The NYC Bucket List: 50 Things You Absolutely Have to Do in the City
Things you’ve probably done in New York: killed a cockroach, overpaid for a craft cocktail, waited for a delayed train on an A/C-less platform. But whether you’ve lived here your entire life or just hit the five-year mark, there’s absolutely no way you’ve conquered even half of what makes this city worth all the credit-card debt, subway-induced stress, and permanent lack of sleep. From late-night karaoke in K-Town to gospel brunch in Harlem, these are the 50 things you absolutely have to do in NYC before you die (or move to Jersey City).
1. Eat pastrami while waiting for a pastrami sandwich at Katz's
You probably already know not to lose your ticket at Katz’s, but you probably don’t know that when you make it up to the counter at the famed Jewish deli, you’ll be rewarded with a small taste of pastrami as your carver puts your sandwich together.
2. Spend the entire afternoon drinking on a rooftop
Yes, you’ll spend $15 on a cocktail and have to contend for standing room with hordes of out-of-towners, but no New Yorker is too jaded to appreciate sweeping skyline views and a nice breeze with a cocktail in hand at a rooftop bar. Bonus points if you’ve done this and drank on a friend’s questionably safe apartment roof.
3. Check out one of NYC’s abandoned subway stations
Momentarily forget all your grievances towards the MTA, and sneak a look at the fancy old City Hall train station from 1904, which boasts tiled ceilings, brass fixtures, and skylights. If you take the 6 heading downtown to the final stop (Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall) and stay on, the train will loop through the famed old station as it U-turns back uptown.
4. Go gallery-hopping (and score free wine) in Chelsea
Thursday night is opening night for galleries, meaning you can hop around from place to place, pretend you know things about art, and drink plenty of free wine in the process.
5. Eat a late-night chopped cheese
A bacon, egg, and cheese from the place on your corner will always do the trick at the end of the night, but the pinnacle of bodega eating is a 2am chopped cheese with ground beef, American, peppers, onions, and lettuce on a pressed hero, preferably from Hajji’s in Harlem.
6. Do 3am karaoke in K-Town
Your rendition of Toto’s “Africa” sounds best at top volume inside a K-Town karaoke venue (Gagopa is always a good choice).
7. Go to a Russian supper club in Brighton Beach
Prepare for a vodka-fueled night of dancing, acrobatics, and far more borscht than you knew you wanted.
8. See a show at Radio City Music Hall
While the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular is certainly a viable option, plenty of your favorite Spotify-friendly artists should also lure you into a red velvet seat at this classic theater.
9. Get a freshly baked bagel at Ess-a-Bagel
Don’t you dare get it toasted.
10. Hear live jazz in Harlem
There are a number of reasons you should be hanging out uptown, chief among them: listening to live music in the neighborhood where modern jazz truly came into its own. Hit Bill’s Place, Shrine, or Minton’s (currently under renovations) to experience the venues where performers like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday shaped Harlem as a destination for music.
11. Spend an obnoxious weekend in the Hamptons
Sleep on the floor of your coworker's girlfriend's 15-person share house, spend way too much money on rosé, go on a lobster roll crawl through Montauk, or just hang out at the beach -- but don’t let all your summers in New York go by without experiencing the over-the-top weekender destination that is the Hamptons.
12. Spend a less-obnoxious weekend on City Island
Take the 6 train up to this quaint fishing village for a little taste of Cape Cod in the Bronx (that includes fresh seafood).
13. Wait in line for lox at Russ & Daughters
The over-a-century-old Jewish appetizing store still commands a sizable line (particularly on the weekends) but the payoff -- a bagel with the city's best lox (or just a half pound of lox alone, since that’s really what you’re here for) -- more than makes up for it.
14. Ride the Cyclone in Coney Island
... despite how terrifyingly rickety it may be.
15. Hang out in Brooklyn Bridge Park on a weekend afternoon
Play basketball, grill, check out Smorgasburg -- all with the backdrop of the skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.
16. Ride the train out to Rockaway Beach
It’s not summer in NYC unless you spend at least one hungover Sunday riding the A train out to Rockaway for some beach time and tacos. For the more adventurous, surf lessons are highly recommended.
17. Have a drink at a (real) hidden bar
These days, the city is full of pseudo-speakeasies that are more of a marketing technique than a true homage to Prohibition-style drinking, but plenty of the real deals (like Angel’s Share, PDT, and Little Branch) are still around for you to sip a craft cocktail in secret.
18. See the cherry blossoms at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Spring in NYC is unofficially marked by the blooming cherry blossoms that arrive at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden around March each year (and the subsequent flood of Instagram posts that come along with them).
19. Get a Recession Special from Gray's Papaya
The flagship Gray’s at Broadway and 72nd is the only one left standing (another location will open in midtown in spring 2017) but its Recession Special -- aka two hot dogs and a drink -- remains intact. (As with all things New York, there have been some price increases throughout the years, but the meal still costs under $5).
20. Go to a baseball game in the middle of summer
It really doesn’t matter if you hate sports -- it’s a summer rite of passage in New York to hit a Mets or Yankees game, drink overpriced beers, and get irrationally mad at the rival team’s fans sitting next to you, whether you actually know the rules or not.
21. Eat a meal you really can’t afford
The good news is, there are plenty of opportunities for hacking your way to an affordable meal at many of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants.
22. Visit the 9/11 Memorial
Take pride in the city’s resilience at this historic museum and memorial ground.
23. Travel for some of the city’s best pizza
A slice at Joe’s is a perfectly fine choice, but to experience the city’s very best pizza (Di Fara, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Roberta’s) you’ll need to go a little out of your way.
24. Go to a live TV show taping
For exactly $0 you can make your mom supremely jealous by seeing Late Night with Seth Meyers, Good Morning America, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbertfilmed live.
25. Hit a 24-hour spot at 5am to soak up the booze
Your chances of waking up without a hangover are far higher after eating a plate of late-night pierogi at Veselka.
26. Cruise past the Statue of Liberty on the free IKEA ferry
Since there’s no way you’re actually going to the Statue of Liberty, grab a glimpse of her (and the skyline) aboard the IKEA ferry (which you can take for free on weekends).
27. Get made fun of by a comedian at the Comedy Cellar
Sitting front row at one of these shows is a brave thing, but it’s worth it for the experience (and the character-building ridicule), especially since actually big stars like Amy Schumer, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock have been known to drop by unannounced.
28. Got to one of the last remaining peep shows in Times Square
Scoot past the inappropriate Elmos and make your way to one of the last remaining relics of pre-Giuliani Times Square (“GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS” signs included).
29. Visit NYC’s real Little Italy and get Bolognese
If you’re looking for honest-to-Italian-American-God red sauce, you won’t find it in lower Manhattan -- it’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Stop by Casa Della Mozzarella for fresh burrata and Calabria Pork Store for cured meats, then cap the day off with lasagna bolognese at Tra Di Noi.
30. Explore Central Park’s secret waterfalls
You’ve definitely already picnicked in Sheep Meadow, but one of the best ways to experience Central Park is to seek out the waterfalls hidden in the North Woods. Just try to refrain from making TLC jokes.
31. Eat dumplings at Tianjin Dumpling House in Flushing
There are countless places to eat dumplings in NYC’s better Chinatown, but the very best may be from Tianjin Dumpling House, a tiny counter in the basement of the Golden Mall, where you can get 12 dumplings for just $5 (opt for the famed lamb and green squash variety).
32. Have a pint at an old-school dive bar
McSorley’s, Billymark's West, 7B, and Jeremy’s Ale House in Manhattan are all decent options, but for the true NYC dive bar experience (complete with charmingly gruff bartenders, loyal regulars, and dirt-cheap beers) you’ll want to head outside the borough to places like Connolly’s in Rockaway and Mother Pug's in Staten Island.
33. Eat a black & white cookie
And quote Seinfeld as you do it.
34. Go to a concert at Madison Square Garden
Bonus points if it’s Billy Joel.
35. Have a fancy cocktail and pretend you’re a member of New York high society at a hotel bar
The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis is a great choice if you like Bloody Marys (they were invented here) but there are plenty of others full of intricate murals, chandeliers, leather banquettes, and well-dressed people with expense accounts.
36. Hit a food hall and try several different cuisines at once
Downtown Brooklyn’s Dekalb Market Hall alone will offer you an impressive global spread -- you’ll get access to Katz’s pastrami, Jianbang Company’s Shanghai crepes, and Pierogi Boys’ peorgi -- but there are countless others to explore as well.
37. Drink your own booze on the Staten Island Ferry
Forget chain booze cruises with $200 tickets -- the only booze cruise you need to go on in NYC takes place on the Staten Island ferry, with a BYO bottle of whatever the hell you want.
38. Visit all the museums on Museum Mile that you’ve never gotten around to
You’ve checked the Met off your list, but what about all those other major museums along Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile that you keep meaning to go to? Spend a weekend afternoon actually committing to a visit (or check out when they have free days).
39. Celebrate Christmas at Rolf’s
The German restaurant/bar’s completely over-the-top holiday decorations (and brats and steins) put your stepmom's ornaments to shame. Lucky for you, the lights stay up for six months.
40. Score cheap Broadway tickets
OK, so you may not get to see Hamilton, but it’s entirely possible to get tickets to plenty of other big Broadway shows without selling a non-vital organ.
41. Go to Gospel Sunday brunch at Sylvia’s
There’s absolutely no better way to spend a Sunday morning than eating fried chicken and waffles while listening to a live gospel music performance.
42. Dance and get weird at the House of Yes
The Bushwick club/performance venue/bar is known for throwing over-the-top events involving everything from aerialists to burlesque performers. Many of the events are free, but you’re most likely to get in (and get the most out of the experience) if you come dressed on-theme (think ‘80s roller disco).
43. Sell (and then browse) books at the Strand
Before you shop your way around this famed bookstore (home to 18 miles of reading), sell some of those books that have been taking up valuable real estate in your closet-sized apartment.
44. Get a Citi Bike and ride over the Brooklyn Bridge
Just make sure you go early enough to avoid tourist foot traffic. And don’t forget to return the bike on the other side.
45. Explore Red Hook, Brooklyn
It make seem like a trek, but hopping on the ferry from Wall Street and exploring this waterfront South Brooklyn neighborhood (filled with plenty of mom-and-pop shops and some of the city’s best BBQ) makes for a perfect weekend afternoon. Plus, chances are fairly high you need a new coffee table from IKEA...
46. Head upstate to Letchworth State Park
The “Grand Canyon of the East” (located around 5.5 hours from the city) is home to three waterfalls, 66 miles of hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities for out-of-a-movie hot-air balloon rides and kayaking down the Genesee River.
47. Drink on a boat (or barge) in the summer
The skyline views from spots like Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Barge or Tribeca’s Grand Banks will balance out the potential for seasickness.
48. Wander around Green-Wood Cemetery
For starters, Bill the Butcher is buried there. But there’s also landmark architecture, plenty of greenery, and a far cooler calendar of events than your average cemetery.
49. Buy produce from a rooftop farm
You may not associate NYC with farming, but the city is actually home to a handful of fully functioning rooftop farms (including Brooklyn Grange in Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard) that offer sweeping skyline views and plenty of fresh produce.
50. Picnic in Prospect Park
It’s quieter and more lush than Central Park, and you can plan your picnic around a Celebrate Brooklyn concert in the summer (park yourself close to the 15th Street entrance and you’ll be able to hear the live music without paying for tickets and expensive beers). Be sure to avoid the bike valet.