The Best Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City

15 Non-Touristy, Local-Approved Things to Do in New York City!

Despite having lived just outside of New York City for the first 18 years of my life, I’ve always felt a bit like a tourist there. I’m a big Broadway fan who would often go into the city just to see a show. I don’t mind Manhattan in general (which I’m told is a tell-tale sign that I’m an “outsider”). And I snap a picture of just about anything. 

It took until years later for my NYC friends to introduce me to all the sides of the city that I was missing. There’s a lot to NYC beyond what you’ll find in midtown Manhattan. If you’re looking for non-touristy things to do in NYC, here are some New York City hidden gems so you can start your trip feeling like a local!

15 Fun Non-Touristy Things to Do in New York City

1. Take a visit to the Cloisters

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Met Cloisters

You’ve likely heard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but did you know that it has a sister site over in Washington Heights? The Met Cloisters is one of the best alternative things to do in New York City, especially if you’re looking for a less crowded alternative to the Met itself. 

One of the most unique museums in NYC, the Cloisters is the only museum in the US dedicated specifically to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. The museum itself is an architectural wonder that takes inspiration from the Middle Ages, featuring stunning courtyards filled with greenery that only enhances the beauty of the space and makes the buildings themselves masterpieces as well. 


2. See an off-Broadway show

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Off-Broadway Show

Broadway tickets don’t come cheap, and a night out on Broadway can cost you a pretty penny. You can wait in line at the box office on the day of a show to hope for discount tickets or use apps like TodayTix. But sometimes Broadway just isn’t in the budget.

Luckily, one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC is to check out the off-Broadway scene. NYC is home to a bustling theater community that goes way beyond Broadway. You’ll see everything from drunken retellings of classic tales to improvised shows that will have you rolling in the aisles to heartbreakingly beautiful recreations of beloved former Broadway shows.


3. See the blooms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Unique Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Featuring 52 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of the best hidden gems in New York City. There’s always something in bloom here across the botanic garden’s dozens of gardens and conservatories, and they also offer hands-on classes and workshops for adults and kids alike.

If you find yourself in NYC in spring, you especially want to pay this botanic garden a visit as it’s known for its impressive cherry blossom collection, which typically blooms from late March through May.


4. Eat your way through Smorgasburg

Fun Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Smorgasburg

Smorgasburg is one of my favorite non-touristy things to do in New York City. This outdoor food festival arrives in spring and lasts until mid-fall. It features three locations in NYC that run throughout the weekend: the World Trade Center location on Friday, Williamsburg on Saturday, and Prospect Park on Sunday.

The food fair features hundreds of vendors that showcase the diversity of NYC’s culinary scene, from burgers to bao to birria and anything else you could imagine. 


5. Get dinner and a movie at Nitehawk

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Nitehawk

Nitehawk Cinema is a true Brooklyn icon and one of the best NYC hidden gems. Featuring locations in Prospect Park and Williamsburg, this movie theater plays current films, classics, and under-the-radar masterpieces. Alongside their screenings, Nitehawk offers a menu of bites and drinks, including specialty pairings for select movies. 


6. Visit the New York Transit Museum

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: New York Transit Museum

If you’re looking for one of the more unusual things to do in NYC, check out the New York Transit Museum over in Brooklyn. This unique museum invites you inside a decommissioned subway station to learn about how New York City was shaped by public transit. It’s a look at an important history that doesn’t often get the focus it deserves.


7. Ride on the SeaGlass Carousel

Unique Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Seaglass Carousel

There are carousels throughout New York City, from Central Park to the Bronx Zoo’s Bug Carousel. But one of the most unique things to do in NYC is to check out the SeaGlass Carousel in The Battery, a carousel that looks like a true work of art. It’s a must-do if you’re visiting with little ones!

The Battery features a nature-inspired playscape that’s an excellent location for kids to burn off some energy. That nature theme continues into the SeaGlass Carousel. With the carousel’s distinct movement, the nautical creatures you ride really do look like they’re swimming, making for one of the most interesting carousels you’ve ever seen.


8. Get lost at the Mysterious Bookshop

Unique Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Mysterious Bookshop

New York City is filled with bookshops, but many people just know the big-name icons, like the Strand Book Store. But one of the most unique things to do in New York City is hunt down the bookstores that are a bit more off the beaten path, like Mysterious Bookshop

This new and used bookstore focuses on all things crime, thriller, and mystery. Though it originated in midtown Manhattan in 1979, making it the oldest mystery specialist bookstore in the US, you can now find Mysterious over in Tribeca.


9. Find romance at The Ripped Bodice

If you’re more of a romance reader, The Ripped Bodice is calling your name. Located in Brooklyn, visiting this bookstore is one of the most unusual things to do in NYC. After all, there aren’t very many bookstores dedicated to the romance genre! 

This pink-strewn store offers books from all different facets of romance, from romantic fantasy to contemporary fantasy and anything else you can think of.


10. Learn about immigrant history at the Tenement Museum

Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Tenement Museum features two tenement buildings that were home to immigrant, migrant, and refugee families from the 1860s to the 1980s. 

It’s a testament to the immigrant experience in the US and will expand your idea of what it means to be an American.


11. See masterpieces at the American Folk Art Museum

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: American Folk Art Museum

For another unique museum in NYC, check out the American Folk Art Museum, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This NYC gem is the only museum in the city dedicated to folk and self-taught artists. Here, you’ll find more than 7,000 works of art collected throughout time from nearly every continent that redefine what makes an artist an artist.


12. Go to the Museum of the Moving Image

Over in Queens is where you’ll find the Museum of the Moving Image. Found inside the former building of the historic Astoria Studios, this museum is dedicated to the creative and technical sides of all forms of moving images, from feature films to animated shows. 

Through interactive exhibits, screenings, and workshops, you’ll uncover how media gets made in this one-of-a-kind museum.


13. Wander around Fort Tryon Park

Fun Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Fort Tryon Park

You know about Central Park, but have you heard of Fort Tryon Park?  Located in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan, this park is a tranquil sanctuary in the city, complete with incredible views of the Hudson River. 

It’s also where you’ll find the Cloisters, so once you complete your stop there, be sure to stick around the park for a scenic stroll.


14. Take the tram to Roosevelt Island

Best Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Roosevelt Island Tram

Roosevelt Island is an often forgotten part of Manhattan, but the tram to get to the island offers one of the best views in the whole city. Once you land on the island, you’ll uncover an NYC hidden gem with green parks, historic landmarks, and more.


15. Enjoy the view from Governors Island

Cool Non-Touristy Things to do in New York City: Governors Island

For another island escape from the city, take the ferry over to Governors Island, one of the most unique places in NYC. After all, you never really expect there to be a lovely green island in New York Harbor. Go glamping, hit the spa, or just enjoy the spectacular view of Manhattan from the island’s many walking and biking trails.

There you have it! The best non-touristy things to do in NYC. What’s your favorite hidden gem?


Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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