I've been to New York a few times now, my last trip lasting an entire month. Which means after the initial rounds of hitting the big tourist hotspots like Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, it was time to explore the non-touristy things to do.
Go back home with a unique holiday story that people haven't heard of yet, with theses 15 non-touristy things to do in New York. You'll get a chance to see how life is really like for local New Yorkers and appreciate what the city actually has to offer beyond the bright lights and holiday souvenirs.
Visit a dive bar
Dive bars are unique to American drinking culture. They’re the neighborhood drinking point for a quick and easy drink. Nothing fancy and definitely nothing over priced.
You won’t find a bar that’s highly designed or themed. No gimmicks will be found here.
But that’s the beauty of it, the gimmick is the fact that there aren’t any. Find your worn out pool table in one corner, a jukebox in another and just enjoy the griminess of the place.
Head to BillyMark’s West in Chelsea to grab a cheap beer or grub
332 Ninth Ave New York 10001
At 29th Street
Have lunch at Stone street
Stone Street is a stone cobbled pedestrian road in the heart of Manhattan. It’s near Battery park and Wall street.
This street is one of the oldest in New York, so you’ll be walking on history when you visit. It was once a neglected back alley, but now it’s a great place to grab lunch with all the cafes and restaurants that line the street.
The best part is when restaurants place seating outside during good weather. You will definitely feel like a local while you’re eating your lunch surrounded by all the people working in the financial district.
Go to an art gallery in Chelsea
If you’ve been reading my travel posts, then you might have noticed that I enjoy art. So Chelsea has got to go on my list.
Chelsea isn’t a commercial district, with most of it being residential townhouses and apartment blocks, but Chelsea is home to many art galleries.
Over 200 galleries to be exact.
Chelsea is also an ethnically diverse neighborhood with a big LGBT community and wherever there is diversity, the shops are almost always more interesting than the run-of-the-mill high street.
Head over to Andre Kreps Gallery to find contemporary art
537/535 W 22nd St #1
Between 10th and 11th Ave
The Tenement museum
Being a country built on immigration and New York being the most diverse city in USA. It only makes sense to pay a visit to Tenement museum while you’re here.
Tenement museum isn’t really a museum in the conventional sense. The museum focuses on the stories of immigrants in the city and the artifacts they showcase aren’t in a building but are the many points and spots within the city.
You need to sign up for one of their tours where you will visit and even go into places of historical significance to New York’s immigrant community.
For more details: https://www.tenement.org/contact.html
Visit Fort Tryon Park
Forget about central park, well ok, don’t forget about central park. Central park is pretty cool.
But, if you want to go somewhere less busy then head over to Fort Tryon Park instead. This park located in upper Manhattan spans 62 acres. And a cool trivial fact for you to share is the park was designed by the son who designed Central park.
But the cool thing about this park is the art gallery on site. You can spend an afternoon here if you want.
The cloisters is part of MET, and showcases medieval art and architecture from Europe. Nearby you will also find the remains of Fort Tyron Hall, a mansion built in the early 1900’s. The Fort Tyron park was built around the mansion once John D. Rockerfeller Jr. bought the place in 1917.
It was, at one time, the biggest mansion in all of New York.
Unfortunately a fire broke out and the only thing that remains is the entrance gateway to the estate. An impressive multi stone archway that leads you up to where the mansion would have been. (Definitely still worth a snapshot)
Open mic Mondays at Nuyorican Café
Enjoy poetry and live performances? Go to Nuyorican Café on a Monday night to enjoy the raw talent New York has to offer.
Located in Lower east side of Manhattan, the café is a hub for poets, comedians, artists and the like. It might look a little intimidating to go in on the outside, but the inside is a welcoming dwelling for those who enjoy the performing arts.
236 E 3rd Street
Chinese food at Flushing, Queens
You can’t go to New York without trying American style Chinese food. But a lot of people go to the Chinatown in Manhattan and overlook the many delicious options in Flushing Queens.
This Chinatown is a lot less touristy and a lot more immigrant community focused. This makes the food more authentic and cheaper, which is just fine by me.
The stand on a rainy day
This book store is a must visit for avid readers. It famously proclaims itself as having 18 miles worth of books on it’s shelves.
And I believe them.
The store has books from ceiling to floor everywhere you look. They even have rare first editions of classics on display. You’re not going to get bored in this store. Just the sight of so many books is going to make you want to find one for yourself.
Brooklyn bridge park
The park is a pretty new park that sits on top of where the old port was. The whole area has been renovated to be a public outdoor space, and I think the local council has done a pretty good job of it.
There are walking trails that run along the waterfront, a nice selection of places to eat and the best part is being so close to the Brooklyn bridge.
This place is perfect for a date or the family, there's a lot to do here from riding a carousel to wall climbing.
Smorgasburg food market
This is a food market that’s held every weekend at Williamsburg waterfront. It’s the biggest open air food market in America.
With over 20,000 vendors, you’re bound to find something you want to eat! You probably wouldn’t even be able to see everything that’s on offer in one day.
The market has pretty much anything you can think of and things you’ve never seen or tasted before. It’s the perfect weekend activity for any foodie to dig their forks into!
Old city hall subway station
Like history? Then you need to check out the first subway station in NYC. The station is no longer in use, but is still in pristine condition despite it’s age.
You can get a walking tour of the station at the New York Transit Museum, but it is a bit tedious to get onto the tour. Alternatively, there is a shortcut to this if all you want to do is have a look. (I never tried so I don't know if it still works or not)
The museum is pretty interesting since every big city’s backbone is its public transport system.
Take the Roosevelt Island Tram
OK, so this is a bit touristy, but I think it’s pretty underrated compared to all the big tourist hot spots.
The Roosevelt Island Tram is more like a cable car than a tram. It’s a 5 minute ride that gives you an aerial view of Manhattan. The Roosevelt Island tram is part of the New York public transport network so you can use your metrocard.
It’s also cheap, which is a nice bonus.
Once on Roosevelt Island, you can enjoy the almost instant stark difference between the Island and Manhattan. The pace the islands runs on is a lot slower and it almost feels like you’re not in the heart of the city anymore.
Plus there’s a lot of history to see, with old building and churches dating back from the Dutch settlers.
The High line
The High Line is a park that runs along the disused train tracks for over a mile long. The area lets people use the space to overlook the streets of New York with many features along the track.
Benches to sun bath, water features to dip your toes in and photo spots to get your perfect Instagram shot.
It’s a little touristy on certain parts of the track, but it’s still a nice experience. How many people can say they went to an elevated 1 mile long park in New York City?
Who doesn’t like planetariums? It’s one of those few things that still make children and adults alike drop their jaws in awe.
The Hayden Planetarium is part of the American Museum of Natural History. There are both free shows and paid ones. You might want to double check the context of the shows before buying if you’re with young children.
Tell a secret at Grand Central
Not many people who visit New York pay enough attention to Grand Central station. It’s considered overrated by locals and tourists just want a quick snap of the main concourse.
BUT. It really is an amazing building home to many surprises.
One of them, is the whispering gallery located at the lower level of the terminal near the Oyster bar. There is a four way arch there where whispers can sound crystal clear. If two people stand at opposite corners, facing the wall, they can hear each other perfectly when talking towards the wall.
It’s a funny oddity that makes me curious how someone figured it out more than the actualy oddity itself.