So here are my tips for visiting NYC.
Double Decker BusesI've never ridden one myself since locals just take the subway, but my mother-in-law enjoys them when she visits. You get to see all the interesting details on the buildings when you ride above ground. Also, you can buy a ticket and hop on and off, so you can take them everywhere.
Unlike the subway and regular buses, they're staffed by people used to dealing with tourists who have no idea where they're going. So giving directions is kind of their thing. Ask a local for directions and we may not be sure because you're trying to go someplace where we've been once in ten years. We'll do our best, then realize we made a mistake 5 minutes later.
If you have a large group, or are intimated by the subway, the double decker buses are the way to go.
The SubwayIt's a lot safer now than it was back in the 70s and 80s. So if you avoid the subway because you fear for your safety, don't. But the map can be hard to figure out and things move more quickly than you're used to. But that applies to all of NYC, which leads me to…
Get Out of the WayNew Yorkers aren't rude. They're just pissed off because you're in the way. Approach walking in NYC like driving. You wouldn't stop your car at the mouth of a highway exit, would you? So don't stop at the top or bottom of stairways or block doors to restaurants while you discuss whether to go in or not. We've got places to be and a little situational awareness will improve your experience.
Top of the RockWhy ride to the top of the Empire State Building when Top of the Rock gives you a view that includes the ESB? With shorter lines. If you only have time to do one, the choice is clear. Besides, a lot of TV is made in that building, which is where you know NYC from. Which leads me to…
The World Trade Center MemorialTo you, 9/11 is something that happened on TV. I'm sure you were very upset by it. To many New Yorkers, it happened in real life, complete with the smell of burning flesh permeating the city, weeks with a smoking pit of wreckage downtown, and franticly tracking down friends and family - not always successfully.
By all means, go to the museum, but be aware that there may be someone grieving standing 5 feet away from you.
ShoppingWhile you're downtown, stop by Century 21 for some designer bargains. I also like Pearl River Mart for cool Asian stuff. Don't miss the basement level where they have loads of housewares. That's also where they keep the paper fans - stock up and you'll be glad come summer. Don't miss Macy's Herald Square. It gets considerably less insane away from the ground floor. Keep riding the escalators up until you hit the old wooden escalators- they're very old New York. Speaking of which…
FoodYou don't get much more Old New York than the '21' Club. The food is great, but pricy. More affordable is P.J. Clarke's. Get the burger. Trust me on this. Pizza in Manhattan can be iffy. Go to a place known for pizza, or head out to Brooklyn. Bagels are more reliable - I like Ess-A-Bagel. If you're seeing a Broadway Show, eat at Virgil's BBQ, Carmine's (Italian food) or Le Rivage (French food). Most of the other theater district restaurants are so-so, though I may be missing some of the good ones. Carmine's is better Italian food than you'll get in Little Italy.
Eat at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co. or the Hard Rock Cafe if you must, but what's the point of traveling if you're going to eat at the Olive Garden in a city that has loads of much better Italian food?
Shake Shack is totally worth the long line. Just don't be one of the assholes who reserves a table before they've even ordered. A table will clear up while your order is being prepared. There's no need to take a table from someone who's food will be ready 20 minutes before yours. Avoid the Theater District location because it's full of tourists who panic when they don't see any free tables and send someone off to grab a table when they're still going to be on line for half an hour. You know better, so avoid those jerks.
Oh, and FYI, they don't serve breakfast at Tiffany's. If you've seen the movie, Audrey Hepburn eats a bagel or some such while looking at Tiffany's windows. That's it. Yet some people think there's a restaurant in the store. So now you know.
Get Out of ManhattanNYC is actually 5 boroughs, so get out of the city and see how the rest of us live. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It's really short. Ride the subway out to Coney Island in the summer - don't bother the rest of the year. Go to Queens for authentic international cuisine from Salvadoran to Indian and Thai. Visit the Bronx Zoo - The Botanic Garden and Belmont (aka Little Italy in the Bronx) are both within walking distance of the zoo. Even Staten Island has a zoo and a Botanic Garden complete with a replica of a Chinese Scholar's Garden.
Pick someplace and go. If you spend your whole visit in places full of tourists (like Times Square), you'll think that New York is crowded, noisy and unlivable. Really, it's just a few spots that are like that. And locals don't go there except to remind themselves why they never go there.