by Ally Gibson | Last Updated: Jul 16, 2020

It’s true that you can live in New York City for over a decade and still not see everything (I can attest to this).

My advice—don’t spend your trip trying to be the perfect tourist. 

Trust me you won’t enjoy racing to see everything. 

In my opinion, the best way to learn about any new city is to experience something off the beaten path. You should avoid the tourist traps in favor of unique New York experiences.

Below I’ve listed all the non-touristy things I’ve done over the years and loved.

Plus all the things that are still on my to-do list (there’s never enough time).


1. Head to a Hidden Concert


Secret concerts are something you’ll rarely see a tourist at. Most locals don’t even know about them.

Sofar Sounds host hidden concerts all over the city. In the past, they’ve had them on rooftops, in people’s apartments, and even in offices. 

Here’s the catch—the only way to get into these concerts is to win their online lottery.

I’ve been trying for ages to win tickets. If you win, count yourself lucky, and definitely let me know what you think. 



2. Party at a Piano Bar


What do you get when you combine liquor, performers, and a piano?

You get one hell of a party (and likely a hangover).

Some of my favorite piano bars are:



3. Take a Graffiti Class


Channel your inner Banksy at Brooklyn Graffiti Art Workshops.  

You’ll discover your inner graffiti artist, and take home your unique creation.

This is something that’s been on my to-do list for a while now. Graffiti is such a cool art form.

Plus, if it turns out well, you’ve got yourself a great piece of art for your home.



4. Head to the Houdini Museum


“Magic is the sole science not accepted by scientists, because they can’t understand it.”

HOUDINI

The Houdini Museum is a hidden gem among the more obscure museums in the city.  

It has the world’s largest collection of Houdini artifacts (around 1500 pieces). 

Naturally, they also have magic shows and lectures to go along with the antiques. Oh, and did I mention admission is free? 

Local’s Tip: McSorely’s Irish Saloon still has a pair of Houdini’s handcuffs connected to the bar rail. Grab a drink at the city’s oldest Irish Saloon and check them out.



5. Visit Winnie the Pooh


Yes, you read that correctly, it’s THE Winnie the Pooh. 

That’s right, he no longer resides in the Hundred-Acres-Woods. He and his friends moved stateside to the New York Public Library in the late 80s. 

These stuffed animals belonged to the real Christopher Robin back in London.

While writing the stories we love today, his father took inspiration from these childhood toys.

Local’s Tip: While you’re there, make sure to tour the whole library.

It’s gorgeous, plus they have other interesting items on display like the first published copy of the Star-Spangled Banner.

There’s even a handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson.



6. Shop a Sample Sale


Looking for designer clothes with a steep discount? 

Shopping sample sales in the city is a must! I’ve found some amazing pieces over the years shopping this way.

I delight in calculating the retail price vs. my total at the end. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars shopping this way.

Just be warned, some people get very pushy. 

260 Sample Sale has been my favorite way to shop for clothes over the past few years. Follow them on IG to stay up to date on their weekly offerings. 

ChicMi is also a great website to see all sample sales running in the city at any given time.

Local’s Tip: Make sure to wear an outfit with a place to stash your phone and credit card. They make you check your coat and bags at the door. 

Oh, and they only give you a quick ten minutes in the fitting room.

Try to get a spot by the mirror to save time vying for mirror space as you’re trying on. 



7. Not Your Standard Bingo


Every Sunday night The Standard Hotel host’s a giant bingo party.

Trust me, this isn’t your grandmother’s bingo game. 

Get ready for giant punch bowls, dancing on tables, “Balls” karaoke (inserting the word balls into karaoke songs as much as possible), and one hell of a hangover.

You won’t believe how wild this Bingo game gets. 

Local’s Tip: It’s really hard to snag a reservation. They book a week in advance. If you’re one of the lucky ones, don’t miss your chance to join the party.



8. Tour Green-Wood Cemetery


“It is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the [Central] Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood.”

NEW YORK TIMES 1866

This massive cemetery has it all—art, history, and nature.

Legends like Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat among the more notable on the list.

George Washington even fought the Battle of Brooklyn on these grounds. 

To visit, just sign up for one of their Trolley Tours.



9. Have Dinner with a Movie


Nitehawk Cinema is my favorite place to see a movie in the city.

Don’t expect normal concession food—their offerings are delicious. The kitchen themes most dishes on the film playing. So, cuddle up in their cozy chairs and enjoy some delicious food with the latest film.



10. Spend the Day at Coney Island


If you’re visiting in the summertime and need a break from the intensity of the city heat, hit up Coney Island.

It took me 12 years to venture over to this area, and I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. I immediately regretted not spending more summer days here. 

For a perfect day trip, combine the beach with time on the boardwalk and a bit of amusement at Luna Park. Ride the famous Wonder Wheel and legendary Cyclone roller coaster for an unforgettable day.



11. Go to a Poetry Slam


I’ll admit, you’ll either love or hate this depending on the quality of work presented that night. 

I couldn’t believe how interesting and cool a poetry reading could be. You can even sign up to take the mic if you fancy yourself a poet.

Both Poetry Project and Nuyorican Poets Cafe are great for a thought provoking night out.



12. Zipline at the Zoo


That’s right, you can go ziplining at the Bronx Zoo. If you feel like being touristy then, by all means, visit the animals too. 

While you’re there, make an afternoon of it and check out their Treetop Adventure high ropes course. 



13. Play Shuffleboard


If you enjoy some competition over drinks, then the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club is for you. 

They have a bar and feature a different food truck every night. 

Don’t worry if you have no idea how to play shuffleboard. It’s easy to pick up, and there are plenty of people there willing to help you learn.



14. See the City by Water


Jet ski around the city for the ultimate way to cool off on a hot summer day. You’ll still see a lot of the sights that most tourists just wait in line to see. This is something I’ve been wanting to try for ages. 

I’d splurge and take Sea the City’s longer 2.5-hour tour that goes around the entire island of Manhattan.

If you want something shorter, they also have a quick tour of New York Harbour, where you’ll see the Statue of Liberty and Bridge.



15. Head to Wonderland


“We’re all mad here.”

THE CHESHIRE CAT, Alice in Wonderland

This is one rabbit hole that you want to fall down. Then She Fell is an immersive theatrical experience unlike any other. It’s set in a hospital ward and inspired by the life and writings of Lewis Carrol.

Local’s Tip: They limit the audience to only 15 people. Book your tickets early.



16. Stretch with Kittens


That’s right, someone has finally created a kitten themed yoga class. I’ll soon be using the draw of kittens in class to get some of my friends to finally try yoga. 

Meow Parlour Cafe only offers a Yoga and Kitties class twice a month. So naturally, you’ll need to book early.

Don’t worry if you miss booking class (or hate yoga) they also have reserved playtime with some adorable cats. The best part is if you fall in love, all the cats are all up for adoption.



17. Spend the Day at Smorgasburg


The New York Times crowned the event, the “Woodstock of Eating”. And that it is. Arrive starving and try all the food you can at Smorgasburg

I like to bring out of town visitors here whenever possible. It’s always a crowd pleaser. 

Local’s Tip: Don’t make the same mistake I made. Bring cash, not all vendors accept credit cards.



18. Glamp on Governors Island


I can’t imagine roughing it camping in a tent. Thank god for “Glamping!”

At Governors Island Collective Retreats you can bond with nature, without leaving the necessary luxuries of civilization behind. 

They have three different levels of glamping on the island, and all come with complimentary breakfast plus free meditation and yoga classes. Oh, and did I mention they have free live music on weekends?



19. Karaoke in K-town


Have a shot (or 3) and belt out your favorite tunes in Koreatown. Seriously, it’s a known fact, the more drinks you have, the better you sound. 

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.



20. Get High at HigherDOSE


This is the best legal high that there is. HigherDOSE at the Howard Hotel will get you hot and high in their infrared sauna.

The infrared sauna promotes a healthy glow and burns calories while giving you a natural high. It’s a pure hour of private relaxation while listening to your own music.



21. Tour Old City Hall Station


The only way to see the stunning (and now closed) Old City Hall Station is to book a tour. The city’s very first subway ride left this station in 1904.

 They truly don’t build them like this anymore with chandeliers and vaulted ceilings. The New York Transit Museum is crazy about showing off this beautiful station  year round.



22. See Some “Speakeasy Magick”


Okay, I know what you’re thinking…Ally you’ve totally butchered the spelling of magic there I agree, but that’s the way the show spells it. 

Inside The Lodge at Gallow Green, you’ll experience the magic of some of the city’s top magicians.

The illusions become more exciting as the cocktails flow. I recommend ordering The Lady in Black or The Old McKittrick, both are delicious.



23. Tour Ample Hills Ice Cream Factory


I have a big sweet tooth, so naturally,  touring an ice cream factory is almost as exciting to me as going to the theater. The best part? Ample Hills Ice Cream Factory lets you sample everything!

Almost all of their mix-ins are homemade and they have 24 flavors of ice cream.

My favorite order is “The Munchies.” It’s a pretzel infused ice cream that’s blended with potato chips, M&Ms, and Ritz crackers. I know it sounds weird but it tastes incredible.



24. Swing on a Trapeze


I’ve wanted to try this ever since that episode of Sex and the City. You know, the one where Carrie is too scared to let her trapeze partner catch her? 

You can do a trapeze, silks class, trampoline, or acrobatics at The Trapeze School

Take a class here and you’ll be flying through the air in no time.



25. Check Out Drunk Shakespeare


What do you get when you mix the Bard’s writing with actors shooting whiskey?

That’s right, you get a Drunk Shakespeare performance. 

At this unique show, they’ll greet you with a shot of whiskey upon arrival.. Once the show begins, you’ll see actors improv one of Shakespeare’s plays. The show gets more amusing the more the designated “drunk” actor drinks.

Local’s Tip: Personally, I’d hit a happy hour up before heading into this show. One watered-down shot of whiskey wasn’t enough booze for me to look past how cheesy this show can get. But hey, maybe that’s just because I’m a theater nerd.



26. Laugh at The Stand


While all the tourists head to The Comedy Cellar, you’ll be laughing with locals at The Stand.

The Stand has a more upscale feel than any other comedy venue I’ve been to in the city.

Plus a wonderful cocktail and food menu. I always get the One Liner cocktail and Spicy Pepperoni Pizza.

My boyfriend and I almost exclusively go to The Stand for comedy when we’re in town.



27. Head to The Cloisters


Most tourists (and locals for that matter) never make the trek to the Cloisters. I was in the city for about a decade before I finally got there. 

The truth is, on public transportation it takes a good hour or so to get there. The museum and the views of the Hudson are worth it though.

Seriously, make the trek if you can. I couldn’t believe how beautiful this little area is.



28. Take a Colorful IG Photo


I think we can agree we’d all love more cute and colorful photos of ourselves for our social media feeds (well, I am sure at least most of us do).

This is where The Color Factory steps in. They have sixteen rooms filled with aesthetically pleasing colors. You walk through the rooms taking photos using their photo booths.

At the end, they’ll e-mail you all the photos you take in the factory. You’re sure to get at least one epic photo for your feed.



29. Shop at Brooklyn Flea


Vintage shopping addicts put  Brooklyn Flea on your to-do list ASAP. It’s one of the biggest flea markets in Brooklyn.

I’ve found some great treasures here over the years.  Time+Leisure even named it one of the best flea markets in the US.



30. Indulge in Macarons


You’ve got two choices with this one. 

You can go to Laduree, a touristy brand that has many locations and a cafe in Soho.

Or you can go to L’Avenue at Saks for macarons from Pierre Herme (my personal favorite). They only have two stateside locations. If you’re a Delta Sky Club Member flying out of JFK then congratulations—you have access to the second location.



31. See a Film Under the Stars


I try to get at least one outdoor movie per summer into my schedule. It’s so picturesque seeing a film projected under the stars.  

My favorite is the Rooftop Films. They arrange ticketed film showings on rooftops around the city. 

If you’re looking for a free film screening, almost every park in the city hosts a series of free movie nights. Some of the parks I like to check showings in are:



32. Check Out the Museum at FIT


Fashion worshipers rejoice, FIT has created the most fashionable museum in the city. 

I’m talking over 50,000 garments in their permanent collection. The best part is that every exhibit always covers 250 years of fashion.

 Any true fashion lover should make time to see both this and the more touristy Fashion Wing at the Met.  



33. Go Axe Throwing


Channel your inner lumberjack with a classic night of axe throwing. It’s become a recent trend that has no sign of slowing down. 

My friends and I had the best time when we made a girl’s night out of it. Some of the more popular spots are:



34. See Sleep No More


Sleep No More is one of the most unique show’s that I’ve ever experienced. You’ll spend your night chasing characters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth around 5 floors of The McKittrick Hotel. Oh, and you’ll be doing all this while wearing masks.

Local’s Tip: There’s way more running than you’d expect. Wear shoes that you can run fast in. I almost fell more than once when I went wearing wedges.



35. Go to the Gangster Museum


“You can get much further with a kind word and a gun then you can with a kind word alone.”

AL CAPONE

For $20 you’ll get an hour and a half long tour at the Gangster Museum.

You’ll hear all about mobsters, prohibition, and the infamous history of the building.

The museum is small but has tons of interesting relics, plus a speakeasy.



36. Tour the Steinway Factory


I never imagined touring a piano making factory could be so fascinating. The factory is as stunning as Steinway’s pianos are.

You’ll see every step of making one of these beautiful instruments, right up to how they tune it. 

Shockingly, lots of people are dying to see how pianos are made. The tours book up months in advance.



37. Fish in Central Park


Yes, you read that correctly. You can fish in Central Park. They even provide the equipment at Harlem Meer.

This wouldn’t be my first choice of activity in the city, I mean, who wants to touch a fish?

The point is, if you  like fishing or want to try it, it’s free in Central Park.



38. Head to VR World


VR World is a whole new kind of arcade experience.

You can play zombie games, have a snowball fight, race cars, and even take a tour of Notre Dame.

It’s almost as fun watching other people play as it is playing yourself.



39. Go to a Story Slam


Okay, so before you roll your eyes at the idea of a story slam, hear me out. 

Every night at The Moth has a theme. Once you arrive, if you have an on theme true story that you’d like to tell, you can submit it on a piece of paper. The host will choose members of the audience to be official judges. Then the storytelling starts. 

If your piece of paper gets pulled out of the hat, you have five minutes to get on stage and tell your story. Because they’re meant to be true stories, most of them are quite entertaining.

Local’s Tip: If you are unsure about this, check out some of the videos they’ve posted of past stories.



40. See the “Portal Down to Old New York”


Step back in time to see some of the oldest remains of the city preserved under glass panels. 

“The Portal Down to Old New York” has relics of Lovelace Tavern, which burned down in 1706. Part of the old City Hall from 1642 is also visible. They called it The Stadt Huys from when New York was still New Amsterdam.

Local’s Tip: Grab a drink at Fraunces Tavern after checking this out. It’s down the block and the oldest bar in the city. You’ll be grabbing a drink in the same bar that George Washington and his friends all drank in



41. Head to Holographic Studios


That’s right, I’m talking holographs. I bet this is the last thing you expected to see on this list.

Avoid boring tourist locations and schedule a tour with Dr. Laser. He has rave reviews for his passionate discussions of Holographs.

Holographic Studios is the oldest gallery of holographs around. You can take classes and even get a custom holographic portrait.

You won’t believe all the effort that goes into how they’re made.



42. Check Out an Unusual Bookshop


Put your Kindle down and enjoy the old school smell of a classic bookstore. The city has lots of unique bookshops. Some of my favorite spots to peruse on the weekends are:

  • Mysterious Bookshop – It’s filled to the brim with only mystery books. They even have rolling ladders.
  • Albertine – This tiny French bookshop has the best second floor, the ceiling is gorgeous. Don’t worry, they have books in English too.
  • The Drama Bookshop – With shelves and shelves of plays, and all topics drama, this is a mecca for theater lovers and my personal favorite on the list. 
  • The Strand – This little bookshop is the most well known in the city. They have an endless supply of new and used books, and different knick knacks.
  • Archestratus – If you enjoy cooking, then this is your spot. They have tons of new and used cookbooks. Plus, they offer delicious cookies and sandwiches in their cafe.


44. Go to an Interactive Magic Show


Abracadabra! Alakazam! I’ve summoned the most unique magic show that the city offers.

Chamber Magic is a show that’s hosted by a man known as the “Millionaire’s Magician”.

He’ll have you believing in magic as soon as you see his “think a drink” illusion. During this trick, he’ll pour any drink you name out of his magic silver kettle. Everything from iced coffee to cocktails has poured out of it. 

Local’s Tip: This is a formal event, so dress to impress. He always hosts these in hotels, so arrive early and grab a cheeky pre-show cocktail in the hotel bar.



45. Go Kayaking on the Hudson River


The truth is not many locals can even say they’ve kayaked in the city, let alone tourists. It’s one of my favorite summer activities.

You can kayak for free every year from May until October. 

Set off from any of these piers:



46. Go to Drag Brunch


Brunch should never be a drag unless it’s Drag Brunch. Haswell Green’s Drag Brunch every weekend is a blast. Make sure you’re there at 1:00 pm for their official Drag Show. 

Local’s Tip: Haswell Green also has live music six nights a week and delicious cocktails. The bar has lots of candles and chandelier lighting, making it the perfect place for a late night drink.



47. See an Off-Broadway Show


Sure, tourists see Broadway shows, but how many of them check out Off-Broadway? 

Most travelers assume that because it isn’t considered Broadway that it won’t be good. They’re wrong.

The truth is, more and more Off-Broadway shows are transferring to Broadway. Even Hamilton started as an Off-Broadway show. Go ahead, be cool, check out Off-Broadway. 

These are some of my go-to non-Broadway theater options:



48. Slip into a Speakeasy


Classic New York speakeasies are technically a thing of the past, but the concept has become a recent trend. 

Some of my favorite less touristy speakeasies are: 



49. See Baroque Burlesque


This is definitely something most travelers wouldn’t dream of seeing (if they even know about it).

Company XIV bases their baroque burlesque shows on classic fairy tales and ballets. It’s a unique New York experience that’s not for the faint of heart.

I’m not a great planner and have yet to score tickets. My advice—plan ahead on this one. This won’t be your typical touristy night out.



50. All That Jazz


New York is famous for its legendary jazz scene, and yet most tourists don’t make time to experience it.

It would be a crime for any music lover to leave the city without taking in a bit of jazz. Some of my favorite local jazz spots are:

The best thing about seeing live music in New York is you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear talented musicians.


Conclusion

Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan!

Walt Whitman

Don’t let the idea of seeing the same touristy sights all your friends have seen seduce you. Go ahead and embrace some of the off the radar ideas above. 

I promise you’ll have a more interesting “what we did in New York” story because of it.

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