5 Non-Touristy Things to do in NYC

a cab driving across a busy new york city street

New York City has a (well deserved) reputation for having a seemingly infinite number of attractions for you to enjoy. As exciting as these options can be, the sheer number of them can also be overwhelming. The last thing you want to deal with when you’re deciding how to use your precious time in the city is the painful realization that you’ve fallen prey (as have so many) to overpriced, terribly anticlimactic tourist traps. Fortunately, we’ve taken the time to put together an all-star list of the best, non-touristy things to do in NYC. 

1) Amble on over to Fort Tryon Park (vs. Central Park)

a person standing in fort tryon park

While Central Park is a beautiful, iconic gem, it’s not the only unforgettably elegant park you can check out when you’re in the city. Fort Tryon Park is a park that was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. It’s located 250 feet above the Hudson River, and it features three masterfully landscaped acres. With its  striking elms, it gives off the distinguished appearance of an English country estate house. The garden in Fort Tryon Park features upwards of 48 varieties of heaths and heathers, which are actually unique to New York City. Some of these bloom during wintertime, and their leaves can turn copper or chocolate brown. You should note though that summer is always the most ideal time to go to Fort Tryon Park. You’ll be enraptured by the array of musk roses, foxglove, hydrangeas, and irises that are in full bloom. And if the scenery provided by nature and the changing seasons isn’t already enough, you’ll have the opportunity to take your furry loved one for a peaceful stroll around the park, as it’s dog-friendly. 

2) Get blissfully lost at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg 

open air smorgasburg market in new york

If you’re a fan of top-tier food, stunning skyline views, and a festival-like energy, then you’ll have to check out Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Smorgasburg has evolved to become the largest open-air food market in the United States, with locations in NYC, Jersey, Miami, and Los Angeles. Regardless of whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or have any other diet restrictions, you will be able to effortlessly sniff out a meal that caters to all your wildest culinary desires. Smorgasburg in Williamsburg is an absolutely perfect place to spend a weekend afternoon. You’ll be able to enjoy your food, views of the waterfront, and exchange laughter and warm conversation with friends and friendly strangers alike. Make sure that you check out their hours before you make the trip out there, as the hours of operation can fluctuate with holidays. 

3) Grab Drinks at a Secret Speakeasy

the interior of the speak easy saint tuesday in manhattan

If you’ve already visited New York City, you likely heard excited whispers at one point or another related to legends of hidden speakeasies peppered across NYC. The whole point of a speakeasy is that it’s a strikingly “cool” establishment where you’ll be able to enjoy your pick of drinks from a mindfully-assembled menu of choices. The bartenders and waiters and waitresses that work within these speakeasies will oftentimes have fascinating tales of urban myths related to various historical figures (and just the maddening nonsense that can pop up in a place like NYC). In terms of the best possible speakeasies to check out, there are some great options in Manhattan. Specifically:

Employees Only: Stowed away behind a psychic and tarot reader in Greenwich Village.

UES: Hidden behind an ice cream shop over on the Upper East Side. 

Please Don’t Tell: Perhaps the wildest of the aforementioned bunch, this speakeasy can be accessed through a phone booth that’s located at the back of a hot dog stand in the East Village.

Saint Tuesday: A great ambiance located in Chinatown.

4) Eat a slice of NYC pizza inside a church

You’ve probably seen countless movies and shows that include scenes filmed in the tirelessly busy, ever-bustling location of Times Square. Times Square is a go-to destination that’s been featured in countless Manhattan tourism guides, which is why you’d probably think that it would be the worst possible place to go if your aim is to check out non-touristy places. However, there are some true treasures buried within the maze of competing billboards and chain restaurants. One gem in particular: John’s Pizza. This restaurant is stationed in a former church, where you’ll be able to enjoy as many greasy slices of pizza as your heart desires, all while underneath a beautiful stained glass ceiling. 

5) Check out the hidden graffiti tunnel at 191 St Subway Station

The graffiti tunnel located at 191 St Subway Station is most definitely a coveted hidden gem of NYC. Typically tourists don’t pass by this area due to it being located so far away from traditional tourist attractions. Instead, it’s a secret most commonly frequented by the locals out in Washington Heights. In a concerted effort to clean up the tunnel and make it wonderfully lively, artists were commissioned by the city to revitalize the space. Suffice to say, it’s a very popular destination for artists, adventurous urban explorers, and influencers that are looking to keep their followers entertained. 

And with that we’ve provided a quick yet essential list of some must-see attractions for you to check out while you’re in NYC. It goes without saying that the typical tourist attractions, like visiting the Statue of Liberty or walking across the Manhattan Bridge, have plenty of novelty value. But it can be that much more fun to break outside the typical cycle of tourist attractions and discover some cherished hidden NYC gems for yourself.

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