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Skipping the Statue of Liberty: A Savvy Tourist's Guide to the Real New York City

September 17, 2015

Metropolitan Museum (Photo: Getty Images)

Headed to New York this summer? Whether it’s your first visit or your 21st, you’ll get a real feel for the Big Apple if you skip the typical tourist traps. Find the best rare bookstores, get up close and personal with the Metropolitan Museum of Art – you can even hip-hop your way through the Bronx with a music legend.  Don’t know where to start?  Try these suggestions.

The Better Book Getter

Book Hunting (Photo: Getty Images)

Love bookstores?  Richard Chalfin, a fourth-generation bookseller, knows all the best spots to find rare and used books to add to your collection.  He’ll give you a personal tour of the top holes-in-the-wall, plus offer advice about what to buy and tell you about the history of New York book selling. To book (pun intended), email Chalfin a few weeks ahead of time and tell him your favorite literary genre. Once you’re pounding the streets with him, ask for his advice about where to shop and what to buy.  Cost: $75 per book loving participant.

Related: Do Brooklyn Like a Real New Yorker: By Bike

Grandmaster Caz and Hip-Hop Tour

Hip Hop Tour (Photo: HushTour.com)

Break out of your Manhattan comfort zone and join rap legend Grandmaster Caz and other celebrity guides on a luxury coach from midtown to the Bronx. You’ll learn about how and where hip-hop began all while listening to live music. The tour will show you music video locations, the Graffiti Wall of Fame, and more – plus you can score autographs from your celebrity guides. The Birthplace of Hip-Hop Tour lasts four hours and costs $75/person, including transportation and entertainment. 

E.T.C. Custom Events

You know how sometimes a pre-scheduled tour just doesn’t include everything on your bucket list?  Design your own, or customize one of E.T.C.’s current offerings to suit your group or family.  If you love the World’s Fair, or Alice in Wonderland, or baseball, owner Evan Levy will put together the perfect outing, showcasing the finest of New York in the process. Tours can last an hour or more, depending on where you go and what you do. Contact Levy at least a month in advance to give her time to customize your experience.  Cost:  Begins at $50/person, varies according to tour booked.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

Audra McDonald (Photo: Getty Images)

Even the seating at this one-woman Broadway show contributes to the 1950s jazz club vibe.  If you spring for one of the café tables in the front, you’ll be within feet of legend Audra McDonald, who portrays Billie Holiday with such a bittersweet vibe that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself tearing up at her amazing performance.  Add in champagne and some audience interaction with “Lady Day,” and you’ve got a New York evening all your friends will envy.

Related: Ruth Reichl’s Perfect Snacking Tour of New York’s Lower East Side

Walks of New York

Some of the city’s shining stars are its museums, and every visit offers something new.  But if you want more than the surface treatment you’ll get from the audio or public group tours, contact Jason, a co-owner of this new-to-the-scene tour company. He’ll walk you through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, and in three hours you’ll feel like you’ve earned an advanced degree in art appreciation – plus seen the very best works in the collection. Book online at the company’s website; tours of the Met start at $49/person.

Tryp Hotel by Wyndham

Tryp Hotel (Photo: TrypHotels.com)

Part of the quintessential NYC experience is loft living.  Reproduce it with a few nights at this boutique hotel right near Times Square; the hardwood floors, big windows, and studio-like spaces are quirky and fun.  Add in the fact that the rooms are twice as big as any New York apartment (without a price hike), and you’ll be loving your temporary Big Apple home. 

Related: Cheat Sheet: New York

Scott’s Pizza Tours

Pizza Tour (Photo: scottspizzatours.com)

Ask 10 New York natives where to get the best pizza slice in the city, and you’ll get 10 different answers.  To be sure you’re munching down on the yummiest slice, sign up for a three-hour pizza tour; Just pick a neighborhood or borough, and Scott will walk you from pizza joint to pizza joint. You’ll get the history of pie making while you indulge in your cheesy slice. Book online; tours (including pizza slices at three shops) start at $38/person.

 Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Photo: BeautifulOnBroadway.com)

Phantom and Les Miserables are fabulous, no doubt, but if you’re a seasoned Broadway theater-goer, you might be looking for new options.  This biographical musical tells the story of Carole King’s early years; relative newcomer Jessie Mueller (as Carole) beat out established stars for this year’s Tony.  Be prepared to hum your way out of the theater.

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