By Jessie Festa & Dale Persons. This guide to alternative things to do in New York City contains affiliate links to trusted partners!
Looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC?
Then you’re in the right place!
New York may be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, receiving over 66 million visitors per year, but there are still many unique things to do in NYC. In a city so large, it’s not hard to get off the beaten path.
Whether you are a tourist wanting to see a different side of the city or a local looking for something different for your weekend plans, there are many options.
To help you create a memorable itinerary, here are some of the best not-so-touristy things to do in NYC.
Unique Things To Do In NYC (Free Guide!)
But first, before we go over some of New York’s non-touristy attractions and experiences, we invite you to grab a copy of Jessie’s NYC Top Picks From A Local Guide. The printable PDF guide takes you beyond the popular attractions to uncover a more local and lesser-known side of New York City.
Just a few highlights from the guide include:
- Where to get creative java drinks and delicious dishes
- How to discover opportunities for exploring nature in New York City
- Ways to get off-the-beaten-track to discover a side of the city many tourists miss
Note: If you’re thinking “I just want a local to plan my trip to NYC” Jessie also offers custom travel planning services. Keep in mind, she is a New Yorker as well as a licensed sightseeing guide, so she can speak to both tourist attractions and lesser-known experiences.
On that note, keep reading to dive into some cool things to do in NYC beyond the typical tourist attractions.
Fun Non-Touristy Things To Do In NYC (Citywide)
While there are plenty of specific non-touristy places in New York City, certain experiences can be enjoyed across the boroughs, like:
1. Strike a pose on an NYC photo tour
Shameless plug: Jessie’s company, NYC Photo Journeys, offers private NYC photo tours that allow you to visit scenic spots with a local guide and photographer. Not only do you get a tour, but you’ll leave with stunning photos of your group to keep. It’s a great way to create — and preserve — memories from your trip to New York.
2. Upgrade your Instagram feed on an NYC Influencer Shoot
If you’re an influencer, blogger, or solopreneur looking to get gorgeous imagery for your social media accounts and website, a private NYC Influencer Shoot is a must. These are led by Jessie, and include a pre-shoot call to go over your shoot goals so that you end up with exactly what you want. You can choose between a budget-friendly unedited shoot, or opt to have Jessie edit the photos for you!
3. Preserve cherished memories on a Custom NYC Photoshoot
Not an influencer, but want a custom photoshoot in New York City? Jessie also offers professional NYC photoshoots. These come with more photos than the photo tours, as well as everything mentioned above with the influencer shoots, but are geared toward those wanting to preserve memories or celebrate a milestone (vs uplevel with social feeds).
4. Enjoy free entertainment in NYC parks
Ever wondered “What do locals do in NYC?” Are you looking to explore New York on a budget?
Here’s a hack: check the park calendars around NYC, as they often showcase free movies, tours, concerts, comedy shows, and more.
This is especially true during the warmer months, when you’ll find programs like Summerstage, Free Summer Movies, Free Summer Concerts, and BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!
5. Take a local class
One of the best ways to enjoy non-touristy NYC while exploring your own creativity is through one of the countless local classes. What is really special about doing a class in New York is that the options are limitless, with plenty of opportunities to try things you couldn’t easily elsewhere.
A few schools with interesting classes to check out include Trapeze School New York (aerial arts), 92Y (everything), Brooklyn Brainery (everything), SassClass (dance), CocuSocial (cooking), The PIT (improv), and East Village Hats (hatwork).
These are also great options if you’re visiting NYC alone, as classes can make it easier to meet other people.
6. Explore the city by bike
One of the best non-tourist things to do in NYC is explore the city by bike. You can rent and drop off Citi Bikes from hundreds of locations. A few scenic New York City bike trails include the:
- Bronx Greenway, connecting the largest parks in The Bronx
- Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, offering beautiful skyline views
- Hudson River Greenway, stretching from Battery Park to Fort Tryon Park in Manhattan
- Eastern Queens Greenway, showcasing golf courses, lakes, and parks
- LaTourette Park, a lovely 2-mile ride in Staten Island
7. Enjoy (boozy) brunch in NYC
While many tourists focus on food, one aspect of local dining many miss is brunch — particularly boozy brunch in NYC. For a set price, you can savor a delicious meal with unlimited drinks, and sometimes even unlimited food if you’re at a place like Maya in the Upper East Side (which also happens to be one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in NYC!).
Even if you’re not a big drinker, brunch is a staple in NYC and it’s a great experience to enjoy the atmosphere during a tasty morning meal.
Non-Touristy Things to Do In Manhattan
Manhattan is the most popular of New York’s five boroughs. Most tourists stay in Manhattan, and most of New York’s tourist activities are located here; however, it’s still possible to discover hidden gems, like:
8. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
This bright red tram connects Manhattan with Roosevelt Island, a small sliver of land in the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens. The tram offers spectacular city views as it glides high above the water parallel to the Queensboro Bridge.
The cost? A single swipe of your MetroCard ($2.75) each way.
9. Explore Roosevelt Island
If you’re going to take the Roosevelt Island Tram, you might as well spend some time exploring Roosevelt Island before you head back to Manhattan proper. Hop onto the free Red Bus that makes a loop around the island, or relax in the sun at one of the island’s tranquil parks.
10. Visit the Met Cloisters
The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is one of the most popular museums in the city, and on any given day you’ll find it packed with crowds.
But a few miles to the north, the Met Cloisters offers a calming oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported out of NYC entirely as you explore this museum with a focus on medieval art and architecture.
11. Check out the Morgan Library and Museum
New York’s most famous library is the New York Public Library, but just a few blocks away, you can find the breathtaking Morgan Library and Museum. This beautiful library is a must-visit for book lovers, especially as it features some of the world’s rarest books and manuscripts.
12. Get drinks at a hidden speakeasy
There is no shortage of great speakeasies in New York City — you just have to know where to look! Some of the best speakeasies to grab a drink in Manhattan specifically include:
- Employees Only: Hidden behind a psychic and tarot reader in Greenwich Village
- UES: Tucked away behind an ice cream shop on the Upper East Side
- Please Don’t Tell: Accessible through a phone booth at the back of a hot dog joint in the East Village
This is one of the best not so touristy things to do in NYC.
13. Take an architecture cruise
While Circle Line sightseeing cruises are very popular with tourists, taking a cruise with AIANY (the American Society of Architects, New York) is a great way to get a deeper understanding of New York’s history and architecture.
14. Visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum
It’s hard to imagine New York City’s rural past, but that’s exactly what you can do at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum. Dating back to 1785, this museum is housed in the last farmhouse in Manhattan.
15. Visit the American Folk Art Museum
Most tourists visiting the Lincoln Center area are there to catch a ballet or orchestra performance, and have no idea about the American Folk Art Museum — which is free to visit and boasts one of the most impressive collections of folk art in the United States.
16. Eat pizza inside a church in Times Square
Times Square, a staple of any Manhattan tourism guide, might be the last place you imagine when you think “best non-touristy things to do in New York City” — and you would not be wrong; but beyond the flashing billboards and sea of selfie sticks, there are a few hidden gems to be discovered in Times Square.
One of those is John’s Pizza, a restaurant housed in a former church where you can feast on pizza underneath a soaring stained glass ceiling.
17. Watch a free comedy improv show
The Peoples Improv Theater is a comedy theater and training center that hosts performances every night. You can grab a drink from the bar before heading downstairs to catch the show. Best of all, tickets are free.
18. Find an oasis in Midtown
Midtown Manhattan is known for its constant crowds, but savvy locals know that there’s a hidden oasis right in the heart of some of the city’s busiest blocks. Greenacre Park is a small park with a 25-foot waterfall tucked away in the midst of Midtown.
19. Have a bagel ball
New York is known for its amazing bagels, though if you’re looking for quirky things to do in NYC, opt for a stuffed bagel ball from Bantam Bagels.
Visiting this tasty shop is one of the top things to do in the West Village, as you can order everything from the classic “Everybody’s Favorite” (everything bagel stuffed with veggie cream cheese) to the creative “Apple Pie” (sweet sugar bagel with apple pie cream cheese).
20. See where NYC’s mayor lives
Gracie Mansion, tucked away in Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has historically been the residence of New York City’s mayor. You can book a tour of this elegant and historic home, which dates back to 1799.
21. Enjoy a scenic NYC picnic
Curious about the things locals do in NYC? We’ll let you in on a secret: when the weather is nice, what locals do in NYC is head to the park.
Of course there is Central Park, but if you want to get away from the crowds, try Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Here you can enjoy seasonal gardens, scenic paths, and beautiful views over the Hudson River out toward the George Washington Bridge.
22. Go for an urban hike
You may be surprised to learn that there is some really great hiking in Manhattan. One of the most rugged trails is the moderate-hard 1.3-mile Orange Trail in Inwood Hill Park, where you’ll find historic sites, scenic overlooks, and the largest remaining natural forest and last remaining salt marsh in Manhattan. Check it out here:
23. Go gallery hopping
New York is full of art galleries. Some of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan for gallery hopping are Chelsea, the Upper East Side, and the Lower East Side.
24. Browse for books at Albertine
Located a couple blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and directly across from Central Park, most tourists walk right past Albertine without even knowing it exists.
But if you step into this bookstore that shares a building with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, you will discover a collection of French and English books in an enchanting space.
25. Watch an off-Broadway show
Broadway shows are a popular tourist activity in New York, but tickets can be expensive and hard to get.
Off-Broadway shows (and Off-Off-Broadway shows), on the other hand, are often more affordable and still very entertaining.
One top-rated recommendation is Sleep No More, a dark and racy interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Instead of watching the show from a seat, you follow the characters around a makeshift hotel for an immersive experience.
This is also one of the best things to do indoors in NYC when the weather outside is bad.
26. Check out the 191st Street tunnel
The subway station at 191st Street in Manhattan is the deepest in the city, at 18 stories underground. This subway station is also home to the colorful “Tunnel Street” which is New York’s only underground street, making it one of the most unusual places in NYC.
Although it’s off the beaten path for most tourists, the 191st Street tunnel is worth a visit due to the colorful graffiti murals lining the underground street.
27. Eat your way through Harlem
Because of its location further uptown, Harlem is a Manhattan neighborhood that often gets overlooked by tourists; however, this culturally-rich neighborhood has tons to offer, including some of the best soul and comfort food restaurants such as:
- Red Rooster
You can also click here to book a fun local tour of Harlem!
28. Shop a sample sale
New York is known for its great shopping, but skip the expensive designer stores of Fifth Avenue and hit a sample sale instead. Sample sales are a great way to score designer clothing at a steep discount. Here is a calendar to help you find a few you’re interested in.
29. Go glamping on Governors Island
Governors Island is a 172-acre car-free island accessible via short ferry ride from Lower Manhattan. While it has a rich military history, today it is known for its incredible views, outdoor recreation, public art, and many annual events like the Jazz Age Lawn Party, a celebration of all things 1920s, and Pinknic, a music festival with lots of rose wine.
If you’re looking for one of the most quirky things to do in New York, you can even stay overnight on Governors Island in a luxury camping retreat!
Bonus: thanks to the views, Governors Island is also one of the most Instagrammable places in NYC.
30. Visit El Museo del Barrio
El Museo del Barrio is a museum of Latin American and Caribbean art. It’s part of Upper East Side’s “Museum Mile”, making it easy to visit other nearby cultural institutions, too.
31. Eat your way around Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market is a large indoor food hall in the Meatpacking District. While tourists certainly visit, it’s a local favorite as well, thanks to the dozens of food vendors to choose from.
Oh, and there is a rich history to explore here, too. In fact, this used to be the Nabisco Factory and was the birthplace of the Oreo Cookie!
Along with food, you can shop local makers at Artists & Fleas, immerse yourself in a moving art installation at Artechouse, see a show at Chelsea Music Hall, and more.
32. Walk the Manhattan Bridge
While the Brooklyn Bridge is undeniably gorgeous and a uniquely New York attraction, it’s also incredibly touristy, thanks to the fact that it’s famous and is also one of the best places to take pictures in NYC.
Luckily, if you’re looking to explore non-touristy NYC, there are alternative options — like the Manhattan Bridge, which offers a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, or the more industrial-looking Williamsburg Bridge.
Here is a short video sharing what walking across the Manhattan Bridge is like:
33. Bike the George Washington Bridge
Prefer to cycle? Biking the George Washington Bridge is a fun and scenic experience that takes you from Manhattan to New Jersey’s Palisades Interstate Park. The Palisades connects smaller parks, one of which is the beautiful 33-acre clifftop Fort Lee Historic Park.
Non-Touristy Things To Do In Brooklyn
Brooklyn is another popular borough in New York. Here are some of the best NYC non-tourist attractions that can be found in Brooklyn:
34. See (& paint) street art in Bushwick
Bushwick is one of Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods for art, especially public street art and graffiti. You can easily spend a couple hours on foot exploring this artistic neighborhood.
Feeling inspired? Graff Tours offers graffiti workshops so you can make your own street art!
35. Eat at DeKalb Market Hall
DeKalb Market Hall is an indoor food hall located in Downtown Brooklyn. With over 40 food vendors, you won’t go hungry here.
36. Stroll the Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Brooklyn Heights is a charming residential neighborhood filled with brownstones and leafy green trees.
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade runs along the waterfront and offers some of the best views in NYC, particularly of the Manhattan skyline. It’s the perfect place to go for a walk on a nice day.
37. Relax in Prospect Park
Manhattan might have Central Park, but Brooklyn has Prospect Park. Hanging out in this sprawling oasis is one of the best things to do in NYC that are not for tourists. You’ll find tons of locals hanging out with friends and enjoying a picnic on sunny days.
Bonus: as with Central Park — which has the same designer and architect — you’ll also find loads of attractions within the park.
38. Hunt for treasures at Brooklyn Flea
Love vintage shopping? Head to Brooklyn Flea, a large weekend flea market in DUMBO where you can browse vintage clothing, furniture, art, and antiques. Note that this market also has a location in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
39. Check out Green-Wood Cemetery
One of the more unusual things to do in New York City is visiting Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. This historic cemetery is the final resting place of many famous New Yorkers like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein, and is surprisingly beautiful. Explore their self-guided resources and group tours here.
40. Explore the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Love hot food? Their annual Chile Pepper Festival is a must, with live music, spicy samples, and a spicy chocolate village.
41. Visit a rooftop farm
You wouldn’t expect to find a working farm in New York City, but that’s exactly what Brooklyn Grange is! This urban rooftop farm offers yoga, events, and tours that shed light on their operations and sustainability efforts.
42. Check out the Brooklyn Museum
While Manhattan is better known for having great museums, Brooklyn has its fair share too. The Brooklyn Museum is an incredible art museum that is the third-largest in New York City. Best of all, admission is completely free.
43. Feast at Smorgasburg
Smorgasburg is an outdoor food market that happens in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, as well as several other locations. The market features creative and inventive food from all around the city in one place.
44. Sip wine at Rooftop Reds
Rooftop Reds is the world’s first rooftop vineyard — and it’s located right in the Brooklyn Navy Yard! Sip a glass or opt for a flight while taking in epic skyline views.
45. Visit the City Reliquary
One of the more unusual things to do in NYC is visiting the City Reliquary, one of the most fun things to do in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Along with putting on rotating exhibitions that promote local stories and makers, this offbeat museum displays quirky NYC artifacts like L-train paint fragments, a decaying birthday cake, vintage signs, and more. This is certainly one of the more weird NYC attractions — in a good way!
46. Get some sun at Coney Island
Coney Island is a waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn that is home to a popular beach and amusement park. This has long been a popular weekend getaway for New Yorkers during the summer.
Pro tip: if you can time your visit to align with the annual Mermaid Parade, you won’t regret it, as it’s the largest art parade in the United States.
Non-Touristy Things To Do In Queens
Queens is the most diverse borough in New York City. There are many offbeat New York City attractions that can be found in Queens. Here are some of the best things to do:
47. Surf at Rockaway Beach
Did you know it’s possible to go surfing in New York City? It’s true! One of the most offbeat things to do in NYC is go surfing at Rockaway Beach in Queens, the city’s only legal surfing beach.
Can’t surf? Don’t worry, there are also stretches of beach with gentler waves along the Rockaway Peninsula. One pick is Jacob Riis Park, a gay and topless beach with soft sand and a party atmosphere.
48. Check out Socrates Sculpture Park
Located in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, Socrates Sculpture Park is an awesome free attraction. It’s a beautiful park featuring large-scale sculpture and multimedia installations.
49. Explore the Flushing Chinatown
The Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan is very popular, but it is often overrun with tourists; however, Queens is home to another even large Chinatown in Flushing. This authentic and diverse neighborhood is home to tons of great food, shopping, and the popular Queens Night Market.
50. Visit the Queens Museum
The Queens Museum is a hidden gem when it comes to New York City cultural institutions. This visual arts museum houses an impressive collection, and is completely free to visit.
51. Visit the Noguchi Museum
Another excellent museum that’s part of the vibrant arts scene in Queens is the Noguchi Museum, which is dedicated to the works of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
52. Relax at Gantry Plaza State Park
Gantry Plaza State Park is a waterfront park that offers ample space and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline from Queens. It’s a great spot to sit and relax on a nice day, or even enjoy some great NYC views at night when the skyline is lit up.
53. Visit the MoMA PS1
The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is one of New York’s most popular museums for tourists to visit; but MoMA PS1 — the museum’s branch in Queens that is housed in a former public school — is one of the most underrated places in NYC for contemporary works. Additionally, if visiting in the summer don’t miss their “Warm Up” series for live outdoor music.
Non-Touristy Things To Do In The Bronx
The Bronx is another one of New York City’s boroughs that is often skipped by tourists — unless they are going to a Yankees game; however, this borough has more to offer than just baseball. Here are some unusual places to visit in New York City that can be found in The Bronx:
54. Check out the Bronx’s Little Italy
While Little Italy in Manhattan used to be a real Italian neighborhood, it’s now more known for overpriced tourist traps than authentic Italian food.
Luckily, Arthur Avenue in The Bronx fills the gap by showcasing what Little Italy in Manhattan used to be. This Italian-American neighborhood is still very authentic and home to many delicious Italian restaurants.
Pro tip: don’t miss the fresh mozzarella at Joe’s Italian Deli. Delicious!
55. Eat your way through the Bronx Night Market
Another activity foodies will love is visiting the Bronx Night Market, an outdoor food market that also showcases live music, arts and crafts vendors, art installations, and family fun.
56. Relax at Wave Hill
Wave Hill is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in The Bronx. These beautiful public gardens along the Hudson River in the Riverdale neighborhood will make you feel like you’ve been transported out of the city entirely.
57. Explore City Island
On a small island next to The Bronx, you’ll find City Island — a neighborhood that feels a world apart from the rest of NYC. With its quaint cottages, lighthouses, seafood restaurants, and marinas, the vibe is more that of a coastal New England town than typical New York City.
58. Check out the Bronx Museum
The Bronx is home to several world-class museums, including the Bronx Museum, which is home to various contemporary art exhibitions.
59. Visit NYC’s largest park at Pelham Bay Park
If you thought Central Park in Manhattan’s Upper East Side was NYC’s largest public park, think again. Actually, at 843 acres, Central Park clocks in at number five in terms of size.
The largest public park is actually Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx at 2,772 acres. Here you can hike the local trails (keep your eyes out for deer!), explore the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, play a round at the Pelham Bay & Split Rock Golf Courses, sunbathe at Orchard Beach, and more.
60. Visit the New York Botanical Garden
For more tranquil gardens, you can’t miss the New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx. This sprawling garden — which is also home to waterfalls — is the perfect place to spend a sunny weekend day.
Non-Touristy Things To Do In Staten Island
Almost everything you do in Staten Island can be considered non-touristy, because this is New York City’s least-visited borough. Here are some offbeat things to do in Staten Island:
61. Enjoy the cooking of global grandmas
Looking for the best non-touristy places to eat in NYC? At Enoteca Maria, one of the more unique restaurants in New York, nonnas (grandmothers) take center stage.
Nobody cooks better than grandma, and here you can savor organic meals cooked by grandmothers from around the world — from Italy to Japan and beyond.
62. Visit the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden
A highlight of Staten Island is the beautiful and tranquil Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. With seasonal gardens, a heritage farm, and visual and performing arts programming, you can easily spend hours exploring.
63. Go back in time in Historic Richmond Town
One of the most offbeat things to do in New York City is visiting Historic Richmond Town, a living-history village and museum complex that features restored buildings dating back to the late 1600s and actors helping to bring history to life.
64. Ride the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island ferry connects Manhattan to Staten Island and offers great views of the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty. Best of all, it’s complete free to ride, and you can take beer on board for a DIY cruise or romantic NYC experience.
Tips For Finding The Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In NYC
While this list provides a great starting point for going beyond your guidebook, here is some additional advice for finding the top not-touristy things to do in NYC:
Subscribe to New York City newsletters. These are typically written by locals and share cool non-touristy things to do in NYC from events to pop-ups and beyond. A few to check out include The Skint, Secret NYC, Bucketlisters NYC, and Nonsense NYC, all of which share things to do in NYC for locals.
Research your interests. No matter what niche interest you may have, you’ll likely be able to explore it in NYC through museums, classes, and experiences. This is also true if you’re looking for New York’s more unusual places, as there are plenty!
Look for alternative things to do in NYC. If everyone is walking the Brooklyn Bridge, try walking the Manhattan Bridge or the Williamsburg Bridge instead. Or if you hear the Top of the Rock offers a great view, opt for something more secret — like the rooftop at the Kimberly Hotel. Actively seeking out alternatives to popular options can help you have a unique NYC experience.
Wander without a plan. You can walk for hours in New York City without getting bored, as there is something to see on every corner. If you really want to explore NYC like a local, pick an interesting neighborhood to wander like SoHo or Long Island City and see what you discover.
Unique Tours In NYC
Looking for unique things to do in New York City? The following tours can help take you beyond the guidebook:
Private NYC Photo Tours & Custom Shoots (Jessie’s company!)
Best Hotels In NYC
Looking to stay overnight in NYC?
Prefer self-contained stays?
You can also use this map to search for local stays. It is set to SoHo, but you can easily change it to your specific NYC neighborhood.
Travel Insurance For NYC
When visiting New York City — or anywhere else in the world — it’s wise to get travel insurance.
One of the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).
Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.
What non-touristy things to do in NYC would you add to this list?
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