20 Weird and Unique Things to do in NYC, USA (The Ultimate Guide)
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Get off the beaten path to see the weird and unique things to do in NYC!
So, you’re off to the Big Apple, but never one to follow the crowd so you’re looking for some unique things to do in New York City in the United States. The first thing I do when arriving in a new location is to go on a free walking tour to get my bearings and a locals perspective.
While some people have dreamt about seeing the iconic attractions since they were youngsters, for others the thought of huddling around the Statue of Liberty surrounded by hundreds of camera-wielding tourists is their very definition of hell.
Well, fear not, as there are dozens of activities to do that will take you off the beaten path and ensure you stay entertained in the great city of New York – here’s our list of the best of them!
Unwind in Green-Wood Cemetery
Located in Brooklyn, the Green-Wood cemetery was once one of New York’s most popular tourist destinations after many of the city’s prominent figures from the 19th century were buried here.
While a place full of dead people might seem like a pretty macabre tourist attraction, Green-Wood was built during the rural cemetery movement, which aimed to create cemeteries that more closely resembled parks. The result is a beautiful location complete with gothic revival-style gates that are a must for any self-respecting Instagrammer!
There are also several monuments including a memorial erected by the late singer, James Brown. So, if you’re looking for dark and weird things to do in NYC, you’ve certainly found one of them here!
Dine Inside a Bank Vault
If you’re looking for a unique venue to dine or sip on some quality cocktails then look no further than Trinity Place, a restaurant & bar built inside a turn-of-the-century Wall Street bank vault.
Originally constructed in 1904 and lauded as the world’s largest & strongest of its kind at the time, the vault was restored in 2006 and converted into an elegant, upmarket eatery complete with a full-size mahogany bar and 5-inch thick original steel walls.
So, if the idea of eating delicious food in a true one-of-a-kind location appeals to you, then this place should most definitely be marked as a “must-see” on your itinerary. A very unique thing to do in NYC.
Feel Like You’re Flying With Indoor Skydiving
Ever wanted to go skydiving but were scared of the crazy height you’d have to jump from? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, many people who have a phobia of flying would love to do this adrenaline-pumping activity… if only they could conquer their crippling fear of heights.
Well, thankfully, now you can experience the thrill of this hair-raising pastime while keeping your feet (almost) on the ground with an indoor sky-diving experience. Patrons are positioned above a wind tunnel, which raises them off the ground and mimics the experience of flying.
i-FLY Westchester in Yonkers is the go-to place for thrill-seekers looking for an indoor sky-diving experience in New York. Since 2015 the company has been offering flying experiences to people ranging from ages 3-100+!
Visit the American Gangster Museum
Any true crime-lovers on the lookout for unusual things to do in New York City should mark the Museum of the American Gangster off in their diaries.
The two-room museum – which features a collection of artifacts, images, and wall texts – aims to provide an objective insight into the impact organized crime and its figureheads have had on the city of New York.
Soak Up ‘Strawberry Fields‘ History
Calling all Beatles fans. If you didn’t know already, there is a section of Central Park called Strawberry Fields that’s a living, breathing memorial to the late, great John Lennon.
The 2.5-acre piece of the park is made up of beautiful greenery, built around its centerpiece: a mosaic featuring the word ‘Imagine’.
The site is tended to by a man named Gary dos Santos, who claims he was visited in a dream by Lennon who requested he takes good care of the memorial.
Strawberry Fields is situated just a short walk from where the former Beatles superstar was gunned down, so for a real history lesson, this is certainly worth a visit.
Eatwith a Local
Eatwith is a scheme set up to bring people together over food. After you’ve signed up, the website puts you in touch with a local in your chosen city and you’ll eat with them in their home.
While New York is known as a diners’ paradise, if it’s authenticity and the local experience you’re looking for, you’ll struggle to do better than this!
Take a Thrilling Helicopter Ride
While there’s no shortage of incredible vantage points in New York, undoubtedly the best way to see the majestic sights the city has to offer is via a helicopter ride.
Your pilot will take you on the ride of your life to see the city’s main attractions and you’ll feel the cool New York breeze as you whizz past the likes of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty.
Watch the HBO Film Festival
Ever wanted to watch a movie on the lawn in one of New York’s most beautiful parks? Well if not you do now, right!?
Each summer the HBO Film Festival sets up shop in Bryant Park, with a free film shown every Monday evening. Hundreds of people flock to the manicured park with their picnic blankets at the ready to chill with friends and catch the free film on display. There are even vendors selling those all-important snacks!
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
What better way to cool down on a hot summer’s day than with nice, refreshing ice cream?
Now I know you’re probably thinking you can buy ice cream anywhere in the city and what’s so unusual about that, right? Wrong!
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has become one of the best-known purveyors of the frozen treat due to its diverse and experimental selection of flavors. Try the wasabi for a truly unique flavor sensation or the peanut butter for something a little safer and absolutely delicious.
Delight in the Houdini Museum
The Houdini Museum based in Midtown is a one-room museum dedicated to the legendary magician and escape artist.
The exhibit features an array of objects from Houdini’s career, including handcuffs, straitjacket, and photographs. There is even a coffin, which he used to perform his famous escape stunt, as well as an x-ray taken of a bullet in his hand.
Check Out Houdini’s Grave
Sticking with the Houdini theme, if you’re not content with just viewing what’s on display at his museum you can also take a trip to see his grave in Queens.
The world-famous escapist and illusionist, who died in 1926 following a short battle with appendicitis, has a magnificent grave where people sometimes congregate to celebrate Houdini’s life.
Others visit the grave and gather to await his escape from death, meaning people-watching here is also one of the more unique things to do in NYC. A great double-up!
Dine in a Magic-Inspired Cocktail Bar
This magical bar is the perfect weird thing to do in New York City for Harry Potter fans and witches alike. Drink unicorn blood, make potions, and dine in socially-distanced snow-globes.
The Cauldron is located on Manhattan’s historic Stone Street and is a fantasy-inspired pub where magic comes to life with science, technology, and design.
High Line Stargazing at Night
So, you fancy yourself as a bit of an astronomer then? Well, lucky for you there are other like-minded stargazers who meet at the High Line in Manhattan between West 15th and West 16th Street.
Amateur Astronomers Association regularly gets out their gear to catch a gander of the night-time sky – join them for one of the most whimsical and fun things to do in NYC at night. You can find more information about their weekly events on their official site!
See (Part of) the Berlin Wall
After the fall of the Berlin wall, parts of the concrete structure were broken up and sold. Four of those parts now reside in New York City. On Madison Avenue in Midtown one of them sits alone; a relic of communist Europe lost in the capitalist hub of Manhattan.
Make a visit to witness this juxtaposition and see a real piece of history in a place you wouldn’t expect.
Spot the Graffiti ‘Hall of Fame’
To the uninitiated, graffiti can look like mindless vandalization but those with a discerning eye can see it for what it really is: art.
One of those visionaries was Harlem community leader Ray “Sting Ray” Rodriguez, who designated this area in the Manhattan neighborhood as a place where up-and-coming street artists could hone their skills.
Since then, for over 30 years the best on the scene have used the space to demonstrate their work and at any one-time pieces done by some of the world’s most recognized graffiti artists can be seen. Find out more about the Graffiti Hall of Fame.
Leave a Love Lock on Brooklyn Bridge
Perhaps the tradition of putting padlocks of love on bridges is more of a European thing to do – whatever the reason, for once the usually trendsetting city of New York was slow off the mark when it came to this phenomenon.
However, the craze has finally taken off, and you can see thousands of locks on Brooklyn Bridge attached by doting couples looking to leave a lasting token of their love. While it’s not exactly one of the most unusual things to do in NYC, it’s cute nonetheless. So if you’re in town with a loved one, jump on the bandwagon and buy yourself a padlock!
Note: With the new DOT regulations, it is no longer allowed to put a lock on the Brooklyn Bridge. Violators of this new law could face a $100 fine! Eeeek!
Explore Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
In a concrete metropolis like New York, space to grow fresh produce is nearly non-existent… or is it?
Brooklyn Grange came up with an ingenious way of utilizing derelict space when they became the world’s leading rooftop farm. The company came up with an innovative plan to use the roofs of neglected buildings to grow fruit and vegetables.
Brooklyn Grange places a strong emphasis on sustainability and as well as offering the public the chance to buy their organic produce. They also offer educational workshops where they aim to provide information on critical topics such as farming, nutrition, wellness, and much more.
Shop at Thrift Stores
While you may be heading to New York a spot of retail therapy (nothing wrong with that) if you’re looking to stay ‘outside the box’ you might want to try some of the city’s innumerable, high-quality thrift stores.
The city is awash with stores selling second-hand clothes and while it may require a bit of digging if you look hard enough you can unearth some real hidden gems.
My favorite is the Housing Works Thrift Store. Some of the pieces you’ll find here would be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars brand new, and while you may pay a little more than you would usually at a second-hand store all the proceeds go to helping the homeless and those afflicted by AIDS. Winner winner!
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
For some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, take a stroll down the 1.1-mile-long Brooklyn Bridge.
For those familiar with New York it may seem absurd, but many people are still unaware that you can actually walk along the bridge. For some of the most Instagrammable shots imaginable, join the bridge at Brooklyn and walk towards Manhattan – as you start to approach the island you’ll be totally dazzled by the view.
Relax into Yoga at Bryant Park
If your idea of tranquillity is practicing yoga in one of New York’s most luxurious landscapes, then pick up the mat and head to Bryant Park!
Throughout the summer, every Wednesday at 6 pm, hundreds of people meet at the Manhattan location and practice their best stretches. Great for stress release, excellent exercise, and a fantastic way to meet people – what’s not to love!?
Note: With the new COVID situation, it is no longer enough to just show up at Bryant Park. You must register beforehand in order to secure a spot in this unique thing to do in NYC.
Getting to NYC
Haven’t worked out how you’re getting to New York City yet? If you are planning to fly and want the best deal put forward first, I recommend using kiwi.com. I book with kiwi as they look after you if your flight gets canceled or delayed. Plus their search results include more carriers than other flight search sites.
If you are a road-tripping type, I have three recommendations for you to suit your vehicle needs! For the ‘I don’t want to drive but need a comfort/budget option’ – sit back, recline your seat and use the free wifi with FlixBus, highly recommend booking through these guys for a budget ticket but not a budget experience.
For the ‘I don’t do buses and need my freedom’ option – If I rent a car I always go with Hertz Car Rental.
And lastly, for the ‘I’d like to have a home on wheels please’ – that’s right, an RV or Motorhome for that epic USA road trip. I’ve rented with Motorhome Republic previously and had a very smooth experience and value for money.
READ NEXT: Free Things to do in New York City
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Unique Things To Do In NYC FAQs
If the Big Apple is not crazy enough for you, here are some crazy things to do in New York City at night: go stargazing with Amateur Astronomers Association, dine in the Cauldron (a magic-inspired cocktail bar), and try indoor skydiving! One of the best things about NYC is that the city doesn’t sleep at night, so there are plenty of crazy things to do even at night!
If you want more weird things to do in NYC, here is what we recommend: check out the New York Public Library, head over to the Grand Central Terminal, visit the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, explore Fort Tryon Park, check out the City Hall Station, see the views from One World Observatory, take the Staten Island ferry to Staten Island, discover the New York Transit Museum, and visit the New York Botanical Garden! There are plenty of quirky things to do in NYC.
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