Things to do in New York City at least once.
With an infinite list of things to do in New York City, you’ll never get bored. Of course, major attractions like the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, and Top of the Rock probably crown your must-do list. And while those are iconic and make for unforgettable NYC experiences, adding some under-appreciated activities to your itinerary will make your time in the city that more memorable.
To give your itinerary a boost, I curated a list of things to do in NYC at least once that are a departure from the blockbuster attractions. You’ll find that my choices run the gamut––from free stuff to the wallet-friendly, as well as splurges that require saving up before your trip. So give these a shot at least once if you haven’t already.
Explore Fort Tryon Park.
Escape the mania of Midtown and head north to Washington Heights. The views of the Hudson from this park are unbelievable, and the lush, wide-open green spaces will make you think you’ve left Manhattan for the country. Take the 1 or the A train––the trip should be roughly 30 minutes from Midtown.
Visit the Bronx Zoo.
Of all the things to do in New York City, heading to the Bronx may sound like a schlep, but in all honesty, it’s close to Manhattan. Spend a day with an array of creatures at the zoo, an oasis of wildlife in the heart of the borough. Admission to the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays but arrive early because it gets crowded, especially on sunny days. I recommend taking public transit if at all possible. You can travel by bus, subway, or Metro North. Get directions on the website.
Watch a performance of New York City Ballet.
If you need some inspiration, you’ll find it on the stage of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. New York City Ballet is one of the world’s premier dance companies and a night (or afternoon) at the ballet promises a few hours of culture, grace, and incredibly talented individuals. NYCB has a winter season, spring season, fall season, as well as the annual Nutcracker production every December, so you have plenty of chances throughout the year to observe as this first-rate ballet troupe struts their stuff.
Sip a fancy cocktail at the King Cole Bar.
Obviously, if you’re not one to partake in alcoholic beverages, this one probably won’t be a priority. Located in the St. Regis Hotel, the King Cole Bar is an iconic lounge with tons of history and character. And even if you prefer to keep your evenings dry, visit so you can stare at the Maxfield Parrish mural behind the bar.
Eat a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya.
I know there’s some rivalry between Gray’s and Papaya King, but this frankfurter shop on the Upper West Side will always hold a place in my heart and stomach. They cook my favorite hot dog ever, and the foamy papaya drink is the perfect sweet yet healthy accompaniment. Plus, Gray’s recession special – two dogs and a drink – will set you back just $5.95.
Stay in a luxury hotel.
New York boasts dozens of four and five-star hotels, so if you’re after luxury, you’ll have tons of options. Of all the hotels I’ve stayed in thus far in NYC, Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo is always in my top three.
Ride the 7 train through Queens.
The “International Express” as it’s called, transports passengers through a string of Queens’ neighborhoods, showing not only diversity but the strength and spirit of this borough’s immigrant communities. Pass through areas like Woodside, Sunnyside, and Jackson Heights. Get off, wander around, then hop back on. Ride all the way to Flushing, where you’ll discover some of the best Asian food in NYC.
Attend one of New York’s holiday parades.
If you happen to visit New York on a holiday, you’ll have a chance to huddle with the crowds and witness the revelry up close and personal. The Easter parade has long been on my list of parades to see. New Yorkers dress to the nines, which of course, includes a pageant of stylish (and sometimes outrageous) Easter bonnets. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is quite the spectacle and everyone should go once.
Walk across the Williamsburg Bridge.
I realize that walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is probably a priority for most, but the Williamsburg Bridge, though less iconic, shouldn’t be missed. You won’t fight crowds here, and if you use the bridge to trek from Manhattan into Brooklyn, you’ll land in one of the borough’s most vibrant neighborhoods and have the chance to browse the shops, bars, restaurants, and cutting-edge street art.
Ride the Staten Island Ferry.
While this attraction is the most famous on the list, a lot of folks don’t think about it because it’s way down at the southern tip of Manhattan. No matter if you catch it at rush hour when it’s teeming with locals or on a weekend afternoon when it’s overflowing with camera-toting tourists, the Staten Island Ferry is free and features magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan’s skyline, and the New York Harbor. Riding the ferry will always be one of my favorite things to do in New York City. Tip: When you reach Staten Island, deboard the ferry and walk around St. George.
Take the tram to Roosevelt Island.
For striking vistas of the Manhattan skyline, hop the tram and cross the East River to Roosevelt Island. While the trip used to be primarily for RI residents and tourists in search of spectacular views, people now ride the tram to explore the island as well.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg! There are countless things to do in New York at least once or many times over. Get out there and get busy!
Also, things to do in on a rainy day in NYC. And things to do near the High Line.