34 Unusual & Unique Things To Do In NYC In 2024

corridor made of rainbow colours seen through an orange round doorway - one of the unique things to do in NYC

If you’ve been to New York before, or if you simply want to get off the beaten path, you might want to discover some less common, unusual or unique things to do in NYC.

I recently wrote a post on bucket list things to do in NYC. It is aimed at first-time visitors, so while it does include some less touristy spots, it covers all the amazing things you’d want to do in NYC, many of which are well-known and ‘must-do’ type activities. However, I know some people want to explore beyond the big sights and famous landmarks.

That’s where this article comes in!  I’ve been to New York enough times to have had some unique NYC experiences, but I figured I’d get a more varied list if I included other travellers’ recommendations as well as my own. For that reason, I have collaborated with several other travel bloggers who also know and love New York.

This is our combined set of ideas for unique things to do in NYC that are a little different to the norm.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

34 Unique Things To Do In NYC

Here are our ideas for off-the-beaten-track things to do in NYC. By definition, these are not massive crowd-pleasers, so I imagine some won’t be your cup of tea. But I hope you find something to pique your interest.

Unique NYC Experiences & Activities

First up: unique things to do in NYC that are fun experiences or activities.

1. Roosevelt Island Tramway

By me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

A very simple and low-cost NYC experience is to take the Roosevelt Island tramway. It’s a cable car that takes passengers between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, in the East River – and it’s unique because of the way it feels as if you’re flying between the skyscrapers. I’ve been on several cable cars around the world, but I’ve never come across one that takes you up between tall buildings, like this one.

It doesn’t take long to make the crossing – only a few minutes. I took the tram after dark and I really enjoyed those few minutes of ascending between the lit-up buildings. I think it’s one of the best things to do in New York at night.

blur of skyscrapers lit up at night and cable car cables
View through the window of the Roosevelt Island Tramway

You can catch the tramway in Manhattan at 2nd Avenue and 60th Street – next to the Queensboro Bridge. There are two cars that go back and forth and the wait between them isn’t long. It costs the same as a subway ride and Metrocards are accepted. Just bear in mind that this is one of the main ways Roosevelt Island residents get to and from Manhattan, so I imagine they’ll thank visitors for avoiding the tramway during rush hour.

2. Governor’s Island

distant view of skyscrapers in downtown manhattan as two people clink their glasses
Governors Island. Photo by Jessie On A Journey

When visiting NYC, go beyond the tourist sites by taking a quick ferry ride to Governors Island — which is technically in Manhattan but feels like a completely different destination. This car-free island is the epitome of peace as you walk and bike around and take in some of the best views in NYC for free.

One really fun thing to do is to rent a grill for the day at Picnic Point, where you can cook, sip, and chill in Adirondack chairs while taking in the skyline and Statue of Liberty.

Other highlights of Governors Island include seafood and cocktails with a view at Island Oyster, a spa day at QC NY Spa, glamping with Collective Retreats, and attending one of the many events — like Jazz Age Lawn Party, an annual celebration of all things 1920s. Alternatively, you can simply wander without a plan and enjoy the views, gardens, historic sites, art installations, and more. 

3. Open-Door Helicopter Ride

Contributed by Pierre from WayfareWithPierre.com

Let’s face it- we’ve all seen those unreal photos on Instagram of someone flying over the Statue of Liberty with their legs hanging out of an open-door helicopter. After seeing this kind of photo for what was probably the 100th time, I finally gave in and decided to give it a try myself on my most recent visit to New York City. I booked my helicopter tour with FlyNYON, one of the best options around. 

aerial view of skyscrapers in downtown manhattan from an open door helicopter
View from an open-door Helicopter ride

It was an absolutely unforgettable experience, and you truly get the best NYC views imaginable. For safety, FlyNYON gives you a safety briefing as well as a harness. You can choose an open or closed-door flight, but I highly recommend going with the open-door option. 

By taking an open-door helicopter tour, you’re able to truly take in the beauty of New York City and enjoy panoramic views of some of the world’s most prized landmarks. You’ll soar over many of  NYC’s iconic skyscrapers and landmarks, including the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The tour also takes you down the Hudson River and up along the East River, offering views of some iconic neighbourhoods such as Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side. 

Whether you’re a first-time tourist or a local looking for new ways to experience New York City, an open-door helicopter tour offers one of the best unique and unforgettable perspectives of the city that you won’t find anywhere else. Sure, the tour only lasts about 20 minutes, but the memories will last a lifetime. 

Check out this Manhattan Island All-Inclusive Helicopter Tour!

4. Coney Island Sideshows By The Seashore

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide 

For unique things to do in NYC, look no further than a visit to Coney Island for Sideshows by the Seashore, formerly the Coney Island Side Show.

Coney Island is full of unique things to do, but this activity really tops the cake when it comes to eccentric and quirky performances from fire breathers to acrobatics. 

trapeze artist swings above a stage
Sideshows By The Seashore

Located near the famous Coney Island Beach, Boardwalk, and amusement park rides like Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow is a classic ten-in-one circus show with talented performers who are dedicated to their unique craft and skills.

It’s actually said that this is the last permanently housed traditional style ten-in-one sideshow in existence in the country! And what better place to have it than at Coney Island, one of the country’s oldest and most beloved amusement parks?

The show runs continuously, so you can pop in at any time and leave when you feel like it. While Coney Island is typically a seasonal destination, the Sideshow by the Seashore does offer special shows throughout the year making it a reason to check and see if Coney Island is in your cards during your trip even if you’re not visiting in the summer months.

5. Queen’s County Farm

Contributed by Simeon from Tozome.com

The Queens County Farm Museum is a valuable example of the agricultural heritage that once flourished in the Big Apple. As one of the last remaining working farms in NYC and the longest continuously farmed site in the state, it is a unique attraction for anyone looking to go off the beaten path or gather travel quotes.

colourful rainbow display of painted pumpkins and flowers
Queens County Farm

The farm was originally established in the 17th century by the Adriance family and was run by their descendants for nearly three centuries. The current farmhouse, built around 1772 by Jacob Adriance, still stands and retains much of its original character.

In 1927, the State of New York purchased the farm and incorporated it into the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, with patients from the center utilizing the farm as part of their therapy. Although the formal farming program at Creedmoor eventually ended, caretakers continued to work the land out of their love for farming.

In 1973, when the historic buildings were slated for demolition, the efforts of local residents resulted in the State transferring the land and buildings to the City to be preserved as a public park. Today the farm offers a bounty of fresh produce, including flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, which are sold on-site in the farm store, and raises a variety of livestock including goats and sheep.

6. Burlesque Show – Company XIV

Contributed by Geeves Joy from Real Girl Review

New York is a city with no shortage of wacky and outlandish adventures for people to get themselves into. After all, it is the city that never sleeps.

But, nothing struck my eye more than a variety show performed in an unassuming art house in Brooklyn, who’s known for being a bit more abstract than its cousin Manhattan when it comes to activities.

The troupe is called Company XIV and they’ve been performing various styles of burlesque, cabaret and ballet for over 10 years, much to the acclaim of outlets like the New York Times and Huffington Post.

When you walk in, you’re instantly transported to a different universe where aerialists twirl from the ceiling in Lady Gaga sky-high heels and muscular men in tutus and Agent Provocateur corsets waltz down the aisle and kiss you during the show. It’s an evening of glittery albeit sometimes debaucherous entertainment and playful fun, for which they encourage you to do nothing less than throw back a drink and let your hair down.

male stage performers in burlesque outfits and masks
Company XIV

If you’re someone who likes to be front and centre, their VIP couch is calling your name. You’ll be served champagne while getting a close look at the eye candy all over the stage.

Unusual NYC Museums

Here are some museums that offer a more unique NYC experience than, say, the Met and the Natural History Museum.

7. Neue Galerie

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

The stretch of Fifth Avenue between Central Park and the Upper East Side is known as The Museum Mile due to the number of museums and galleries here. There are many prestigious and famous museums like The Met, The Guggenheim and the Frick Collection.

However, on my most recent trip to New York, in April 2024, I visited a museum I hadn’t heard much about before: the Neue Galerie. It is a museum focussing on early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. If you don’t have the time or energy for one of the bigger museums or galleries, this is a good artsy thing to do in NYC.

handsome cream and red historic building with sign saying Klimt landscapes
Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue

What caught my eye about this gallery is that it had an exhibition on Gustav Klimt, including one of his gold paintings, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. I love his work, so I joined the queue for tickets – and I wasn’t disappointed. The exhibition is rather small: only three rooms across two floors, but I found the centrepiece ‘The Woman in Gold’ captivating.

printed cards showing a gold painting of a woman with dark hair
They’re strict about the no photos rule in the Neue Galerie, so I only have this photo of the Woman In Gold cards I bought from the giftshop

They also have a Viennese-style café in the museum, Café Sabarsky – so you might want to stop by here for some Austrian delicacies, such as Sachertorte or Apfelstrudel. Be warned, though: the café is almost as popular as the art exhibition and there can be a long queue for tables!

8. Color Factory

Contributed by Erin Burke from Flying Off the Bookshelf

If you’re looking for something to inspire joy and play during your visit to NYC, check out the Color Factory! This interactive museum highlights colour, with everything from macarons to a confetti room to a giant ball pit. As you move throughout the museum, there are different opportunities to play with art and colour, including a drawing room, a music room, and a silent dance party room.

corridor made of rainbow colours seen through an orange round doorway
Color Factory

The Color Factory is all about colour as a sensory experience in every way imaginable and encourages play. It’s a perfect thing to add to your trip if you are travelling to NYC with kids, but it’s just as fun for adults too and can be great for rainy days in NYC. (I mean, where else can grown adults play in a giant ball pit? And don’t worry…they are sanitized.)

Plus, it’s a fun Instagram spot and your ticket includes photos you take during your visit. AND you will get some fun small souvenirs and treats included.

To visit the Color Factory, you must buy your tickets online ahead of time. Timed-entry tickets range from $39 to $45. Hours vary daily (and they are closed some Wednesdays). Your ticket will be timed though, and they ask that you arrive 10-15 minutes early.

9. Tenement Museum

Contributed by Sarah from Mukikapup’s Travels

The Tenement Museum is a true gem in NYC! The museum tells the stories of US immigrants in the real-life tenements where they lived on Orchard Street. Historians have found their stories and re-created the environment by unearthing old wallpaper and filling spaces with things that people used in their day-to-day lives.

There are tours of different immigrants and their stories, so you can look for one that matches your family’s story, if applicable. The tours are interactive, meaning you can ask questions. Some of them use actors and some tour guides. The museum also offers walking tours of the Lower East Side where you can learn the history of the buildings.

tell building with fire escape ladders on the outside and a museum entrance on the ground floor
The Tenement Museum

Make sure to reserve tickets in advance (they usually sell out), and check the website for special discounts. Tickets are $30 per person. You can also purchase a membership for free tours throughout the year. The visitor’s centre and museum shop are open 7 days a week, from 10 am-5 pm Monday-Thursday and 10 am-6 pm Friday-Sunday.

The visitor centre is where all tours begin. It’s located at 103 Orchard Street on the corner of Orchard and Delancey St. There is a wheelchair-accessible entrance on the Delancey side of 103 Orchard St. The visitor’s centre has bathrooms and lockers downstairs to store bags, a gift shop and an informational video.

You might also like a Lower East Side Food Tastings and Culture Tour

10. New York Transit Museum

Contributed by Megan of Bobo & Chichi 

One of the most absolutely unique things to do in NYC and one of the coolest museums is hidden away in the residential neighbourhood of Boerum Hill in Brooklyn. Located in a now-defunct subway stop is where the New York Transit Museum is housed.

old fashioned new york subway interior
New York Transit Museum

The museum itself is devoted to the history and development of New York metropolitan public transportation through exhibits, photos, and even an interactive kids area where they can play as a bus driver inside a mini, colourful version of New York City.

But the best part of this unique attraction is actually located on the former subway platform. This is where there are several vintage subway cars including cars dating back to 1907 that visitors can walk in, sit in, and pretend to be a passenger. These are the actual vintage trains from the different eras of transportation in New York City. Don’t forget to take notice of all the vintage ads on display inside the trains too which reflect the period the train car was from.

There are 20 trains on display that you can go inside. This is really the part that makes this museum worth spending a few hours at, especially for those who love nostalgia and history.

You’ll want to secure your tickets in advance and note that the museum is only open until 4 PM, so be sure to plan your day accordingly around visiting.

11. Spyscape

Contributed by Kelly of Girl with the Passport 

Looking for one of the most unique things to do in NYC? If so then run, don’t walk, to this fun and super interactive museum that is for anyone who typically hates museums. 

sign saying Spyscape
Spyscape

Because while you will learn all about the history of code-breaking and espionage by exploring several amazing exhibits, the real highlight of a trip to Spyscape is the chance to be a spy. See, this is one of the coolest museums in NYC that is fully interactive and that shows you exactly what it’s like to be a real spy. 

So, you’ll do a bit of code-breaking, conduct surveillance, dodge a laser or two, and try to spot liars while conducting missions during your visit. You’ll also love that all of these experiences are authentic and have been specially designed by no less than M16 itself. 

Then, at the end of your visit, you’ll be given a personal profile that will help you determine exactly what spy role suits your personality and personal talents. Options include fun jobs like cryptologist, spymaster, hacker, and more. 

Just be sure to set aside a few hours for your visit since this fun museum does take a while to get through. And while tickets are pricey at $39.00 per adult, it’s worth it to enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience.

12. The Morgan Library And Museum

Contributed by Sam Opp from Find Love and Travel

Potentially the most beautiful library I have ever come across in NYC is The Morgan Library and Museum which is a total hidden gem in the attraction-filled city of New York. 

This NYC attraction was built in the Victorian era, this library is majestic in appearance and considered a masterpiece in design. 

three-tiered library filled with old books
The Morgan Library

The library is home to rare artefacts including music manuscripts and early children’s books. The museum also hosts various expeditions throughout the year that are usually based around famous artists. 

During your visit, you can browse the artefacts and the picturesque library. Then, retire to the café to have a casual bite to eat in the glass-enclosed central court, Morgan café. This dining room creates a European, alfresco dining experience that is tranquil and a peaceful escape away from a busy city.

The best time to visit is early in the morning, to avoid the crowds since it is on the smaller side. 

Tickets vary in price but are $22 for adult admission. On Friday evenings (5 pm – 7 pm) they allow visitors in for free, but you must reserve your tickets on their official website first.

The address is 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016, and is easily accessible from the subway and by bus. The library is open from 10:30 am to 5 pm except for Friday when they close at 7 pm.

13. The Met Cloisters

Contributed by Kasia Kalemba from Perfect Day Somewhere

The Met Cloisters is a museum in Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan, New York City and is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s unique because it offers visitors a chance to experience the peaceful serenity of medieval Europe in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world. 

The museum is designed to resemble a medieval European monastery, with its architecture and landscaping both inspired by the medieval period. The museum’s collection of art and artefacts, including illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, metalwork, and textiles, provides a comprehensive overview of medieval life and culture.

interior of a medieval style church with stained glass windows
The Met Cloisters

The Met Cloisters is located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY 10040. It is open seven days a week, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission costs $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students or free for MET members.

A visit to the Met Cloisters is best during the spring and fall when the weather is mild and the gardens are in full bloom. The museum is also less crowded during the week, so visitors can enjoy a more peaceful and immersive experience. 

Personally, I loved visiting the Met Cloisters because of its peaceful atmosphere and the opportunity to step back in time and immerse myself in the medieval world. The museum’s collection is fascinating, and the architecture and landscaping are truly stunning. I highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in the art and culture of the medieval period.

Unique Food & Drink In NYC

Tired of pizza and New York steaks? Here are some unusual or unique food & drink places in NYC.

14. Red Rooster, Harlem

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

When it comes to food, I think the most top-of-mind New York dishes are hot deli sandwiches, bagels and a good old slice of New York pizza. But if you like soul food or American comfort food, you should check out Red Rooster in Harlem. The menu includes lots of favourites like cornbread, shrimp & grits, crab cakes and chicken & waffles.

And on Sundays, you’ll also find amazing live music! The Sunday Gospel Brunch involves a full-on gospel choir performance. I was absolutely blown away by the performance when I visited – I’d never heard anything like it. It is truly a unique thing to do in NYC.

gospel singers on stage in a speakeasy-style venue
Red Rooster Gospel Brunch

It’s a really special experience, you should try to do this even if you’re only in NYC for a few days (this is why I included this as a recommendation in my 4-day New York itinerary).  It’s best to book well in advance to secure a spot and avoid disappointment.

15. Clinton Hall

Contributed by Kelly of Travel New York Now

If you’re a foodie of even the smallest measure then one of the most unique things to do in NYC for you is to visit Clinton Hall. This popular beer hall and food joint currently has locations all over the city and is known for serving its amazing doughnut grilled cheese. 

plate of food with a doughnut covered in melted cheese over  a bowl

Presented to you dangling from a hook and with mozzarella cheese dripping into a bowl of tomato soup below, this dish shouldn’t work but absolutely does. 

In fact, you’ll forget you’re eating a doughnut at all since the confectionary delight has been cut in half and pan-fried so that the sugary exterior is on the inside. Seriously, it tastes amazing and you’ll have a hard time not devouring the entire thing while visiting one of the many places you must eat in NYC

However, in addition to being insanely tasty, this dish is super Instagrammable and retails for just $17.00. 

So, be sure to swing by Clinton Hall with a few of your friends and grab a pint of craft beer. While this unique grilled cheese is delicious, their Financial District has tons of outdoor seating and fun giant boards game that you and your friends can play while waiting for your food, including Jenga, Connect Four, and more.

16. Momofuku Noodle Bar

Contributed by Denise from Chef Denise

Food historians trace the ramen restaurant craze in America to mega-chef David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar. Inspired by the Japanese food he ate while living in Tokyo, Chang opened the first restaurant of his empire in 2004. His vision was to elevate ramen from what most of us thought of as cheap dorm room food. He succeeded, and any ramen lover or foodie visiting NYC should enjoy a meal at the original location in the East Village.

The small food menu consists of five sections: daily specials, buns, smalls, noodles, and desserts. Indeed, the ramen bowls are the stars of the ever-changing menu and should not be missed. A large steaming bowl of brothy barley noodles served with a variety of meats, vegetables, and unique flavours. The smoked pork ramen with egg is definitely a highlight.

bowl of ramen noodles with meat and vegetables
Momofuku

The fluffy, taco-shaped buns are quite delicious too and make a great starter to share. They may be filled with seared shrimp, pork belly, and there is usually a vegetarian option like roasted shiitake mushroom. The sauces on the buns really make them stand out. Not surprising, since Momofuku produces a whole line of Asian sauces too. Sip sake, a local craft beer, or try a Korean soju.

Momofuku Noodle Bar opens every day at noon. They close at 4 pm for an hour and reopen at 5 pm. Sunday-Thursday they close at 10 pm and Friday and Saturday 11 pm. Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are accepted.

17. Ukrainian Food In Little Ukraine

Contributed by Amanda from Hey! East Coast USA

While most people visit the bohemian Greenwich Village in Manhattan, an alternative, less touristy neighbourhood to consider is the nearby Ukrainian Village, historically known as Little Ukraine. 

There are approximately 150,000 Ukrainians living in NYC, some of whom call the boundary of 6th and 7th Street and 2nd Avenue in the East Village home. You’ll find businesses owned by Ukrainian families here, which is great if you like pierogi!

plate of dumplings
Pierogi at Veselka

The most popular Ukrainian restaurant is Veselka which is located at 144 2nd Ave. It was opened in 1954 by Wlodymyr Darmochwal and his wife, Olha Darmochwal who were post-WWII refugees. Today, it is still owned and run by family members. Veselka means rainbow in Ukrainian. 

The restaurant has indoor and sheltered tables on the street if you prefer to dine al fresco. Indoors there is Ukrainian decor such as flags, images of the president, and quotes in Ukrainian writing.

The menu caters for breakfast through to dinner and consists of borscht soup, handmade fried or boiled pierogi dumplings, latke, and goulash – perfect comfort food. If visiting NYC in winter, Veselka is one of the rare places you’ll find mulled wine! Delicious.

Nearby is Union Square, the famous Strand bookstore, and the Russian & Turkish Baths. 

18. Bemelmans Bar

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

Bemelmans Bar is not unknown, as such. But it remains pretty under the radar for many people due to how exclusive and expensive it is.

And it really is pricey: cocktails are in the $20s and $30s, and cover charges apply after 5:30 pm, and get higher after 9 pm when a jazz trio plays.

However, I recommend Bemelmans Bar because it is such a special and unique place – one that is quintessentially New York.  It feels like a time capsule – like you’re transported back to 1940s New York: it is lit with low table lamps and the room is lined by traditional leather banquettes; cocktails are served by immaculately-dressed waiters in suits; a pianist plays live jazz music. I think coming here with a date could be one of the most romantic things to do in NYC.

low-lit table with cocktails and an illustrated lamp at Bemelmans Bar in Manhattan
Cocktails at Bemelmans

But if you want to experience this old-world NYC gem without going bankrupt, go really early to avoid or minimise the cover charge, and have just one drink – and make it last! 

Free & Unique Things To Do In NYC

If you want unusual NYC experiences AND you’re on a budget, here are some free unique things to do in NYC.

19. Freeman Alley

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

If you’re looking for free things to do in NYC that are different and/or you like graffiti, you should take a wander down Freeman Alley. It’s a short partially-covered alleyway in the Lower East Side, near the Bowery Mural (also worth checking out, by the way). What makes Freeman Alley unique is that way it’s totally transformed by street art.

covered alleyway with grafitti covering every wall, pipe and shutter
Freeman Alley

There’s graffiti, murals and posters covering all the walls, shutters and pillars along the passageway, and also some on the floor. I like the semi-circles of lights that have been put up, too – somehow, these make it seem like a friendlier place. I visited Freeman Alley early in the morning, which was a great time to catch it empty.

The entrance is on Rivington Street and at the end is Freemans restaurant, a tavern serving American cuisine and cocktails.

20. Little Island Park

Contributed by Sam from My Flying Leap

If you’re looking for some green space in the heart of the concrete jungle of New York City, there’s a newer unique small attraction nestled in the Lower West Side of NYC called Little Island Park. This special park opened in 2021, and it’s worth adding to your must-see list.

Little Island Park isn’t little, nor is it technically an island. It’s two and a half acres of land supported by concrete pilings in the Hudson River. There are 132 tulip-shaped structures standing on these concrete pilings at the edge of the river at Pier 55, providing the foundation for this park.

When you first start up the walkway to the park, you’ll have no doubt this will be a special place. Walk through the tulip structures into a new world, nothing like the city you’ve left behind.

green park with cement structures
Little Island Park

There’s a winding path that meanders through the different areas of the park. On one end, there’s a large picnic area with benches and tables. There’s also a large outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the water, where they hold events and activities.

On the other end is a large hill that you can wander up, enjoying the different grasses, trees, plants, and flowers. Wander around to enjoy the different views of the park and of the city in the distance, peeking over the trees. 

Little Island Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s free to enter, so you can enjoy your day there and stay as long as you’d like. It’s a welcome respite from the city, and I love to visit every time I go!

21. Shakespeare In The Park

Contributed by Anwar from Beyond My Door

Held annually in the summer, Shakespeare in the Park is one of the premier theatre activities in New York City. It’s also free!

The theatre hosts two different productions of Shakespeare each summer ranging from the traditional to more modern takes on the plays. The unique thing here is that they often incorporate various modern themes.

While many other cities also have Shakespeare productions and some even call them Shakespeare in the Park, none are at the same production level as the New York production. You’ll often get world-class directors, set designers, and even famous actors within the plays. The production level is high and, shockingly, the tickets are free.

outdoor stage made from corrugated iron
Shakespeare In the Park

There are actually several ways to get tickets for Shakespeare in the park. The most common way is to line up early in the morning near the Delacorte theater on the west side of Central Park. Each person can get up to two tickets so if you have a group you’ll need several folks lining up. There’s also the option of lining up later in the day for standby, and while you can still get two tickets, there’s no guarantee they will be next to one another. There are also options for lotteries online and at the public theatre downtown, as well as distributions in the outer boroughs. Lastly for those who don’t want to wait or risk not getting tickets, there is a donation option. While the prices for donations are pricey, they help keep Shakespeare in the park free.

When the sun sets and the play starts and you can watch Shakespeare from your seats in an open theatre under the stars – there’s hardly a more magical experience in New York City.

22. Seek Out Movie Locations

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

Another free thing to do in New York that is a little different is hunting out the locations and settings for one or more of the many movies set in NYC.

New York is one of the most filmed cities in the world, and IMDb lists around 395,000 movies set in New York.

Of course, there are lots of sci-fi or disaster movies where NYC landmarks get destroyed, but there are plenty of real-world films with locations you can visit. For example, there are classic Hollywood movies like The Seven Year Itch and The Way We Were, with that famous scene by the Pulitzer Fountain.

man and a woman at a table in a diner
When Harry Met Sally filmed in Katz’s Diner in the Lower East Side

There are some 1980s favourites with iconic filming locations all over the city, like Ghostbusters and When Harry Met Sally. And many 1990s movies used grand apartment buildings in the Upper West Side as their location. And it’s not all old movies, of course: some great recent movies like Birdman and 21 Bridges were also set in New York.

If you want some cinematic inspiration, check out my list of 50 movies set in New York, including tips on where they were filmed.

Unique NYC Stores

To round out this list of unique things to do in NYC, there are some unusual stores you might want to visit.

23. Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery

You’ve probably heard of the legendary Katz’s Deli, serving hot sandwiches in an old-school, neon-signed store in the Lower East Side. Well, just along Houston Street from Katz’s is another classic Jewish food spot – one that’s perhaps lesser-known amongst visitors to NYC, and even more unique: Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery.

Knishes are a traditional Jewish snack: dough filled with potatoes & other fillings and baked.

faded, drab and fliered shop front for a knish bakery
Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery

I have to say, I was a bit gutted that I came too early to buy a knish. I didn’t realise they don’t open until 11 am and they weren’t open when I stopped by, so I don’t know what the knishes taste like. I should have checked the opening hours in advance! Rookie mistake.

However, I did appreciate how the store is delightfully retro! Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery has been in business since 1890 and in this location since 1910. And the storefront looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s!

24. Block Drug Store

I associate the East Village with the counterculture of the beat poets and hippies in the 1960s. It’s also known for punk music and Nuyorican poetry.

These days, despite gentrification, the neighbourhood still feels a bit gritty, occasionally rough around the edges – and shows occasional hints of its feisty 20th-century spirit.

One of those reminders of the past is Block Drug Store, which has a neon-lit façade. It looks like a relic from a different era.

old-fashioned drug store front with a red neon sign
Block Drug Store

The surprise to me is that it’s actually… a drugstore! I guess I thought it might be a preserved façade with something else inside – maybe some hipster boutique or something. But it’s an independent drug store and pharmacy that has been in operation since 1885 (the neon signs date from 1945, I’m told). So if you need any over-the-counter meds while you’re in New York City, why not support this locally-owned business – and enjoy the retro style while you’re there.

25. The Corner Bookstore

Way up in the Carnegie Hill neighbourhood of the Upper East Side, is one of those rarest of stores: an independent bookshop.

4-storey brownstone house in new york with a bookshop in the ground floor
The Corner Bookstore

The Corner Bookstore has occupied a corner brownstone on Madison Avenue since 1978. They pride themselves on their hand-picked collection of fiction and non-fiction books and their personal service. It kind of reminded me of the ‘Shop Around The Corner’ bookstore in the NYC-set movie, You’ve Got Mail (1998).

Stop by for a browse if you’re in the area, and then head into nearby Central Park for a walk around the reservoir. They also do events like readings, book launches and talks.

26. NYC’s First Vegan Boutique

Contributed by Rebecca from Veggies Abroad

NYC is well known for its endless shopping, including independent boutiques, major chains, luxury brands, and the city’s first vegan boutique, Moo Shoes. For over 20 years, long before veganism was mainstream, the sister duo behind this shop started stocking its shelves with various cruelty-free kicks. Over the years, the shop expanded its line-up to include handbags along with men’s and women’s fashions.

New York street and the shop front of Moo Shoes
Moo Shoes

In addition to ensuring that no animal products are used in their fashions, everything is created sustainably and with fair labor practices. You’ll find gorgeous fashions made from a unique mix of luxury materials like apple, pineapple, and cactus leather. The shop has its own one-of-a-kind line of shoes but also stocks vegan-friendly options from brands like Birkenstock, VEJA, Doc Martens, and many more. While shopping, you might also get lucky and meet one of the store’s rescued kitties who act as official greeters.

To round out your cruelty-free shopping excursion, make sure you check out one of NYC’s best vegan restaurants — there are well over 100 vegan restaurants! No matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it in NYC.

27. Harry Potter Store

Contributed by Lisa from Planning Away

One of the most fun and unique things to do in New York is to visit the Harry Potter Store.  If you are a Harry Potter fan this is an absolute must!  Not only can you shop for unique Harry Potter souvenirs but you can immerse yourself in an entire wizarding experience.

Harry Potter Store shop front in NYC
Harry Potter Store

One of the things that make the Harry Potter Store so special is that you can choose between two different virtual reality experiences:  Harry Potter Wizards take Flight and Harry Potter Castle of Chaos. This experience does require advance reservations with the purchase of a ticket.  

If you love butterbeer you are in luck! There is a cafe with all sorts of Harry Potter-themed baked goods, butterbeer ice cream, and of course the traditional butterbeer in a souvenir cup. There is also another area of the store that resembles Honeydukes.  There are lots of wizarding candy and treats to choose from.   

The detail within the store is amazing! As you step into the elevator you will enter a floo powder passageway to another area! You can also have a full interactive wand experience.  There are also lots of Harry Potter memorabilia from the movies.  

Harry Potter in New York City is a must!

Off-The-Beaten-Path NYC Parks, Squares & Gardens

Some of my favourite memories in New York are finding quiet corners where there’s not much going on; such as sitting in small parks where you can find some peace amongst the hustle of the city – or simply watching the city’s inhabitants get on and do their thing.

28. Columbus Park

Contributed by me, Martha from MayCauseWanderlust.com

One such park is Columbus Park. It’s very small and unassuming – certainly nothing spectacular there. But it feels like a real contrast to the busy streets of Lower Manhattan that surround – Chinatown to the north and the civic Centre to the south.

group of men playing Xiangqi in Columbus Park in NYC
Men playing Xiangqi in Columbus Park

It is a peaceful place and feels like the heart of the community. Locals gather here to meet and talk, or to play Mahjong or Xiangqi (Chinese chess). It’s a great place to soak up a neighbourhood vibe, away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

In fact, I suggest it as a stop during my self-guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan – as it’s such a good place to take a seat and chill for a bit.

29. Verdi Square

This isn’t somewhere I would recommend you make a journey for, but if you’re in the vicinity of this Upper West Side spot, I think it’s worth checking out. For example, if you’ve been exploring the Upper West Side, or you’ve been at the nearby American Museum of Natural History, you might want a place to rest and recharge – and this is a good place to do that.

square with flower beds, benches and a green retro subway entrance surrounded by tall buildings
Verdi Square

Verdi Square is a small square at the junction of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. There’s a nice paved area with lots of benches and a small garden with a statue of Giuseppe Verdi, who was an Italian composer. I also really liked the old head house building, which is the entrance the 72nd Street subway station. It contains artwork referring to Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

The Verdi Square Festival of the Arts runs in September when you might be able to catch a free concert in the square.

If you check this place out, I can highly recommend doing what I did, which is get coffee and an impossibly thick and gooey cookie from the original Levain Bakery, just a block away. Then grab a seat in the park to enjoy your goodies. Seriously, these cookies are life-changing.

Oh and while you’re there, check out the prestigious Ansonia building: a huge Beaux-Arts-style apartment building with fancy corner turrets and a mansard roof. It’s a New York landmark and one of the many film locations in NYC, having been the setting for the 1980s movie Single White Female and many other movies.

30. St. Luke In The Fields Garden

In the heart of the West Village, there’s a cute little garden on the grounds of the Church of England church, St. Luke In The Fields.

small garden with plants, cherry trees and pink flowering bushes
St. Luke In The Fields Garden

There are gardens on both sides of the church – and they’re both small, but delightful, with benches to sit on.

It was very peaceful when I stopped by here one weekday morning. It was spring and the garden was alive with flowers and blossom trees. With no one else there, I sat and enjoyed the solitude for a while, because commencing my exploring. It was the perfect spot for a moment of peace in the city.

31. Sasaki Garden, Washington Square Village

If you’re in New York in cherry blossom season (March – April), you’ll see beautiful pink blossoms all over the city and most of the city parks. However, these photogenic spots are often popular and can be thronging with people trying to get photos.

Well, I found a couple of spots that were pretty quiet, even on a warm sunny day.

One of them is Sasaki Garden in Washington Square Village. It’s a central square and garden within an apartment complex, but it’s not private – so you can go in.  It has a grove of mature cherry blossom trees and in peak bloom, they are an absolute delight.

paved square shaded by groves of mature cherry trees with pink and white blossoms
Sasaki Garden

There are lots of benches under the trees, so it’s also a great place to rest and find shade if you need it. I stumbled on this place after having been in nearby Washington Square Park, which was pretty busy. I walked into Sasaki Garden and couldn’t believe how tranquil it was by comparison.

32. Sakura Park

Another less-busy spot to find cherry trees in Manhattan is Sakura Park, in Mornington Heights.

pink cherry blossoms around a green bandstand in a park
Sakura Park

Now, I went there early one overcast morning during cherry blossom season, which might explain how quiet it was. But even so, I don’t think many visitors trek this far uptown.

It’s near Columbia University buildings and, as the name would suggest, it has a Japanese connection. Its name means ‘cherry blossom’ in Japanese and it brings to remembrance the gift of 2,000 cherry blossom trees from Japan to New York City in 1912. A stone Japanese tori, or lantern, was donated to Sakura Park by the City of Tokyo in 1960.

As well as some lovely blossom trees, there’s an attractive pavilion, which is used as a performance space by the Manhattan School of Music.

33. Hunters Point South Park, Long Island City

For a park with a unique view of Midtown Manhattan, cross the river into Queens and visit Hunter’s Point South Park. This park along the East River has stunning views of the midtown skyscrapers including my two favourites: the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

There’s a boardwalk, dog park, sports courts and a pavilion. But mostly I just stood or sat, taking in the spectacular scenery.

I can’t imagine there’s a bad time to come here, but I did especially like enjoying the view of NYC at night. I timed it to get there about an hour before sunset and I watched the light fade and the sky change colour until it was dark, and the city lights shone in the night sky. I then grabbed a bite to eat at Osteria Brooklyn, which has a great Italian menu.

34. Carl Schurz Park

The final park I’ll mention is the least ‘off the beaten path’ – but I do think it’s still not that well known amongst visitors to New York.

After Central Park, Carl Schurz Park is the main park for Upper East Side residents. And, as you’d expect for this well-to-do crowd, it’s rather nice. It has flower beds, cherry trees, handsome staircases and a promenade along the East River, with views of Roosevelt Island and Randall’s Island.

It was a bright sunny day when I went and the park was buzzing with joggers, dog walkers and even someone setting up for a child’s birthday party.

The park is also the location of Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the Mayor of New York City. However, it has a lot of security and high fences – I couldn’t see much of it, so I don’t think that’s a reason to visit here. Come for the attractive landscaping and river views, instead.

Map: Unique Things To Do In NYC

Here’s a map of all the unique or unusual NYC activities & places we’ve recommended in this article:

How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

Unique Places To Stay In NYC

If you’re interested in unique things to do in NYC, you might also prefer somewhere unique to stay. Some of the most memorable stays I have had in NYC have been short-term rentals, so maybe consider checking Vrbo for a cool apartment or loft.

I’ve also stayed in the following hotels in New York City recently:

3 Star: I was really pleased with my stay at Pod 39, which is a budget hotel in Midtown. It’s hard to find good low-priced accommodation with private bathrooms in Manhattan – and this was one of the very few options in its price range with a decent review rating. My single room was clean and space-efficient, but not too tiny. There was free coffee in the mornings, which I appreciated, and they gave me a discount card for the rooftop bar.

4 Star: I stayed at the Nolitan, which has a cool urban style blending the textures of steel, concrete and velvet. I had a biggish room (for Manhattan) with a balcony and a nice bathroom. They have a restaurant on site, but I opted to eat out in the Nolita neighbourhood – there are several good choices nearby.  There’s also lots to explore within walking distance of the hotel, including the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho.

5 Star: Wall Street Hotel. I indulged in luxury for the last night of my most recent visit to NYC. This hotel in the financial district has everything you’d want: plush, comfortable room; huge bathroom with a nice robe and toiletries; amazing staff who are helpful and friendly; a good room service menu; and a swanky lobby bar for cocktails at the end of the night.

To Conclude

I hope this list has given you some ideas of unique things to do in NYC.

And if you still need some ideas for how to spend your time in the city, I have a 4-day New York itinerary. Also, have you thought about a self-guided walking tour of Manhattan?

Enjoy exploring New York City!

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5 thoughts on “34 Unusual & Unique Things To Do In NYC In 2024”

  1. Great list here Martha. Growing up 40 minutes away in NJ, I’ve been to NYC hundreds of times. Go off of the beaten path – well into the outer boroughs – to experience worlds upon worlds of things to do. The Cloisters is gorgeous; views of the NJ Palisades are fabulous. I also suggest walking from Inwood, Manhattan over the bridge into Riverdale, Bronx to see the most suburban area of NYC few know exists. This area is a 20 minute walk from the Cloisters.

    Ryan

      1. Yeah, me too, still 😉 Manhattan is so easy, convenient and eye-popping that it works best for most travelers. The outer boroughs are so cool too with 100’s and 100’s of remarkable places to experience. The Chinatown in Queens dwarves the Manhattan version. It is like being in mainland China.

  2. This is such a great list. I love places like Momofuku and Moo shoes. It makes me want to try out the rest of your list.

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