101 Best Things to Do in New York City: A Local’s Guide
Check out my ultimate local's guide to the best things to do in New York City. Including non-touristy things to do, it'll be a trip you won't soon forget.
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When I was 18, I did something most kids in my hometown never did.
I left and moved to NYC without knowing a single soul.
It was one of the best decisions of my life!
Back then, I was a pretty shy and guarded person, which meant I didn’t really make many friends in the first few months of school (spoiler alert, by the end of my first year, I was a social butterfly).
To be honest, I was totally okay with rolling solo. It meant that I got to spend all my free time walking around NYC alone with my thoughts, seeing lots of theaters, concerts, and, of course, crossing off all the touristy things I’d missed doing on my first trip to the city at 16.
It’s been almost 15 years since I moved to the city, and even after exploring some amazing other big cities like London and Paris, I can still say New York City is my favorite place to wander around by myself.
So let me fill you in on all the details you want to know about traveling to the city solo, including safety tips, and of course, a rundown of all the best things to do alone in NYC.
I’ve even sectioned it out into daytime and evening solo activities to make planning your solo visit to New York a breeze!
After living in NYC for over 13 years (most of that time solo), I can say it’s a safe place for women to travel alone. Just use common sense, stay aware of your surroundings, stick to more populated neighborhoods, and always walk with a purpose.
I think NYC is one of the best places for solo female travelers. The city has a million things to do solo, is easy to get around pretty much 24/7, and plenty of places to make friends or just have a friendly chat if you want some social interaction.
Not at all! In fact, it’s one of my favorite cities to visit solo because there’s so much to do and see!
Solo travel is highly empowering and one of the best gifts you can give yourself. I highly recommend taking a solo trip to NYC at least once in your life.
Scratch that—it’s one of my favorite places in the world.
The park is beautiful any time of year, though summer offers a ton of world class events like free Shakespeare in the Park, a summer concert series, and free movie nights.
I highly recommend snagging a ticket to Shakespeare in the Park if you’re in town while it’s running. I go every year (normally solo) and always have a little picnic on the lawn before the performance.
If Sex and the City taught us anything, it’s that New York City is the shopping mecca of the world.
Stroll 5th avenue, shop the trendy boutiques in SoHo, and wander Madison Avenue.
Even if you’re only window shopping, it’s well worth the stroll for fashion lovers.
Don’t forget to check out 260 Sample Sale to see which designers are currently selling majorly discounted clothes, shoes, and accessories. I’ve gotten some insane deals shopping with them!
The Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner building are also worth a visit for a bit of shopping and a
You should also check out the massive amounts of vintage stores around the city. You can find some seriously fantastic treasures in them.
Being a part of a live studio audience is a unique experience that gives you insight into how your favorite shows get made.
The best part is, most of them film in the afternoon, with the exception of SNL.
With so many shows taping in NYC, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Though, you must request tickets for most of these shows well before your visit. So plan way ahead, especially for SNL!
These are the most popular:
Brooklyn Bridge has one of the best views in the city, so walking across it should absolutely be on your NY bucket list.
While you’re walking, you’ll take in stunning views of the cityscape and see Lady Liberty in the distance.
The stroll takes about 30 to 45 minutes to cross, depending on how fast you walk.
Local’s Tip: I suggest grabbing a coffee before starting your trek. There are plenty of coffee spots near the Manhattan entrance to the bridge. My favorite spot is Birch Coffee, on Beekman St. (between Nassau and Willams).
When you get to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, you’ll be close to Time Out Market.
I highly suggest stopping here for a bite to eat and to check out the view from the top floor.
My favorite breakfast spot in the market is Clinton St. Baking Company. They’re famous for their fluffy blueberry pancakes, which are pretty epic!
Architecture lovers, and anyone wanting a cool IG photo, should spend some time admiring the modern and eye-catching design of this building.
The Oculus has tons of shops and restaurants, making it a prime spot to spend a few hours if the weather outside isn’t great.
Besides being a seriously cool shopping center, it’s a major subway hub, making it a simple place to check out on your way to your next destination.
While you’re in the area, head next door to take a ride to the top of One World Observatory.
The entire experience is incredibly unique and moving.
I always try to arrive just as the sun is setting.
That way, I get to see the sky change colors, and I get to see the skyline of the city light up as darkness takes over.
If you want to visit a spot that will move you to tears, head to the 9/11 Museum.
You’ll gaze at the artifacts from the attacks, read testimonies, and even hear recorded oral memories that give multiple perspectives of what happened on the day of the attacks and the days following them.
In front of the museum entrance, you’ll see the memorial. These two waterfalls stand in the framework of the old towers. Along the outsides of them, you’ll see thousands of names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
This part is free to visit and is a must-see for anyone visiting the city.
Local’s Tip: The museum offers free admission on Mondays after 3:30pm.
Okay, I know this suggestion sounds like a weird one, but hear me out.
It’s totally free to ride the Staten Island Ferry and you’ll get incredible views of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, and the Manhattan skyline.
Plus, once you get to Staten Island, you can check out Enoteca Maria. It’s a local joint where Italian grandmas take turns cooking for the house.
After all the running around in the city, sometimes it’s nice to just sit down with a quality cup of joe and just watch the city buzz by.
Obviously, there’re tons of coffee spots in every neighborhood, so take your pick. You can check out my neighborhood guides to find a solid spot for a latte.
My favorite neighborhood to do a bit of people watching is SoHo. You’ll see a mix of locals and tourists out shopping, eating, and just enjoying the city.
These are some of my favorite SoHo spots:
Okay, I know most people have given up reading actual books in favor of Kindles or e-readers, but hear me out.
There’s nothing better than wandering around the aisles of a bookstore with the smell of books and maybe even coffee in the air.
NYC has some really cool shops still in operation, so seriously check at least one of them out. Even if it’s only to do an ironic IG photo.
These are my favorite spots to shop for books:
If you’re hoping to get at least one colorful IG worthy photo during your trip, head to The Color Factory.
You’ll walk through sixteen aesthetically pleasing and colorful rooms and use their photo booths to take your pictures.
Seriously, it’s the best set-up ever for solo travelers who hate to ask strangers to take their photo.
The best part is they email you all the shots you take for free. So now all you have to do is choose the perfect one for your feed.
Want to get in a bit of a fun workout while you’re visiting the city?
Head to one of the many rock climbing facilities around NYC.
Not only will you get a solid bit of exercise in, you’ll also likely meet some other cool people while climbing.
In fact, I met one of my now best friends the first time I ventured out and tried a climbing wall.
These are some of my favorite spots in the city to climb:
The High Line is a beautiful almost two-mile stretch of greenery, flowers, walkways, and art.
It’s the perfect place to escape the intensity of downtown with a walk through nature.
I love grabbing an iced coffee or ice cream cone to enjoy while I wander around the area.
Along the path you’ll find over 500 types of plants and trees, plus multiple art installations.
Fun Fact: They built it on the old Central Railroad tracks!
Trust me, at some point during your visit, your feet will be killing you from all the walking, especially if you don’t normally walk a lot in your daily life.
When this happens, give yourself a break and hop on one of the city’s many bus tours.
Not only will it help you get a sense of where things are in the city, but it will also help you cross off seeing some spots you don’t care about exploring in depth.
Check out one of these popular bus tours!
Brooklyn Botanical Garden is beautiful year-round and the perfect spot to take a break from the chaos of the city.
It’s on the edge of Prospect Park and features a stunning Japanese garden, Koi pond, and tons of trees and flowers.
Local’s Tip: This is the perfect spot to relax with a good book during the summer.
One of my favorite solo activities in the city is treating myself to an afternoon tea.
Seriously, what is better than sipping champagne, and eating tiny sandwiches, petite cakes, and before enjoying a spot of tea?
It’s my go-to plan any time the weather is less than desirable. These are some of the best spots in the city for afternoon tea:
Since NYC has some of the best dining in the United States, it’s only fair to say that the cooking classes are equally excellent.
If you’re looking for a yummy way to learn a new skill while in town, and make some new friends, check out one of these popular classes:
Little Island is the newest development downtown and has both tourists and locals racing to check it out.
Just head to Pier 55. You’ll find an artificial island park chilling in the Hudson. It’s got stunning gardens, beautiful views of downtown, and even a few food trucks.
Local’s Tip: If you go in the afternoon, they require you to have an online reservation.
Did you even go to New York if you didn’t eat at least one slice of its signature thin crust pizza?
Honestly, you’d be crazy to miss out on the pizza in NYC—I’ve sampled pizza all over the world (including Italy and Chicago) and the New York pies are still my all-time favorite.
These are the spots that you need to grab a slice (or pie) at before you leave the city:
One of my favorite things to do in the city is to pick a hall and then spend the afternoon sampling all the delicious booths.
Since most food halls are pretty chill, it’s a great way to make friends or even just sit solo with a good book.
Lucky for you, NYC has tons of food halls to choose from. Some of the best ones are:
Grabbing some oysters and a glass of wine at Grand Banks is one of my favorite ways to end a day of shopping in SoHo.
It’s one of the coolest bars in the city because it’s on a boat! So fair warning, if you get seasick, this one isn’t for you.
Obviously, it’s only open during the summer, but trust me, this is a spot you won’t want to miss.
It’s great people watching, and it’s really easy to meet people if you sit at the bar.
Local’s Tip: Wear sturdy shoes and avoid short dresses, as the boat rocks a lot some days and to get to the restroom you have to climb down a ladder.
Feeling lonely on your solo travels?
The quickest and cheapest way to meet people while still seeing the sights is to sign up for a walking tour.
There’s a bunch of different options, including foodie tours, Broadway tours, and even mystery tours!
Check out some of these popular walking tours!
With how much walking you’ll be doing in the city, it’s important to make sure that you’re eating enough.
Sure, you could stop at one of those mediocre touristy spots like Sbarro, but you’re better than that.
Do what the locals do, and head to one of these cozy lunch spots:
Hit up the Painting Lounge for a low-key afternoon or evening of painting.
You can channel your inner artist, make friends with others in the class, and the best part is you’ll have a souvenir to take home with you.
The best part is that they have a few different locations around the city, making it a super convenient place to check out.
Local’s Tip: Keep an eye out for the BYOB paint and sip class. It’s a ton of fun!
You won’t regret spending time here. It’s one of my favorite weekend activities.
The key to enjoying Smorgasburg is to arrive starving and try all the food you see.
The New York Times crowned the event, the “Woodstock of Eating”.
Just don’t make the same mistake I made. You’ll want to bring some cash with you, since not all vendors take cards.
Smorgasburg takes place every Saturday in Williamsburg and Sundays in Prospect Park.
Fun Fact: It’s the largest open-air food market in America, with over 100 local vendors.
As a major Harry Potter fan, this new themed store is at the top of my to-do list when I return to the city in a few weeks.
The Harry Potter store has been so popular that you have to join a queue to get in—even months after opening!
The fantastic news is that the line is virtual, so after scanning the QR code at the front of the store, you can wander off and explore the neighborhood until it’s your turn to enter.
Once you’re inside, you’ll see authentic props from the films, candy from HoneyDukes, customized acceptance letters and wands, tons of books, and of course, Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream (yum!).
Speaking of sweets, no visit to NYC would be complete without visting Dylan’s Candy Bar.
When I was living on the UES, I’d always swing by to stock up on sweets before catching a movie down the block.
If you aren’t into candy, you should still go have a look around. The store is absolutely adorable. You’ll feel as if you’ve gone into the candy oasis from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
Chelsea Piers is the ultimate destination for unique activities in the city.
My favorite thing that they offer is rock climbing. It’s one of the best and most fun workouts you’ll encounter in the city.
They’ve also got an indoor ice skating rink, driving range, batting cages, and gymnasium with adult gymnastics classes available.
If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve seen at least one photo or video taken at The Edge.
It’s the latest addition to Hudson Yards, and the tallest outdoor skydeck in the Western Hemisphere.
Obviously, you’re going to get some incredible views of the city, especially if you go at sunset.
If you’re really feeling adventurous, sign up to do City Climb at The Edge. You’ll scale the outside of the skyscraper (over 1,200 feet above ground), then reach a platform where you can lean out and look down at the city below.
I think it’s safe to say many people dream of visiting the “Big Apple” after seeing it featured in countless films and TV shows over the years.
So it only makes sense that when you finally get to the city, you’d want to see some of the iconic spots you fell in love with over the years.
For some, it could be checking out Carrie’s stoop from Sex and the City or the Friends apartment in the West Village.
For others, it might be having a drink at the infamous bar that How I Met Your Mother’s bar was based on, sitting on the MET steps featured in Gossip Girl, or seeing the fire station from Ghostbusters.
Depending on what you want to see, there may even be an official tour available (Sex and the City and Gossip Girl fans rejoice!).
Most fan sites have lists of filming locations, but if you need help to figure one out, let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
Sign up for one of these popular film location tours!
I’m pretty certain, after the popularity of Queen’s Gambit last year, that everyone plays chess now.
Head to the west end of Washington Square Park to find a worthy opponent at one of the many chess tables in the area fondly known as Chess Plaza.
Who knows, you could walk away with a bunch of new friends, or at least the satisfaction of winning a few rounds.
Remember that episode of Sex and the City when Carrie tries the trapeze?
The Trapeze School is where she went!
Pull a page out of Carrie’s book and sign yourself up for a lesson or two while you’re in town.
It’s something that’s been on my NYC bucket list for ages, and from what I’ve heard, it’s 100% worth doing!
The best part is they now have their outdoor location along the Hudson River during the summer, plus an indoor location in Williamsburg. So now the freezing cold winter is no excuse to avoid facing your fears and taking flight!
If you miss your cat while you’re traveling, or just simply love playing with them, then head to Meow Parlour Cafe.
It’s the city’s first cat cafe that even offers a twice monthly kitties yoga class.
Fair warning, time slots to play with the cats fill up quickly (the yoga class fills even faster), so plan your visit early!
It almost seems like NYC has a museum for everything these days.
Depending on what you’re into, you can check out art, fossils, relics, and even the history of ice cream.
I highly recommend spending at least a few hours at some of my favorite museums in the city.
One of my favorite things to do when I have a bit of time near NYU is to grab a falafel sandwich from iconic Mamouns on MacDougal, then head over to Washington Square Park to enjoy it.
The park has prime people watching, plus you can check out the iconic marble arch at the corner of the park that honors George Washington.
Is there anything more iconic than the Empire State Building?
I’ll never forget my first time traveling to the top. It’s easily one of the best views in the city.
Fair warning though, the line to get to the top is long. I highly recommend splurging on an Express Pass ticket.
The city has almost every type of exercise class you could imagine.
So take advantage of all the variety and sign up to try something new. It’ll be a unique experience and you might even make friends in class.
These are some of my favorite spots to burn some calories while having fun:
Times Square is easily one of the best places in the world to do some quality people watching.
You’ll see everything from people taking IG photos, parents trying to keep track of their kids, street performers, and even a ton of Disney and Marvel characters wandering around.
Bonus points if you spot the Naked Cowboy!
If it’s your first time in the city, a great way to get your bearings and find some quality eats is to book a food tour.
There are tours for every taste, though I’m partial to the ones that focus on dessert.
These tours are also great for meeting other tourists and solo travelers.
Check out some of my favorite NYC food tours!
If you’re visiting the city from May until October, you’ve got to check out free kayaking on the Hudson. It’s one of my favorite summer activities.
It’s the perfect free workout with the bonus of fantastic views of the city.
You can find free kayaks at these piers:
Lady Liberty has provided an image of hope and freedom for Americans since 1886.
It’s actually a crime to leave the city without catching a glimpse of her (I may or may not be kidding).
You can book a visit to the island she’s on, plus Ellis Island, or even book a sightseeing cruise or helicopter to see her up close.
If you’re cool with just seeing her from afar, or just trying to save money, you can also ride on the Staten Island Ferry or walk the Brooklyn Bridge.
After you enjoy Bryant Park, pop next door to the New York Public Library.
If you’ve ever seen the Sex and the City movie, this location will look very familiar. It’s where Carrie and Big almost tied the knot.
The architecture is seriously stunning and totally Instagram worthy. You’ll spend at least an hour wandering around this gorgeous location.
Don’t forget to check out the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, stand guard outside this New York City institution.
Bryant Park is a beautiful spot to sit and read, or to enjoy a coffee while watching the world go by.
My favorite thing about this park is that they have tons of activities throughout the year, including free movie nights, a holiday market complete with ice skating rink, bocce games, and even a small outdoor library.
Local’s Tip: If you’re planning on checking out a movie under the stars, arrive at least two hours early to score a prime spot on the lawn.
Depending on where you’re from, catching a drag performance could be a unique chance for you to see some ladies put on one hell of a show.
I always have a fun and memorable night out when we go to a drag show with friends or even solo. Trust me, everyone is super friendly and lovely! Every time I go solo, I quickly get adopted into a group by someone I meet at the bar.
Some of the best venues include:
Okay, so you’ve got to be fairly gutsy to go to a karaoke bar alone, unless you happen to be an incredible singer.
But if you work up the guts and go, I can almost guarantee you’ll quickly make friends with another chatty (and likely drunk) group.
Worst case, just go enjoy a drink at the bar and watch everyone else sing. It’ll be entertaining even if everyone is awful at singing!
The city has lots of cool karaoke bars, but my favorite is Maru in K-town. I like the opportunity to dig into some quality Korean BBQ before singing the night away. If you’re looking for a spot further downtown, Sing Sing is a lot of fun and has a great bar for people to watch.
Why just tour the catacombs of New York, when you could have Burgers, Bourbon and listening to Beethoven in them?
This is one example of the events “Angel’s Share” at Greenwood Cemetery hosts. It’s in one of the oldest structures in the cemetery from the 1850s.
I can guarantee if you score a ticket, this will be one of the most unique experiences of your life.
Fun Fact: The term “Angel’s Share”, refers to a point in the whiskey aging process when some of the whiskey evaporates into the air.
I love fancy cocktail bars, but there is something so “New York” about hanging out in dive bars.
You never know who you’ll strike up a conversation with, plus they stay open until 4am, which is a bonus since most cocktail bars close earlier.
Some of my favorite dive bars to end my nights out in are:
Since speakeasies also are busy, going solo gives you an advantage for grabbing a free spot at the bar.
NYC has tons of cool spots all over the city for you to discover, but let me save you some time. Just head to one of these speakeasies:
Okay, so fair warning: catching a concert by yourself will either be a ton of fun or really awkward.
I’ve gone to a few shows solo, and I’ve made friends at all of them except one.
If you’re catching a classical converter jazz show, chances are you’ll feel totally at ease being alone in the audience.
But if you’re looking at catching any type of concert where there’s dancing, I’d arrive early and chat up people at the bar or the person sitting beside you. Trust me, it makes it way more fun to have a group to sing along and dance with.
Either way, you’ll likely have a great time if the concert is good. These are spots in the city that I always keep an eye on:
With more Off-Broadway shows transferring to Broadway (think Hamilton), seeing an Off-Broadway show is a solid move.
Plus, you won’t have to deal with the chaos of Times Square!
In fact, these days I almost prefer catching a show at one of these Off-Broadway venues:
There’s a good reason they film SNL in NYC—- it’s one of the funniest places in the US!
The city has always had an extremely talented comedy scene.
I love that you never know who might show up on stage next. My first comedy show featured an up-and-coming Amy Schumer!
The best comedy clubs to check out are:
One of my all-time favorite things about the city is how many performing arts venues there are.
With Lincoln Center, you get five options for entertainment all in one place.
You can catch a Broadway show at The Vivian Beaumont, or see a flick at Film at Lincoln Center. Or lose yourself in a dreamy New York City Ballet performance, listen to the NY Philharmonic Orchestra, or attend the MET Opera.
Sleep No More is a unique and sexy immersive experience that places you in Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy.
It’s perfect for solo travelers because the entire audience wanders around silent and alone during the performance.
Local’s Tip: Learn from my mistakes and wear shoes you can run in. You’ll be doing a lot while following the characters around.
Okay, I know going to a cocktail bar alone can be awkward, but it’s a brilliant spot to make friends.
If you go to a rooftop bar, you’ll also get a magnificent view to go along with the possibility of making friends in the city.
These are some of my go-to rooftops in the city:
I used to be anxious about having to eat solo while traveling, but now it’s one of my favorite things to do (even when I’m not on the road).
NYC is easily one of the best cities in the world for world-class cuisine, so you’d be crazy not to treat yourself to at least one really special dinner out.
If you’re anxious about eating solo, I encourage you to book a bar seat at Les Trois Chevaux.
It’s my favorite place in the city to indulge in an enormous meal. The bartenders are outstanding and will keep you from feeling awkward sitting there alone, and the food is absolutely dreamy.
If Les Trois Chevaux’s menu doesn’t grab you, check out one of these other top restaurants:
I love catching a film in larger cities, because the selection of movies playing is always larger than in small towns.
New York has a ton of really cool independent theaters that play fantastic films that you’d likely ever come across in your hometown.
These are some of my favorite theaters to catch a flick at:
One of my favorite solo activities in NYC is catching a Broadway show.
It’s the perfect activity for solo travelers because all you have to do is sit in the dark theater and enjoy the performance.
Plus, you may even end up scoring a better ticket or access to a sold out show since single tickets are harder for box offices to sell.
I hope this guide to solo travel in NYC has given you the confidence to explore the city with confidence.
Just remember, especially if you’re nervous, that solo travel is the best gift you can give yourself.
I promise you will grow so much as a person from it if you embrace the adventure and open yourself up to unexpected experiences that present themselves (trust me, they’re almost always amazing—unless it’s something sketchy, then run!).
Let me know in the comments below if you have questions about visiting NYC solo or any suggestions for things to do alone in NYC that I may have missed.
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