Unusual and Quirky Things to do in New York
By George Jack, a New York specialist who knows the city better than most after sixty years here
Edited by Matthew Wears
If you want unusual and quirky things to do then you’ve come to the right place. There’s a whole load of unusual things to do New York that are completely unique to the city, which is one of the things I love most about it, you can find pretty much anything here, no matter how weird or wonderful. Sure, the main tourist attractions are great, but if you want to see NYC off the beaten path, then you’re going to want some help off someone who knows this city like the back of their hand; and that person is me. I’m going to give you some of my all-time favourite New York activities that are a little bit different to the norm, if you’re lucky I’ll maybe even share a couple of the hidden gems in NYC as well, just don’t tell anyone. The key to discovering the weird and wonderful is to explore the hugely versatile selection of districts that this city has, that’s what makes New York so great. You’re probably not going to find these in any guidebook, so you can throw that away for the time being. Anyway, let’s get to it, this is my ultimate list of the best quirky things to do in New York that I just know you’re going to love, trust me.
Cheer on the New York Marathon Runners
Doesn’t it make you tired just thinking about running for twenty-six miles? Or maybe that’s just me. I know this isn’t really one of the NYC best kept secrets because there’s usually over fifty-thousand runners, not to mention the spectators, but I thought I’d included it anyway because it’s another one of the annual New York activities that’s just so much fun. Again, it’s the largest event of its kind on the planet, so get ready to see crowds of people bigger than you even thought possible, believe me. Even still, this is one of my favourite events of the year, it feels awesome to stand and cheer on the runners as they battle it out for the quickest times. The marathon takes place on the 3rd of November and if you’re brave enough to take part, you’ve got until the end of February to enter. Good luck to you is all I can say really.
Bike tour of the City Centre
You might’ve seen the big New York attractions either on foot or even from the back of our iconic taxis, but I just bet you’ve never seen them from the back of a pedicab! What’s a pedicab I hear you ask, well it’s basically a bicycle with a little carriage on the back where you sit and relax whilst someone else does all the hard work, if that’s not one of the totally cool things to do in New York then I don’t know what is! You can usually find them around the Central Park area and there’s always a ton of different tour routes for you to choose from, just be aware that this is going to cost you a little bit more than some of the other things on this list. Some of the drivers can even take you through midtown Manhattan, which is one of the main things to do in New York at night that I recommend to tourists, it’s just excellent.
Experience the Gay Pride March
As I said before, New York is one of the most diverse and inclusive cities anywhere in the world, everyone one is free to express themselves however they want and there’s nowhere that makes that more apparent than New York Gay Pride. I’d say it’s one of the best New York activities that shows what us New Yorkers are all about, it’s essentially one big street parade that makes its way down 5th Avenue in a complete frenzy of colour, confetti and crazy costumes, so what’s not to love? I know there are pride events in most major cities these days, but for me this is one of the unique things to do in New York because of its size, it’s the largest pride event in the entire world after all. It’s going to take place on Sunday the 30th June in 2019, so bring your most vibrant outfit and get ready to have lots, and I mean lots, of fun.
Take a trip to Governors Island
Governors Island is just one of those hidden gems in NYC that I’d say everyone who comes here should do, I really don’t know why more tourists don’t go here! It’s basically a little island just off lower Manhattan where you just relax, eat and take in the views of the city, honestly, they’re up there with the best. They’ve also got a really mixed annual schedule that involves everything from food festivals, to performing arts festivals all the way to live music and concerts, so if you’re searching for some unusual things to do in New York that is going to be totally different to anything else, then this is for you. All you have to do is catch the South Ferry out into New York Harbour, but the island does close for winter, so stay tuned for its reopening day on the 1st of May.
Catch a Train to the Oculus Station
It feels like it’s been getting built for the past one hundred years, but finally, back in 2016 the Oculus Station opened to the public, and boy was it worth the wait. It seems strange that a train station has become one of the cool things to do in New York, but it really has, I guess because the building is just so spectacular. Whilst this isn’t really NYC off the beaten path, it still earns its place by being such an architectural marvel, I really don’t think you’ll see anything like it in the world. It’s meant to resemble a dove in flight, but whether it does or not I’m not too sure, I’ll let you make up your own mind. Because it’s the main station for the World Trade Centre, hundreds, maybe thousands of people come through here every day. Now, I don’t know about you, but I love to people watch, and let me tell you, there’s no place better than this.
See the Church of St John the Divine
Now, in New York, you’re probably not going to see many buildings that look like they were built over one-hundred years ago, it’s a pretty futuristic city after all. That’s why the Church of St John the Divine is one of my unusual things to do in New York, because even though it’s only just over a century old, the gothic architecture makes it look like it’s been transported over from Paris. It’s one of the largest cathedrals in the world and to be honest, it sticks out like a sore thumb against the New York skyline, but in a good way of course. Inside, you’ve got one of my favourite hidden gems in NYC, it’s a beautiful stone parapet featuring figures from each century who the Church deems to have had the biggest impact on humanity. The Church is located just off from the top, western corner of Central Park, it really is a must see for everyone.
Experience a night at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts
If there’s one thing about my city, it’s that it’s got a whole load of places where you can watch some world-class performances and concerts, such as the Lincoln Centre over on Broadway. A trip to Broadway is already one of my favourite things to do in New York at night, but you should definitely check out the Lincoln Centre if you’re looking something a bit different. You’re going to find all kinds of dance, performance, theatre and music here, but it my opinion the star of the show is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra who call the centre their home. One of my NYC best kept secrets is that the orchestra put on open rehearsals, meaning you get to watch them perform and not pay the crazy prices! Awesome, right? Go on their website to see their schedule and purchase the tickets, which are just $22, that’s music to my ears!
Take the Train to Hoboken
Okay, Okay, I get it, Hoboken isn’t actually part of New York, it’s in New Jersey just over the river. Even still, I think this is a place that’s got a lot to offer and it’s pretty much one of the NYC’s best kept secrets if you ask me. Whilst so many people are heading over to places like the super fashionable Williamsburg or foodie-capital Harlem, which are still excellent places don’t get me wrong, Hoboken’s going to give you an even more authentic city experience though. It’s got a ton of good places to eat, but nowhere is as good as the local favourite Arthur’s, a little restaurant that serves he biggest steaks you’ve ever seen in your life, trust me, it’s one of the best places to eat in New York (Okay, New Jersey). The waterside walkways down on the front are going to give incredible views of lower Manhattan as well, you could spend hours just looking at it.
Union Square farmers Market
The Union Square has been the home of fresh produce in the city since it opened way back in the 1970’s, since then it’s probably changed its audience a little to become one of the cool things to do in New York, but still got its authentic charm, believe me. Its core values remain the same, to provide the city with amazing quality, fresh produce on a huge scale, but sure, it’s gotten a little bit more fashionable over the years. You’re going to see plenty of organic and vegan foodstuffs here, as well as all of the classic cured meats, artisan breads and of course the true star of every show; cheese. I’m always looking for quirky things to do in New York, and let me tell you, most of the time this fits the bill. It’s open all year on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8AM until 6PM, but you’re going to have to get there early for the best deals.
Walk the High Line
Over in the super-cool Meat Packing District you’ll find the newly developed High Line Park, a one-and-a-half-mile long stretch of parkway that makes excellent use of a previously unused section on railroad, turning it into a modern space where people can walk, sit and socialise. It’s one of those quirky things to see in New York that in a couple of years, you’re going to see people posting all over the internet, but for now I think it’s still part of that ‘NCY off the beaten path’ kind of group, you know? There’s plenty of places to sit and take in the beautiful Manhattan views, so why not bring your lunch, or even a book, and just spend a couple of hours taking it all in, believe me there’s a lot to take in. Like many of the other New York activities on this list, this is a real one off, so you might want to visit soon before it gets super popular. Trust me, it will.