12 Best Non-Touristy Things To Do In New York City

non touristy things to do in nyc

Without a doubt, New York City is one of the more popular destinations for people to visit across the globe. And many who both visit here and live here often speak about all of the things that one can get into.

The city offers a swath of activities in all of its five boroughs and the surrounding areas to engage in. A number of these are truly geared for those tourists who make it a point to check them out during their trip such as Times Square. But there are quite a few people who come to New York City and don’t want to get bogged down by the masses at these places. Others want to get a taste of the city in a way not heavily discussed in travel guides and other articles.

In this article, we look to give you a true accounting of things that tourists don’t normally go for while in “the city that never sleeps” that you may really want to try on your first or your next visit.

1. Take A Stroll On The Boardwalk At Rockaway Beach

Runners On Brooklyn Bridge
Source: Pixabay

Sure, Coney Island in Brooklyn is home to New York City’s most famous boardwalk hands down. But the Rockaway Beach area in Queens is also not only home to its own boardwalk but a highly renowned beach culture of its own. Rockaway Beach is located on the Rockaway Peninsula and stretches from Beach 3rd Street until Beach 153rd Street and Boardwalk. The beach itself is designated as the city’s only beach for surfing enthusiasts who come here in droves once the weather gets warmer. The area covers 170 acres (68 hectares), and has seen a triumphant resurgence after Hurricane Sandy ripped up the previous boardwalk as it made a direct landfall on the entire peninsula in October 2012. The boardwalk was rebuilt to be stronger during more adverse weather conditions, and covers 5.5 miles (8.9 km) in its entirety.

During the summer months, the area sees close to a million people who come here for sun and fun. And there’s plenty to be had - some of the city’s best eats can be found on the boardwalk such as Rippers, a made-to-order burger shack, and Caracas Arepa Bar that doles out the popular South American dish to customers. Shoppers will have a nice selection of boutiques to choose from like Lola Star and the Breezy Point Surf Shop. And if you’re looking to hear some tunes while there, there’s Tacoway Beach and Rockaway Brewing Company which both bring visitors cold beverages and live music that will add extra heat to the good times that can be had here.

2. Eat at a diner

Big Daddy's Diner (Manhattan, New York) 001
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Leonard J. DeFran... used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

The diner is one storied part of the multi-faceted food culture that thrives in New York City, serving up comfort food in cozy booths or at formica counters by the heaping plate and usually open for 24 hours. These eating establishments were once strewn all over the five boroughs as places where people could meet to have a meal or just to catch up with each other over coffee. Diners were also partly fueled by those in the Greek, Jewish and Italian communities who built and patronized these places daily dating back to the 1930’s. These days, diners are on the path of the the dinosaur unfortunately, with half of them vanishing from the city over the past twenty years alone. This is due to the combination of the explosion of rental prices driving owners to close and the amount of fast-food chains that have cropped up in NYC over the past couple of decades.

But there are still a few holdouts from that era that still pull in the crowds despite the change in fortunes overall that are worth your visit due to their still tried-and-true format. Veselka in the East Village is open 24-hours and has become a beloved pit stop for clubgoers in the wee hours who among other things, nosh on authentic Ukrainian dishes. The Neptune Diner in Astoria, Queens brings back some of the classic appeal that makes the diner so beloved around these parts, and the Court Square Diner in Long Island City also holds onto some of the aesthetic that falls in line with the diner culture.

3. Visit a dive bar

Blarney Stone
Source: Photo by Flickr user Eden, Janine and Jim used under CC BY 2.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

There’s an abundant amount of places to have a cocktail or two in New York City. But one type of bar has gotten to be neck and neck in acclaim with some of the more trendy establishments, and that’s the dive bar. Dive bars are not only a shelter away from the more touristy crowds but they are still beacons of a sort to how some natives of the city still like to spend their time. Some dive bars are raucous homages to past periods of NYC, like Jimmy’s Corner which is near Times Square and adorned with posters and pictures from all of the boxing legends that used to haunt the area. Rudy’s Bar & Grill is a few blocks away from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, this place solidified its reputation by proclaiming that they would still be open when Hurricane Sandy struck the city, and since then has seen a steady stream of folks come in. Others offer a chance to catch some good live music, like 169 Bar in the Lower East Side.

4. Go to City Island

City Island, New York
Source: Photo by Flickr user Doug Kerr used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

For many who take a trip to New York City, the borough of the Bronx may not be too high on their list. But this borough, the only one of the five that’s actually part of the mainland of the United States, has a lot to offer in terms of things to do. One of those happens to be a tranquil neighborhood that is its own island right at the far western end of the Long Island Sound, City Island. This island is a mile and a half wide, and it’s accessible by bridge and by city bus. The neighborhood stands out partly due to the various restaurants there that offer fresh and tasty seafood and are mostly open the whole year round - Johnny’s Restaurant is a popular choice, once frequented by late-night television show host David Letterman. Another attractive feature of City Island is in the opportunity to go boating, as there are three yacht clubs there in addition to groups that conduct fishing trips into Long Island Sound. For the more adventurous, there’s also kayaking tour groups that depart from City Island.

5. Check Out Some Comedy On The Cheap

Upright Citizens Brigade
Source: Photo by Flickr user Travis Wise used under CC BY 2.0

You can run down a robust list of comedy professionals who’ve made New York City their home base or who hail from here. With that in mind, one cool thing to do is to check out some fresh new talent and some funny veterans at various places within the city. While there are prominent clubs like Caroline’s that have a consistent audience, those looking to stimulate their funny bone won’t lack for more moderately priced options. These include the renowned Dangerfield’s on the Upper East Side, the Upright Citizens’ Brigade out in the Chelsea neighborhood, and the Dark Horse which is in the TriBeCa neighborhood.

6. Catch a talk at The 92nd Street Y

92Y (48059227562)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ajay Suresh used under CC BY 2.0

The 92nd Street Y is one of New York City’s more venerated cultural institutions. Its history dates back to 1874 when it was built as the home to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association by those of the faith who emigrated to the United States from Germany. It has grown to be a place where people of all faiths and backgrounds can come together. The 92nd Street Y hosts a slew of classes dealing with various crafts and sports and is also a vibrant performance center. But the series of lectures and talks it hosts every season is the main draw. Various individuals of note from world leaders to Hollywood celebrities to authors have all appeared here throughout the years, and it’s a good opportunity to hear them without having to go through a medley of obstacles.

7. Attend yoga classes in unique spaces

Yoga @ Bryant Park
Source: Photo by Flickr user vishpool used under CC BY 2.0

If you’re someone who’s dedicated to keeping themselves fit and in balance no matter where they are, then you may be into yoga. While New York City does have an abundance of yoga studios and other spaces where classes are conducted, one thing that isn’t that well known is that there’s a cross-section of them that qualify as truly unique.

For example, there are many who opt to take classes outdoors in either Bryant Park or Central Park in Manhattan. If you want a studio that’s a bit unconventional, there’s the Cobra Club in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s part yoga studio, part cafe and part bar. For those with an eye towards being totally eco-conscious at all times, Modo Yoga has a few studios in the city that are totally friendly to the environment - and where everyone’s encouraged to take part in initiatives that work on global matters such as deforestation and hunger.

8. Hang out in Green-wood Cemetery

Main Gate to Green-Wood Cemetery
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Paul Lowry used under CC BY 2.0

A cemetery at first glance may not be the most ideal place for someone visiting New York City to spend their time. But in the case of Green-Wood Cemetery, there may be an exception. The burial grounds, located in Greenwood Heights just below the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, were founded in 1838 in the midst of the city’s rise in population. Spanning 478 acres (193 hectares), the cemetery is home to some of the more tranquil spaces to be found in the city including koi ponds and in particular Green-Wood Chapel which was built in 2011. Its historical prominence goes back to the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Long Island which was fought on Battle Hill, which is the highest topographical point in the borough. Many notable people are interred here, including the artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and George Catlin. The cemetery conducts tours for visitors that highlight these varied historical burial sights and other points of interest within.

9. Visit La Marqueta In Spanish Harlem

15 La Marqueta - East Harlem
Source: Photo by Flickr user Jason Lam used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

Located in the Spanish Harlem neighborhood in Manhattan, La Marqueta has been a mainstay since it was first built in 1936 under then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia as the Park Avenue Retail Market. It sits under the Metro-North Railway tracks at East 115th Street, and is open every day except for Sundays. La Marqueta has grown from once being a gathering of pushcart vendors to a place where the community gathers to talk about matters in the neighborhood and to pick up items from various countries. It has gone through turbulent times due to urban renewal, but thanks to efforts from local groups and city council members, La Marqueta still stands as an ode to a bustling time in the city’s history.

10. Visit The Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong House 01
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Joe Mabel used under CC BY-SA 3.0

On a quiet block in Corona, Queens there sits an ode to one of America’s greatest musicians, Louis Armstrong. The Louis Armstrong House Museum was once the home of the esteemed jazz musician from New Orleans from 1943 until his passing in 1971. His wife Lucille directed that the ownership of the home be given to the city of New York in order to make it a museum dedicated to his life’s work and achievements. The museum became a national landmark in 1976, and a city landmark 12 years later. Those who venture here will find the museum as a peaceful and charming spot in the middle of the block, complete with a wide yard that is home to open-air concerts and other events that are centered on Armstrong’s music. There’s a gift shop and visitor’s center in the converted garage space, and daily tours throughout the home.

11. Visit Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Steve Isaacs used under CC BY 2.0

Photo is only for illustrative purposes

Chelsea Market’s often packed with New Yorkers but it’s worth shouldering your way in. If you prefer fewer people, and a chance to tackle more tasty samples, try a damp day. Inside, the former factory houses plenty of food vendors. Plus there are some sit-down restaurants. If you’re self-catering or just want to pick up something for a barbecue or picnic, try the bakeries, cheese shops, and imported Italian groceries. Look out for some local fashion, and some souvenirs to pick up from your trip. From handmade jewelry to jams and spices, the market is a great place to browse for a few hours.

Chelsea Market

Address: 75 9th Ave, New York City, NY 10011-7006

Website: Chelsea Market

12. Battery Park

Battery Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Gryffindor used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Battery Park is the historic area of downtown New York. It’s fast become a place where people enjoy biking, walking or jogging. You can follow the path all around the water to the West Side Highway. On your way, you’ll pass memorials and monuments, and there’s an aquarium carousel. Beautiful gardens and promenades make for an interesting ride or walk. There are good views of the Statue of Liberty. Plus, a fun thing to do is get your picture painted by one of the artists. It’s clean and quiet and ideal for the kids. Take along a picnic or pick up something from the concessions stands. Conveniently placed benches make for a pleasant spot to spend a few hours.

Battery Park

Address: 75 Battery Pl, New York City, NY 10280-1500

The last word on non-touristy things to do in New York City

It’s a truism for any city you may venture to, but it seems to be more vital for New York City: you appreciate a town more for the things that the rest of the pack won’t get to do or see. And in that vein, these activities are ways to learn not only about arguably the best city in the world and what makes it tick, but also oneself. Whatever activity you may choose to enjoy, these all definitely will separate you from the casual vacationer.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Christopher Smith is a writer who hails from New York City. Growing up, he had the love of travel instilled in him from a young age thanks to his parents to go along with a love of writing. After a...Read more

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