Let me guess, you’ve been to NYC before and want some, dare I say, unusual things to do in New York City?
Yeah, I get it.
I mean, King Kong scaled the Empire State Building so clearly this New York City attraction is no surprise to anyone.
Plus, it’s kind of overrated, but that’s another story altogether.
So, if you’ve been to New York City countless times, or if you’re visiting for the first time and want to avoid some of the more generic, New York City points of interest, then this is the post for you.
We’re gonna get off the New York City tourist trail and look at some of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC (AKA my favorite hidden NYC attractions).
Things might even get a little weird as we experience some of the more alternative things to do in New York City, but I promise, it will all be worth it in the end. And while I may sound a bit cryptic here, I promise that no human sacrifices of any kind will be required, scout’s honor.
So grab a huge ass bowl of popcorn and relax since we’re about to dive head first into some of the off the beaten path things to do in NYC.
I may or may not eat my popcorn like this. #justsayin’
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1. The Cloisters
Let me guess:
You think I’ve joined some religious cult where they speak in tongues and do ritualistic animal sacrifices?
Nah, I’m saving that for another post…kidding!
Perched atop a hill, in Fort Tryon Park, lies the Cloisters, a criminally underrated branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (purchase a ticket to the MET, you can use that ticket to visit the Cloisters as well) that is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in all of New York City.
Built-in 1917 by John D. Rockefeller Jr (#ballerlife).:
This peaceful, ragtag, aggregation of architectural masterpieces was originally built to house an overflow of medieval artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Cloisters has become a treasure of New York City in its own right and is well worth a visit for those looking for more alternative things to do in New York City.
Within these hallowed walls:
There lie frescoes, tapestries and paintings aplenty; all of which surround a romantic courtyard that is interconnected by grand archways that are topped off with Moorish inspired, terra-cotta roofs.
The crowning jewel of the entire facility is The Hunt of the Unicorn, a 16th-century tapestry that is awe-inspiring in it’s timeless, effervescent beauty.
And I mean:
If you don’t like unicorns, I don’t we can be friends…even on Facebook (kidding…sort of).
2. Brooklyn Flea
Are you a hipster in training, looking for a place to call your own?
Then Brooklyn Flea is the mecca you’ve been waiting for!
Founded in a long-ago time before Pinterest, AKA 2008, this flea market features hundreds of vendors selling an assortment of furniture, vintage clothing, antiques, jewelry and well, artisanal anything, (think ramen burgers, crafts, and upcycled clothing) to meet any and all of your wannabe Brooklynite needs.
It’s so awesome that travel + Leisure, Country Living, Budget Travel, and Fodor’s all ranked this flea market as one of the best markets in the entire United States, and probably the only thing in Brooklyn that you can afford!
Joking. I added the last part since I’m bitter and poor.
From the first weekend in April, through October, Brooklyn Flea hosts a series of outdoor markets that are in Industrial City on Saturdays and in DUMBO on Sundays.
So be sure to stop by for a truly unique, New York City shopping experience.
3. Chinatown in Flushing Queens
There are about a billion different Chinatowns across the globe. So what sets Flushing’s Chinatown apart from the rest?
Well, one word, food, glorious food! Picture me twirling and frolicking at the very thought.
And that makes sense when you learn that the Chinese-immigrant population of Flushing, Queens, surpassed that of Manhattan’s Chinatown many years ago.
Sprinkle in a local population that is nearly two-thirds Asian and foreign-born and you get a neighborhood that is a perfect storm of Asian foodie awesomeness.
So whether you’re in the market for authentic Asian cuisine, an ancient herbal remedy, or an ultra-rare, Japanese comic book, Flushing has it all.
But I’m forever and always about the food.
So if you’re anything like me, then head over to the New World Mall food court, where you can create your own buffet of awesomeness, at a great price.
My top picks for restaurant greatness are Hunan House, Spicy and Tasty (for Mapo Tofu), Jade Asian (for dim sum), and New Imperial Palace (Dungeness crab with sticky rice).
4. The Tenement Museum
One of the best museums in New York City!
A museum that mimics the living conditions of immigrant tenements at 97 Orchard Street, in 1863.
Conditions were cramped, access to plumbing and clean water were mediocre at best, and disease spread like wildfire.
But the truly beautiful thing about the Tenement Museum is that it doesn’t just display the past, it allows you to become a part of the story by thrusting you into the exact hardships that residents faced.
As a result:
You fully appreciate the plethora of difficulties that immigrants of the past faced; a concept that is unfathomably important since these are the very, ordinary people who shaped the social and moral fabric of society today.
And if you’re lucky:
You might even begin to appreciate the rights and privileges that many citizens of today take for granted.
5. Underwest Donuts
Why Underwest Donuts isn’t packed to the gills, I’ll never know. Because this place definitely has one of the best desserts in NYC.
Maybe it’s because this donut shop isn’t fancy and is actually found, believe it or not, in a carwash, right by the Intrepid.
If you judge this place by its unassuming exterior, then you’ll miss out on the absolute, donut divinity that is found within.
But the best part?
Not only is this donut shop cheap, but it’s quiet! Legit, I went on a Saturday morning and there was no line. I just walked right up to the counter, ordered my donuts, and devoured them whole (I tried to be dainty but it was too good) as I watched the cars roll through the carwash.
And don’t even get me started on how tasty these little carb bombs were (and are).
I tried the lavender vanilla donut and it was light, moist, sweet, and cake-like, without not even a hint of grease. Seriously one of the best donuts that I have ever had.
6. Boroughs of the Dead – Macabre New York City Walking Tours
You know you’re onto something good when locals make up about 80 – 85% of your clientele. And Boroughs of the Dead is epically good.
Led by expert storytellers who thoroughly research the dark and unusual history of New York City, this tour company instills fear in patrons by creating a chilling reality that is undoubtedly scarier than fiction.
But what really makes this walking tour unique, besides the fact that it is the only ghost tour company in New York City, is the dedication of these professional tour guides to creating a one of a kind experiences that you will never forget;
Trust me, you’ll never look at New York City the same way again.
Depending on the season:
Boroughs of the Dead offers an exciting assortment of tours in each of the boroughs, each with a different meeting point and ending location.
Tour options include the Ultimate Greenwich Village Ghost Tour, Weird Tales of the West Village, and The Forgotten Dark Histories of Lower Manhattan (tour usually run for two hours and tickets are $25).
So strap on those big girl pants and prepare for some thrills lifetime time.
7. Morgan Library and Museum
Whenever anyone mentions “library” and “New York” in the same sentence, typically they’re thinking of the New York Public Library.
Just down the street from this iconic, literary institution, there is a library that I personally think is even better than the New York Public Library, plus the crowds are much smaller,
And that place is the Morgan Library and Museum.
Just picture the insanely wonderful library in Beauty and the Beast and you have some idea of just how magical this library really is.
How can you not love a place that publicly displays a Guttenberg Bible and an original Mozart composition? Throw in some stunning, historic architecture and you have one spectacular New York City attraction.
Now yes, admission to the Morgan Library and Museum can be a bit pricey at $20 a person, but you can always try and visit on a Friday evening, between 7 pm and 9 pm, when admission is FREE.
Plus, you’ll get to see a free, live jazz performance too!
WOOT WOOT! Raise the roof… or your pinkie as you gingerly sip a cup of tea in the drawing room.
8. The Seaglass Carousel
Feel like being a kid again but don’t want to schlep all the way to Coney Island?
Then why not catch a ride on the sea glass carousel an enchanting place that stands out against the rest of Battery Park.
For just $5:
Hop aboard an internally, LED illuminated fish, that swirls and twirls its way around the Nautilus shaped building, and into your heart, while creating a sense of wonder and awe within visitors of all ages.
But why fish?
Apparently, park designers wanted to add something light, bright, and fun to the drab park interior. So they went with a lovely, nautical theme since this park was actually home to the first aquarium in New York City (Boom! Use that nugget of knowledge to win Who Wants to be a Millionaire).
Feeling a little blue because the ride is over?
Never fear because this carousel is located in the one and only Battery Park.
While you’re here, you can marvel at good old Lady Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry, visit the one and only Ellis Island, walk over to Wall Street, or explore the nearby Irish Hunger Memorial (a truly moving monument that is well worth a visit).
9. Visit the Old City Hall Station
This activity isn’t 100% legal so if anyone asks, you didn’t hear this from me.
But as you may have heard:
The former City Hall station is insanely gorgeous and why they ever replaced it with the nasty one they have now, I’ll never know.
The obvious question remains, how can you see this marvelous, architectural wonder for yourself?
Well, do as the other poor locals do and skip the expensive tickets sold through the Transit Museum. Instead, hop on the subway, duck down, and ride the train past the final station at City Hall.
Why does this work?
The train actually turns around and passes the old City Hall station (last stop before the Brooklyn Bridge) just before making it’s way back Uptown.
Take advantage of the situation and see this historic station for free, even if the legality of this technique is somewhat questionable.
Being a total badass lawbreaker will add a little spice to your life.
10. Grab the Cutest Latte Ever at Sweet Moment
Cutest and one of the best coffee shops in NYC!
Not only is there a highly Instagramable, neon sign flashing the words, “Sweet Moment” as you walk inside this cafe, but this Chinatown coffee, tea, and dessert mecca (think Bingsoo, waffles, cake, ice cream, etc.) is well decorated and spacious too.
You will definitely find a seat and no, you won’t have to sit on anyone’s lap.
Let’s be real. You’re not here for the coffee but for the most adorable tea art that I’ve ever seen!
This uber adorable, “cream art” beverage is served as a cold brew, coffee or black tea and comes in funky flavors like chocolate, matcha, taro, and red velvet; all of which are served with milk and a healthy dollop of whipped cream.
The drinks are yummy but super sweet. So the real draw here is that you can take a picture of a latte that looks like the cutest little bear that you ever did see.
But you Know What they Say?
I did it all for the gram! Oh God, I’m turning into one of this basic, social media obsessed, self-involved Millennials! Ahh, make it stop!
***Psst, one more piece of foodie advice. Avoid Little Italy and visit Arthur Avenue instead. Not only is the food better but the prices are MUCH cheaper since Arthur Avenue is in the Bronx.***
11. Read under the stars at Albertine
You’re probably wondering what Albertine is anyway, am I right?
Well, believe it or not, Albertine is a French American bookstore, on 5th Avenue, that is literally right across the street from the MET.
Pretty cool right?
And no, you don’t have to speak French or buy a book to enjoy this magical place because I swear, this bookstore is unlike any other store that you’ve ever been to.
Why you may wonder?
Well, first of all, you have to pass through a metal detector just to get into the store, which has an impressive, white marble atrium with gorgeous statues and exquisite column work.
It feels more like a royal residence than a bookstore.
But once you’re inside, it gets even better.
Walk upstairs, gaze up at the ceiling, and become mesmerized by a kaleidoscope of stars and constellations that dot the vibrant blue ceiling;
a scene that is beautifully reminiscent of Van Gogh’s immortal painting, Starry Night.
12. Meow Parlour Cat Cafe
So unless you’re living under a rock in an alternate universe, then you know that cat cafes are totally a “thing” right now.
So in my desperately vain attempt to be a mildly cool “social media influencer”:
I joined in on all the cat cafe fun and visited Meow Parlour Cat Cafe. Even though, full disclosure, I’m more of a dog person than a cat person anyway. But shh, don’t tell the cats that.
However, in spite of my trepidations:
I had a pretty good time since I got to chillax and pet a ton of cute kitties. And added bonus, none of them tried to kill me with their razor sharp claws of doom, so I consider that a win too.
All the kitties here are up for adoption so this cafe really does help stray cats find good homes (Insert coos of approval here).
But How Does it Work?
Just go online and make a reservation for a 30-minute time slot.
When You Arrive:
Just check in at the front desk, sign a waiver, take your shoes/coat off, go over the rules, and sanitize your hands.
Welcome to kitty paradise. Sit back, relax, order some food, pet some cats, and live the dream for about a half hour. Just keep track of the time because they won’t remind you when your half an hour is up. And if you go over your time limit, you’ll be charged another $10.
13. Grab a Birthday Cake Croissant from Union Fare
That while yes, Union Fare does indeed have a small bakery area, with a few chairs, this restaurant is really more of a sit-down eatery with an urban chic vibe that all the cool kids’ love (if you come here for brunch in NYC, get the Benedict board. Soo good).
But we’re here for the birthday cake croissants damn it, not the ambiance!
To find this aforementioned piece of food heaven, turn right, as you enter the restaurant, and you will see a counter emerge before you that has a glorious assortment decadent pastries.
Go here now!
For the bargain basement price of $4 (credit cards only) you can buy a decadently, delicious croissant that comes in amazing flavors like birthday cake, fruity pebbles, matcha, red velvet cake, and so much more (feel free to ooh and ahh).
Just one bite of this flaky, buttery pastry and a magical cream filling starts oozing out, making you wonder, “Should I have another?”
And yes. The answer is always yes.
So whether you’re in Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan, or Queens, there are always new and unusual things to do in New York City.
And now, with this local’s guide to all the alternative things to do in New York City, you too can discover the city the way many New Yorker’s do.
So if you’re ready to leave New York City’s top attractions behind and want to try some of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC instead, then pin this now and read it again later!