully cold hands will make you feel miserable and it’ll likely send you home faster than you’d think.
Get a yourself a backpack (I’m looking at you, ladies). Unless you have a bank account deep enough for a hefty massage bill at the end of your trip do yourself a favour, and chuck your things into a backpack. It’s fine to sling a shoulder bag to dinner and yes that MK bag you just got at Bloomingdales on travellers discount (THIS IS A THING) is amazing (I’m talking about myself here as I learnt this the hard way), but if you’re planning on doing a day mission and walking a lot you’ll find yourself switching your bag from one shoulder to the other every 15min. It gets seriously uncomfortable especially if you’re like me and you’ve packed your laptop to do some work or editing while getting off the streets for a breather. Being from South Africa I was pretty anti backpacks since it’s a pickpocket’s dream, but NYC is relatively safe and you should be okay. Probably.
For some very bizarre reason it’s somewhat more expensive when the barista makes you a flat white. VS ordering a Caffè Americano and hopping over to the sugar station and adding your own milk. So if you’re on a budget, but you can’t forego your daily coffee just do that. This way you get to have a coffee AND a street vendor bagel for the same price as a flat white. YUP. You’re welcome :p. If you do want a damn good coffee keep reading – I’ve listed my top coffee shops picks for you!
Eating Your Way Through the City:
There’s PLENTY to go around, from bagels to pizza slices, to ramen and meals that would bankrupt most – this city has just about everything. Check on Yelp if you’re at a loss for a place to eat. I also end up going on Instagram and geo-searching an area to see what pop’s up. If you’re staying in an AirBnb and you’re able to make food it will save you some cash, but sometimes buying fresh produce is pretty expensive so you should weigh up your options. On that note: Here’s a pick of some of my favourite spots!
Okay, so if you’re from South Africa (or most other countries) you would likely be able to do brunch any day of the week. Not in NYC though! Brunch is an exclusive weekend feast. So plan around your brunch – most places will have a special menu and it’s worth it.
- Anellas (Greenpoint) The Chicken Biscuit will blow your mind)
- Juliette (they have a BEAUTIFUL courtyard with overgrown plants etc its stunning for brunch on a sunny day)
- Five Leaves (Greenpoint)
- Esme (Greenpoint)
Yes these are mostly in Greenpoint, I know, but it’s usually where I stay. If you have any other brunch spots that are musts in other areas of the city as I’m sure there are hundreds let me know!
New York is a city filled with coffee, but surprisingly enough most of my go-to coffee spots belong to Australians or New Zealanders. In a city that has so many amazing places to grab a great cup I’d avoid Starbucks, I know it’s iconic but I’m personally not a fan (The Starbucks coffee is good for keeping your hands warm but that’s about it).
- Birch Coffee (I bumped into Sagmeister at the Chelsea Birch once – I had a moment)
- Black Brick Coffee – they are cash only (Brooklyn)
- Toby’s Estate Coffee (Chelsea)
- Happy Bones (SoHo)
- Sweatleaf Coffee (They have a bunch of spots – both their Greenpoint shop and Jackson Ave make a really good cup)
Great Dinner Spots
Like everything else there are so many options, I usually head over to Yelp and then see what’s in my budget and then take it from there, dinner can get pretty steep very quickly. I usually end up eating a mostly vegetarian diet since things like steak will set you back a lot of cash.
- Samurai Mama (AMAZING Japanese)
- The Smile (I always go the one on Bond Street – its great for lunch and dinner)
- Ivan Ramen (there’s a feature on him in one of the season of Chef’s Table if you watch that!)
- MökBar (Korean Ramen in Chelsea Market)
- Pearl Oyster bar (if you like seafood – Its really awesome, great vibe, upmarket but not uptight!)
- Roberta’s makes killer Pizza (its super rustic down to earth nothing fancy but oh man!
- Bassanova Ramen (Chinatown) They have some really incredible combo’s and various ramen dishes that are super unique
Happy Hour specials will become your best friend. Drinks in NYC do not come cheap – so hunt those deals down. There’s a ‘local’ bar in every borough, so suss out the area where you’re staying. There are so many killer bars around – it’s difficult to list them, so here are some of the interesting ones
The Most Amazing Food Store
So amazing in fact, that this section is just for them: SOS Chefs. This place is my heaven. Actually, if heaven had a heaven this would be it, SOS Chef is this hole in the wall produce store that offers up the most incredible ingredients that you can imagine. They thrive on bringing the best of what is available from the bounty of the world. I went there looking for dried porcini (which FYI was the best porcini that I have EVER had – and I don’t say that lightly) Long story short I ended up leaving an hour later than I thought I would, at that point I have sampled and tasted various fresh ingredients, smelled the aroma’s of so many spices and herbs, and I spent a small fortune more than I though I would, but every single cent was worth it. If you are passionate about food, and cooking do yourself a favour and go here. Even just to take a quick look. It’s a culinary inspiration.
That about covers the basics, now to dive into where to shoot!
I do this whenever I travel to a new city – Search Geolocations on Instagram. This one of the best ways to get a sense of an area before you go there, especially from the point of view of other photographers. I usually do this before I leave for a trip, and then I’ll flag certain spots that I want to go to before I get there. This will help you plan a lot especially if you’ll only be in the city for a couple of days and don’t have the luxury of time to stumble about until you find what you’re looking for.
Where To Shoot
This depends on the mood that you’re in, and how much time you have to shoot. I initially wanted to dedicate an entire post on this, detailing the routes that I usually take when I shoot, but half of the fun of street photography is haphazardly discovering places and spots that you fall in-love with. So I decided that instead of doing a very detailed guide I’ll briefly point towards my fav spots, each are unique to themselves and offer up totally different shooting experiences. So here they are:
I have a thing for photographing steam and people in suits (I find the combo extremely timeless). So it goes without saying that I love shooting in the financial district. Needless to say that for steam it’s best to go shooting when it’s cold out, take a walk around until you find a good spot. I mentioned slowing down in my Street Photography Guide, and that applies here – lurk where you find a good steam vent and wait for the shot. Trust me, it will be worth it. The classic Delmonico’s shot is in the area too (it’s on Beaver Street, side note: they make a really good steak. See my shot below which, is not of a steak, but of the building). Another of my fav spots here is shooting from the corner of plaza next to the Chase bank (corner of William St. and Liberty St.) It was covered in scaffolding last year so you’ll have to wait until that has been taken down.
Oh man it’s tough to pin point my fav spots / key spots here as there are too many! Doyers St is a no brainer if you haven’t shot here before (it’s the little bendy road, or as some would call it – the angry barber street) you’ve likely seen tons of instagram shots of this road.
I also LOVE going to Columbus Park to watch games of Xiangqi being played. The atmosphere is usually pretty intense, but there’s something really beautiful to it, they play even when it’s raining which is when I love to go.
It’s also totally worth walking up onto the Manhattan bridge for some epic shots of the streets below. Hold onto your things though, the rattle of the bridge as trucks drive by is a tad alarming and it takes some getting used to. Other than that I’d recommend to simple wind your way through Chinatown. Also – come hungry because you are bound to want to feast.
Midtown is prime for capturing the busy hustle of the city. The crowds are made up of a mix of tourist and locals so it makes for great diversity. I usually end up taking a day and winding through the streets, up one, down the other.
Just be prepared to put in a lot of miles on your feet if you do it this way, but it’s really great if you’re in the mood for a lot people and a lot of walking.
There are a million other incredible spots in New York – far too many for this post. But if you guys are interested I’ll do more detailed posts on collective areas both in Manhattan as well as on the Brooklyn side of life. If you have any questions, pop them into the comment section below and I’ll answer what I can! This won’t be last of my PaperCity guide series, so keep an eye out for more to come.
All Images Copyright© Michelle Viljoen 2018