Five Tips for the Solo Traveler

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Coffee: The solo traveler’s best friend.

I was sitting in a restaurant one evening in Paris—the dining room was snug, with tables packed in to fit as many people as possible. I was alone, jotting down details of my day in my journal and slowly sipping a glass of red wine. In the time it took me to go through my meal, I conversed briefly with three couples who came and went from the tables to either side of me. And with each conversation, there was one comment that all three made about my travels.

“You are traveling by yourself? How brave!”

Traveling by yourself isn’t that scary though, especially when in a big city. To me, solo travel offers me a chance to unwind and catch up on thing I love, all on my own time. Paris was a place that was high on my list, and to be able to experience it in a way that was perfectly catered to me, it made my experience that much more memorable.

Of course, there are times that traveling alone gets tough—eating on your own can get lonely, but you can also push yourself to be more outgoing (something I often struggle to do in my day to day routine) and make friends with other travelers. Solo travel gives you a chance to make an experience that is all your own, but it helps to have a few tips before you head out there.

1. Take Some Extra Time to Plan

When traveling alone, especially as a woman, I find it gives my family some peace of mind if I put together an itinerary so they know where I will be on my travels. This means including any hotel addresses and phone numbers, tour company information (if you plan to do a tour), and any train/plane information as you move from one place to another. Beyond that, when traveling solo you have a chance to see and do exactly what you want so researching your destination ahead of time and making plans makes the anticipation that much more fun.

2. Learn to Read a Map

I still travel like it’s 2008 (pre-iPhone, reliant on paper maps and the occasional Internet café). Technology has definitely made traveling easier, especially since now you can buy temporary international plans to use maps, text, post to Instagram, etc., and WiFi access in most hotels makes it easier to keep in touch with friends and family at home, but I still find it so appealing to switch my phone to airplane mode and use a paper map and guidebook to travel around a new city. This does require a moment of letting go—once you switch that phone over to ‘might as well be dead’ mode, you have to rely on your skills to navigate the old-fashioned way. Same goes if your phone dies while out for the day—it’s important to always know where you are, so learn the basics.

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Solo trips take you places you never expected. I fell in love with Bayeux on my last trip to France. 

3. Make New Friends

You’re traveling solo, but you don’t have to be alone. For younger travelers, hostels are a great way to make new friends and meet fellow solo travelers. Taking a day tour is another great way to interact with people. For me, in my day to day life I tend to be more introverted, but when traveling alone I have to force myself to be more social. Surprisingly, that little push has led to some lifelong friendships, and it makes my travel experiences so rewarding.

4. Reach Out to Old Friends

Even if you haven’t spoken in years, when traveling to a city where you know someone, take the moment to reach out. I guarantee 95 percent of the time they will be thrilled to meet up. Whether they live there, or in some cases, happen to be traveling there at the same time as you, it gives you a chance to catch up and get some good advice for when you are exploring the city later on.

5. Enjoy Your Time Alone

Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but if you decide to take a trip on your own, you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Take advantage of the time alone to see and do what you love—this trip is just for you, so make the most of it.

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A rare photo of the author, jet lagged but excited to be here 😀

Travel Lessons: The Schengen Agreement and Renewing Your US Passport FAST

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Flying over Bergen, Norway, just days after renewing a passport.

Five days before my trip to Norway I received an email—my airline was offering a courtesy, giving me a checklist of items to do before I left. Make sure your bag is under a certain weight. Check. Make sure to pre-order your meal. Check. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 90 days. Not check.

Panic set in. I knew my passport was up for renewal in April, but figured I would be fine for a January trip and could renew afterwards. At closer research, I realized that if my passport was under this 90-day requirement from the day I was expected to return to the US, I would not be allowed to enter Norway. My passport would expired in 87 days…..

Lesson one in this travel blip was learning about the Schengen Agreement. Passed in 1997, this law relates to 26 countries including most of Europe, requiring US citizens to follow this 90-day policy. The idea is that typically for these countries, you can enter without a visa for 90 days as long as your passport is valid. However, if, for example, you went to one of these countries and decided to not go home and your passport expired, it could get a bit messy for you, your country, and the country you are visiting. Current countries under this agreement include:

Austria

Belgium

Czech Republic

Denmark

Estonia

Finland

France

Germany

Greece

Hungary

Iceland

Italy

Latvia

Liechtenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Malta

Netherlands

Norway

Poland

Portugal

Slovakia

Slovenia

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Travel Tip: Whenever traveling to a foreign country, be sure to check requirements for entry. Other countries require at least six months of validity on passports in order to enter.

Lesson two was how quickly you can actually expedite the renewal process of your passport, as long as you fit the requirements. For me, I was lucky living in Boston, as there is a Passport Agency right in the city downtown. (You can read the full list of agencies here, with links to contact information). Once you locate your agency, secure an appointment for a day as soon as possible, depending on when you are traveling. In some other posts, I read that you could show up in person without an appointment, but most likely you will wait long hours and still get turned away. However, securing an appointment is easy online or by phone.

I should also note that when you Google passport expedite process online, there are some third party sites that offer guaranteed passports in 24 hours. Don’t fall for it, these services cost you hundreds of dollars more only to go through the same process at the Passport Agency. By going in person on your own, you save money and cut out he middle man.

You will need the following documents prepared ahead of your appointment. By making sure this is taken care of, it will let you get through the process much faster. You will need:

  • Proof of Travel within two weeks (or four weeks for visas). This can be a receipt for your flight, flight confirmation information, etc.
  • A new passport photo
  • Either a completed DS-11 application (for new passports) or the DS-82 application (for renewals)
  • Payment for the passport ($135 for new passports, $110 for renewals, plus an extra $60 expedite fee). Agencies will accept credit card or check.
  • Your old passport (if you lost your passport, you must provide your birth certificate)

The process is pretty straightforward after this—show up for your appointment, answer the questions, sign the papers, pay the fees, and they will give you a pick-up date. For me, I had my new passport within 24 hours.

My advice for any travelers is to always check these requirements. I know I never would have figured this out if it wasn’t for that strategic email. Instead, I would have driven all the way to the airport just to be turned away. Do your research, and if you find yourself in this situation, DON’T PANIC. You’ll be back on track for your trip before you know it.

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Luckily, everything pulled through to get to this viewpoint.

Basilica Hopping in Florence

As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has become a destination for art lovers, foodies, and the religious alike. With so much history around every corner, it’s easy to miss something when wandering the city’s cobble stone streets. But you don’t have to be a person of faith to appreciate the wonders of Florence’s many basilicas—with so many grandiose structures in a small footprint of the city, it’s easy to dedicate a day to see them all (with stops for gelato of course!). For this tour, we start at the Santa Maria Novella, located right by Florence’s main train station.

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Florence renovated the courtyard in front of Santa Maria Novella, creating the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

Santa Maria Novella: ‘Novella’ translates literally to ‘New,’ identifying this church as the first true great basilica of Florence. Commissioned by the wealthy textile merchant Rucellai family, this basilica was designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti and constructed between 1448 and 1470. It’s most prominent feature is of course the elaborate facade design that overlooks the courtyard, but be sure to visit inside to spectate Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, an early Renaissance fresco that brought perspective back in vogue.

Basilica di San Lorenzo: Our next stop takes us down Via Sant’Antonio and then turning towards Via de’ Gori, right to the façade of the Basilica de San Lorenzo, a final resting place for some of Florence’s most powerful patrons. What detail the outside of this church lacks is made up for inside, with its iconic white and gold ceiling. While much of the church’s design is credited Filippo Brunelleschi, it is not entirely of his doing. However, the true gem of this church and must-see for all visitors is the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapel), with Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florence’s golden child, designing the marble statues adorning the tombs of Guiliano di Lorenzo de’Medici and Lorenzo di Piero de’Medici.

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PIT STOP: For true Michelangelo fans, be sure to visit the Laurentian Library, an extension of San Lorenzo and a perfect example of Michelangelo’s renaissance architecture design with its oversized staircase and reading room.

LUNCH BREAK: Hungry and looking for something authentically Italian? Visit the Mercato Centrale, located on Via dell’Ariento, right around the corner from the Basilica de San Lorenzo. Here, you can eat at the take-out counters, or buy a variety of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, and more to create a picnic. Staying at a place with a kitchen? Buy your ingredients here and cook at home!

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Walking along the streets of Florence, you can always catch a glimpse of Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo): As you walk the streets of Florence, there is one landmark you can always pick out. Whether you are hiking in the hills above the city, or catching glimpses of the great dome from Florence’s narrow streets, you can’t miss the city’s main attraction. Towering above the city, the most prominent feature of this basilica is of course its dome—designed by Filippo Brunelleschi after winning a contest to design it. The story goes, that while the Gothic Revival base of the church was built in the 1200s, it was left uncovered because the opening was too large for a traditional dome. And because the Florentines would rather die than see its beloved church supported by flying buttresses a la French Gothic design, they commissioned any eligible architect to find a solution. Thus comes in Brunelleschi, who designed a dome inside a dome (a double dome!) to top the structure. Today, you can climb the 463 steps and actually walk between the two domes to reach the top for spectacular views of the city and the surrounding hills of Tuscany.

ALTERNATE CLIMB: If the dome seems daunting, you can also climb the bell tower, designed by Renaissance heavyweight Giotto. It’s still quite a climb though, but at only 414 steps you’ll save that bit of energy for more walking later.

PIT STOP: All that dome climbing will absolutely make you hungry, so as you make your way over to the Santa Croce basilica, stop at famous gelateria Grom at the corner of Via del Campanile and Via delle Oche. It’s a popular spot, and once you have your first bite you’ll know exactly why.

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Santa Croche at sunset.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze: You’ll have to pull your map out for this one—heading south towards the Arno River, take your time to explore the winding streets as you make our way to the smaller but dazzling Basilica di Santa Croce. Translated as “The Sacred Cross,” this church is a part of the Franciscan order and still has a functioning cloister. However, the true draw to this church is its collection of Renaissance history—here, you can view works by Giotto, Donatello, Cimabue, and Vasari, or pay respects at the tombs of famous Florentines including Michelangelo, Alberti, Galileo, Ghiberti, and Machiavelli.

San Minato Church: High above the city on a hill on the south bank of the Arno is the ever-popular Piazzale Michelangelo. For urban hikers, this is a true challenge as you climb the stairs up to the peak, but the view is worth it. From here, you get a full glimpse of the city, with the Santa Maria del Fiore watching over it. I love visiting this spot at sunset, but for the purpose of this walk, be sure to get there before 7 p.m. to visit the San Minato al Monte, a small Romanesque church near the Piazzale, and then venture over to the lookout point to watch the day end.

A Walk Along Paris’ Left Bank

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The Ponte Alexandre III is a popular photo spot for travelers in Paris. Shown here from the right bank, you can capture all the highlights in one shot.

Essential to any trip to Paris, the classically romantic stroll along the Seine River offers travelers picturesque views of the city’s top attractions. During my travels in France earlier this year, I heard time and again a conversation comparing Paris’ left and right banks. Both have certain qualities to offer, the right contains a more upscale experience of the city with highlights including the Champs d’Elysees and the Louvre, while the left offers top attractions including the Eiffel Tower and the Musee d’Orsay. It’s a city-wide opinion similar to New York’s uptown vs. downtown—some simply prefer one more than the other.

I found myself wandering the Seine’s left bank regularly during my stay. Part of it was scheduling, as for a foot traveler, I tend to use walks to explore and to kill a bit of time, but overall I found that walking this strip of the city was most relaxing. For this tour, we start at the entrance to the Eiffel Tower, heading west where we will end at the Musee d’Orsay. We will walk along the riverside promenade, which includes dockside cafes, small parks, river cruise pick up locations, and bike paths–perfect for walking without ever having to cross the street. This offers travelers brilliant views of the Seine’s right bank, with exit points to visit some of the highlights along the left.

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If it’s photos of the tower you want, take a short detour to the Champ de Mars, the public green space behind the tower. Here, you can relax and have a picnic, share a glass of wine, or snap a selfie with the tower before heading back over to the river.

Eiffel Tower: We start our walk at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Built from 1887 to 1889 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, this structure has become an iconic symbol of the city with over 6 million visitors annually. For those interested in going up into the structure, I recommend making reservations online, and early, unless you don’t mind waiting in lines (TIP: Waiting in line is part of the journey. There are ways to avoid lines, including purchasing the Paris Museum Pass, but still expect that in some places you will deal with large crowds). Also, unless it is a must, taking the elevator to the very top isn’t necessary—you can actually get better views of the city from the second tier for a cheaper price.

Seine River Cruises: As you walk along the promenade, you will notice multiple starting points for river cruises along the Seine. This option is part for those who prefer a more leisurely experience of the river, with another part for the romantics. While most services are about the same, leaving from its starting point near the Eiffel Tower and looping past the Notre Dame Cathedral and back to the starting point, these cruises give travelers a view of the major sites in one hour. I recommend skipping this during the day if you intend to walk—you can still see everything without paying the ticket price. However, if it’s the experience you are looking for, then I recommend waiting until after the sun sets to see the city lit up. Most services run until 10 or 11 p.m., so you can easily squeeze in a long dinner before ending your day with the river cruise.

Bridges: As we continue along the promenade, you’ll cross under nine beautiful bridges connecting the two banks of the river. Each has become its own symbol in the city, with some gaining more attention over others. One of my favorites on this stroll was the Ponte Alexandre III, an ornate white and gold bridge connecting the Avenue W. Churchill to Avenue du Marechal, and leading onto the Hotel des Invalids. Here, you experience the true glamour of the city with the bridge’s over-the-top décor.

DETOUR: If you have a museum pass, I highly recommend stopping by the Hotel des Invalids to visit Napoleon’s extravagant tomb and to walk the grounds of this former veteran’s hospital-turned military museum. You can easily access the museum from the Seine by walking above the promenade towards the grandiose structure (you can’t miss it!).

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Inside the Musee d’Orsay you get a glimpse of the former train station as you browse the extensive collection of impressionist art. It’s a must-see when in Paris!

Musee d’Orsay: The promenade roughly ends here at the entrance to a rail station-turned museum dedicated to the French art of the 1800s and 1900s, specifically housing the masterpieces of great impressionists including Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Degas and more. While viewing the exterior is part of the experience of this walk, I recommend dedicating at least a half day to exploring inside. (TIP: Keep an eye out for free museum days. If you don’t mind waiting in line and don’t already have a museum pass, this is an affordable way to see one of the city’s best museums. For the Orsay, the first Sunday of every month is free.).

A word of warning, this walk is not short. For me, strolling along the river from the Eiffel Tower to the Musee d’Orsay with minimal stops took about an hour. You may want to end your walk here, but if you are not pressed for time and looking for shopping or a café, then head down the Boulevard St. Germain and into the Latin Quarter.

Change of Plans

Growing up, my family and I would spend a week once a year vacationing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. During those trips, we’d typically get beautiful 80-degree days perfect for hiking, boating, swimming or biking, but there was always that one day that would be a wash—literally.

I remember once we had planned to take a train up to the top of a mountain, but because of a forecast of pouring rain, we had to cancel that plan, and instead spent the day indoors shopping and catching a movie at the theater. My mother told me that this was part of traveling—that with every trip, you have to plan for a bad day, so whatever the reason, you’ll have a backup in case something goes wrong.

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This is what you call a ‘classic’ tourist in Greece photo opp.

When I studied abroad in 2008, I spent a good part of my spare time planning my fall break trip to Greece. That was the first time I had to plan a trip all on my own, from the transportation, to the hotels, to the activities, and I had everything scheduled down to the hour. Day 1: Fly to Athens and spend the afternoon wandering the gardens near the Acropolis. Day 2: Visit the major tourist sites; Eat gyros; Day 3: Nine-hour boat trip to Santorini; Sleep on beach. You get the picture.

In between the basics I had a list of all the things I wanted to see and do, but I forgot one very important fact: things go wrong, and plans change. During that trip my companions and I encountered three transportation strikes—one in Italy where we nearly missed our train to Milan, a second in Athens which shut down public transportation for a day, only to reopen as soon as we landed in Greece, and a third the morning we had to catch our boat to Santorini (in all cases, we nearly missed our ride, but by some miracle were able to have everything work out at the last minute). On the third leg of the trip, a violent storm was expected to blow through the Mediterranean and we were unsure if our high speed boat would take us to Crete (almost all of the boats leaving Santorini that day were docked, but we got lucky—ours was the only boat allowed to leave. The water was incredibly choppy, and I hit another life milestone that day—first time throwing up from sea sickness).

Things could have gone very differently on that trip if we were delayed at any point. In my mind, I had pictured Greece’s weather as sunny and warm every day—I never factored in that rainy day. We got lucky though, we caught every plane, train, bus and boat to get us to where we needed to be, and we managed to see almost everything on our list. We hiked a volcano, drank with strangers who later became friends on a beach and soaked in as much of this beautiful country as we could.

But every trip has its bad day. Our final day on Crete was short—16 hours total, with four spent on a bus, and six spent sleeping. It was disappointing because we had wanted to see the palace at Knossos, the former capital of the Minoan empire and potential home of King Midas, the guy with the golden touch. But poor planning on my part led us to only seeing a small portion of the island before rushing back to the airport to go home.

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It was a cloudy morning in Rethymno that day.

We made the best of it though. While I realized my mistake, I kept reminding my companions that this happens—that on every trip there is always one day where things don’t go as planned, and you have to make the best of it (I was repeating what my mother had told me ten years earlier). It’s an essential part of any trip, and it forces you to make something out of a bad situation. It teaches you how to go with the flow.

For all the travelers out there, there’s three ways you could approach this type of scenario. For all of my Type-A, obsessive planning types (you are not alone, this is how I describe myself most days), I would recommend before your trip researching alternative options you can do on a rainy day. That way, in the case something changes your plans, you can rearrange your schedule to make sure you still get to see the important stuff. Option 2 is to just wing it—if something goes wrong, don’t fret, instead, talk to your hotel concierge and ask about what you can see or do in the area. Usually they’ll steer you towards something you never would have expected, and you’ll head home with a story that is truly and uniquely yours. Option 3, which I’ve done a few times, is to say screw it and just stick to your original plan. If the site is open, you can still go, even if you get a little wet. As long as you don’t let a bad moment ruin your day, you’ll still get to enjoy your trip.

I will also stress that for the planners like me out there, prioritize what sites you want to see most. Unfortunately, there’s never enough time to do everything, so when I travel, I make a list of everything, and star the places that are top on my list. I feel that it’s better to devote as much time as you see fit towards the things you want to do, instead of trying to squeeze the most things into one trip. Plus, if you have to skip something because of time, it gives you an excuse to go back.

Our last day in Greece was spent in Rethymno, a city two hours from the capital of Crete. We arrived at our hostel around dinner time, and had enough time to shower and grab food and a drink before we had to go to bed. That night, we met travelers from all over the world, backpackers who would stay in the town for a day or two to freshen up before heading back out into the island’s backcountry. It was a hiker’s paradise, and I still regularly fantasize about how I want to return to Crete and hike and for a week (see, there’s always a reason to go back again). We woke with the sun the next morning, and got donuts and wandered the street just so we could get a taste of the town we settled in for one night. The trip was short, but it was worth every minute there.

And even though we weren’t able to see everything we wanted to see, that blip of a day still sits strong in my mind—Greece was my first time planning a trip, and it was my first time making a travel mistake. It taught me to adapt to changes and to go with the flow while traveling, because sometimes the things you don’t plan for are the most memorable.

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Remember: With every bad day, you get five great ones–our hike through Santorini’s volcano crater was a highlight of the trip.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

How to See Live Music in NYC

*Note: This article originally written and published for the Walks of New York website.

If the streets of New York could sing, they would play a rock opera. Or maybe a Broadway musical – something grand enough and detailed enough to encompass the many layers and facets of the city’s rich musical history. As a hub for live music, New York City provides a vast variety of options for visitors looking to hear the sounds of the city. With big name acts regularly selling out the city’s two main arenas, historic theaters welcoming a plethora of modern acts, and up-and-coming musicians vying for a time slot in the city’s smaller clubs, there’s a venue for every music fan. But with almost too many options, how do you decide what show to see? We’ve put together this guide to Live Music in NYC to help you sniff out the best venues when you come for a visit. It doesn’t matter if you want to catch the next big thing in the Lower East Side or take in a Kanye West show at Madison Square Garden, this guide will tell you where to go to enjoy whatever type of music tickles your fancy.

All That Jazz

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Outside the Blue Note Jazz Club.

New York jazz clubs historically played a significant role in the development of modern jazz by providing venues for some of the biggest names in the genre. Today the city still hosts an incredible lineup of small clubs packed with talent. The Village Vanguard in the West Village may be the best option for the jazz fanatics looking to see a classic-feeling gig in NYC, as this historic club has played host to some of the genre’s legends, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and more. This small theater just celebrated its 80th anniversary and offers nightly performances for only $25 plus a one drink minimum. Seating is on a first-come, first serve basis, so be sure to arrive early.

Insider tip: With smaller clubs, you may be required to buy a certain number of (alcoholic) drinks during the show, especially if the club offers a free show. Standard minimums are usually two drinks. You can often work around it, but remember that the arts in New York are funded by people who love them, like yourself, so if you don’t want to drink ask how you might contribute money otherwise. Often if the club serves food you can swap that to meet your requirement.

The Blue Note, one of the New York’s most popular music venues, brings some of today’s top jazz performers to the small stage, creating that up close and personal vibe only found at the best live music gigs. With performances held every night, and a Sunday brunch special, this may be your best option for ‘dinner and a live show.’ You can find the same intimate vibe at a number of small venues throughout the city, including Birdland, a jazz club that boasts “The Jazz Corner of the World;” The Iridium, a Midtown West club that still dominates the city’s jazz scene; and Smoke, a club on the Upper West Side that has held onto that, well, ‘smoky’ jazz vibe of the old days (Smoke is a personal favorite of ours. Prices are a little steep with the food and drink minimum, but the ambiance is incomparable).

If it’s big names and big jazz you’re looking for in your NYC music gigs, be sure to check out some of New York’s larger venues, including Jazz at Lincoln Center, an indoor amphitheater overlooking Columbus Circle and the southwest corner of Central Park. With three rooms to choose from, the Rose Theater, which holds 1,233, the Appel Room, with 483 seats, and the Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, with 140 seats, you can have your pick of the experience.

Gospel Word
Christian Gospel music can be traced back as early as the 17th century, stemming from the oral traditions of African Americans. As the music evolved, it became a full spiritual experience. We recently created a phenomenal list of specific churches where you can see gospel performances, but you can also catch a show at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and The Apollo.

Did you know: Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater is one of the most historically significant in the entire city. It has hosted performances by artists including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, and more. Aside from the stars it hosts, the Apollo also runs a legendary Amateur Night where stars have been born and more than a few outsized egos put firmly in their places.

Latin Moves
Among the live music bars in NYC, perhaps the best to go to if you want ample room to dance along to the band are the Latin music clubs. The most famous of these is in Manhattan’s SoHo district – SOBs has hosted latin legends including Marc Antony, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz & Eddie Palmieri, and today offers concerts by popular world music artists. The club has a full restaurant, bar, and dance floor, so whether you want to cut a rug or just kick back and watch the action, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself.

If you’re looking to really immerse yourself in the dancing, Club Cache, located on 39th street just off of Times Square, offers weekly latin and bachata nights, with free bachata classes at 8 p.m. It’s famous for its salsa dancing Thursday, with live bands playing for the hundreds of people who stop by. Other popular spots for latin dancing and live music include Copacabana New York and Iguana New York.

Avoid the biggest mispronunciation made by NYC tourists: SoHo stands for “South of Houston”, referring to the East to West-running thoroughfare that has long acted as a boundary between many of Lower Manhattan’s most famous neighborhoods. It is pronounced “How-ston” NOT “Hyoo-ston.” This is because, unlike the city in Texas of the same spelling, its name is a corruption of the Continental Congress delegate William Houstoun, not a homage to the American war hero Samuel Houston.

Classical Approach
We could write an entire article about classical music venues in New York, but for now we’ll just hit a few of the big ones. As a classical musician, you know you’ve made it in your career when you play at Carnegie Hall. The building, an eclectic mix of Italian Renaissance and pan-European influences, is almost as attractive as the music within, a fact that once inspired the violinist Isaac Stern to quip: “Everywhere in the world, music enhances a hall, with one exception—Carnegie Hall enhances the music.” Before designing it in the late 1800’s the architect William Burnet Tuthill (who was also an amateur musician) traveled Europe to not only collect design influences for the facade, but also to learn the secrets of creating great acoustic spaces. In the end he came up with a deceptively simple design that purposefully avoided baroque elements like frescoes and elaborate moulding that are commonplace in many theaters, but can hurt sound quality. In doing so he created a space that has been called “the crown jewel” of American concert halls.

Year round, Carnegie Hall hosts everything from symphonic performances and new age perspectives to jazz and world music played by today’s greatest musicians. It’s one of the most varied and diverse places to see live music in NYC. If you’re planning to visit, be sure to check out their website to look into discount ticket prices–they have options for general admission, students, young music enthusiasts, and more, which can help reduce your ticket price to as low as $10.

If you’re interested in catching a show, read our visitors’ guide to Carnegie Hall.
Another option that is often just as good, if lacking some of the historic cachet, is The New York Philharmonic, which has a residency at the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Plaza, and offers a number of affordable performances every week, including free Thursdays with a few members of the orchestra – one of the best experiences of free live music in New York.

Pro tip: You can catch a rehearsal for $20 the morning before a performance, if you’re looking for a cheaper option or an inside look at the preparation before a show.

Pop, Rock, Etc.
Bowery Presents, a NYC concert management company, has, for years, run the top the small- to mid-sized venues in NYC —Terminal 5, Music Hall of Williamsburg, The Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, and Rough Trade. Catering mainly to a younger crowd, these venues are all essentially NYC live music bars that host some of pop and rock music’s biggest names,as well as amazing underground acts and up and comers.

Terminal 5 and Music Hall of Williamsburg bring in the most famous acts. If you’re looking for big name rock, hip hop, or pop acts performing in an intimate (i.e., not an arena) space these are your go to’s. The audio system at Terminal 5 is second to none but get there early if you want to actually see the performers on the stage. Unless you splurge on VIP seating, it’s standing room only and its three level, horseshoe shape makes it hard to see the stage from the back. But for ticket prices ranging from $25 to $75, the shows are almost always worth the hassle. Music Hall of Williamsburg also has an amazing audio system but is slightly more intimate and generally has a more low-key feel. If we had to choose, it would be our pick of the two.

Mercury Lounge is a more affordable option if you are looking to catch a show. It’s located in the perennially hip Lower East Side, and is one of the few clubs to survive the neighborhood’s rent hikes of recent years. Artists are often a little lesser-known, but that often works to your advantage because you can catch an amazing show by a band that is set to blow up in the next few years. And it’s all under the backdrop of the grungy music scene the LES used to dominate.

Lastly, Rough Trade is a spot to check out, even if you don’t get to see a performance. It’s a Brooklyn joint par-excellence that functions as a record store by day and a live performance hall by night, giving you the full NYC-music-scene experience in one spot. The acts tend to fall into the more eclectic spectrum, but that’s half the fun – this is music nerd heaven.

Iconic New York
New York’s cache of historic live music venues stretches far beyond its theater district and is led by its iconic Radio City Music Hall. No trip to New York is complete without at least a stop at this theater, even if you are just snapping pictures next to the neon signs floating above 6th Ave. Those who actually get to catch a show inside are in for a real treat. The venue, originally opened in 1932 and converted over the years from a live theater, to film house, and back to a stage, has always been a contender for the best-sounding venue in the city. This is because during renovations, the designers hired some of the best acousticians to create a perfect-sounding theater to compliment the Art Deco style, making your experience just as much about the place as it is about the music.
If you want to see historic theaters beyond Radio City, we suggest checking out the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side or Town Hall, a midtown theater that is also an acoustic gem.

You also can’t forget the titans of New York’s music scene — Madison Square Garden and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Both arenas play host to all sorts of events, but if you’re here to see your favorite superstar, most likely you’ll do so at one of these locations. If you go there are two important things to remember: first, food and drinks will be expensive, consider it part of the experience. Second, and more importantly, don’t be afraid splurge on the good seats—acoustics get a little touchy in the nosebleed seats, and when you can’t hear half of the frequencies coming from Jack White’s guitar, it can be disappointing (we’re speaking from experience on this one).

How To Ticket
With any live music venues in New York, the easiest way to score tickets is by visiting the venue’s website or Ticketmaster.com. Tickets typically go on sale a few months before the show, but depending on the artist, you can usually land tickets online through StubHub or the venue’s website right before your trip (unless you are looking for Adele tickets. She sold out pretty fast).

Avoid buying tickets from scalpers at all costs. While there are isolated instances in which this is harmless, it’s not uncommon to get forged tickets, in which case you aren’t getting into your show and you have just given away a probably-sizable chunk of money. Resale sites like StubHub.com are a little more reliable, since they will actually guarantee the validity of your tickets, but keep in mind that they make more money from the ticket you buy from them than the artist does. Today’s musicians make most of their money at live shows through ticket and merchandise sales while scalpers and resellers are taking away from that profit. This may not be a serious issue for the Taylor Swifts of the world, but for the smaller performers it can be a big hit. But if ticket price will make the difference between seeing and not seeing the show, your best friends are local coupon programs like Groupon or Living Social. Classical venues run lottery deals, and most venues will run deals and discount nights at certain times of the year. A little exploring online can usually go a long way.