We’ve all been there -- your friends or family are coming to New York and you have absolutely no clue what to do with them. So you start to panic, and suddenly you’re reconsidering everything, like what do people do in NYC in their free time? Do you have a good work/life balance?! Have you ever left your apartment ever, or do you just go to work and then go home and watch Netflix every day????
To make sure your guests have the best trip ever, and you stay calm, we’ve rounded up the activities you’ll actually want to do in NYC (and included price ranges, so you don’t go into debt trying to impress your girlfriend’s aunt’s therapist). Some are classic, some are off the beaten path, and absolutely none of them include going to Times Square.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Park
Yes, it can get crowded. But with great eating and drinking options on either end (The Dead Rabbit in FiDi and Nom Wah in Chinatown; Grimaldi’s and Juliana’s in Dumbo), not to mention those skyline views, this traditionally touristy activity is actually worth revisiting.
Skip the hoards of tourists and kids at Central Park’s Wollman Rink (or worse, the rink at Rock Center) and opt for the smaller, less-crowded rink at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside in Prospect Park. Here, you’ll actually be able to show off those axel jumps (or, you know, your ability to skate without falling) as well as the beauty of the park.
A perpetually packed museum may not sound ideal, but with its High Line-adjacent location and bounty of innovative American art exhibitions (plus a slew of bars and restaurants all within a few blocks), a day planned around the Whitney is actually multitasking at its finest.
By day, Baby’s All Right is a solid brunch spot with lots of boozy specials. By night, it turns into one of the city’s coolest live-music venues, with new performers every night and tickets starting at just $10 per show. If your guests need any more convincing, let them know the floor is etched with a replica of the maze from The Shining.
Heading out to Astoria to visit this media-focused museum is not only a great way to circumvent the lines at the Met, it’s also the best place to learn the history of movies, TV, video games, and other digital media. Not even your most museum-loathing friend will be bored here.
Ever imagine taking a yoga class in total darkness, at 90-degree temps, all while hip-hop music is blasting? If so, Y7 just made your yogi dreams come true. Started in 2013, this innovative yoga studio is just hitting its stride, and with classes starting at $22 a session it’s the perfect fitness trend to try with visiting family or friends.
Go on a bagel crawl
New York has the best bagels in the universe, so why not spend a day trying to eat them all? Get ambitious and make a loop around the NYC “bagel belt” at some of the best spots the city has to offer -- Tompkins Square Bagels, Russ & Daughters, Black Seed Bagels, and Sadelle’s. Wear sweats.
Hang at an arcade bar on a rainy day
The weather in New York rarely cooperates, so kill a day indoors with drinking and gaming at one of NYC’s many arcade bars. Ace Bar and Fat Cat are at the top of our list, but Full Circle Bar, Barcade, and Troy Liquor Bar are all great choices for a day of beers, Skee-Ball, and Ms. Pac-Man.
Discover Grand Central Station
From the best people-watching to a huge selection of shopping and dining, there’s nothing boring about spending a day at Grand Central. Take a tour of the history-rich terminal, grabbing some oysters and martinis at Grand Central Oyster Bar, checking out the “Whispering Gallery,” and pondering why Penn Station still hasn’t caught up to this.
Chelsea Piers has lots of great activities, but the indoor rock wall is convenient, cheap, and seriously fun. Tough enough to be a challenge but still friendly for beginners, instructor-led climbing sessions are available every Tues-Thurs night for just $25 a person -- a small price to pay, considering you’d probably just be drinking otherwise.
Bushwick’s underground theater/party venue turned bar/club/performance venue is the perfect place to take that friend with high expectations for NYC nightlife. Events range from immersive Edward Scissorhands screenings (think DJs, live music, aerialists) to '80s/'90s throwback dance parties.
$ - $$
Crowds, lines, and selfie-sticks are to be expected when visiting One WTC, but these minor annoyances will be worth every minute spent atop the highest building in the Western Hemisphere. The observatory isn’t just a view, it’s an all-out experience -- one that’ll leave your guests (and even you, no matter how jaded you may be) practically speechless.
Listen to live jazz
$ - $$
The city is packed with amazing venues to catch live jazz -- among them, Jazz Standard, Arthur’s Tavern, and the Metropolitan Room. But the one you absolutely need to take your guests to is The Django. Nestled into Tribeca’s Roxy Hotel, its vaulted ceilings, vintage lighting, and excellent craft cocktails make for an experience that feels very old New York.
$ - $$
NYC is home to more food halls and markets than ever before, meaning you can likely find one in whatever part of town you’re already in and give your guests a tour of all different kinds of cuisines, without having to deal with transporting them all over the city.
Unlock the secret to those crazy tasty Momofuku cakes with this user-friendly baking class based on Christina Tosi’s best-selling Milk Bar cookbook. Learn how to build the perfectly layered masterpiece and turn scraps into cake truffles, and then take home every delicious morsel you bake.
This beast of New York beer halls doesn’t just offer a great excuse to check out Astoria, it’s also a certified beer mecca that really celebrates its founders' Czech and Slovak heritage. Enjoy a huge variety of brews for $16 a pitcher, and be sure to order some authentic brats and kielbasa off the perpetually fired-up grill.
Boasting one of the most extensive whiskey selections on the East Coast, The Flatiron Room is THE place to get your brown booze on, one shot at a time. Finally learn the difference between whiskey and rye from educated bartenders and their guide-like menus, then dive in with one of the half-dozen tasting flights.
People pay $2K for Knicks tickets that aren't even that good, but if you're willing to go nosebleed just to get in and feel how exciting the garden gets for a .500 team (and it really, really does), and you hit Stubhub at the right time, you can score tickets for around $50. Just plan ahead.
Save money by dining at a BYOB restaurant
$ - $$$
Having guests in town means there’s an extra $20 cocktail you need to pay for, and that really sucks. So to keep the good times going without putting yourself in debt, check out one of these BYOB restaurants throughout the city.
Get fancy with a super-posh high tea
$$ - $$$
You’re classy, right? Right. So why not show off your sophistication with a classic high tea? There are options to suit any number of budgets (Tea & Sympathy and Bosie Tea Parlor in the West Village are among the most affordable) but if you really want to impress your guests, go big with splurge-worthy teas at The Plaza, The Pierre, or The Ritz-Carlton.
Enjoy a tasting menu for < $100/person
$$ - $$$
Dining out is one of the best things about visiting NYC, which is why a diverse tasting menu should definitely be on your to-do list (especially when there are actually several great ones for less than $100). The Lower East Side’s newly Michelin-starred Contra has a nightly rotating seven-course menu for just $67, while the vegetarian-leaning (and also Michelin-starred) Semilla offers eight courses for $75.
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