New York is full of famous sites for tourists. From Times Square to the Empire State Building, and let’s not forget the Statue of Liberty of course, tourists aren’t short of well-known attractions in NYC. Why do you think people from all over the world flock there? It can’t be for the weather, so it must be for the amazing sightseeing opportunities. However, there are endless hidden gems that few tourists know about. Secrets only the locals know about – and not even all of those are familiar with them.
Escape crushing crowds and explore the lesser known NYC attractions. Beyond the bustling galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is so much more to New York. Whether that’s chilling out in hidden away parks, admiring street art neighbourhoods or visiting one of NYC’s abandoned subways, there is way more to this city than the obvious ones. We know the New Yorkers probably aren’t too keen to share their secret escapes with the tourists, but some of these activities are too good to pass by.
Want to see beyond the Empire State Building? Check out these 20 activities you can do in New York that only locals know about. This is basically a manual on how to live like a NYC local.
20 Visit the abandoned subway stop
The City Hall subway station, also known as New York’s abandoned subway stop, is difficult to access. However, the New York Transit Museum does host tours through the facility. Even so, you will still have to pass a background check just to gain access. Plus, the waiting lists fill up fast.
Still, if you can manage to get into this facility, this is an incredible experience. It’s something many tourists are unaware of so it would be cool if you get to visit.
19 Admire the 25-foot waterfall flows in Midtown
It’s hard to imagine something so beautiful in such an urban area and yet, it really is real. You can visit the 25-foot waterfall flows if you ever find yourself in NYC. In case you’re serious about making a trip, 51st street between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue is the address. It was built in 1971 and has some stunning scenery to offer within the park. Mostly it’s only locals who know about this place but it’s worth a visit if you want to explore some of New York’s greenery. It’s what you would call one of NYC’s hidden gems.
18 Experience some incomparable theatre
NYC locals head to Chelsea when they want to experience some immersive theatre. Apparently one of the best and most common shows is called Sleep No More. The show is set across five floors of the McKittrick Hotel. This award-winning theatrical show is something you should not miss. While it’s usually the locals that go, that’s no reason for you to miss out on some fine theatre. It’s some of the best you will find in the city. Tickets sell out really fast, so don’t try booking at the last moment or you won’t get a seat. Be sure to book in advance.
17 Discover the stories of Central Park’s benches
Central Park is, of course, a tourist destination. Everybody’s heard of Central Park. But how many visitors have noticed and appreciated the quotes written on the park’s thousands of benches? Tourists certainly do sit down on the benches, but they really need to enjoy and take in the beautiful love stories that these benches tell. If you are willing to pay $10,000, you too can get a quote engraved on a bench in Central Park.
Many people do it in memory of a loved one. That’s why you can’t miss discovering the stories that lie within these benches. Stories make the world go around, after all – and New York too.
16 Have a drink at one of Manhattan’s teeny-tiny bars
It’s not that tourists don’t see Manhattan’s teeny-tiny bars, it’s just that locals know where the best ones are. There are so many cool bars in Manhattan that every tourist must visit. One of them is Smith & Mills in Tribeca. Elegant and old-timey, it’s a great place to hang out on Friday night. If you’re more of a beer person, head over to the underground Rabbit Club which is located on Macdougal Street. A word of warning though: because it’s nearly pitch black in there, you will have to read the menu by candlelight. Little Branch is another recommendation.
15 Party at the House of Yes
Looking to let loose? There’s no better place to do that than at the House of Yes, a dance party located on 2 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn. The theme always varies at this place, but you can guarantee they’ll always be elaborately dressed staff, trapeze performers and cage dancing. It’s a cool place.
In fact, if you go you will discover for yourself that it’s a surreal experience and one you should not miss at any cost. It will be one of the best nights out you’ve ever had. It’s the perfect way to start your adventure in NYC and have a blast!
14 Take a ride on the aerial tram over the East River
In the East River, there’s an island called Roosevelt Island. Because it’s residential, it’s not really popular for tourists. However, don’t let that stop you from taking a ride on the aerial tram that offers an amazing view of Manhattan’s skyline. The Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram uses the same MetroCard system as NY’s subway. It also offers the same fares - $2.75 per person. The tram runs every day, making 115 rides and holding up to 110 people. It travels at 3,100 feet, allowing you to see the exceptional view of Manhattan. It really is a wonderful experience that nobody should miss.
13 Browse through books at the Strand
New Yorkers are an intelligent bunch so naturally, they’re going to require a good bookstore to rely on to feed their quest for knowledge. And there is no better around than The Strand.
This bookstore is home to over 100 miles of books, which spiral vertically up the three stories of high-ceiling shelves.
Amongst the store’s huge collection, you will find bestsellers, foreign titles, and even first edition gems. Any book worm will love it here. You will find pretty much anything you’re looking for book wise in this place. You’ll also get a discount if you sell the book you just read at the back desk.
12 Have a go at old-hand shuffleboard
Old-school shuffleboard isn’t so common anymore. In fact, we bet a lot of people don’t even know what it is. That’s why it’s worth visiting the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus. Here, the place is outfitted with shuffleboard lanes and other cool amusements like Connect Four and Jenga.
So if you’re looking for a day of fun in the city, you should check out this cool club. It’s a great opportunity to burn off some steam and have fun. If you don’t want to play, you can also watch from a cabana. The options are endless.
11 Take a trip to the rooftop farms at Brooklyn Grange
Nobody visits New York for its farm culture. Does it even have a farm culture? Strictly speaking, it doesn’t. However, locals are familiar with the fully working 2.5-acre farm on the roof of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Locals visit because it’s their only chance to see a working urban farm in the city. The fact that it’s a rooftop farm makes it all the more impressive.
You can purchase tickets for $10 between the months of May and October if you’d like a tour of the farm. With the skyline views and amazing fresh produce you can get whilst you’re there, you won’t be disappointed.
10 See Queens Museum
Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows isn’t totally unknown to tourists, but it seems to be more a place the locals know about than the tourists. Nonetheless, visitors should definitely check out the enormous panorama model of New York City from the World’s Fair in 1964. Plus, there are lots of other interesting artifacts from that time to discover. The best time to go is in the summer so you can see the Unisphere while the beautiful fountain is working. Remember to bring your camera of course. You are going to want to take a lot of photos – but that’s obvious.
9 Catch a ferry to Governors Island
A trip to New York is not complete without a visit to Governors Island. For just 2 bucks for a round trip, you can spend the day there and enjoy all the activities and entertainment the island offers. There’s a hiking hill, a zip-line, mini-golf and a rock climbing wall. You can also check out the abandoned military base on the island, rent bikes to make site-seeing easier, and there’s even a farm with goats.
Don’t worry about going hungry because the island houses a number of food stands where you can have lunch. It will be a fun day out for you or the family.
8 Go sunbathing on Rockaway Beach
When we think of New York, we don’t really have beaches in our mind. Yet, a New York summer is not complete without a day at Rockaway Beach. All the locals hang out here in the summer to catch some sun and escape the urban city life. It’s perfect for surfers and offers a unique food scene for foodies.
Just so you know, it does get crowded at the weekend so if you can get a sunny day during the week days, that would probably be better for a day out at Rockaway. You can access the beach by subway.
7 Check out The Cloisters
If you are looking for an alternative to the touristy Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters is a good choice.
Located in the beautiful Fort Tryon Park, The Cloisters displays art and architecture from medieval Europe. Not many tourists come here because it isn’t widely known, especially in comparison to the Metropolitan Museum.
The building also showcases endless artifacts and illuminated manuscripts. But it’s not just what’s inside that’s important. The building itself looks like it belongs in Game of Thrones. Constructed from European monasteries, The Cloisters building is simply divine. You won’t be able to take enough pictures during your time there.
6 Enjoy a stroll through Fort Tryon Park
People go to Central Park to escape the city. But if you want to escape other people escaping the city, this probably isn’t your best option. Central Park is still a major tourist destination.
Fort Tryon Park, on the other hand, isn’t. This Washington Heights green space provides way more of a peaceful and intimate outdoor experience than Central Park. To soak up the best views, take a walk to Linden Terrace and wander through the local gardens.
You won’t even believe you are in New York during your stroll through this park. Locals come here because it’s not touristy.
5 Admire Bushwick street art
Although Times Square is definitely worth a visit, NYC locals do their best to avoid it. Ask any local and they’ll probably tell you that they don’t even Times Square. They prefer to visit more authentic NYC areas and sights, like the Bushwick Street Art. The Bushwick art neighborhood’s alleys boast some of the best local street art you will see. It truly is a magnificent experience to see the artwork here.
You’ll definitely be able to take some Instagram-worthy snaps through the outdoor galleries of Siegel Street, Morgan Avenue and East Moore Street. It’s especially intriguing for art lovers.
4 Book a tour to Woolworth building
Grand Central Terminal is worth a visit to admire the spectacular Beaux Arts architecture but if you are looking for a less touristy alternative to this attraction, try Woolworth Building.
First opened in 1913, at the time it was the tallest structure in the world.
This neo-gothic building is equally as impressive as Grand Central Terminal, it’s just a shame tourists aren’t made more aware of its presence.
However, if you want to see its grand marble arcade, you will need to book a guided tour. But it will be worth it when you get to discover it’s exterior and interior magnificence.
3 Go shopping at Smorgasburg
The alternative to touristy Chelsea Market (which you should still check out by the way) is Smorgasburg. This amazing food festival is a perfect choice for all the foodies out there. And it’s a place many locals flock to because, well, we guess they know how awesome the food is there.
Because of its outdoor setting and wider selection of food vendors, long lines are cut short here. At Smorgasburg, you will always find the next biggest food trend. There is such a variety of food you can try.
You are guaranteed to have an awesome time – as long as you try as much of the food as possible.
2 Get all culturally-wise at Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor used to be a retirement home for aging sailors. Today, it is an arts center and botanical garden and has been since the 1970s. This place is a perfect escape from the urban city. Home to nine distinctive gardens including the Chinese Scholar’s Garden and Connie Gretz Secret Garden, there is plenty to explore during your visit. What’s more, because it is located on the north shore of Staten Island, you won’t encounter many tourists here. It is definitely more of a local’s place.
As much as we love the New York Botanical Gardens, you can expect to be surrounded by a throng of tourists.
1 Get a glimpse of The Royal Tenenbaums House
Friends fans probably visit New York with the chief purpose of checking out The Friends Apartment on the corner of Grove Street and Bedford Street. But it’s actually pretty disappointing because the show wasn’t even filmed in New York City.
If you want to see something more authentic to NYC, The Royal Tenenbaums House is your best bet. Famous for its stunning architecture, you can check out this house from the sidewalk of the corner of 144th Street and Convent Avenue.
Unfortunately the home is of private residence today, but you can still admire its gorgeous exterior. And it’s still more authentic than the Friends apartment.
References: Nytransitmuseum, nytimes, rioc.ny.gov, thrillist, houseofyes, strandbooks, nycgovparks,