I had been dying to go to New York for years.

Growing up, I fantasised about it. I looked at pictures and just imagined being there. Yet nothing could prepare me for how amazing it was in real life. I felt like I was in Heaven. Yet I have come across some people who say they haven’t been a massive fan of New York. Of course, each to their own, but this does shock me, especially now I have been there. I think the main reason is many of these people who have said this have gone and have stuck to a strict itinerary – they’ve had the trip they thought they should have, not the trip they actually want to have.

So if you’ve flown so far to get somewhere, how do you make it amazing?

1. Absorb the atmosphere.

I think one of the reasons I loved being in New York was because I simply felt like it was such a privilege to be there. I had dreamt of it forever, and to finally be in that city felt incredible and electric. It wasn’t about ticking things to do off my list for me, it was simply about being in that place.

I feel this way about most places I go though, especially cities. While there may be a few hotspots i’m desperate to visit, my favourite thing is to just absorb the atmosphere. To wander. To see new things, to meet new people. To simply take a leap and see what happens. Even when I do ‘do’ something, it’s about so much more than doing that thing or seeing that sight. It’s what happens along the way. When I went to Paris last, for me going to The Louvre wasn’t simply about seeing the paintings. I didn’t care much for the Mona Lisa, even though I adore art. It was simply admiring the size and scope and architecture and witnessing the kind of people that were there: the art lovers, the students, the tourists, the locals. That is what I loved.

2. Get away from the tourist hot spots.

Our hotel in New York was just off of Times Square. This was good in many respects: it was pretty central, we knew exactly where we were, and we found the most amazing diner to have breakfast in right by our hotel. However, we spent barely any time on Times Square. And the times we did? I absolutely hated it. Well, apart from when I had a peruse in their flagship H&M. But other times were simply busy, sweaty, and unenjoyable. I was bombarded for a photo by ‘Elmo’ and ‘Spiderman’ and then a tip was demanded of me. It was so, so not my style.

But as soon as we got out of the madness and into quieter, yet kitchier and much more ‘us’ areas, like Soho and Greenwich Village? I found myself in what I deemed to be the ‘real’ New York. Food and drinks were cheaper and much more delecious, being about quality rather than quantity. The shops were boutiques and the cafe’s were juice bars. The people were proper New Yorkers walking their dogs. Arty 20 somethings grabbing coffee and shopping. I was in the New York I wanted to be in. No, there were no sites as such, not in the typical sense. But there was amazing street graffiti, cool pink painted buildings, and long quiet roads with the Empire State Building in the background. It was like a slice of paradise within my city haven.

These areas won’t be for everyone, but I do urge you to not spend all your time around typical tourist areas when in a new city. Go further. Explore deeper. Act like a local, even if it’s just for a day. Don’t be scared of getting lost.

3. It’s your trip, what do you want to do?

Some people will have mocked me for legitimately spending most of my time in New York shopping. But to me, I was in New York on a girly trip for my 21st, OF COURSE I was going shopping!! The MAC Store was heaven and was so cheap compared to home. The Tiffany’s store was like opening a treasure chest and stepping inside. And all those designer boutiques! And stumbling inside that Steve Madden shop in Soho when I almost walked past? Best decision ever. Yes, I even spent money in ‘high street stores’. I got a bargain in Victorias Secret and couldn’t help myself in H&M, even though there’s H&M’s everywhere, it’s got nothing on the Times Square flagship store.

I didn’t just go shopping. But Damn, I shopped a lot and loved it. It’s what I wanted to do. Yet for some, this is everything they would hate. You might be a culture vulture and want to hit all the museums. You may be a foodie and be more concerned with checking the gourmet restaurants. My point is, don’t let what is expected of you dictate your trip. Just because it’s what it says on the internet, or in the guidebooks, it doesn’t mean you need to do it like that.

What do you think? Anything I’ve missed on this list? How do you make city breaks awesome?