Follow the locals to NYC’s best spots to dine, shop, play and stay, writes Kristie Kellahan

New York, New York. A city so nice, they named it twice. With so much to see, do and eat in the city that never sleeps, it pays to skip the tourist traps and head straight for the spots locals love.

Take a bite

There's no shortage of great food in NYC. If you have limited time to eat it all, mix it up between high/low and across different cuisines, price points and neighbourhoods.

For the hottest restaurants, you'll need to book in advance. Start planning a few months ahead by subscribing to the EaterNY and NYC Yelp review sites. On the hot list right now are Manhattan, the downtown fine-dining spot where tipping is not allowed, and Frenchette, a Paris-style bistro. For the true romantics, breakfast (or afternoon tea) at Tiffany's Blue Box Cafe on Fifth Avenue is a must. There's nothing more New York than a classic steakhouse, and there's nowhere more classic than Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn. Book well in advance, bring cash (credit cards are not accepted) and arrive hungry.

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Prix fixe menus can run to hundreds of dollars at New York's finest restaurants, so take this tip from those in the know: Lunchtime is when you'll bag a bargain. Same chef, same kitchen, same white tablecloths, at a fraction of the price. From Porter House at Columbus Circle, to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Nougatine, three-course lunch menus can be savoured for less than $50.

Patrons at Peter Luger's Steak House, at 178 Broadway, Brooklyn. Pic Getty.
Patrons at Peter Luger's Steak House, at 178 Broadway, Brooklyn. Pic Getty.

If your budget is more hot dogs than haute cuisine, follow the food trucks. New Yorkers love these mobile cafes-on-wheels and vote vigorously in the annual Vendy Awards. Serving cupcakes, lobster rolls, fried chicken, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and more, food trucks can be found near all the major tourist destinations. Queues wrap around the block for the lamb and chicken plates from The Halal Guys food truck on the corner of 53rd St and 6th Ave.

Culture fix

World's best museums, galleries and outdoor exhibitions compete with Broadway extravaganzas, jazz greats and stand-up comedy for your attention in NYC.

For the most popular Broadway shows, including Hamilton, it's best to book your ticket before you book your flight. If you're happy to go with the flow and see what's playing that day, digital lottery or standing-room-only tickets can deliver great savings. Check out the Playbill website for latest listings.

After you've visited the must-see museums — the Met, the MoMA and the Whitney — explore some of the city's other gems. The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side recreates the living conditions of past residents from different eras in an authentic tenement apartment building. Timed-entry tickets should be booked in advance. Museum of the City of New York goes deeper into the city's history and psyche with on-point exhibitions and discussions. At Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, blockbuster exhibitions in the past have covered a re-creation of the Mad Men sets and an in-depth look inside the world of The Muppets.

Have a laugh at one of the city's leading comedy clubs, including the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Caroline's Comedy Club and Gotham. Famous funny faces — Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Amy Schumer — have been known to stop by for an impromptu set or to try out new material.

Shopping is a sport, so play hard

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True New Yorkers avoid paying retail prices, making the most of outlet shopping and end-of-season sales. Be sure to stop by Century 21 and TJ Maxx stores for drastic designer markdowns, though be ready to wade through overstuffed racks. Serious shoppers should consider a day trip to Woodbury Common, an outlet mall about an hour north of Manhattan where the brand-name bargains are unbeatable. In May, a new outlet mall is opening on Staten Island. Even better, time your visit to coincide with Black Friday in November, the day after Thanksgiving, when the best sales of the year are found city-wide.

For unique NYC souvenirs, ditch the fake NY Yankees caps and cheap T-shirts. Instead, consider the gift stores of museums, where you'll find lovely and original mementos of the city, including jewellery, subway-themed toys and books. Well worth a look are the stores at Tenement Museum, MoMA Design Store, Museum of the City of New York and The Met on Fifth Ave.

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is a must. It doesn't cost a cent, leaving you with greenbacks in your pocket to spend on unique finds in the borough that is home to the Brooklyn Flea market and vintage stores along Bedford Ave.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC.

Borough deeper

Speaking of Brooklyn, true New Yorkers know the best of the city goes beyond the famous island of Manhattan. NYC is made up of five boroughs, so use the subway and ferry service to get out and about to see the best of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Sports nuts will find much to cheer about in the Bronx, a straight shot on the subway to the north of Manhattan. Yankee Stadium, home of the famous Yankees baseball team, proudly waves the Bronx flag, and is a great place to watch the popular American ball game with a beer in one hand and a foot-long hotdog in the other. While you're up there, check out the New York Botanical Garden, pay a visit to the Bronx Zoo or join a thrilling tour of the birthplace of hip-hop music.

Queens has been called the most diverse of all the boroughs, and the flavours of the world are well-represented in neighbourhoods including Astoria (delicious Greek food), Jackson Heights (Colombian empanadas) and Flushing's thriving Chinatown. The 7 subway train now runs from Hudson Yards in Manhattan, all the way to Flushing. Hop aboard what's been nicknamed the International Express and taste your way around. If a guided food tour appeals, check out Culinary Backstreets' deep dive into Queens culinary culture.

The way to the hipster heart of Brooklyn might also be through its stomach. At Smorgasburg, held every weekend, more than 100 vendors bring their gastronomic greatness to the table for a feast that has been described as the Woodstock of eating.

A free ride on the Staten Island Ferry might fall into tourist territory, but it's still well worth it for the best views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan. Don't stay on the ferry and immediately return to Manhattan. Visitors to Staten Island enjoy the serenity of Chinese Scholar's Garden and Fort Wadsworth, with its historic ties to the Revolutionary War. Then, pizza. Locals will tell you the best pizza in all of NYC can be found at Staten Island staple, Denino's Pizzeria. Whatever you do, don't use a knife and fork.

●To plan your NYC holiday, see nycgo.com.