Mention New York and most visitors picture a concrete jungle but you’d be surprised at how many green places there are to hide from the crowds. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty might be landmarks to tick off your bucket list but there are lots of other cool, quirky and unusual things to do in New York.
The population of New York is 19.5 million, with 8.6 million in NYC alone, which puts it right up there as one of the largest cities in the world. But if exploring megacities isn’t your thing, you might be surprised to learn there are lovely scenic spots you can visit as a day trip or weekend getaways from New York.
- Unusual Things to do in New York
- New York Tours
- 1- Tour In A Pedicab
- 2- Attend a Gospel Service In Harlem
- 3- Learn The Secrets Of Grand Central Station
- 4- Explore The Catacombs In NYC
- 5- Learn To Draw Graffiti In Brooklyn
- 6- Go On A Prohibition Pub Tour
- 7- Hang Out With Superheroes
- 8- Visit The Gossip Girl Sites
- 9- Find Out Your Secret Colour
- 10- Go On A Wall Street Insider Tour
- Gardens and Museums
- 11- Hide In Central Park
- 12- Channel Your Inner Creativity At The High Line
- 12- Relax in A Medieval Garden
- 13- Smell the roses at the New York Botanical Gardens
- 14- Visit the Skyscraper Museum
- 15- Explore Frick Collection
- 16- Wander the Museum of the City of New York
- 17- Find a Rooftop View
- 18- Lurk in a Hotel Lobby
- 19- Drink A Martini In A Quirky Bar
- 20- Chow Down In A New York Eatery
- 21- Join A Quirky Yoga Class
- 22- Nap In A Neon Bed
- 23- Visit Mmuseumm
- 24- Go On A Ghost Tour of Greenwich Village
- 25- Splash Some Cash At The Outlet Shops
- Best Time To Visit New York
- New York Tours
Unusual Things to do in New York
New York Tours
1- Tour In A Pedicab
Discover famous landmarks, movie locations and the best views around Central Park from the comfort of a pedicab and let someone else do all the peddling.
Pedicabs are bicycle-powered trishaws that are a fun way to get around in the traffic but if you decide to hail a pedicab off the street, make sure you don’t get overcharged.
To avoid the hassle of negotiating with a pedicab driver, who is likely to try to charge as much as possible, book a pedicab tour here.
2- Attend a Gospel Service In Harlem
Attending Sunday worship in Harlem is a colourful and vibrant experience that has become part of New York’s culture.
Taking photos and videos is not allowed inside the church so put your phone or camera away and get into the spirit by singing, swaying and clapping your hands.
There are many churches in Harlem of various sizes and mass is free but go early to avoid the tourist groups.
Small churches offer a more intimate experience and if you’re having trouble deciding which church to attend, here’s a gospel service tour to try.
3- Learn The Secrets Of Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station might be one of New York’s most famous landmarks but there’s more to Grand Central Station than platforms and trains.
The historic 1913 building, featured in many movies, has impressive architecture, shops and eateries.
Most people don’t realise there are hidden secrets to discover, such as the whispering gallery, speakeasy bars and hidden tennis courts.
You’ll be surprised at what you learn by booking this tour of the station.
4- Explore The Catacombs In NYC
Beneath Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral lie New York City’s mysterious catacombs, which are spooky to explore at night.
In 1815, the cathedral was the largest in the USA and the seat of the first bishop of New York.
A catacomb tour is a step back into history to a place where priests, bishops and prominent families were buried.
These days, you can buy a cremation niche in the underground catacombs for US$10,000 to $15,000 but a full family crypt will set you back $7 million! Book a tour here
5- Learn To Draw Graffiti In Brooklyn
Join a hands-on graffiti workshop run by a real NYC graffiti artist, who will teach you tricks and give you tips.
Street art became popular in New York City in the 1970s when the crime rate was high and kids in Brooklyn and the Bronx started painting buildings with graffiti.
Since then, graffiti has evolved into an art form that’s displayed in museums and galleries.
Famous street murals include the Bronx Wall of Fame (173rd St at West Farms Rd, Bronx) and the Graffiti Hall of Fame (106th St at Park Ave).
The Bushwick Collective (around Troutman Street and St Nicholas Avenue in Bushwick) is a 12-square-block outdoor museum featuring graffiti artists from around the world.
6- Go On A Prohibition Pub Tour
New York has wine bars, cool pubs and excellent craft beer breweries in Brooklyn. So, finding somewhere cool, quirky or interesting to drink is not a problem.
Drinking in NYC’s hidden underground bars and learning about Prohibition history is one of the fun things to do in New York.
In 1919, the Prohibition law was passed prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transportation of alcohol.
Politicians had hoped that the law would solve America’s social problems and reduce crime but there was no law against drinking alcohol.
So from 1920 to 1933, bootleggers and mafia bosses became rich as everyone loved a drink. Find out more about the era and book a fun bar tour here.
7- Hang Out With Superheroes
If you’re a fan of comic books, you’ll already know that New York City is where the superheroes thrive and comic book creators hung out.
See the sights and learn the stories behind Batman, Superman, The Avengers and other famous comic book characters.
Other heroes in New York city include Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Ninja Turtles and Captain America. Book a tour here
8- Visit The Gossip Girl Sites
“Hello, Upper East Siders!”.
Experience a day in the life of Manhattan’s teen socialites on a tour of the places featured in Gossip Girl.
If you’re a fan, you’ll want to book your tour here to hear all the tips and the inside scoop about the show.
9- Find Out Your Secret Colour
Did you know that colour plays a huge part in influencing our emotions as different colours can make us feel happy or sad?
Colour psychology is an alternative treatment today but was used as therapy by the ancient Egyptians and Chinese.
Visit New York City’s Color Factory and discover your secret colour after exploring the exhibits and installations. Book a tour here
10- Go On A Wall Street Insider Tour
Get the inside scoop on how Wall Street works and learn how the mega-million dollar deals are made while you visit the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street.
Wall Street, in lower Manhattan, is the world-famous financial street home to investment banks and brokerages. Book a tour here
Gardens and Museums
You might be surprised to discover that New York has many open green spaces and plenty of calm places to escape the busy city.
You’ll find pockets of serendipity in the concrete jungle if you know where to look.
11- Hide In Central Park
Central Park is the lungs of the metropolis and one of the best places to find secluded spots within the park’s 840 acres of vastness.
Lose your thoughts on the elm-tree line Mall and Literary Walk, hide in the secret Conservatory Garden or find a quiet place in the historical museum at Belvedere Castle.
If you’re on a budget, visiting Central Park is one of the cheap things to do when visiting NYC but if you’d rather go on a tour try one of these.
12- Channel Your Inner Creativity At The High Line
Although High Line might be a little too popular to offer solitude, the disused railway, which has been converted into a sky-park, is an interesting day out.
Saunter amongst the street performers, art installations and there are plenty of places to flop with a birds-eye view into the cacophony below and surrounding buildings.
Combine a tour of High Line and the Meatpacking District.
12- Relax in A Medieval Garden
The Cloisters in Fort Tyron Park is where you’ll find the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (The Met) medieval art collection.
Set within an intriguing medieval monastery, the collection is one of the lesser-known New York gems.
The Cloisters is not on the tourist trail but with views of the Hudson, it’s worth the trek to relax and explore its medieval gardens, gaze at tapestries, Henry the 8th’s armour and Cleopatra’s jewels.
Enjoy the oriental gardens in Astor Court or relax in the fifth-floor rooftop garden.
If you haven’t visited The Met itself, it’s worth spending a day wandering around. Here’s what to see at The Met.
The Cloisters is at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York. Book a tour of the Met here.
13- Smell the roses at the New York Botanical Gardens
The New York Botanical Gardens were established in 1902 and planted to bloom all year round.
It’s a surprising green pocket in the Bronx and gardening enthusiasts will want to spend several hours exploring its 250 acres of gardens and exhibitions.
Highlights include the Rose Garden’s 650 types of roses, 200 flowering cherry trees (March to May and September to November) and the Conifer Arboretum.
New York Botanical Gardens is at 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York.
14- Visit the Skyscraper Museum
If you have an eye for architecture, visit the Skyscraper Museum for a unique perspective of the scale of Manhattan.
As New York was one of the first skyscraper cities in the world, a wander around this museum is a meaningful experience.
The museum’s displays offer a comparison of NYC to other mega-cities of the world and you won’t even have to step out onto a pavement.
The Skyscraper Museum is at 39 Battery Pl, New York.
15- Explore Frick Collection
The $20 entrance fee to the Frick Museum usually keeps the crowds away, which means those looking for solitude are likely to have some peace and quiet.
Enjoy European masterpieces in the mansion where Pittsburgh industrialist and avid collector Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) once lived.
After seeing works of art by Goya, Bellini, Rembrandt and Gainsborough, explore the lovely gardens in peace.
The Frick Collection is at 1 East 70th Street New York and has a system where you can pay whatever you want to enter on Wednesdays (2 pm to 6 pm).
16- Wander the Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York is a creative city museum you can wander around without crowds.
With 750,000 items in its collection, this is the place to go for exhibitions, events and to discover stories around what makes New York tick.
There are prints, photographs, paintings, sculptures as well as textiles and costumes.
Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 5th Ave, New York.
17- Find a Rooftop View
Gazing down upon the concrete jungle from above is a unique thing to do in New York for amazing views and a sense of perspective you’ll not find in most other cities.
You can escape to many places on a rooftop, including the rooftop lounge at the Gramercy Terrace Hotel 18 storeys high, Spyglass Rooftop Bar in the Archer Hotel and the industrial-chic Refinery Rooftop Bar.
Salon De Ning is another glamourous spot above the Peninsula Hotel to sip cocktails while enjoying views of New Yorker’s scrambling home on Fifth Avenue.
For an iconic view of the Empire State Building, go to the top of the Rockefeller Centre.
18- Lurk in a Hotel Lobby
Hotel lobbies in New York offer anonymity and relaxing spaces where you can hang out.
For example, Ace Hotel has a vast lobby divided into spaces furnished with retro lounges where you can sink back into and order a cup of coffee.
The Paramount Hotel near Times Square has a chic lobby perfect for a quiet drink or secret rendezvous.
Tip: When booking a hotel in New York, request a hotel room on the highest floor possible to minimise traffic noise but away from an operating elevator.
19- Drink A Martini In A Quirky Bar
New York has some of the best martini bars and a bar tour is something you certainly should do.
However, one of the more unusual things to do in New York is to hang out at a quirky themed bar, such as the monastery themed Burp Castle, the aviation-themed Flight 151 or 1920s speakeasy Please Don’t Tell.
Put yourself in the hands of a mixologist at Apotheke, where staff in white labcoats will mix your drinks.
Delight in the decor of Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, where the amber coloured walls are adorned with artist Ludwig Bemelman’s drawings from the Madeline children’s books.
On Monday nights, you might catch a glimpse of Woody Allen on the clarinet warming up before his gig at Café Carlyle next door.
20- Chow Down In A New York Eatery
Being the vibrant metropolis it is, New York City has fantastic cafes and restaurants dishing up a cornucopia of delicious fare. There’s no shortage of fine dining restaurants and not surprisingly, you’ll find plenty of budget places to eat in New York City too.
One of the more unusual things to do in New York is to dine in a themed eatery such as Ninja, which is an underground ninja village, or the Jekyll & Hyde Club for a spooky meal.
If you’re on a mission to find somewhere to eat away from the crowds, there are lots of smaller family eateries off the beaten track. There are some useful tips on where to find those in this local’s guide to eating in NYC.
Restaurant Row (west 46th between 8th and 9th) in the Theatre District caters for the theatre crowd, so go when the shows are on and you’ll be able to dine without the crowds.
21- Join A Quirky Yoga Class
There’s no doubt yoga is hip and New York City and taking a yoga class is one of the best things to do in New York to help you stay calm.
You’ll have no problem finding a yoga studio, actually, there are so many yoga studios offering all kinds of different types of yoga, you might have difficulty choosing.
From naked yoga to yoga with cats, where you stroke cats in a cat cafe, to acroyaga, which is a combination of acrobatics and yoga, trying out a cool type of yoga is one of the quirky things to do in New York.
22- Nap In A Neon Bed
Although the Big Apple is one of the busiest cities in the world, New Yorkers are serious about relaxation and the city is packed with fantastic spas.
There are so many spas in New York it’s overwhelming, from Ancient Roman bathhouses to Japanese Onsens to uber-chic contemporary spas, you won’t have any trouble finding a serene spot to unwind and recharge in New York.
If a massage or facial is not your thing, indulge in a power nap in a sound-proof honeycomb-shaped sleeping pod at in Midtown’s Yelo Spa.
One of the unusual things to do in New York is to experience LED Light Therapy at NKD NYC.
You lie in a light therapy bed while being blasted by red (or near red) infrared rays that stimulate cells and accelerate natural healing.
23- Visit Mmuseumm
The tiny museum set in a goods elevator is a 21st-century museum concept that aims to explore humanity in unexpected locations.
Checking out Mmuseumm, which is getting ready to open again in spring, is one of the quirky things to do in New York.
Exhibitions usually displayed on shelves and are thought-provoking and topical.
24- Go On A Ghost Tour of Greenwich Village
Many famous people lived in Greenwich Village, including Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe.
There are many haunted spots around Greenwich Village and a tour with a local will reveal the area’s dark past.
Places to explore include the Jefferson Market Library, which was once a prison, and other haunted buildings such as Mark Twain House.
25- Splash Some Cash At The Outlet Shops
Stock up on designer shoes, clothes and accessories at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley.
With over 200 shops and brands like Diesel, Nike, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, you might need an extra outlet designer suitcase to take your new purchases home.
Best Time To Visit New York
The least busy time to visit with the best weather is during the Fall (Autumn) and between Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.
Winter in New York is bitterly cold but ideal for theatre-goers and museum buffs. If you’re planning a winter trip, dress in layers and wear your warmest clothes.
Wondering how to dress in The Big Apple? Here’s a guide to help you decide what to wear in New York.
More things to see:
For more about New York State, read: