Incredible Things To Do in New York & How To Explore Like A Local!

New York, New York – the city so nice they named it twice! NYC is a bucket list destination for many people, and in this post we’re going to show you how to explore the tourist capital of the world, like a local! From New York hot-spots to off the beaten path alternatives and secret spots only a local would know – we’re going to share with you all the top things to do in New York City. Whether you have a week or a weekend, we’re here to help you get the best from the city that never sleeps – keep reading for the ultimate guide to exploring NYC like a local, by a local!

Things To Do in New York

Incredible Things to do in New York City
& How To Explore Like A Local (By A Local!)

A Guest Post by Ian Ellis of Escaping Expectations

New York City is a dream destination for many people all around the world. When I’m traveling outside the States and tell people where I’m from, their eyes open when I reply, they tell me how much they want to visit.

Living here was something I took for granted because I grew up and spent so much time surrounded by the concrete walls. However, I went on my first long-term trip last year, and being away from it all for an extended period of time made me realize that there is nowhere in the world quite like it. And let me tell you – I missed it.

I hope that this list can be helpful as you plan your upcoming trip. To be as helpful and comprehensive as possible, I tried to find a balance between the “tourist hot spots” and “local hidden gems.” No matter what – you should be excited – you’re visiting the greatest city in the world, and it has something for everyone!

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Hit the Midtown Hotspots

Things To Do in New York

Get this out of the way as quickly as you can; there’s so much more to do in the city outside the biggest tourist trap in the world. And while I try to avoid this place as much as possible, anyone visiting for the first time has to stop here and check the famous sites off your list. The great thing is that most of the highlights are within walking distance, and you can see them all within one afternoon!

Top Spots from Google

Start at Grand Central Station, then walking a few blocks north along Fifth Avenue to do some window-shopping and visit Rockefeller Center, before heading over to Times Square. If interested, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is right in the neighborhood too!

Top Spots From a Local

Head over to Bryant Park, where you can sit on the lawn and watch movies during the summer, or go ice skating during the winter. The iconic NY Public Library is conveniently located right across the street. If you’re hungry, check out the Burger Joint, located inside the Le Parker Meridien Hotel.

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Head to Lower Manhattan

Things To Do in New York

As quickly as possible – this is where all the action is: the trendiest restaurants and bars, hole-in-the-wall boutique shops, and best speakeasies, among other hidden gems! Between Union Square, the West Village, East Village, SoHo, Tribeca, and Financial District, there is something for everyone, and this is where you’ll discover the best, off-the-beaten path spots in the city.

There are so many options, but here are a few of my favorites:

Union Square

The Greenmarket (farmers market); Dylan’s Candy Bar (large collection of candy from around the world); ABC Kitchen (using fresh, organic, local ingredients); Dear Irving (cocktail parlor); 15 East (minimalist Japanese serving creative sushi & fish); and The City Bakery

West Village

Walking tour/Christopher Park, Murray’s Cheese Shop, Magnolia Bakery, Barbuto (a Manhattan Staple renowned for its roast chicken); The Spotted Pig (British & Italian styled meals); Po (traditional Italian); Grom (Best Desert Bar in NYC)

Tribeca

Tribeca Film Festival, Pier 25 (one of the best playgrounds in the city), Bubby’s (simple & fresh comfort food); Locanda Verde (rustic Italian in a lively atmosphere); American Cut (modern steakhouse); The Odeon (French-American Bistro); The Brandy Library (refined bar specializing in rare and eclectic spirits).

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Explore Downtown Manhattan

Things To Do in New York

Downtown Manhattan is my stomping ground; where I lived for five years. So I might be biased when I say that it’s be the best part of the city… but I’ll let you be the judge of that!

Staring up at One World Trade Center and visiting the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum will be a humbling experience, and one that you must include on your agenda.

Skip the line and book your 9/11 Memorial and Museum Admission here

But the opening of the new WTC site also led to several large companies relocating and it has completed changed the dynamic of downtown Manhattan. Development in the area has taken off, with lots of new restaurants, shops and commercial buildings opening – leaving much to do and see. Underneath the WTC site is the Oculus, a transportation HUB that will eventually connect all the subways in Lower Manhattan. It’s also home to over 50 retail shops and stores, and connects to Brookfield place, another upscale shopping center with Hudson Eats, a gourmet food court.

A Guided Tour is a great way to explore the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

Places to check out

The Financial District is home to the #1 ranked bar in the world, the Dead Rabbit, where you can get some truly unique cocktails. This is where you will also find a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Our favorite hangout spots down here are Clinton Hall, Stone Street (Ulysses), Distilled, Stout, and Insomnia Cookies.

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Indulge in the Latest Fad

Things To Do in New York

From the Cronut and Churro Ice Cream Sandwiches, to Rainbow Bagels and the Ramen Burger, there’s always a crazy new food phenomenon going on here. Google is your best friend to find out what’s hot when you’re in town.

The Latest: DO (pronounced dough), where people eagerly wait 3 hours to get their hands on scoops of raw cookie dough sold like ice cream! If sweets aren’t your thing, there always the recently invented sushi burrito…

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Check out the NYC Skyline

Things To Do in New York

From within Manhattan

The view from the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock is popular, but I would recommend heading downtown to the World Trade Center, where its Observatory recently opened and offers an unrivaled view and experience.

From outside Manhattan

Head over to Brooklyn to the East, or Jersey City to the west – where you’ll find spectacular views of the iconic Manhattan skyline. You’ve got to witness these views yourself, and they also make for perfect Instagram shots!

RELATED: NYC is the last stop on my Coast to Coast USA Road Trip -> If you’re planning on driving to LA, this is the route to go!

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Hit an Outer Borough

Things To Do in New York

The Bronx

Gentrification has run rampant in the boroughs outside Manhattan and popularity in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx has skyrocketed. A lot the hottest NYC spots now require an Uber or subway ride away from core Manhattan.

Recommendation: check out the Brooklyn Flea Market or Smorgasburg during the summer; eat dim sum in the best Chinatown in Flushing, Queens; or visit the lions at the Bronx Zoo. The possibilities and experiences here are endless, and there’s always new things popping up, so you’ll never run out of new opportunities!

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See a Show

Things To Do in New York

Everyone’s knows about Broadway and its headlining shows – it’s a quintessential NYC experience, but can be pricey even for mediocre seats.

Click to check what tickets are available for your visit!

For a unique experience to brag about, that won’t break the bank, I’d recommend looking into an “Off-Broadway” show, where you’ll get much better seats and a lot more bang for your buck. It’s a unique experience and often features well-known performers (for those even more adventurous, there is “Off-Off-Broadway,” which are new, experimental shows that take place in small theaters for $15-$25).

Alternatively: Look into getting tickets at one of NY’s many comedy clubs, one of the most entertaining (and underrated) experiences in the city. Many of them are known to have popular comedians unexpectedly stop in (fingers crossed)! Cirque du Soleil also just debuted a new show, “Paramour.”

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Watch a Sporting Event

Things To Do in New York

This is one of my favorite ways to experience a new city and there’s no place better (although it can be fairly expensive). There’s a wide variety of sporting events you can watch but it completely depends on what time of year you’re visiting.

Check on TicketMaster or SeatGeek for events that will be one during your visit!

Where to go: between Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, MetLife Stadium, and Red Bull Arena, you should be able to find something that piques your interest. They also host some big-name concerts. Be sure to take a look at the websites above for all the details!

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Go for a Stroll

Things To Do in New York City

While you’re going to be doing a lot of walking no matter where you are – NYC has some incredible spots that you should specifically make time to explore.

Hotspots

Central Park (you could spend a few days here), the High Line (don’t forget to stop for gelato), Fifth Avenue (bring your wallet!), Brooklyn Bridge (go early to avoid the crowds – like the pic above!)

Off the beaten path

Head downtown where you can walk along the West Side Highway through Battery Park – one of my favorite places to catch a sunset overlooking the Hudson River, and there are views of the Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden or Prospect Park are also great spots to visit in the summertime.

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Visit a Museum

Things to do in New York

The Guggenheim

NYC is one of the cultural centers of the world – and no trip to the Big Apple would be complete without a trip to at least one museum. It’s home to some of the most well-known and diverse museums in the world – you could spend a week just visiting all of them!

The ones you know

The Met, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Natural History, the Whitney, and The Guggenheim

The ones you don’t

Museum of the City of NY, the Frick Collection, the Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Museum

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Extra Ways To Save Money & Get A Great Deal In New York

  • If you’re planning on hitting a few of the attractions listed above, the New York Pass is a great way to save money!
  • Groupon & Gilt City have awesome local deals for New York and is updated all the time – from massages and beauty treatments, to dining deals and money off things to do. Check out their local deals and see where you can save some cash on things you already planned to do!
  • Tour search engine Viator offers affordable organized tours to see different parts of New York
  • TicketNetwork and SeatGeek list the best events going on in New York – see if there is anything special on during your trip!

GRAB THESE TRAVEL ESSENTIALS TO CAPTURE THE INCREDIBLE MOMENTS ON YOUR TRIP!

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And that’s a wrap folks! We hope you have some great ideas for things to do in New York City, along with a few ideas to get off the tourist trail and explore the city like a local. Whatever you do on your visit to NYC, I’m sure you’ll have a blast, New York is an incredible place, and with so much to do there, you know there will always be something new for you to see on every trip!

And if you liked this post – please share the love: tweet, FB or pin – all shares are appreciated! Click the P in the sidebar for full size pins!

New York Things To Do    New York Things To Do

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Ian left his job on Wall Street to travel the world full-time, most recently completing an overland trip across Europe and Africa. He’s documenting his journey and experiences on his new blog.

Follow his adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

32 thoughts on “Incredible Things To Do in New York & How To Explore Like A Local!

  1. Zinara says:

    Always wanted to visit NYC! Your photos are breathtakingly beautiful. Waiting four three hours to get a DO sounds quite fun! Thank you for this massive helpful guide.

  2. Ticking the Bucketlist says:

    I have never been to USA and when i do, New York is the place that I want to get to, Trying food is on top of my list…ice cream and cuisines from around the world. I would love to be in a stadium and watch a game to feel the pulse of the city.

  3. Riely says:

    So much to see and do in New York! I have been wanting to travel to New York for years preferably in the Fall. Maybe this year will be the year. I will have to bookmark this post for the local spots. I am much more into seeing hidden gems versus the overpopulated attractions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gareth says:

    Really enjoyable post and I totally agree, New Yorkers keep some of the best things to themselves. Certainly, when I was there, I was fortunate enough to attend a boxing match in Madison Square Garden and it was absolutely electric. In regard to seeing a show, I would recommend going slightly “off Broadway” as the tickets are significantly cheaper but the shows just as good

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks Gareth – I’ve only been to a couple of off-Broadway shows – I’m always too dazzled by the bright lights and big names of the top shows that I get drawn in! I really should make more of an effort!

  5. Juliette | Snorkels to Snow says:

    Yep, NYC is definitely on my bucket list. But I also find the thought of it quite daunting, so I’m glad I’ve found your post here because that’s quite helpful on where to start and where to go! Your photo looking up at the One World Trade Centre is pretty insane. Can’t imagine what it would actually feel like to be there though.

  6. Scenes From Nadine (Nadine Smith) says:

    Ahhh! I’ve always wanted to go to New York! If I could only go to one state in the US, I think I’m going to pick New York! Your pictures are stunning! They make me want to visit even more, especially during Christmas and New Year! Wait a minute… Rainbow bagels? Ramen burger? How come I have never heard of these before? Intriguing! But you had me at sushi burrito! OMG, two of my favorite foods together!

  7. Corinne says:

    What a great post! I love the local’s recs are different than Google’s. There’s so much to do in NYC that you will never be bored. I love that city.

  8. Suze says:

    I’m impressed at how comprehensive a guide you have put together, it certainly makes me want to return to NYC. As for the cookie dough, not sure I would queue for 3 hours for it but it certainly looks photogenic! I’d like to visit Brooklyn Flea Market on my next trip

  9. Ryan says:

    Hey Ian,
    Thanks for the post and the advice on NY. I’ve been dying to go back and check out other neighborhoods. Good to hear some of your hangouts as I’d never heard of any of those places. The WTC site is always worth another visit and it’d be great to check that out on the next one. Thanks again.
    Cheers,

  10. Paul says:

    We absolutely love New York we even got married there! We would definitely love to live there one day too! These are all amazing suggestions too, and there are even a few that we still haven’t done yet, there’s just so much to see and do there!

  11. Sandy N Vyjay says:

    New York, the glittering city shines like a lodestar to billions, the world over. Hope to realize the dream of visiting this city of dreams some day. I know even a week would not be enough to do justice to the sights and experiences of the city. But your post has some great pointers and would come in very handy.

  12. Nisha says:

    So much to see and do in New York! I have been waiting to go there and explore like a local. I think I would like the central park as much as the skylines. The museums, restaurants are to be explored also. Good that the city has many hidden gems as well. Thanks for sharing!

  13. melody pittman says:

    Very informative. I’m a big fan of NYC and have probably visited 100 times. I cannot wait to try that cookie dough cone- been seeing it all over the media. Have you ever had breakfast at Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien Hotel? That is one of my favorite places.

  14. Livi Bee says:

    These are all great suggestions. I visited NYC for a couple of days when I got back from the UAE, but I didn’t have time to explore like I wanted to. I can’t wait to return!!

  15. Megan Jerrard says:

    Fabulous list! My favorite thing from my time in New York was catching the Staten Island Ferry – I caught it over and the straight back again, mainly to catch the views of Lady Liberty – definitely made me feel like a local though too!

  16. Jennifer says:

    I’ve been to NYC at least a dozen times now and it remains one of my favorite cities in the world. I have my favorite spots I like to revisit each time I’m in the city, but I also always add a new sight, neighborhood or experience.

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