So…You’re a Tourist in New York City

You will need a cast-iron bladder.  Manhattan is devoid of public bathrooms.  You can walk around all day and never find a restroom.  There are none at the subway stations and none in the parks and if you do find a bathroom it will be out of order or locked.  Someone told me there are some bathrooms at Central Park but I visited there twice and never found them.

Rules regarding using the bathroom

Rules regarding using the bathroom

Your best hopes are with Starbucks and McDonalds but the bathroom I went to at Starbucks was out of order and the bathroom at the McDonalds I went to was on an upstairs level and they weren’t allowing anyone to go up the stairs.

I did find a bathroom at a Whole Foods Market.  It was on the upstairs level where they have a dining area.  However, if you want to use the bathroom you have to make a purchase and your receipt will have a series of numbers on it that you punch into a lock on the door and only then will it open for you.  That’s if you have enough patience to endure the lengthy queue of customers clutching their receipts trying not to look desperate.

Department stores are another option.  I found the restroom at Macys; yet again, the queue was so long it was like being at a concert where during the interval, all the females swarm the bathroom.

If you’re at Central Park, you can join the other hundreds of people crossing over Fifth Avenue to find the bathrooms in the Todd English Food Court of the Plaza Hotel.

Todd English Food Court, Plaza Hotel

Todd English Food Court, Plaza Hotel

The locals are very aware of the ‘public bathroom crisis’ and they all have their own personal list of where in Manhattan you can find an unlocked bathroom.

The women of New York appear effortlessly stylish.  They are very noticeable as they walk along with an oversized, overpriced designer handbag supported on one of their shoulders.  My sister told me that in New York you need a big handbag because it’s your boot (trunk).  Commonly they will also be sipping a green juice and have a leash in one hand hand leading to a well-groomed fluffy dog.

Oversized handbag!

Oversized handbag!

If you come from a culture unaccustomed to tipping, the tipping scene in the US can be confusing.  I forgot to tip the man who drove us around Central Park in a horse and cart.  Then I tipped the doorman for hailing us a cab but then sat in the taxi not really sure if he was supposed to be tipped.  When it comes to dining out, I remember years ago the amount to tip was always 10%.  These days it’s a lot more than that, probably because wages haven’t kept up with the rising cost of living.  We were at one restaurant where the check (bill) arrived and written on it were calculations for tipping 18%, 20% or 25%.  I asked others how to work out what’s right and the general consensus is to look at the amount of tax charged (around 8.5%) then double that figure and you’ll have worked out the tip.

I forgot to tip him!

I forgot to tip him!

It’s very easy to get around New York especially if you have a good pair of walking shoes.  Walking is the best way to see and experience New York so wear the right shoes.  Obviously Manhattan is too big for a pair of legs so the best thing to do is to go down into the subways and get a map and purchase a Metro Card.  We paid around $30.00 for a card that gave us unlimited travel for a week.  It’s so affordable.

And it’s safe.  Everyone in New York catches the subway so there are always people riding the trains.

Central Park

Central Park

The subway system can seem overwhelming but don’t be intimidated.  If you can’t work it out, just ask for help.  We found the people of New York were overly-keen to be of assistance.  When we wanted to go to Tom’s Restaurant we asked someone how we would get there from W4 Station.  The man said, ‘You want to take the Blue Line, then you’re gonna take the A, C or E train uptown.  You’re gonna get off at Columbus Circle and take the Red Line.  You want the 1, 2 0r 3 Trains and you’re gonna take them uptown to 116 Street’.  At first this sort of ‘speak’ had our heads spinning but after a few days we were managing the subway quite well.



Everything you want to see or more importantly, everything you want to photograph will be covered in scaffolding.  Clearly New York is a city constantly being rebuilt and so entire building blocks like the Flatiron Building are hidden behind scaffolding.  We had dinner in a restaurant where the owners knew the scaffolding would be covering their building for quite a few months so they hired a landscape architect to cover the metal bars in vines and fairy lights.

More scaffolding

More scaffolding

Scaffolding covered in foliage and lights

Scaffolding covered in foliage and lights

America prides itself on customer service and they do it very well.  All the stores have someone to greet you as you walk in and they will also wish you a nice day as you leave.  There are staff all over the stores to help you and they wear headsets so if they’re helping you in the change room they can radio another sales assistant to bring you garments in a size up or a size down.  You never have to seek out help; help arrives almost before you need it.

And often it goes beyond just help with clothing sizes.  We were in Anthropology and they even had staff serving snacks and drinks in the change room area.

Great service at Anthropology

Great service at Anthropology

We had a great shopping experience in Macys where Arabella was buying some shoes.  She was being served by a very good looking African-American man who was full of rhythm and dancing to the in-store music.  She fell in love with a pair of shoes and told him she just needed to find me (was in the queue for the bathroom!) so I could pay for them.  As he danced around he said, ‘Take all the time you need; nobody’s gonna buy those shoes; I’ve got those shoes; those are your shoes; ain’t nobody gonna buy those shoes’.  When it came time to buy the shoes I didn’t even have to take them to the counter.  Right where I was standing he put my credit card into a mobile device and the transaction was done then and there.  Shopping in New York is great not only for the variety and the prices but also because of the warm and attentive service.

The Plaza

The Plaza

I found the people of New York to be approachable, helpful and friendly.  They’re only too happy to talk to you.  And you can have the funniest conversations.  An African-American lady who was about 60 was serving me in Macys.  She commented on my earrings and told me how lovely they were.  Then she looked at me curiously and asked, ‘Where are you from?’  I told her, ‘Sydney, Australia’.

‘Really?  You’re so elegant I just knew you had to be from somewhere elegant’.

‘Oh, thank you very much’.

‘Do they have kings and queens in your country?’

‘Well actually, yes we do’.

‘Who’s your king?’

‘It’s Queen Elizabeth the Second, actually; we’re part of the British Empire’.

‘Really?  That’s so elegant; I just knew you had to be from somewhere elegant’.  And from then on she treated me like royalty!

The subway

The subway

Another day Arabella and I were down at the subway trying to work out how to get to 42nd Street Station.  I asked a woman if the train that had just arrived was going uptown or downtown.  She told me uptown and so we all got on.  She was a retiree who had migrated many years ago from El Salvador.  She asked, ‘Where are you from?’  And I told her, ‘Sydney, Australia’.

She said, ‘Oh, that’s nice; how lovely.   Is that close to Argentina?’

I said, ‘Well not really.  Argentina’s in South America and we’re quite a long way from South America’.

Flatiron Building - covered in scaffolding at the lower levels

Flatiron Building – covered in scaffolding at the lower levels

And so…if you have good bladder control, an over-sized designer handbag, can remember to tip, own a good pair of walking shoes, are not afraid to try the subway, don’t mind buildings hidden with scaffolding and enjoy talking to the locals, you will have a fabulous time in New York.

Out to dinner with scaffolding

Out to dinner with scaffolding

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  1. Oh Divine!!! I can’t wait to go and see it all for myself… Love, love hearing your stories! Liz x

  2. Great wrap of the city that never sleeps! I don’t remember the public toilets when I was there but I do remember a very friendly woman on the subway recommending a restaurant called Dojos that we loved. I love the scaffolding covered in fairy lights – there is definitely a market out there for making street art of scaffolding – imagine how much tourists would love it. And if I ever get to return to USA Anthropologie is high on my list – love their stuff and that food at the change rooms looks just lovely too. Hope nobody asked you if you spoke English in Australia

  3. I don’t know that I’d be quite as gregarious as you are in chatting to strangers and asking for directions but I’m enjoying hearing about all your adventures.

    The public washroom shortage would be serious though.

  4. I love New York. Felt so safe and everyone was so friendly and helpful. Police wandering or riding along the streets and chatting to everyone. It is such an interesting place and yes the shopping was fantastic and reasonable too. Never had a problem with toilets…..just went at restaurants and many times at Macys without a problem. Maybe time of year…we went late Sept/Oct. I loved the vibe and how there was always something happening at any hour of the day or night. Would go back in a heartbeat if I had the chance!

  5. Suzanne says:

    Bravo! Your writing always takes me with you 🙂

  6. It sounds like you had a fantastic time in NYC, I’m so glad. We always have a great time there. Years ago we were on a tour of Radio a City Music Hall and the animated tour guide said “a true New Yorker will never pass up the opportunity to go to the bathroom.” And now we know why!

  7. Wonderful! I’m so happy you enjoyed the people! When we moved from the west coast to the east coast we were worried about the people because the west coast belief is that everyone in the east is rude. We found this to be so untrue! We enjoyed the east coasters thoroughly! All the different accents were so fun and we found the people to be extremely friendly, chatty, helpful, and much more “real” than west coasters. And you’re right about customer service in the east! Fantastic!

  8. Oh Charlie I chuckled so when I read “The locals are very aware of the ‘public bathroom crisis’ and they all have their own personal list of where in Manhattan you can find an unlocked bathroom” – this reminds me of my sister when she lived in Manhattan! Loved reading this review – brought back a lot of memories of our trips to Central Park and our adventures on the subway! Did y’all go to the Central Park zoo?

  9. Hi Charlie, love your take on traveling around New York, have not been there in years so I do not remember having as much success riding the Metro. Great post.

  10. I so glad you’re enjoying your time in this fabulous city. When I first moved here, I was also taken aback by how eager everyone was to help me find my way. We have a reputation for being rude, but most New Yorkers are pretty friendly.

    I feel your pain when it comes to the public bathrooms. Either you can’t find one, or it’s out of order, or there’s a line, or it’s just too darned disgusting to use.

  11. Sounds like a great trip. I haven’t been in years. Mike and I went for our 5th wedding anniversary. I found NYC to be just as you described it. It was so friendly – much more so than I was expecting. And it’s so alive. It’s definitely a great city.

  12. I do love NYC!! And Anthropologie is one of my most favorite stores. What a great experience. I’m so glad you were treated well.

  13. This is all foreign to me, being from Minnesota. I traveled to New York once more than 30 years ago and took a bus tour with an aunt from neighboring New Jersey.

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

  14. What a great snapshot of NYC. I love anthropologie and the kitchenware section at Macy’s – shopping nirvana. Everyone thought I was Swiss or Austrian while in NYC ; )

  15. I couldn’t have said it better. I suppose they’re worried about crime in the restrooms but it makes no sense. When I moved to Australia I couldn’t believe how easy it was to go pee. 🙂

  16. I’m not sure how I’d go without public bathrooms Charlie, if I had a reaction to gluten I would have to barrel past everyone screaming Medical Emergency!! I wonder how friendly they’d be then 🙂 It is nice to hear a positive take on your experience though, you’re right that we mainly hear the negatives about rudeness. It sounds like you had a lovely time indeed, and I’m sure that lady thought you must have been an ambassador or something 🙂 xox

  17. Wow, that restroom problem sounds terrible!! SO glad it isn’t like that in San Francisco, there are plenty of them around wherever you go 😉

  18. My restroom tip for anyone going to the US is Old Navy stores! Every Old Navy I have been in has restrooms, and I have never had to queue or buy anything to use them.

  19. Please don’t tell me about the questions you received re Down Under!! I am an ardent follower of the Commonwealth [‘friendly’] Games and the current comments in my Inbox . . . let us leave it there!! Actually Japan used to pip the US as far as public restrooms were concerned . . . in my 30+ business trips there I never quite got used to our host saying ‘I am afraid there are no bathroom facilities until you get back’ until I screamed in horror to be let out of the car and the look of the place to which I was directed . . . 🙂 !!

  20. Haha bladders of steel, I have heard from other people about that need in NY! 😛
    Can’t wait to visit one day, your writing takes me away!

    Choc Chip Uru

  21. I would love to visit NYC some day…always sounded like such an exciting place! xo

  22. I’m chuckling at your observations about tipping and other differences in our customs. I notice them often when you are writing. Many of your observations from Sydney are so similar to what I know, but there will often be just a little something that is different. That’s what makes travel fun! You’ve pegged NYC pretty well…I hope you won’t hesitate to come again. 🙂

  23. Scaffolding: the ban of all travelers. It can be so disappointing to make your way to some landmark, only to find it covered with scaffolding. Sounds like the two of you really had a good time in NYC, Charlie. I’m glad that your found the clerks so accommodating. Trust me. It’s not always that way.

  24. What a wonderful experience Charlie. Pity about all the scaffolding though.
    Have a super day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  25. I love your advice and tips, and royal connections 😉 Toilets are always a challenge for me as I seem to need them twice as often as the average person – very frustrating as a tourist! Oddly, I don’t remember having too much trouble in New York, but we were there in the off peak season and so there weren’t queues in department stores, which tended to be my fall back option. I’m actually struggling with London now and am trying to learn all the hidden away options to avoid mid-outing discomfort!

  26. I would love New York Charlie. How wonderful

  27. LOL, geography can get a little tricky! Oh gosh, it’ll be hard for anyone especially with kids without knowing where the restrooms are! Otherwise, everything looks awesome!

    Gourmet Getaways

  28. Oh this made me laugh! 🙂 One of the things I love most about Australia is the availability and cleanliness of public restrooms. 🙂 I do find it hilarious, though, that they don’t seem to have climate control in the loos here. No AC in summer, no heat in winter. I guess they really don’t want us hanging around in there for long. 🙂

  29. Sounds like you had a ball! No toilets though? What about in shopping centres? Or don’t they have those either?

  30. The shopping there is fantastic isn’t it? Not just NY but the rest of the US. They make it so easy and the retail sector here could really learn a few lessons from them!

  31. Haha brilliant post Charlie. Hit the nail on the head!

  32. Ha! I totally agree with this assessment. Although there are a grand total of THREE bathrooms in Central Park that I know of, though they are kind of hard to find unless you know they’re there!

  33. While I’m a little embarrassed by the obvious need for more geography lessons in our schools, I’m glad you felt welcomed and had a good time. You reminded me of our trip to New York a few years ago … you were more brave than I with the subways. As we headed down the stairs to see about a train, all that caught my attention was the smell of urine. I objected and we hailed a cab. Our girls loved browsing the stores, their favorite was Strawberry. What a fun time and great memory to share with your girl. 🙂

  34. So funny! While I don’t recall a bathroom crisis when I visited NYC in 1997, there WAS scaffolding. Love that the locals are getting creative with it. We also used the subways then and overall I found it a pretty easy city to get around in. Glad you’re having fun and your sense of humor is still intact. The bathroom thing would wear thin. 🙂

  35. Hmmmmm think I might give New York a miss…. I don’t have good bladder control, certainly do not own a designer handbag, am scared of tipping in case I don’t tip enough… do have the walking shoes though 🙂

  36. thanks for the tips, im heading there hopefully earlynext yr!

  37. Not sure I could handle the toilet culture. I guess it’s more evidence of the market economy. Perhaps they should charge you to pee, like they do in Europe.

    Other than that it sounds fabulous. I am hanging to get back to NYC.

  38. LOL – I shall have to remember all of these tips for my trip. My only previous trip there was in 1999, and I do remember public bathrooms being an issue. I ate lots of Maccas apple pies so that I could go to the bathroom there.

  39. You gals covered a lot of territory, which looks like it was fun, in spite of there being so few loos. I love it that you took the carriage ride, I haven’t done it in NYC, but always do in Marrakech. I say it if for my guests on each trip, but secretly I enjoy it immensely.

  40. G’day! Perhaps you have uncovered something for a new travel guide Charlie…the bathroom tour guide of New York! lol
    I am glad you are enjoying!
    Cheers! Joanne

  41. Had no idea about the bathroom situation there. Hum – maybe I need to think again about going to NY. 🙂 So glad you found the people nice! I’ve heard both sides, but then I’ve never met a New Yorker that I didn’t like and here in NM we have a New Yorkers that moved here back in the 70s. Sounds like you had a great trip!

  42. As a NYer who has lived abroad for a good chunk of her life (meaning I am pretty objective – and sometimes confused too about certain things) I think you described NY very well. It certainly is a much more friendly city than they always describe it (not to mention customer service, I am always in awe coming from Italy, where sales people etc. are usually not very nice). Re bathrooms, it helps to have little kids in tow, so you can use them as an excuse ;o)

  43. Sometimes it’s just plain embarrassing to be an American.Thanks for the warnings about the bathrooms.I doubt I’ll be going there now, as much as I want to.


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