New York City to me is claustrophobically narrow sidewalks and tall buildings, the sensory overload of hundreds of people and honking taxis, and the chaos of crowds and not quite knowing if I was going to end up where I wanted to be.
As I expected, New York isn’t exactly a haven for introverts. I was there in October with my husband and seven of our friends for a trip to celebrate our 40th birthdays, and I went with an open mind while secretly not really expecting to like it. And I didn’t. Or not really anyway, at least in the sense that it’s not on my list of places to go back to anytime soon.
As someone firmly committed to the introvert side of my personality, New York was a little much. I had a panic attack in the Museum of Natural History when I couldn’t easily find an exit, and I very nearly knocked people over in an attempt to get out of a crowd of people converging on a very small sidewalk outside the theatre after a Broadway show.
But traveling to a place you don’t really like doesn’t mean the trip has to be horrible. My trip wasn’t (despite a Saturday-night trip to the emergency room of Mount Sinai hospital, which, it must be said, was actually better than pretty much any ER experience I’ve had in Canada). In many ways, being in New York was also an opportunity for adventure, a low-expectation trip and the freedom to be anonymous.
Going solo in New York City
For me, the secret to spending time in a city I wasn’t in love with was largely doing my own thing. (Yes, even on a trip with my husband and seven of our friends.) I’m not a big fan of museums and wasn’t especially keen on spending the evening in a crowded bar, so after my aborted trip to the natural history museum I did neither of those things. What I did instead was visit the places I wanted to see. I enjoyed the ones that worked for me and abandoned the ones that didn’t.
For you fellow introverts looking for suggestions, here are some of mine.
Visit Top of the Rock
The observation deck at Rockefeller Centre has a better view than the Empire State Building, partly because you can see the Empire State Building from there and partly because its location offers a great view of Central Park (see the photo at the top of the post). I’ve always loved hitting the high up sightseeing spots, wherever I am. Even if I have to travel 90 floors up in an elevator full of people, the views never get old and the feeling of being above the bustle of the city is amazing.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
I walked along the span with three friends late one afternoon just before the sun started to set. It’s a gorgeous structure, especially at that time of day, and the views of the city are well worth the trek.
Walk the High Line
This, to me, was even better than Central Park for feeling like I wasn’t in the middle of a huge city. On the West Side, the High Line is a park built on a freight rail line up above the streets. The best way to visit is to start at one end and walk to the other, catching the art installations along the way and peeking in the windows of the buildings along the path.
Visit Winnie the Pooh and Friends at the New York Public Library
This was a delightful surprise to me because, despite being a huge Pooh fan, I didn’t know the original stuffed animals were in the children’s section of the library (not to mention that libraries are pretty much an introvert’s heaven).
Take the subway
Sure, New York is famous for its cabs. Having taken one from the airport to our hotel, and again a couple of other times, it’s definitely an experience and probably not one you should miss. But as a rule this introvert hates cabs, so I was perfectly happy to jump on the subway. We all had 7-day unlimited passes (which, at $30, are worth it) and I made my way all over Manhattan (and beyond), even on my own. The art in the subway stations is a nice touch, and the system is pretty easy to figure out. (Only once did I end accidentally end up in Brooklyn.)
Take a harbour cruise
We did this on our first day, and I liked the opportunity to get an overview of the city and see some of the highlights from the water. The views of the Statue of Liberty are great as well.
Head out to the Statue of Liberty
Speaking of the statue, I enjoyed my visit to Liberty Island. Again, lots of people go out there and you have to brave the crowds on the boat, but once I got there I loved the environment. I got a drink and sat on the walkway in front of the statue and looked out across the water. It felt…iconic. Is that a feeling? It is now. And the view of the Manhattan skyline from the boat is perfect.
See, introverts? It can be done. As you make your way around the city, just follow your inner wanderlust and be prepared for a bit of an adventure. And when you’ve had enough, head back to your hotel for a quiet evening. US Netflix is pretty good, after all.