Best things to do in New York City to see the Big Apple like a local

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes, Jul 2020

Things to do like a local in New York City

What leaps to mind when you think of things to do in New York City? The Statue of Liberty? Central Park? Sure, these iconic sights are definitely worth visiting the next time you're in the Big Apple, but there are lesser-known gems that you'll want to check out, too. Here are a few offbeat places to eat, drink and wander so that your next tour of New York City is a fun-filled adventure that's different from the ones in all the guidebooks.

Stroll through the city

Start your day with some great coffee and a morning walk. Grab a cup of strong java from Joe Coffee, a family-owned business with locations throughout Manhattan. Sip your drink while strolling through Bryant Park, a tree-lined oasis filled with benches and bistro tables.

If you're up for a longer jaunt, head to Hudson River Park, a 550-acre green space that stretches along the West Side from 59th Street to the Battery at Manhattan's southern tip. Enjoy the breeze and the river views as you saunter past sports fields and dog runs.

If you venture to Upper Manhattan, a walk around Hamilton Heights along Convent Avenue in the West 140s is a lovely way to spend an hour. While you're in the neighborhood, take a free tour of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, Alexander Hamilton's restored Harlem home, which was built in 1802. (Yes, that's the same Hamilton of the famous Broadway show.)

Flowers, bench, and view of buildings in Chelsea from The High Line, in Manhattan, New York.

See New York City from a different vantage point when you walk The High Line, once a freight rail line and now a public park.

Discover art, nature and culture

Art lovers aren't at a loss for things to do in New York City, and most of them will flock to the city's big-name museums. But the smaller galleries in Chelsea are just as compelling. The neighborhood's art scene is largely concentrated between West 18th and West 27th streets and 10th and 11th avenues, and it's dedicated to contemporary art, light installations, drawing and painting. Check out David Zwirner's galleries on 19th and 20th streets or the Pace Gallery on 25th for modern art, or pop by Yancey Richardson's space on 22nd for outstanding photography.

Don't miss The High Line, a 1.45-mile elevated greenway built on an old railroad line. The public works project hosts rotating art installations, murals and sculpture, and it has hundreds of plant species, a water feature and a sun deck.

Lots of tourists walk through SoHo in Lower Manhattan, which was once a haven for local artists and is now a mecca for shopping and people-watching. Veer off this well-trodden path and walk east through the Nolita, Little Italy and Chinatown neighborhoods for the same cool vibe but with smaller crowds. Chinatown is a particularly vibrant community. If you're spending some extra time here, don't miss the Museum of Chinese in America, where you can learn about the history and culture of Chinese immigrants in the United States through artifacts, interactive displays, art and photography.

Then take a shopping stroll up and down Canal Street, Chinatown's main artery, which is home to dozens of street vendors selling every item you can imagine, including jewelry, home goods, clothing, trinkets, toys, produce and on-the-go treats (think: sugar-dusted fried dough and savory dumplings).

Break for a bite or grab a drink

If you're near Wall Street, you might want to grab a bite in the Brookfield Place food court. This culinary destination, which sits in a shopping center and office building across West Street from the World Trade Center complex, is a gourmet delight of fast-casual specialties such as tacos, salads, bagels, sushi, pizza and burgers; you can eat on site, or, if the weather cooperates, you can take your noshes out to the benches and chairs that look out onto the Hudson River.

Midtown eaters should sample the incredible array of Spanish bites at Mercado Little Spain in the retail and residential complex Hudson Yards, which opened in 2019. Try a classic paella, some creative empanadas and rosy red slices of jamon. Save room for churros for dessert, too.

If you're looking for pre- or post-dinner drinks with a speakeasy vibe, Gotham has you covered. The Raines Law Room in Chelsea is a tiny jewel box of a bar with plush, tufted Chesterfield couches and ornate mirrors; try its delicious craft cocktails, wine and small plates. If the weather's nice, you can enjoy them on the charming backyard patio.

Or head south to SoHo and climb the stairs to the Pegu Club, a posh second-floor watering hole that's often credited with launching Manhattan's cocktail obsession and was named for a late 19th-century gentlemen's club in what was then Burma. The snacks here feature Asian flavors, and the drinks will please traditionalists and trend-seekers.

Enjoy your stay in the Big Apple, but consider taking the road less traveled while you're there. Smaller parks, quieter neighborhoods and relaxing drinks can all be found if you seek out the hidden gems New York City has to offer.

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