In a city like New York, you’ll never run out of things to do. New York is home to the best of everything — museums, theaters, parks, shopping, dining, and so much more. There are tons of things to do in this vibrant city — and not all of them are located in Manhattan.
From quirky museums to world-class sports to incredible music and theater, there’s something for everyone. There are many great things to do in NYC that most people don’t know about, and chances are you’ve never done these things before. From discovering new neighborhoods and discovering hidden gems, to sampling food from all over the world, here are over 30 off-the-beaten-path places that every New Yorker must visit.
If you’re planning a trip to New York City, these tips will help you get the most out of your time in one of the world’s greatest cities.
Here is our guide for those who want to enjoy New York City’s unique neighborhoods and attractions, without being overwhelmed by crowds.
Planning your New York Itinerary
So, where should you go in New York, beyond the top of the Empire State Building?
When it comes to planning a trip to NYC, you should have an idea of what kind of experience you’re after. What’s the goal? Are you looking to enjoy a city that’s rich in history, with incredible architecture and culture? Do you want to hang out in the best neighborhoods to shop and dine? Or do you want to check off some major attractions off your list?
Are you going for a romantic getaway or a family vacation? The itinararies for each of these can look quite different.
How long should you spend in New York?
There is no clear answer to this. You can spend a weekend in New York and make time to check out a few hidden gems of New York, and have an amazing time. But you could also spend a year living in New York and still be finding new spots to explore by the end of your time there.
Do you need to plan ahead?
If you’re on a fairly short trip and planning on doing a lot of sightseeing, it would definitely make sense to do some advance planning. If you’re pretty easy going, or you’re there for a longer trip then you might be happy to wing it.
NYC’s Best Free Activities
Here’s a short list of things you can only do in NYC that you can’t in any other city, and what’s more they are completely free.
These are some great spots to get your best NYC travel photographs, make memories and soak up the vibes.
The Brooklyn Bridge takes you from Brooklyn to Manhattan, or vice versa, giving you a spectacular scenic view of the city from this iconic bridge.
It is free to walk (the length of the walk way is just over a mile) or drive across Brooklyn Bridge, and all of the popular hop on hop off bus services have stops close to both ends of the bridge or if you prefer you can also take a guided walking tour across the bridge which will come with commentary.
Okay, this is not off the beaten track, but you can’t go to New York and miss out on Times Square. This is one of the most famous locations in the city. Times Square can be found in midtown Manhattan, New York City and is adjacent to the Broadway theatre district.
You can visit Times Square for free to experience the vibes of busy New York City, take pictures, grab a bite to eat and check out some of the shops.
Explore New York Street Art
One of the best places to check out street art in New York City is definitely Brooklyn. The Bushwick area is recommended as a place to check out new and upcoming street artists.
Another great place to check out the New York street art scene, is the Lower East Side.
You can book onto a walking tour to take in as many of the graffiti hot spots as possible, or just take a stroll yourself and see what you discover.
Grand Central Terminal
Also known as Grand Central Station, this iconic train station is the largest train station in the world. It has also featured in many movies from the Avengers to Men in Black so it is pretty cool to be there.
New Yorkers are known for their Italian community, so take the time to visit the Italian district in Lower Manhattan for Italian American food, coffee, and to find out about famous gangsters of the past.
Most tourists congregate around Mulberry Street, you can also check out Arthur Street in the Bronx for another Italian New York experience that doesn’t come with all the crowds. The oldest Italian restaurant, Mario’s, is located here.
East River Waterfront
Although not actually a river, the waterfront at East River is a cool place to visit that not every visitor to New York thinks to stop by. You can also take a ferry cruise from here.
It is free to enter and walk around the Rockefeller center. This is located in midtown Manhattan, not far from Times Square.
Coney Island is an old school traditional seaside attraction which will be great for the whole family. If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, you may want to hit this up due to the song of the same name on her recent Evermore album and of course take a trip back to Greenwich Village to see 23 Cornelia Street, Taylor Swift’s former home which also has a song named after it.
Historical New York
New York is one of the cities of America which has the deepest history. Explore the many ways to experience NYC history, and see sights which give you an insight into this city’s past.
Historic Financial District
The oldest street in New York is called Stone Street, this is a short street in the financial district of Manhattan, where you can visit the historic buildings and see the cobble stone streets
You can visit the Wall Street historic district. My husband wanted to visit some of these areas, as he is a fan of the movie Wolf of Wall Street which is based on a true story.
Old City Hall
Check out this abandoned subway station. City Hall Station was one of New York’s oldest and had been considered one of the best, back in the early 1900s when the subway system was introduced. You can get a ticket from the New York City Transit Museum to ride through this, although the station was closed back in 1945.
This was the location of Malcom X’s assassination in 1965, located in Washington Heights. Currently it is being used as the Audubon Business and Technology centre, as a part of Columbia University
Ellis Island is a huge part of New York’s history, this path may admittedly have been well beaten but this location is famous for being a historic immigration station where over 12 million immigrants were processed and given permission to enter the United States.
Here you can visit the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration to find out more.
Statue of Liberty
Of course the Statue of Liberty is one of the most famous sights of New York, if not America as a whole. A great way to see this essential New York landmark is by taking the Staten Island Ferry.
Broadway and beyond
We all know about the many amazing shows you can see at the Broadway district, but the best places to see performances in NYC are not limited to these big name shows.
You could also go see STOMP in the East Village, which has been running for over 25 years, or check out shows by Out of the Box Theatrics, one of the most successful off-Broadway theatre organisations.
You could also check out live music performances in bars such as the Village Vanguard or Blue Note for Jazz, or check out Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn for live music and also comedy.
Central park and other green spaces
Central Park is home to a total of 21 different playgrounds! Each with its own theme and design. This is sure to keep kids entertained and busy but if you want to go further off the beaten path, we have some more great suggestions for parks and green spaces in New York City to explore with the whole family.
Wanting to swerve Central Park and try something different? Check out Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Although not quite as large as central park, this green space has so much to offer.
This park is home to the imagination playground, and the Vanderbilt street playground amongst others. It also contains a zoo, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Hudson River Park
This park runs for four miles along Manhattan’s Westside, at the bank of the Hudson River. Unlike the East River, people do swim in the Hudson River as the water quality here is safer and cleaner.
Best New York Parks for Water Play
If you’re visiting in the summer months, knowing the best parks to hit with splash pads and spray parks is going to make your trip so much fun for the kids. Here are just a few that you could check out.
- Teardrop park in lower Manhattan, Battery Park city, has a great water play area for the kids which also has plenty of shade if you are visiting on an extremely hot day.
- Washington Square Park fountain is so much fun for kids in hot weather. This location in Greenwich Village is also a great place to spot talent artists and musicians
- Domino Park (Williamsburg) has the amazing sweet water playground which gives you views over Brooklyn, and also has a landmark fountain outside of the Refinery building.
Staten Island Green Spaces
Explore the green spaces of Staten Island, a borough known for it’s many parks and natural areas. Some of Staten Island’s most popular parks include Clove Lakes, High Rock Park, Greenbelt and Lemon Creek Park
Discover the best New York City museums and art galleries
Depending what your interests are, you could consider checking out a few of these museums and art galleries, from the most famous to the lesser known and quirky little museums.
- New York transit museum
- Tenement museum
- Metropolitan museum of art
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Guggenheim Museum
- Museum of Sex
- Museum of Jewish Heritage
- Queens Museum
Any many more.
New York Explorer Pass
The New York Explorer Pass is accepted at over 75 different destinations around the city, from the most popular to many hidden gems which are a little more off the beaten path.
With the explorer pass, you have the freedom to change up your plans as you go and
Check out the New York Explorer Pass here and start finalising your itinerary today!
New York Subway Map Printable
There are so many unique things to see and do in New York, from the most popular places to the unusual things and off the beaten path places. One of the best ways to discover a city for yourself is just to get out and explore, and see what secret spots you happen across.
Find your way around with the NYC subway map which you can print below, so go on and explore the Big Apple like a native New Yorker!
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