New York City is a mega-metropolitan that every traveler must check out at least once in their lifetime. Not only does it have historical significance, but it has endless activities, delicacies, and attractions you can enjoy.
The best way to explore the Big Apple is by checking out the hidden gems. So, here are the best non-touristy things to do in NYC within the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
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Using the map of New York City, you can explore all the things to do.
As a visitor of the city, you can never run out of museums to explore. Yet, instead of going to the Metropolitan Museum or the Guggenheim, why not check out the lesser-known museums that are just as interesting?
The Morgan Library and Museum houses the private collection of J Pierpont Morgan and other collectibles. You can expect to find Charles Dickens’ manuscript of A Christmas Carol, Mozart’s handwritten scores, and more.
Looking for something a little more idyllic than Central Park? Then the Elizabeth Street Garden is a must-visit for you.
This public garden is nestled in Little Italy in Manhattan, and it provides a lovely green space to the locals and those looking for a quiet area not too far from the bustling city.
You can enjoy a picnic or two surrounded by sculptures, or participate in one of their community events.
Located in the Financial District of Manhattan, The Cauldron is a magic-themed bar where you can create your own “potions”.
What separates The Cauldron from any other cocktail-making class is its immersive nature, where you will craft your own potions in a cauldron guided by potion masters who are highly skilled in mixology.
Even if you don’t want to create your own tinctures, you can head straight to the bar and explore their magical menu.
Perhaps one of the most unusual things to do in NYC, this tour allows you to discover the city inside a hot tub! Sea The City is essentially a Jet Ski tour where you can cruise along the Hudson River in an hour.
If you’re looking for something more interesting, Sea The City also has a Hot Tub Boat Tour package where you can chill in a hot tub on a boat while traveling down the Hudson.
New York City is filled with delis and bodegas, but nothing quite compares to the caliber of Katz’s Delicatessen.
Located between the Bowery district and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Katz’s Delicatessen has served authentic Jewish sandwiches since 1888, making it the oldest deli in the city.
The deli is popular for its cuts of meat, no-frills yet delicious food, and an atmosphere that still stays true to its heritage.
Discover one of the unique museums in the world with this modern history gallery. Found in Lower Manhattan, Mmuseumm doesn’t look like your typical Smithsonian. The entire museum is located inside a freight elevator shaft.
You can find “contemporary artifacts” like plastic bottles, dollar bills, board games, and more in this six-by-six space. There are five ways to experience the museum, and one of them is through the peephole that’s open 24/7.
You don’t need to go all the way to Greece to experience the ancient baths; you can go to TriBeCa to bathe in the AIRE Ancient Baths.
Offering a rustic ambiance with their exposed bricks, AIRE Ancient Baths has various services, like aromatherapy massage, salt exfoliation, steam rooms, wine baths, and other relaxing experiences.
Whichever service you choose, you’ll always end up in one of their ancient thermal baths.
Ever wondered how circus stars train for their magical and breathtaking shows? Then you should check out the Aerial Arts in Chelsea.
Here, you can witness acrobats and other circus professionals in their natural habitat: dangling and somersaulting through the air high above the ground.
If you want to get in on the action, you can sign up for one of their beginner classes, or independently train with an expert.
For a night out of pasta and champagne, head to this Beekman St. restaurant. Temple Court on 10 is the perfect dining spot for a romantic night out in NYC, thanks to its elegant menu and floral decor.
Vines of lavender snake the walls and ceiling, complete with fairy lights to really amp up the dreamy ambiance. Finish your night out with a cocktail in the adjacent The Bar Room.
Keeping with the same theme as Katz’s, McSorley’s Old Ale House is a pub that was opened sometime in the 1850s, making it the borough’s oldest Irish bar.
Located between NoHo and the Ukrainian Village in Manhattan, the bar maintains a decor that stays true to its Irish heritage, and they mainly serve light and dark beer on tap.
If you ever want to experience Irish heritage and pub culture, McSorley’s is the place to go.
Visiting museums is one of the most fun things to do in NYC, but the Spyscape takes museum-hopping up a notch. Spyscape is an espionage museum, but instead of showcasing memorabilia, it educates visitors about the art of espionage through themed rooms.
These rooms cover the topics of surveillance, encryption, and more. To make the museum more interesting, you can also participate in immersive experiences that test your spy skills.
Among NYC’s many art installations, Artechouse offers something a little bit different. Located in the Chelsea Market, Artechouse combines art, science, and technology to bring you an experience you won’t find in a museum.
You can explore geometric properties, fractal dimensions, and other unique audio-visual experiences. On top of that, Artechouse is a great place to snap a few pics for the ‘Gram, or to take your significant other for an out-of-this-world date night.
If you’ve ever wondered what an aerial view of the Upper East Side looks like, then your next stop should be the Roosevelt Island Tramway. From the tram, you can see the beautiful Manhattan skyline and the quaint but historic Roosevelt Island.
The tram runs from 6 AM to 3:30 AM every day, making it an ideal spot to catch the golden hour. You can only access the tram with an MTA MetroCard, and it costs $4 for a roundtrip.
This hidden bar in the Financial District of Manhattan wasn’t just decorated to look like a bank vault. Trinity Place is located inside an actual vault dating back to the early 1900s.
The vault was restored in 2006, and the bar was commissioned to open by the New York Realty Bank. Not only does the bar have a vast collection of classic cocktails, but it also serves an eclectic menu from pasta to paté.
Manhattan is mainly known for its skyscrapers and beautiful brownstone, so this particular site might seem a little out of place amidst the concrete jungle. It doesn’t take away the beauty of The Cloisters, though, a replica of a medieval European monastery.
Most of the building was built from European ruins collected by George Grey Barnard. The surrounding landscape was designed to highlight the Romanesque style of The Cloisters, with Gothic walls and structures.
The best thing about New York City is that it’s filled with secret spots not many tourists are aware of. This hidden bar, aptly named The Little Shop, is located behind a bodega in the Seaport district just below Lower East Manhattan.
You can get to this speakeasy through a sliding door at the back of the bodega. The bar serves various cocktails with a touch of exotic ingredients, like tamarind, lavender, and chili.
Being part of a tour group can get boring sometimes, but with this particular tour, you’ll surely be rocked off your socks!
As one of the unique things to do in NYC, The Ghosts of New York walking tour will take you to some of the most haunted sites in New York City.
You can choose between a public or private Greenwich Village Ghost Tour, New York City Phantom Pub Crawl, and Ghosts of Grand Central Private Tour.
New York City delis are famous for their Reubens and sandwiches made with fresh, high-quality meats.
Hajji’s (also known as Blue Sky Deli and Harlem Taste) chopped cheese is slightly different from the rest; it is a sandwich made with ground beef, onions, tomato, and lettuce, topped with melted cheese and condiments.
Often called NYC’s take on a Philly cheesesteak, Hajji’s chopped cheese rose to fame due to its affordability and status as comfort food.
One non-tourist thing to do in NYC is to hunt for the best pizza in the city.
Some of the best pizza across the five boroughs are from:
Make a list of all the pizza joints in the city, and rank their pizza after you’ve tried them all.
For those looking for a halal option when visiting New York City, one of the best places to get it is from the Halal Guys food trucks. They are known for their gyros, kebabs, shawarmas, and other Middle Eastern delicacies that are 100% halal.
Deemed as the pioneer of halal food in New York, the Halal Guys now have several food trucks operating across the city, but make sure to visit the OG outlet on West 53rd St.
You don’t have to go all the way to Coney Island or Rockaway Beach to have some summer fun.
You can rent a kayak and take it down the East River to see the city skyline. Most tours offer a 20-minute kayak ride that allows you to cruise the length of the river.
Aside from kayaking, companies also provide canoe and sailing lessons, like ONE°15 Brooklyn Sailing School.
Considering how dense New York City is, it’s always a treat every time you come across an outdoor space or activity.
If you visit in the spring, you can enjoy a stroll underneath the beautiful cherry blossoms. The park also has activities and performances for people of all ages.
Visiting flea markets is one of the best non-tourist things to do in NYC, as you can immerse yourself in the local scene and support the local businesses.
Check out the Brooklyn flea market happening every weekend, where vendors selling jewelry, snacks, and other local goods gather.
Forget the “I Love NY” mug or magnet; at this flea market, you can find unique souvenirs to bring back home that you won’t find in your typical souvenir shop.
Some of the best places in NYC are pretty underground, and only those who seek these places will be able to find them. Sunshine Laundromat is a hidden arcade that houses many vintage pinball and arcade machines.
The arcade is hidden behind a laundromat, so you can easily miss it if you’re not paying attention. Sunshine Laundromat also offers various beers on taps, like Golden House Lager, Pinner Throwback IPA, and more.
Rooftop venues are a-plenty in New York City, but this one provides one of the best views, especially during sunset. Westlight is a restaurant and bar located on the 22nd floor of the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn.
The Westlight offers a 360-degree view of the city, directly overlooking the Hudson River on one side. It serves a variety of cuisines, along with delicious cocktails to accompany your sunset viewing.
The food scene in Brooklyn is massive, let alone in the entire city. As a little bit of a shortcut, you can check out DeKalb Market Hall in Downtown Brooklyn.
It’s one of the largest food halls in the area, featuring 40 food stalls with various cuisines. Some of the vendors you can find in Dekalb Market are Katz’s Delicatessen, Adelita’s, Creamline, Miznon, and Pulkie’s.
One of the best ways to discover a new city is to explore it on your own. Nothing beats taking a bike ride on the Brooklyn Bridge when you’re visiting NYC.
Guided bike tours will take you to see sights like the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Wall Street, Battery Park, and Hudson River Park. If you're feeling extra adventurous, you can do it on your own without the guidance of a tour.
Good quality cheese is often attributed to Italy, France, and the Netherlands, but New York City has its own gourmet cheese as well. The Crown Finish Caves is an underground cheese aging facility located in a below-ground tunnel in Brooklyn.
The tunnel used to be a brewery dating back to the 1840s, but the cooler temperature also makes it perfect to age cheese. Crown Finish Caves ages an assortment of cheddar, Taleggio, goat cheese, and more.
New York City is no stranger to weirdly-themed parties that only a few have access to. The House of Yes offers the same experience without the exclusivity of some NYC clubs.
At the House of Yes, you don’t only drink and dance but also watch performances by trapeze artists and aerialists. The parties always have extravagant themes, like Carnaval, House of Vogue, Dirty Circus, Full Moon, Amateur Burlesque, and Golden Era.
Beat The Bomb is not your average escape room, and it’s perfect for thrill-seekers visiting the city. Located in Brooklyn, Beat The Bomb is the world’s first paint blast escape room.
Here, groups play arcade games, like Hack Attack, Laser Maze, Echo Chamber, and Floor Grid, to defuse a bomb in under an hour. Failure to do so within the set timeframe, and you will be blasted by paint bombs in fun neon colors.
The Brooklyn Squibb Park Bridge is a hidden gem that not even many locals have heard of. Just like its namesake, the park comprises a footbridge connecting Brooklyn Bridge Park and Brooklyn Heights.
It’s delightful in the summer, with its lush greeneries acting as a canopy to protect you from the heat. Whatever season you find yourself in the city, visit the Squibb Park Bridge for a skyline unlike any other.
The boroughs of Manhattan and Queens are more well-known for their food, art scene, and historical sites. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, make your way to the tip of Brooklyn to visit the Luna Theme Park on Coney Island.
Opened in 2010, Luna Park is relatively new, but it sits at a site once home to other famous parks, like Astroland and Dreamland. Luna Park has both thrill and family-friendly rides for everyone to enjoy.
Out of all the creameries in New York City, Max and Mina’s is probably the most creative one yet. When you visit Max and Mina’s, go beyond your usual vanilla or chocolate scoop to try one of their specialties.
Since its opening in 1997, this Queens' ice cream joint features many exciting, but sometimes odd flavors. You can find unique flavors here like Corn on the Cob, Merlot, and even Pizza.
Most people don’t usually associate New York City with surfing, and maybe that's because you can’t really find a good surfing spot around.
Rockaway Beach, however, is the only legal surfing beach in NYC, and it’s also considered the largest urban beach in the United States.
After a long day of surfing, head on to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club for some grubs and classic summer cocktails.
There’s nothing better than personalizing your own souvenir, and you can do precisely that at Wick and Pour in Queens. You can create your own scent and learn the process of candle-making from start to finish.
Wick and Pour offers classes for solo travelers and big groups. You can either keep this personalized souvenir for yourself or create bespoke candles for your loved ones back home.
Airports aren’t usually a go-to attraction for tourists, but the TWA Flight Center is not your average terminal. The Trans World Airline terminal was built in the 1960s, but it closed down after TWA was sold to American Airlines.
In 2019, the TWA Flight Center reopened, and what you see now is a chic boutique hotel with views of the airport runway and authentic 1960’s elegant vibes. Think of red velvet chairs, exaggerated arches, and vintage trinkets.
New York City might be known for its pizza, but thanks to the large concentration of Italian-Americans in the city, you can also experience authentic pasta and other Italian dishes. Cassinelli Pasta is Queens’ oldest pastificio, or pasta factory, founded in 1912.
Cassinelli makes fresh pasta from gnocchi and penne to spaghetti and ravioli and more using their original recipe. You can choose either ready-to-make pasta or sheets of dough to use for your own ravioli recipe.
Brunch is such a great way to unwind and spend time with your loved ones, and there’s no place more perfect for doing this than in the brunch scene in Queens.
The Shady Lady in Astoria is known for its delicious brunch as it has a wide selection of Mediterranian-inspired food and classic brunch dishes.
To top it all off, they also serve bottomless mimosas, a staple element of the brunch culture today.
New York City might be a massive metropolis, but this panorama lets you overlook the city in its entirety. As the highlight of the Queens Museum, the Panorama of New York is a room-sized model covering all five boroughs of the city.
Although it was made in the 1960s, there are initiatives to keep the scale model up to date. For instance, the Adopt-a-Building program lets visitors “purchase” a building in exchange for a donation.
The journey to this Staten Island bakery might be long and winding. If you don’t have a car, you need to take a ferry to the island and then a one-hour bus ride. Yet, all the baked goods from Holtermann’s are worth the journey.
Other than the usual bread and cakes, Holtermann’s offers desserts from the yesteryears. Pullman bread and Charlotte Russe are some of the vintage desserts you can try.
The ice rink in Central Park is iconic, but it tends to be swarmed with tourists. For a similar experience that’s just as fun, head over to RollerJam USA in Charleston, Staten Island.
RollerJam is an indoor roller skating rink for people of all ages, complete with DJ nights and arcades. In fact, it was voted the no. 1 party place in all of NYC. To make it even better, they offer $1 pizza slices from 7 PM to 9 PM.
Staten Island might be called “New York’s forgotten borough,” but the beers from this brewery are far from forgettable. Flagship Brewing Company offers an array of locally-brewed beer, ranging from IPA, seltzer, pale ale to stout.
One of the most popular beers here is the Ezekiel, an 8% double IPA with citrus and mosaic hops. The brewery always schedules new flavors of beer to keep their menu interesting.
If you ever find yourself in Staten Island, a must-see place is the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, part of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. Forty Chinese artists built the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and it has authentic Chinese cultural elements.
For instance, no nails were used in constructing the garden, following the Ming Dynasty’s techniques. The garden also has a koi pond, moon gates, and flowers that represent different values.
Broadway shows are a must-see when you visit the city, but for those looking for unique things to do in New York City, try to catch a show at the historic St. George Theater on Staten Island.
St. George Theater was opened in 1928, and today, not only does the theater host community events, but it also has been the chosen venue for many stars like Tony Bennett, Air Supply, and Sarah Brightman.
No matter how good a restaurant is, nothing beats grandma’s cooking. Fortunately for foodies in Queens, this restaurant is run entirely by a group of grandmothers.
The menu at Enoteca Maria changes daily to showcase the grandmothers' different star dishes. Enoteca Maria has featured dishes from all over the world, including Japan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Italy.
For a non-touristy thing to do in New York City, visit the Bronx, famous for being the birthplace of hip hop. Many hip-hop legends were raised here, or they found fame through the local community as it is heavy with its own colorful culture.
The Hush Hip Hop Tour will take you through the history of hip hop, from the birthplace at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue to murals that feature founding hip-hop fathers like Kool Herc and Big L.
Other than football and basketball, Americans go wild over a game of baseball. If you’re an avid baseball fan, the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is a must-visit.
It is the home field for the New York Yankees, a legendary baseball team that has contributed many accolades to the Major League Baseball of America.
It’s also one of the most expensive stadiums, with the ability to hold up to 50,000 spectators.
Most distilleries often focus on creating wine, beer, whiskey, tequila, and other typical liquors. Port Morris Distillery is slightly different, however, as they let their Puerto Rican moonshine take center stage.
Port Morris is the only distillery that produces Puerto Rican moonshine, or pitorro, in the United States. Pitorro is made with sugar cane and flavored with apples, coconuts, honey, and ginger, all locally sourced within the state.
Mulberry Street in Manhattan is not the only neighborhood known for its Italian heritage. There is also a Little Italy in the Bronx, located on Arthur Avenue, to be precise.
You can find various restaurants, bakeries, and shops selling authentic Italian dishes and other goods here. For a more in-depth tour of the street, book a guided tour to learn the history and other fun facts about the Bronx’s Little Italy.
La Morada is a little Mexican food joint tucked below an apartment building on Williams Avenue.
Serving an array of Oaxacan dishes, La Morada is perhaps most famous for its rainbow molé, a thick sauce made with chiles, tomatillos, nuts, and spices.
La Morada is also big on giving back to the community, like offering free food to those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
These 50 best non touristy things to do in NYC are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully, they can get you started on your New York City adventure.
Keep in mind that the best places in the city are those favored by the locals and remain a secret. So, keep an ear out for local trends and hotspots because so many changes can happen in a New York minute!
This article was edited by Loredana Elena.
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