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From world-renowned museums to award-winning restaurants, the city that never sleeps has something for everyone. Maybe you have visited New York several times and have already seen the main tourist attractions. Perhaps it is your first time, but you want to find activities off the beaten path. Or you are reading through the endless lists of 100s of things to do in NYC and feel overwhelmed! After two years of living here, I have crafted this list of 15 unique things to do in NYC that will take you away from the bustling tourist traps and help you experience the city like a local.
If you are new to NYC, don’t forget to check out this guide on how to make friends in the city.
Admire the Skyline from Exchange Place
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but the best view of Manhattan is actually from Jersey City! Hop on the PATH train to Exchange Place from the World Trade Center Station, and in just two stops (approximately 10 minutes), you will see the most dazzling view of the New York Skyline!
Get out of the Exchange Place Station and walk to the Hudson River. It is impossible to miss, and you can enjoy the view with a cocktail at Hudson & Co. The sunrise over the city is especially breathtaking if you are ambitious enough to get up at 6:00 AM.
Kayak for Free
During the warmer months (May to October), there are many free kayaking options around NYC. Get a beautiful view of the city from the Hudson river! It is also a unique and creative date idea.
The most famous option is Downtown Boathouse. It is found on Pier 26 and does not need a prior reservation. Manhattan Community Boathouse, another popular choice, is located on Pier 96 and allows advance sign-up (though it is not required).
Learn how to Tattoo at FIB
Located in Brooklyn, Forever Ink Bar offers a unique activity for tattoo lovers, artists, or those who are simply curious about tattooing. You can book an available slot through Fever Up and learn how to tattoo using a melon (which feels a lot like tattooing on human skin). The tickets even include a free drink!
Sofar Sounds Show
Topping the list of unique things to do in NYC, A Sofar Sounds Show is an excellent option for discovering new music and supporting local artists. Each Sofar Sounds performance features three vetted music artists in a cozy and intimate venue, ranging from art galleries to rooftop bars.
To add to the excitement, the concert’s location will be unknown until the day before the show, and the performers will be unknown until the actual performance! Just book a spot on their website!
Sunset Picnic in Rockefeller Park
Located in downtown Manhattan, Rockefeller Park (not to be confused with Rockefeller Center) is one of the best spots to see the sun setting over Jersey City. It is a popular picnic spot for locals with a great view of the Hudson.
I usually grab a meal from the Brookfield Place food court and bring a picnic blanket to set up in the field. However, if you don’t feel like lugging one over, there are plenty of benches and places to sit. You can also combine this activity with viewing the famous Oculus station and One World Trade building.
Go to a Cat Cafe
Cat cafes have been gaining popularity through the years, and though they are not unique to NYC, the city has some amazing ones! Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and relax with some adorable furry friends.
My favorite is Meow Parlour, located on the Lower East Side. It is easy to schedule a 1-hour time slot on their website, and the cats and kittens are also up for adoption! You can enjoy some coffee and macarons while playing with the cats.
Try an Escape Room
Like cat cafes, escape rooms have gained popularity over the years, with many dynamic ones in New York. Take an hour out of your day to immerse yourself in a unique NYC experience with themes ranging from pirates to spy missions and even the NYC Metro!
My favorite is The Escape Game, located in Midtown! It has some of the most exciting and well-developed puzzles and hidden surprises.
MET Cloisters (Fort Tyron Park)
Often overshadowed by the MET, the MET Cloisters, located in upper Manhattan, is a hidden gem and haven from the craziness of the city. It also happens to be of my favorite museums! Although it can be a trek to reach, it transports you into a different world.
Specializing in European medieval art and architecture, this museum contains gardens (boasting many insta-worthy spots), chapels, and themed galleries with around 5,000 works of 12th – 15th-century European art and architecture. As a result, this museum is a must-see for art and history buffs!
Go to a Comedy Show
You are missing out if you have yet to make it to a New York comedy club! Though this may seem like a no-brainer, I am surprised how many of my friends leave comedy clubs off their itineraries.
My absolute favorite (and one of the most popular comedy clubs) is the Comedy Cellar. They have three locations in the same area: Comedy Cellar, Village Underground, and The Fat Black Pussycat (my favorite). You can make a reservation online in advance, which is highly recommended due to its popularity. I suggest visiting on a weeknight when the cover charge is also cheaper.
Another great option is the Gotham Comedy Club, located in Chelsea. The setting is less intimate than the Comedy Cellar locations, but it is more modern, and you have more space. The lineups are also fantastic!
Check out a Jazz Club
New York City is full of historic jazz clubs, and it is not uncommon to find live music events every night of the week in this jazz capital. From legendary icons to aspiring artists, you will easily find a performance to enjoy.
Visit one of NYC’s Unique Bars
There are hundreds of unique bars in NYC with inspiring themes, creative cocktails, and insta-worthy decorations. You are sure to find one that will fit your style and vibe! My two personal favorites are The Dead Rabbit and Patent Pending.
The Dead Rabbit is one of the world’s most awarded pubs, and for a good reason! Located in a 19th-century townhouse, the pub offers creative cocktails and skilled bartenders. If you aren’t feeling something on the menu, describe the flavors you like to your bartender, and they will whip something up.
Patent Pending, located in the same building where Nikola Tesla performed his radio wave experiments, has one of the most creative cocktail menus I have seen. Each delicious drink is presented as a patent with the components broken down for the customer. This warm and cozy bar is sure to get the creativity flowing.
Visit a Speakeasy
If the bars mentioned above aren’t unique enough, you can also check out one of New York’s famous speakeasies! From a secret entrance behind an old cola machine to a sneaky staircase in a Five Guys, these hidden gems have an allure that regular bars do not.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Another unique NYC gem to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The tickets run $18 per adult and $12 if you are a senior or a student, and I highly recommend buying them in advance. Once there, you can explore the different gardens and plants in bloom.
Head to their website to check for any special events before you go! I recommend visiting during April when the gardens are full of vibrant, pink cherry blossom trees. The blossoms transport you into a different world, not to mention the breathtaking photos you can snap!
One of NYC’s newest additions, Little Island is a green oasis in Hudson River Park with rolling hills and a beautiful view of the Hudson River. Though access to the park is free, payment for specific performances may be required.
Check their website for free workshops and events, which can include painting sessions, singing groups, plays, dance performances, poetry, and more. They have activities for all ages to enjoy in every season!
Go Vintage or Thrift Shopping
Are you tired of all of the expensive boutiques in Soho or on 5th Avenue? Check out some of NYC’s famous thrift stores and find a unique piece to add to your wardrobe. Thrifting is a more exciting (not to mention sustainable) way to shop.
For a fashion lover, there is nothing quite like the rush of finding a new statement piece for your closet. Some popular ones include AuH20 Thriftique, Crossroads Trading Company, and my favorite, L Train Vintage.
I hope this list of 15 unique NYC experiences helps you plan your perfect trip to the Big Apple. There are endless options in the city and you are sure to find activities you will love. Follow my blog for more insider NYC tips and leave a comment if you have questions regarding any of the activities on this list!