Post Overview: Unique Things to do in NYC
It’s safe to assume that if you’re searching for unique things to do in New York City this isn’t your first rodeo in the Big Apple. Observation decks have been done, Broadway shows have been seen and hotdogs just aren’t cutting it anymore, huh?
So what do you do when the gravity of New York City keeps drawing you in but you’ve checked all the iconic things to do? You start living like a local, enjoy a plethora of non-touristy things to do in NYC.
Regardless of the reason, whether this is your first visit or your 50th, this article of non-touristy things to do in New York City was created for you. I want you to feel like a local and try new things off the beaten path!
In a city as vibrant and bustling as New York, trust me when I tell you, there is no shortage of exciting (new) activities to keep you busy.
But I’ll add a quick disclaimer: with over eight million people calling this city home we can’t guarantee the things on this list won’t have crowds. Non-touristy in NYC doesn’t mean unpopular!
So without further ado, let’s get right into some of the most unique things to do in NYC.
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Tips for Visiting New York City (like a local)
Treat the sidewalk like a highway
Nothing bothers a New Yorker more than a person that stops smack-dab in the middle of the sidewalk. It’s inconsiderate and you’re guaranteed to garner eye rolls. If you don’t want to look like a tourist during your visit to NYC, make sure you step to the side of the sidewalk if you need to stop.
Escalator etiquette is a (real) thing
In NYC there’s an efficient way to use the escalator — stand on the right, pass on the left. Those that block passing access are in breach of escalator etiquette and are bound to hear loud sigh directed at them. New Yorkers are quick walkers. We have places to go and people to see and we’ve learned the way the sidewalks and escalators work.
Make an effort to visit at least two boroughs during your trip to New York City
Something a lot of folks don’t realize is that New York City is comprised of five separate boroughs. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Make sure you explore more than just Manhattan if you’re looking for unique things to do in NYC.
Further Reading: Interested to learn more tips on how to make your trip of non-touristy things to do in NYC run smooth? Check out 20 HELPFUL Tips for Visiting New York City (Written By a Life-Long Local).
Unique Things to do in NYC
#30. Try authentic Asian food in Flushings, Queens
Kicking off this list of unique things to do in NYC we’re going to start in the under-rated borough of Queens. The ethnic diversity in Queens is among the highest in the country and there’s always something new to try.
Meaning the options (and flavors) of food you’ll find out there is simply unmatched. My go-to in Queens is Asian cuisine, it packs a flavorful-punch and is often inexpensive offering a phenomenal value.
And if you’re looking for unique things to do in NYC this is a good place to start. Make a beeline towards Queens’ Chinatown in Flushing (which is bigger than Manhattan’s) and let yourself run loose.
My go-to joint is Maxi’s Noodles, a tiny, no frills restaurant that serves a variety of (you guessed it) noodles. With that said I highly encourage bringing cash, a lot of establishments don’t accept card payments!
#29. Bike Prospect Park
Many folks make the mistake of overlooking Prospect Park during their trips to New York City but I will not let that happen to you. Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the architects responsible for designing Central Park.
Much like Central Park, Prospect Park is massive (covering 526 acres, to be exact). It’s full of great lawns, mature trees and even has BBQ pits (take that, Central Park!).
Biking the pathway in Prospect Park feels like such a treat and that’s why we consider it one of the most unique things to do in NYC. You’ll quickly discover the park is mostly filled with locals, walking their dogs and finding reprieve in the quiet.
From Midtown to Prospect park it’s less than a 40 minute subway ride. Which isn’t a bad deal if you’re searching for the best non-touristy things to do in NYC.
#28. Go brewery hopping in Brooklyn
If you’re looking for unique things to do in NYC set your sights on Brooklyn. The borough of Brooklyn is gigantic. To put size into perspective just know that if Brooklyn were its own city it’d be the third largest in America!
Given that Brooklyn has a ton more real estate than Manhattan, the breweries are epic and aplenty. One of the best non-touristy things to do in New York City is to get lost hopping from bar to bar. I mean think about it, between the subways, ferries and taxi’s there’s plenty of ways to get home safely.
Not every city has this much public transportation at their disposal. As long as you’re drinking responsibly and within your limits, it’s one of the more unique things to do in NYC with a group of friends.
Also if you’re new to the city, breweries are a great way to meet new people. Often times breweries will host various events and it’s rare to find the place empty. Unless you try to visit in the morning, (at which point we have a bigger issue than finding friends on our hand).
Looking for suggestions but don’t know where to start? We got you covered! Here are 10 Thirst-Quenching Brooklyn Breweries Guaranteed to Impress.
#27. Explore a market
Something genius New Yorkers discovered a long time ago was to place a lot of individual places under one roof, AKA markets. The fact that you can go to one building and experience 20+ different tastes, smells, activities, etc. is such a treat.
Chelsea Market is among the most popular markets in the Big Apple. But since we’re looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC I’ll leave a list of lesser known spots. Now that’s not to say these places don’t get attention, they’re just places you might not visit on your first trip to New York City.
Looking for unique things to do in NYC? Check out these markets:
- Essex Market | Located in Downtown Manhattan, Essex Market is New York City’s most historic food hall.
- Turnstyle Underground Market | Stretching over an entire city block, this underground market is located in a subway station (yes really!).
- Time Out Market | Timeout Market is a collection of some of the best restaurants in New York City and offers stunning views of Manhattan.
#26. Partake in a boozy brunch
If you’ve had your fix of bagels and coffee and want something a little more serious, might I suggest a boozy brunch? It’s one of the most unique things to do in NYC to save some coin.
Many restaurants in New York City offer great deals during the early hours of the day. I’m talking bottomless drinks paired with a fantastic meal often for around $30 — it’s a steal!
Depending on where you go, you won’t struggle finding quieter places with less crowds. This is perfect for those of you looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC. Take advantage of the bottomless deals when you come across them, it makes for a fun (tipsy) rest of the day. 😉
Further Reading: So you’re intrigued and don’t know where to start? No worries, the hard parts done! Check out 25 Best Bottomless Brunches in New York City (Worth Every Penny).
#25. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
The views of NYC from the Roosevelt Island tram are some of the best in the city, which is why I consider this one of the most unique things to do in New York City.
The tram takes you from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island for the price of a subway ride ($2.75). Which is remarkable considering not many folks take advantage of the price. It’s a great non-touristy thing to do in NYC during your next trip.
The trip to Roosevelt Island is a nice way to escape the bustle of the city and have a moment of calm and quiet while still seeing the iconic NYC skyline.
Make sure to swing by Four Freedoms Park on the island (it’s beautiful) and rest your legs on the many benches provided. Visiting during the spring makes the trip more memorable thanks to the abundant blossoming cherry trees that make the island feel like a magical sanctuary.
Since this is one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC, if you visit early enough you’ll likely have it to yourself.
#24. Explore Arthur Avenue (the real Little Italy)
Little Italy in Manhattan is one of New York City’s prime attractions, but it’s not the only Little Italy. There’s another, more insulated Little Italy in the Bronx that provides one of the most unique things to do in NYC.
Referred to as Belmont, the Little Italy of the Bronx and Arthur Avenue it’s surprisingly a well kept secret.
Shockingly it’s bigger than Manhattan’s Little Italy, having more Italian restaurants, cafes and stores. Italian restaurants across NYC also make the trek in search of authentic, fresh ingredients (like a divine Italian sausage).
When visiting set your GPS for the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a store that will make you think you’re in the old-country. After that swing by Zero Otto Novo for a meal that will make you unbutton your pants. When you’re done stop by Gino’s Pastry Shop and pick up some cannolis for the road.
Visiting Arthur Avenue is one of the most unique things to do in NYC and something every New Yorker should do at least once. You can make it a pit-stop when you’re visiting the New York Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo.
#23. Shop the local farmers markets
Home to 48 farmers markets throughout the Big Apple, there is not shortage of fresh treats to be had. One of the most unique things to do in NYC is to swing by a local farmers market and pick up a goody for yourself.
Expect to find vendors selling jewelry, food, clothes and so much more. One of the best year-round markets is Grand Bazaar, located on the Upper West Side. Every Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM the Upper West Side welcomes hundreds of vendors to open up shop and sell their goods.
Another great market is the Union Square Greenmarket that runs every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, year-round. The market hours are 8 AM to 6 PM.
Fair warning: When the holiday season rolls around typically the markets get rather crowded with tourists. In an effort to keep this list as the best non-touristy things to do in NYC I highly encourage you to visit markets during the off-season.
#22. Try to beat the clock at an escape room
If you’re looking to stay indoors, one of the most unique things to do in NYC is to play a round at the Escape Game.
There are 5 different rooms to choose from, each riddled with clues you have to piece together while trying to beat the 60 minute countdown.
My personal favorite was the Gold Rush room, which my friends and I beat with less than 5 minutes to spare (talk about cutting it close!). It was so much fun that when asked if we wanted to play a second round, we cancelled our lunch reservations and said absolutely.
The Escape Game is fun the whole family can partake in, and one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC on a rainy day. Difficulty levels vary, but the Escape Game recommends kids are 13+ to make sure things aren’t too difficult.
Address: 295 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10017
#21. Get drinks on the MET Rooftop
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is often considered the best museum in New York City, and it’s not hard to see why.
With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world. Averaging 6 million visitors per year, it’s also the most visited museum in New York City.
But let me share a local tip with you – one of the most unique things to do in New York City is to sneak away to the Met’s rooftoop for a cocktail. This might sound like a secret hangout for the museum’s executives but on the contrary, the Cantor Rooftop Garden is open to the public.
In simple terms it’s a rooftop bar overlooking Central Park. You have access to it with standard admission and every spring the New York City museum decorates the rooftop with new exhibits. You’ll also be able to purchase snacks or drinks and hang out (my suggestion is to try to visit for sunset).
Although the museum is one of the most popular in the city, the rooftop is less known making it one of the most unique things to do in NYC.
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028
#20. Visit Coney Island
Coney Island’s famed amusement parks and beaches are hot commodities during New York City’s summer months. You could spend all day here eating fried foods and riding all the rides and still be itching for more. But since Coney Island is about an hour away from Midtown (on the subway) not that many folks make the trek.
That why we consider going to Coney Island for the day one of the more unique things to do in NYC.
This vibrant neighborhood holds a lot of history and has fun things to do for all ages. Peruse the boardwalk and see if you can win a prize playing a carnival game or ride the nearly 100 year old wooden roller coaster named the Cyclone.
Or if all else fails and you’re looking for another non-touristy thing to do in NYC just park yourself at the beach and let the hours slip by.
#19. Check out the birth place of Theodore Roosevelt
I bet you weren’t expecting to see the birth place of a president on a list of unique things to do in NYC!
Theodore Roosevelt was born in a townhouse located at 28th E. 20th Street on October 27, 1858. His family lived in this home until 1872, which means Teddy was raised in this house from birth to 14 years old. His parents decided to move uptown (to 57th Street) when the neighborhood became too commercial for their liking.
The original building where Roosevelt lived with his family was demolished in 1916, but when Roosevelt died in 1919 a replica of the home was promptly rebuilt. An architect (Theodate Pope Riddle) was tasked with reconstructing a replica of the house using the row house next door as a model (which was identical). When the house was complete, it was refurbished with furnishings from the original house, as it would have looked in 1865.
Considering Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to be born in New York City, it’s no wonder why this important building is deemed a National Historic Site. One of the most unique things to do in NYC is to take a tour of the museum. Visitors can see the museum by guided tour only, tours offered on a first come, first served basis.
Address: 28 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003
#18. Experience theater like never before at Sleep No More
Has it always been a dream of yours to perform on Broadway? Well you’re in luck…kinda?
Located inside the McKittrick Hotel, Sleep No More is an immersive theatrical performance of Shakespeare’s MacBeth that takes place on five different levels of a 1930’s hotel. Being immersed in the artistic vision and talent, even though you won’t be acting yourself, is one of the most unique things to do in New York City.
Everything about this performance will leave you in awe. The meticulous attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and props along with the phenomenal acting is everything you’d want from an experience like this and more!
Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of theater, this is simply one of the most unique things to do in NYC and no two experiences are quite the same.
Local’s Tip: Since this is among the best non-touristy things to do in NYC, tickets can go fast. Purchase tickets in advance here.
Address: 530 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
#17. Enjoy a round of bowling at Brooklyn Bowl
Is it a bowling alley? Could it be a concert venue? Possibly a restaurant? Or is it all three of those things perfectly blended together creating one of the most unique things to do in NYC?
Regardless of what you classify the Brooklyn Bowl as, one things for sure — you’re going to have a hell of a time! If the venue is still a tad confusing to you, check out this virtual tour of the place and hopefully it’ll answer any questions you have.
One of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC is to rent out a bowling lane with your squad and listen to whatever live performance is happening that night. Order your favorite bar food, split a pitcher of beer and show off your bowling skills at Brooklyn Bowl.
For shows and events check the calendar ahead of time to see if there is a cover charge that night.
Address: 61 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
#16. Go to a jazz show
Jazz clubs in New York City are hallowed grounds. There are historic venues that have been graced by some of the world’s all time greats. Additionally, there are newcomers to the scene who help keep the genre fresh.
New York City doesn’t half-ass anything and jazz clubs are not about to be the exception. One of the most unique things to do in NYC is to make reservations at a jazz club and enjoy a romantic night of live music.
It’s a great way to end the night since most places require a two-drink minimum. With so many options available you’re able to curate the perfect itinerary based on your needs.
Some places are very relaxed and offer shuffleboard with a show. While others require you to stand in a line for hours hoping to score a table in a crowded room. Either way, the show is always worth it and catching it live is one of the most unique things to do in NYC.
Further Reading: Need recommendations on which jazz clubs are worth it? Check out 15 Soothing Jazz Clubs in New York City You Won’t Soon Forget!
#15. Play some shuffleboard
Speaking of jazz and shuffleboard, one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC is to spend the evening at Cellar Dog. And before I get any hate mail, Cellar Dog is a popular spot in the city and often times hosts a long line. However the space is typically filled with college students and locals, not so much tourists.
Cellar Dog is a laid-back, spacious underground venue that houses over a dozen different nostalgic games that will take you back to your childhood.
You can enjoy everything from billiards and ping-pong to sit down games like chess and connect four. Expect to connect with the lively locals and leave making new friends.
One of the most unique things to do in NYC is to end your night at Cellar Dog for games and a jazz show. Every night, Cellar Dog hosts a live jazz band as guests continue playing their games and drinking beers (and they do only serve beers).
The jazz tunes alone are worth a visit and provide pleasant entertainment while you wait for a game to open up. During the week the joint has a $5 cover charge and it goes up to $10 on weekends.
Address: 75 Christopher St, New York, NY 10014, United States
#14. Wander Industry City
Industry City (IC) is one of the most unique things to do in NYC that not many folks know about. Think of a one-stop shop for all things NYC, then multiply it by ten and you have Industry City.
Comprised of 16 buildings across 35 acres, Industry City sits on the Brooklyn waterfront located in Sunset Park. The large industrial space was established back in the 1890’s and the space was used for manufacturing and distributing. Today visiting IC is one of the best non-touristy things to do in New York City thanks to the plethora of shops under one roof.
Chock-full of events, eateries and shops, Industry City has it all. You can spend hours getting lost, roaming from place to place and still barely scratch the surface. In between the buildings you’ll find colorful courtyards decorated with whatever season they’re in. The set up makes the perfect backdrop for photos.
As a local, this is a non-negotiable for my out of town visitors when I hear they’re looking for unique things to do in NYC.
Pro Tip: The best times to visit Industry City is during fall when the halloween decorations flood the place or during the winter when the ice rink is up.
#13. Show off your skills with axe throwing
Whether you’re just trying to impress a date or you need to let off some steam, one of the most unique things to do in NYC is to throw some axes. And yes, it’s just as therapeutic as it sounds!
At Hatchets & Hops folks can enjoy one of the best bars in Williamsburg while literally chucking axes at targets.
I suppose in retrospect mixing booze and sharp weapons sounds a tad dangerous… but Hatchets & Hops does a great job at creating a safe and welcoming environment. The bar sticks to beer and cider and leaves the liquor for “throwing axes in the woods” — their words not mine.
Oh and not to mention there is a highly trained instructor hanging out with you the whole time. Between the instructor and the cages that surround the targets safety is paramount when you’re enjoying one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC.
Address: 98 N 11th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249, United States
#12. Stroll the charming streets of South Street Seaport (+ check out whatever’s happening on pier 15)
Since moving to New York City almost a decade ago I’m still mad at myself for how long it took me to discover South Street Seaport. One of the most charming and unique things to do in NYC is to take a wandering stroll down the cobblestone streets.
This historical neighborhood oozes charm and has plenty of non-touristy things to do in the area to keep you busy. The neighborhood is full of beautiful restaurants, colorful boutiques and even a museum. The best part? The epic views of the East River.
Speaking of which, if you follow South Street Seaport down to the river you’ll come across a handful of Piers. Two stand-outs are Pier 17 which is made up restaurants and a concert venue. And then Pier 15, the Watermark Bar which is constantly hosting seasonal events like Oktoberfest and Winter Wonderland pop-ups.
No matter what time of year you visit, swinging by South Street Seaport won’t disappoint.
Here’s a round-up of some of the most unique things to do in NYC while in the area:
- Cozy up with a book at McNally Jackson Books
- Enjoy a cocktail in the middle of Fulton street at the Garden Bar pop-up bar
- Treat yourself to a whacky cookie at Funny Face Bakery
#11. Soak in the city skyline at Pier 57
It’s hardly surprising that hanging out at one of the city’s many parks has made our list of unique things to do in NYC given the abundance of access to them!
In spite of the city’s many well-known parks (Central Park, Bryant Park, etc.), you typically find yourself struggling through crowds rather than taking pleasure in them. You’re more focused on getting out that you don’t stop and appreciate the beauty around you.
To discover a park that generates relatively little traffic and spend some time enjoying the benefits is one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC. I suggest visiting one of New York City’s newest parks on Pier 57.
Located right beside Little Island in Chelsea, Pier 57 is a free rooftop park that offers amazing views of Manhattan.
You’ll have clear views of the Empire Building, The Edge in Hudson Yards and the lower Manhattan skyline. Pack a meal, grab a friend and enjoy one of the most unique things to do in NYC.
#10. Check out a new Museum
We briefly touched on the MET earlier but there are a handful of other museums in New York City that don’t struggle drawing in crowds. The MOMA, Natural Museum of History and the MET are all very popular museums (rightfully so) but that also mean large crowds.
If you’re searching for non-touristy things to do in NYC I suggest visiting a museum that is frequented by locals more so than visitors.
New York City is home to over 80 museums, 30+ of which are in Manhattan alone! There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find a museum that interests you.
If at all helpful, here is a quick round-up of some great museums everyone should add to their list of unique things to do in NYC:
- Tenement Museum | The 5-story Tenement Museum is comprised of two historic buildings dating back to 1863. These buildings were home to an estimated 15,000 immigrants from 20 nations between 1863 and 1935.
- The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum | Home to a remarkable collection of military vessels of the sea and sky, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is considered one of the 10 best aviation museums in the world.
- The Morgan Library & Museum | The Morgan Library & Museum allows visitors to step inside the private library of J.P. Morgan. The library is quipped with three floors of metal-enclosed walnut bookshelves, chock full of rare books.
- New York Transit Museum | Dating back to 1904, New York City’s robust transportation system is one of the busiest and oldest in the world. Thankfully, visitors can take a walk down memory lane and explore vintage subway cars parked in a decommissioned subway station.
Have more time? Check out 15 Exciting Museums in New York City (& What to See at Each).
#9. Go to a comedy show
Going to a comedy show is one of the most unique things to do in NYC because the pool of entertainment is infinite. In the city of dreams and hard work you’ll constantly find new talent taking the stage, often times making for a hilarious night.
With over 20 venues to choose from you could go to a new comedy club nightly one week and have a completely different experience the next week.
There are big names like Comedy Cellar, The Stand, etc. but there are also less-known (equally as great) hidden gems tucked away in unassuming neighborhoods. Spending the evening with a bellyache from laughing is one of the best non-touristy things to do the next time you’re in NYC.
Further Reading: Need more suggestions? We got you covered! Here are 15 Thrilling Comedy Clubs in New York City (to Laugh The Night Away).
#8. Trapeze in the Park
Where Battery Park ends, Hudson River Park begins and stretches all the way to 59th Street. Not only does this lively NYC park span 550 acres, but it hugs the Hudson River and offers spectacular waterfront views.
In fact, more than 400 acres of Hudson River Park is located on piers that stretch over the water.
The wide paved paths are well-maintained, making them popular with runners and walkers. You can people-watch to your heart’s content with a cup of good coffee in hand. Plus, the park’s proximity to the buzzing Tribeca neighborhood ensures you’ll never go hungry or thirsty.
Perhaps the most famous section of the park is the recently-opened park, Little Island. The views are spectacular and the experience feels like being on an adult playground.
If there’s a hot day in the forecast one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC is to stretch out on the numerous lawns with picnic baskets and friends.
If you’re in an adventurous mood, and looking for more unique things to do in NYC may I suggest trying your hand at trapeze? Because there is, indeed, a trapeze school that overlooks the Hudson River. I mean, which other NYC park offers trapeze?
#7. Visit the Green-Wood Cemetery
Alright, who invited the party pooper? Because I’m here and I brought cookies.
Hear me out on this one. I know some folks might consider the mention of a cemetery as one of the best non-touristy things to do in New York City morbid, or even immoral, but it’s true. I mean , hey, this list is supposed to be about unique things to do in NYC after all… and this feels pretty unique.
Green-Wood Cemetery spans 478 acres and the spring and fall colors simply can’t be beat. The grounds come alive (pun not intended) with color around every turn and the quiet ambience is a nice reprieve from the city noise.
Oh, and I should mention a fascinating 25-year creative installation located at the cemetery.
The installation, called Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, is a grave designed specifically for secrets. One of the most exciting and unique things to do in NYC is to write your most intimate secrets on a sheet of paper and finally lay them to rest.
Address: 500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY 11232
#6. Walk the Manhattan Bridge
Everyone who travels to New York City seems to be familiar with the renowned Brooklyn Bridge. We’ve all seen the pictures, hell some of us even have one of ourselves right in the middle of the bridge (guilty!).
But since this post is about unique and non-touristy things to do in NYC I thought it might be time to introduce you to the lesser known bridge, the Manhattan bridge.
Construction began in 1901 and the bridge was officially put to use in 1909. Clocking in at over 6,000 feet long (about 1.3 miles) the Manhattan Bridge is a suspension bridge that connects New York City and downtown Brooklyn.
Personally, I think the Manhattan Bridge doesn’t get enough love. Crossing the bridge is one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC because often times you get the bridge to yourself. While everyone is crowding the Brooklyn Bridge you can sneak off and enjoy some epic views from the Manhattan bridge.
As one of the more unique things to do in NYC I want to be honest with you and not create a false narrative. The Brooklyn Bridge is more picturesque and charming while the Manhattan Bridge tends to be a little loud and less “aesthetically pleasing”.
However, the views are simply undeniably breathtaking. And crossing the bridge should be on everyones list of non-touristy things to do in NYC.
#5. Peruse a charming New York City bookstore
Want to live like a local even if it’s play-pretend, just for a little while? Head to the nearest bookstore you can find — the stinkier the better. 😉
Something about the smell of old books and wooden bookshelves makes the Big Apple that much more dreamy. Maybe I’m over romanticizing the city (sue me!) but if you’re looking for unique things to do in NYC I highly recommend getting lost in the world of literature.
The popular bookstores like The Strand in the East Village will constantly have crowds (again, rightfully so). But if you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC I suggest heading into Brooklyn.
A personal favorite bookstore in Brooklyn is Books Are Magic located in Cobble Hill. Although on the smaller side, the charming interior is inviting and the staff is always prepared with recommendations.
Here is a quick round-up of great bookstores for those looking for more non-touristy things to do in NYC:
- Greenlight Bookstore | Fort Greene, Brooklyn
- Albertine Books | Upper East Side
- Housing Works Bookstore | Multiple locations
Have more time? Check out 12+ Charming New York City Bookstores You Can’t Help But Love.
#4. Go gallery hopping in Chelsea
If you’re looking for one of the most affordable non-touristy things to do in NYC, look no further than Chelsea. Chelsea is chock-full of free art galleries, so much so, you could easily spend your whole day bouncing between exhibits.
With over a hundred spots to choose from, finding one that suits your liking shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the exhibits can be found between 18st-28st street and 10th- 11th avenue.
If at all helpful, these are some of my favorite exhibits to check out when in the area:
- Pace Gallery: Contemporary art | Address: 540 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
- Sundaram Tagore: Contemporary art with an emphasis on art that combines Western culture with global influences. | Address: 542 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001
- Lehmann Maurine: Representing a diverse range of contemporary artists and estates from around the world. | Address: 501 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
- David Zwirner: Contemporary art | 525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
- 303 Gallery: Contemporary art by contemporary American artists | 555 W 21st St, New York, NY 10011
#3. Explore Governors Island
Only a 10 minute ferry ride from lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island is a relaxing reprieve from the nonstop pace of New York City. Although technically getting there will cost you ($2 round-trip for adults) there’s an abundance of unique things to do in NYC once you get there.
You will find history dating back to the Revolutionary War making it a great spot for history buffs. You can walk around Fort Jay and Castle Williams which are both run by the National Park Service.
The other weekend one of my friends suggested spending Saturday at Governors Island. Having never visited, I eagerly accepted the invite.
We spent four hours exploring Governors Island and I was quite impressed. The island is full of public green spaces and we saw a lot of folks picnicking and napping on the lawns. Even if the plan is to just come here to tan on a summer day, its among the best non-touristy things to do in NYC.
There’s a cool rock outcropping visitors can climb to get views of NYC (that’s where I got the photo from) and the Statue of Liberty.
#2. Attempt to score tickets to Shakespeare in the Park
Date: June 8th – August 6th, 2023
If you’re visiting the Big Apple in the summer one of the most unique things to do in NYC is scoring tickets to Shakespeare in the Park! The event is hosted by The Public Theater. An organization that has performed Shakespeare’s plays for over 60 years, for free!
You’ll find the plays being performed at the 1,800 seat Delacorte Theater in Central Park. For tickets you’ll have to arrive at the theater the day of the performance, but they’re a hot commodity.
There’s some serious, professional level production value going into the performances. You’ll quickly understand why folks are so eager to get in line for tickets. Plus, the shows are enjoyable for audiences of all ages and interests.
Shakespeare in the Park is one of the most unique things to do in New York City and everyone knows it. You’re going to want to show up early for tickets if you want a fighting chance. Or you can always attempt to win digital-lottery tickets. Stand-by tickets are distributed at noon everyday there is a performance.
More info on how to get tickets, as well as what to expect can be found here.
#1. Wander the MET Cloisters
Have you ever wanted to tour a medieval castle? The kind you see in movies or textbooks made of stone, with beautiful courtyards and impressive architecture? Because you don’t have to travel out of NYC to visit one.
Just take a trip to the Met Cloisters!
It’s an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) dedicated to Romanesque and Gothic periods of architecture and art. Visiting is one of the most unique things to do in NYC, especially during the springtime. The courtyards are bursting in color and are in full bloom.
The entry fee is the same as a visit to the Met (currently that’s $30). Which is especially nice for locals since you pay what you wish as New York residents.
The Cloisters are easily accessible in Fort Tryon park (which is in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan).
Truthfully I’ve been to the Cloisters at least a dozen times, and at this point I treat it more as a park than a museum. It’s one of the most peaceful places spots in the city. It’s especially nice for those looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC due to the lack of crowds.
Dates: 99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040
GETTING AROUND NEW YORK CITY
Walking is a great way to get around
- You will be doing a lot of walking during your first visit to New York City. The subway is efficient but sometimes it’s better to walk between places to absorb more of the city.
Uber and Lyft
- Using Uber and Lyft is a great way to get around New York City, especially if traveling in a larger group. The last time I visited NYC with a group of friends Uber and Lyft were sometimes cheaper than the subway split between the 4 of us.
The Metro (subway)
- The subway is quite the New York City experience. I personally love taking it whenever I can but be warned – it gets terribly crowded during commute hours.
- Also, in the summer, some of the subway stations are hot and muggy. Since the itinerary takes you to every corner of Manhattan, I suggest getting a MetroCard during your trip to New York.
- What is more iconic than a bright gold New York City taxi? To know if a taxi is available for pick up, check the light on top of the cab. If the light is illuminated, the taxi is eager to take you! Credit cards accepted.
Non-Touristy Things to Do New York City (Post Summary)
In sum, these are the most unique things to do in NYC:
- Wander the MET Cloisters
- Attempt to score tickets to Shakespeare in the Park
- Explore Governors Island
- Go gallery hopping in Chelsea
- Peruse a charming New York City bookstore
- Walk the Manhattan Bridge
- Visit the Green-Wood Cemetery
- Trapeze in the Park
- Go to a comedy show
- Check out a new Museum
- Soak in the city skyline at Pier 57
- Stroll the charming streets of South Street Seaport
- Show off your skills with axe throwing
- Wander Industry City
- Play some shuffleboard
- Go to a jazz show
- Enjoy a round of bowling at Brooklyn Bowl
- Experience theater like never before at Sleep No More
- Check out the birth place of Theodore Roosevelt
- Visit Coney Island
- Get drinks on the MET Rooftop
- Try to beat the clock at an escape room
- Shop the local farmers markets
- Explore Arthur Avenue (the real Little Italy)
- Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
- Partake in a boozy brunch
- Explore a market
- Go brewery hopping in Brooklyn
- Bike Prospect Park
- Try authentic Asian food in Flushings, Queens
Map of Non-Touristy Things to Do in NYC
I hope you enjoyed this guide as much as I enjoyed creating it! Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions – happy to help!