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From quirky museums to secret bars and to riding a cable car, these unusual things to do in New York will surely take you off the beaten path!
New York, one of the most iconic cities on earth, is a bustling multicultural metropolis that is always ready to impress. If you’ve already seen its most famous landmarks, or if you want to lose the crowds, you should try venturing beyond the obvious. For those looking to experience the most unique side of the Big Apple, these unusual things to do in New York will surely get you off the beaten path.
Unusual Things to Do in New York
1. Color Factory
This collaborative art experience is located in Soho and features 16 interactive, colorful art installations. With a collection of works from some fantastic artists from different disciplines, Color Factory is definitely one of the best pop-ups in NYC at the moment.
Along the way, they offer some small treats, like macaroons, mochi and ice cream. Through the city, there are also several small activities and art pieces, so you can continue having fun after your visit.
Good to Know
Access to this art space is limited and you have to book your tickets in advance. On arrival, you get registered and they give you a card that you can scan in each room so you can have your photo taken. Then they send it to you by email.
2. The Tenement Museum
If you have an interest in cultural travel, you should definitely visit the Tenement Museum, a remarkable historical museum located on the Lower East Side and one of the coolest museums in NYC. Housed in two historic brick buildings, you can visit the restored apartments of some of the immigrant families who used to live there.
During one of the guided tours, visitors go back in time to experience for a moment what it was like to be an immigrant in New York in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. According to some estimates, about 7,000 people from over 20 countries lived in this historic site.
Good to Know
You can only visit the museum on a guided tour. Also, to preserve the historical atmosphere, photography is not allowed inside the building. Some of the most popular tours, tend to sell out; so it’s best to book your tickets in advance. And, if you are traveling with children, keep in mind that most experiences in the museum are only suitable for kids aged six and up.
Finally, for those who want to learn more about New York’s diverse immigrant cultures, this walking tour will take you to other unique cultural sites in the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and Little Italy. The best part of the tour is that it combines rich historical knowledge with tasting some amazing food!
3. Wine Tasting in a Rooftop Vineyard
Yes, you read that right. Rooftop Reds is the world’s first commercially viable urban rooftop vineyard and one of the most unique things to do in Brooklyn. The first harvest of Rooftop Reds was collected on October 2017. The winery currently produces six varieties of wine made with grapes sourced from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York.
This innovative venue is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a thriving green industrial park built on what used to be one of the nation’s main shipbuilding sites. This area is a hub for sustainable initiatives, so it’s well worth a visit.
And one of the best ways to explore the area is by joining this award-winning tour, which was selected as the Best Tour of 2012 by New York Magazine.
Good to Know
Besides wine tasting sessions, the winery also organizes several activities; such as guided visits every Wednesday, rooftop yoga sessions, brunch on Saturdays, and brewing workshops.
Also during summer, there’s a monthly all-you-can-eat BBQ event and movie nights on Thursday evenings. To visit the rooftop, you need to reserve in advance.
4. Go on a Street Art Hunt
One of the best ways to enjoy NYC off the beaten path is to go searching for street art. This fantastic city has been at the forefront of the graffiti movement from its very beginning. And, to this day, it is home to a thriving street art scene that attracts some of the most amazing urban artists from all over the world.
Some of the best areas for street art in New York include the L.I.S.A. Project in Little Italy, Highline Art in the High Line, the Graffiti Hall of Fame in East Harlem, the Coney Art Walls in Coney Island, the DUMBO Walls and the Bushwick Collective, which are both in Brooklyn, among other places.
Good to Know
Looking for street art can take time and dedication. If you don’t have much time to go searching on your own, you can always join a street art tour. This way, you can easily see the best artworks while your guide explains some interesting background information.
5. The Cloisters
Set in a quiet location in Upper Manhattan, The Cloisters are a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With a monastic atmosphere, this is truly one of the most unusual places to visit in New York and offers a pleasant respite from the city’s hectic pace.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens and featuring a lovely inner courtyard, the building was constructed using sections of French medieval monasteries. Inside, you can admire the MET’s extensive collection of medieval art, which includes many statues, paintings, stained glass windows, and tapestries.
Good to Know
Same day entrance is included for free when you buy a ticket for the Met. If you want o save time and skip the big line at the museum, it is recommended to buy your tickets online.
6. House of Yes
Set in a warehouse in the heart of the famous Bushwick district in Brooklyn, House of Yes is a place for pure artistic expression. With its Burning Manesque vibes, full-on psychedelic decor, and amazing acrobatic shows; this fantastic club offers you a place to dance your heart out, lose your inhibitions and enjoy a wild night out.
Here, you are encouraged to wear your most out-of-this-world outfit, don plenty of glitter and let your creativity shine. If you are looking for a unique experience in New York, head to House of Yes!
Good to Know
There are different themes happening every night, so make sure to check their program. We highly recommend you buy your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line or sold-out shows. Before the show starts, you can hang out at the bar. You can only enter the theater area 30 minutes before the show begins.
Keep in mind that almost all events are for people 21 years and older. Cocktails are about $14 USD, which is pretty reasonable for NYC.
7. New York Transit Museum
New York’s subway system is one of the oldest in the world. And at the NYC Transit Museum, you can see several displays and artifacts chronicling the history of the city’s transport network. It is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to urban public transportation history and one of the best in the world of its kind.
The museum is housed in an old subway station in Brooklyn. One of the best parts is the collection of different subway cars arranged by decade and the display of NYC transportation maps is fascinating. You don’t have to be a train enthusiast to enjoy this hidden gem, plus it’s a great place to spend an afternoon with the kids.
Good to Know
Admission is $10 USD per adult and $5 USD for seniors and children aged two to seventeen years old. The museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays.
8. MoMA PS1
With the MoMA being closed from June 16 to October 20, the MoMA PS1 offers a great alternative for those looking for an art fix. This exhibition space hosts some of the most avant-garde contemporary art in the world and is one of the oldest contemporary art institutions in North America.
Located in Queens and housed in a former public school building far away from the bustling streets of Manhattan, this space is affiliated with New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Most of the art on display is an eclectic mix of up-and-coming artists.
Good to Know
In summer, they hold Warm-Up events, which showcase the best in live and electronic music. The events take place every Saturday in July and August.
The museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Opening hours are from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Admission fees are $10 USD for adults, $5 USD for seniors and students (ID required), and free for children under 16 and NYC residents.
9. Patent Pending
Housed in the Radio Wave Building, the same where the former hotel in which Nikola Tesla lived for many years used to stand, Patent Pending is one of the best speakeasy bars in New York. Access to the bar is via a sliding door hidden behind the menu at Patent Coffee.
The menus are cleverly designed with plenty of Tesla references and are divided into four categories: energy, frequency, vibration, and descent. Their cocktails are very original and skillfully prepared. A definite must-visit!
Good to Know
The bar is quite small and doesn’t take reservations, so you probably will have to wait to go in, however it is worth it! Most cocktails cost around $17 USD. The bar is open every day from 5:00 pm.
If you want to experience what it was like during the Prohibition era, you should visit some of New York’s speakeasy bars.
10. AIRE Ancient Baths
Offering a soothing and peaceful oasis in the heart of TriBeCa, a visit to AIRE Ancient Baths gives you the perfect opportunity to pamper yourself after a long day of walking around New York. Housed in a restored historic building, there are several baths set at different temperatures. If the setting looks familiar, it’s because it was one of the locations for the John Wick movies.
For your visit, you can either choose a combo of thermal baths and massage or some of their more luxurious experiences, such as an olive essence ritual or the Himalayan salt experience. However, for a really unique and unforgettable treatment try the wine bath.
Good to Know
Prices for treatments range from $162 USD for a thermal baths session and a 30-minutes massage to $575 USD for the wine bath experience. Also, keep in mind that prices are a bit lower from Monday to Thursday and more expensive on weekends.
11. Noguchi Museum
Set in an industrial area in Long Island City, the Noguchi Museum is a lovely oasis dedicated to the work of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The extensive museum collection features some unique sculptures, Japanese lanterns made of paper and wood, and a peaceful garden outside.
Good to Know
There is also a small coffee shop and gift store in the museum. Admission fees are $10 USD for adults, $5 USD for seniors and students (ID required), and free for children under 12 and visitors with disabilities. Entrance is free on the first Friday of every month. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
12. The Roosevelt Island Tramway
The Roosevelt Island Tramway runs every 7-15 minutes from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan to Tramway Plaza on Roosevelt Island. While crossing the Hudson River, you get a great view of Queensborough Bridge, Roosevelt Island, and Manhattan. It is a nice and unusual experience, especially if you are traveling with children.
Good to Know
Fares are around $3 USD per person each way, the same as a subway ride. You can only pay with an MTA MetroCard, which you can purchase in one of the vending machines at the tram station. Also, keep in mind that it can get very busy during rush hour.
Map – New York Off the Beaten Path
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What other unusual things to do in New York would you recommend? Share your suggestions with us in the comments section!
Bianca is a world citizen who spent almost four years traveling around South America and Europe. Her passions include photography, street art, outdoor sports, and cooking exotic dishes. She’s now based in the Netherlands where she lives with her partner and young daughter. She still enjoys traveling, on her own or with her family, and is always looking for an opportunity to see new places.
Looks like they stopped people staying on the subway through the old City Hall station for a “free tour”. I always wanted to see what it looked like but didn’t want to trespass ?
Crif dogs is good! Definitely stop for a hotdog.
This list was a joy to look through! I have visited NYC many times and absolutely LOVE the city! I’ve only done about half of the stuff that you’ve mentioned, but the other stuff you have listed looks AWESOME. I’m def gonna try to hit these places up the next time I’m in the city!
Such a great post and it just makes you realise there is SO much more to NYC! The idea of the speakeasy bars sound so mysterious, definitely bookmarking this post for future reference :)
You had me at rooftop vineyard :o
This is a great post, will definitely use it for my second trip to NYC, whenever that may be…
Ok I never did any of these and that makes me sad! Looks like I need to revisit NYC! Such a great list
What a nice selection of different things to do in New York! I didn’t even know about the existence of The Cloisters, and that abandoned subway station seems so cool too! Good that you included the map, saved this for when we go to NY!
Uhm, where has this article been all my life?? Seriously, I must have read dozens and dozens of articles on NYC but they are more or less all the same. These things are so unique! I want to do all of them!! <3
Such a awesome post & it just makes you realize there is so much more in New York! The idea of the speakeasy bars sound so mysterious, definitely bookmarking this post for future reference……