We love visiting New York City, also known as NYC. The glitz and the glamour of the city dazzle us. And the hustle and bustle of every day life there excites the city gal in me. But New York can often be swarming with tourists. For travelers like us, we often prefer to look for non touristy things to do in NYC.
In October 2018, we spent some time visiting our oldest son, who now lives in New York City. It was nice to spend an extended period of time in New York. Since we had more than just a few days to visit the city, we felt like we could take our time getting to know the NYC attractions. It also gave us an opportunity to explore some of the off the beaten path things to do in NYC.
This post was updated on August 28, 2021.
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Basic facts about New York City
Located in New York state in the eastern United States, New York City is one of the oldest cities in the country. It was originally home to the Lenape tribe. But they were eventually pushed out by Dutch colonists, who used the city as a trading post.
During the years shortly following the American Revolution, it served as the capital city of the United States. And in the 19th and early 20th centuries, New York City was a major port of entry for immigrants coming to the United States.
Today, New York City is a hub for business and industry, as well as tourism. Air travel is big in New York City. The city has two major airports: JFK International Airport, which services domestic and international destinations, and LaGuardia, which services mainly domestic destinations. There is also Newark Ariport in nearby New Jersey, which also services domestic destinations.
The best way to get introduced to some non touristy things to do in NYC is to take a tour. Check out these ideas for tours to book for your trip to New York City:
Tenements, Tales, and Tastes: food tour from Urban Adventures showcasing the city’s immigrant roots
Hamilton Tour: a tour of NYC’s financial district from Urban Adventures
Manhattan Architecture Yacht Cruise: a boat cruise led by Classic Harbor Line NYC exploring the city’s architectural history
Check out this post for ideas of how to incorporate learning into your travel experiences with kids.
The best non touristy things to do in NYC
As we explored New York City, we kept finding so many quirky things to do in New York. The city has 8 million people living in its five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. The largest borough, Brooklyn, has over 2.6 million people!
With so many people living in New York City, you’re sure to find some unique and off the beaten path things to do in NYC. We like using this guide to give us some ideas of where to go in the city: Not For Tourists Guide to New York City.
As I started thinking about what I wanted to share about New York on this blog, I thought it would be fun to ask other family travel bloggers to share their favorite non touristy things to do in NYC. They gladly shared some of their favorite things to do in New York with kids!
New York City museums for kids
We’re all about visiting museums wherever we go. New York City is no exception. When it comes to things to do in New York with kids, you can have your pick of museums. From the American Museum of Natural History to the Museum of Modern Art, these museums draw hundreds of visitors each day.
In addition to the popular museums, there is also a large selection of smaller museums to explore. We find these museums have fewer crowds, which makes it a much more relaxed experience. However, they’re just as interesting to visit as the popular ones.
1. New York Transit Museum
One of the non touristy things to do in NYC that we liked recently was visiting the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. Since almost everyone in New York City rides the subway, a visit to this museum is a must for families looking for things to do in New York with kids.
The New York Transit Museum covers all aspects of transit in New York City, from buses to subways. You can see interactive exhibits teaching kids about how transportation in New York City works. There are also exhibits about the role of New York City subways in the city’s pop culture. Our favorite part of the museum was going the old subway cars. Many of them date back to the early 1900’s, and still have their original advertisements!
Located in Brooklyn, the New York Transit Museum is situated in between the Borough Hall and Hoyt-Shermerhorn metro stations. Admission $10 for adults and $5 for kids. It’s one of our favorite off the beaten path things to do in NYC!
2. The Tenement Museum
Nancy from Map and Family
We loved the small group tours at the Tenement Museum in NYC’s Lower East Side. Housed in two original tenement buildings, it consists of seven restored apartments and a beer saloon that were lived and worked in by immigrant families from the 1800s until post World War Two.
The museum cleverly uses these spaces to reconstruct the lives of real families who came to America in the hope of building better futures. The apartments have been restored as authentically as possible – there’s no air conditioning – and the guided tours vividly bring to life the cramped and often difficult daily existence of the families who lived there.
Visitors can choose which time period they’d like to visit and on some tours can actually meet the residents, played by costumed interpreters. The personal stories and harsh realities of life as an immigrant are moving and many insights are still relevant today too. The Tenement Museum is located at 103 Orchard Street.
Quirky and non touristy things to do in NYC with kids
We like looking for quirky things to do in New York with our children. It makes our trips to the city fun and interesting. Once, we walked through Greenwich Village just so we could take a picture of the apartment building exterior that was featured on the TV show, Friends!
You can find many off the beaten path things to do in NYC, even within the heart of the city. A lot of them can be found around mid-town, Times Square, or near Central Park.
3. National Museum of Mathematics
We can be kind of geeky at times. Our favorite types of museums to visit with our kids are those that are centered around math and science. When I found out about the National Museum of Mathematics, also known as MoMath, I knew we had to take the kids there. It’s still one of our favorite quirky things to do in New York!
MoMath has two floors of interactive math-focused exhibits, for kids and adults. Our kids, had a lot of fun learning about geometric shapes, fractals, and multiplication. There is even an interactive floor that would light up in colored polygons depending on where you stepped. My daughter had fun sitting and spinning in a chair that was built like a top!
The National Museum of Mathematics is located across from Madison Square Park. Admission to the museum is $18 for adults and $15 for children. In terms of educational activities for kids, this is a great option for non touristy things to do in NYC.
4. Gulliver’s Gate
Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels
One of the newest NYC attractions for families is Gulliver’s Gate. This little miniature world is so cool, the whole family will just love it!
This is the world’s most technologically advanced, interactive display of miniatures. Everything is tiny, but you will have big-time fun at this attraction. This modern and interactive museum with plenty to discover, offers miniature figures of world famous buildings, all over the world at one time. There’s miniature worlds from the USA, Europe, Asia and even a fully operational miniature airport!
Kids and adults alike will love discovering new little detail in the various worlds and checking out cities that they have visited too. No doubt the little ones will particularly love the key they are given upon entry, which can be used to activate different parts of the miniature sets.
Gulliver’s Gate is located right in the heart of Time Square and is open between 10am and 8pm. Tickets are $36 for adults, and $27 for kids aged 4-12. Children 3 and under are free.
5. The Ride NYC
Jodi from Family Travel Magazine
If you are looking for a completely unique tour experience in New York City, the Ride NYC* is the perfect option. It’s not exactly a tour – rather an “interactive entertainment experience”. During the 75-minute ride around part of NYC, you’ll see and hear about Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, Columbus Circle, the Chrysler Building, and Bryant Park.
As you board the Ride bus, your two entertaining hosts will greet you. Seating on the bus is stadium style – you’ll face the side. That side of the bus is all windows, as is the ceiling, which maximizes your view. You can choose to purchase guaranteed front row seats, but you don’t really need them.
In addition to the narration and entertainment from the hosts, you’ll also be treated to entertainment outside the bus. These actors/singers/dancers blend into the NYC landscape. It’s something you have to experience to fully appreciate. Tickets to the Ride are $69 per person.
* Jodi’s experience on the Ride NYC was complimentary
Food related non touristy things to do in NYC
We love to eat when we travel. Hands down, New York City has the largest selection of food options to choose from in the United States. But sometimes in travel, food can be an experience in itself, rather than just a form of nourishment. Some of the non touristy things to do in NYC that are perfect for families are those experiences that involve food. Particularly food of the sweet variety!
6. Dylan’s Candy Bar
Keri from Little City Trips
Take your kids to Dylan’s Candy Bar when you are in New York and they will thank you forever! When someone made up the phrase “like a kid in a candy store”, they were surely thinking of Dylan’s Candy Bar. This place is a candy dream come true.
There are over 7,000 different confections here, with the largest collection of candies and candy-related gifts in the world. From its rainbow colored pick n mix wall to the oversized lollipop tree and candy cane columns, this is a sugar high on steroids!
And it’s not just the candy store; head upstairs to the café to continue this sweetly delicious experience. Sit yourselves down in a giant cupcake booth and choose from a decadent selection of milkshakes, ice creams and desserts – including a 10-scoop sundae! (There are sandwiches, burgers and salads too, but who wants those?)
There’s also a fully stocked bar so moms and dads can knock down an alcohol-fueled chocolate martini – you’re going to need it to deal with all that sugar-fueled excitement!
7. Eloise High Tea at the Plaza
Marianne from Mum on the Move
A fancy afternoon tea should be on every family’s bucket list for New York. For us, the ultimate place to enjoy this is at the Plaza Hotel. The Plaza Hotel has been a New York icon since it opened in 1907 and their high tea is served in the fabulous and elegant Palm Court restaurant.
Everything about this tea, from the service to the scones, is top notch. Order yourself a glass of pink bubbles to wash it all down and luxuriate in the elegant atmosphere. But the real excitement here is for the kids – the pink and pretty Eloise High Tea!
Mischievous Eloise is the key protagonist in the book Eloise: a book for precocious grown ups and is a real favorite New York character. Her antics at the Plaza have kept kids entertained since the 1950s. The Eloise High Tea is super cute for kids and celebrates everything pink – including pink lemonade, cotton candy and cakes. My kids felt very grown up sitting in the Plaza and loved having their own special high tea!
Non touristy things to do in NYC parks
New York City has so many fun parks for families to visit. Central Park is its most famous, covering 840 acres and receiving around 40 million visitors annually. But the borough of Manhattan, alone, has over 70 parks in its vicinity.
We like experiencing off the beaten path things to do in NYC, and when it comes to parks, that means visiting some of the smaller city parks. Parks are great when you’re traveling with young kids, because it gives them a chance to run around. And New York City’s parks are all pretty well-kept and safe for kids to play.
8. Hamilton Grange at St. Nicholas Park
In our family, we’re big fans of the musical, Hamilton. Even though we haven’t seen the stage production yet, we have the whole soundtrack memorized. Our recent visit to New York City was perfect for Hamilton fans like us, because we visited so many spots that played a prominent role in the musical.
One of the non touristy things to do in NYC, if you’re a Hamilton fan, is to visit Hamilton Grange, located in St. Nicholas Park. This was the home of Alexander Hamilton and his family, and the National Park Service has done its best to restore the home close to how it was at the time that Hamilton lived there.
You can take a guided tour of Hamilton Grange, led by a National Park Ranger, and walk through the rooms that Alexander Hamilton inhabited, including his study, his dining room, and parlor. The home, which is actually quite modest in size, still sits on the property that the Hamilton family once owned. However, the original location is further north from the location that the house now sits.
9. SeaGlass Carousel at Battery Park
Erin from Bambini Travel
Located in Battery Park, the SeaGlass Carousel is one of the most unique things to do in NYC. Our twins love carousels so we have been on a ton of them, but this is a completely different experience. If you are in Lower Manhattan to see the One World Trade Center, take the Staten Island Ferry, or play at Rockefeller Playground, this is a quick detour and completely worth it.
The SeaGlass Carousel was designed as an aquatic carousel experience to remember the original home of the New York Aquarium in Battery Park. You sit on an iridescent fish that rotates, changes colors and moves while you spin around the room to music. It is magical. Tickets for the SeaGlass Carousel is $5.
10. The High Line
Ruth from Have Kiddos Will Travel
New York City’s High Line Park is this frugal mom’s favorite free attraction when exploring the big apple with our four children. It’s a one of a kind 1.45 miles long elevated park which once was a freight rail line and has been converted into a public park offering inspiring elevated views of the West Side of Manhattan.
A stroll along this unique park is must do when in NYC with active children. You can literally spend hours regardless of the season exploring. In addition, it offers gardens, wildflowers, outdoor art installations and some of the best views of the New York City skyline. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to slow down and enjoy some of the many sitting nooks and unique offerings while strolling along the narrow paths and gardens at the High Line.
The elevated park runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to the West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues which puts it in close proximity to many of Manhattan’s tourist destinations.
Spending more time in New York? Click here for more posts about visiting New York with kids.
Finding your own non touristy things to do in NYC
As travelers, we have the opportunity to explore and discover so many new to us things. And when it comes to visiting New York City, that means going beyond just visiting the typical NYC attractions. It means finding unique things to do in NYC!
New York City is filled with so many unique destinations and attractions. For families, finding off the beaten path things to do in NYC gives your kids a chance to really get to know the diversity and history that New York City has to offer.
Do you have any favorite non touristy things to do in NYC? Share them in the comments!
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