So many travelers to New York City come for the iconic attractions: the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim, Central Park, Times Square, Broadway, and the Statue of Liberty. And sure, these spots are iconic for a reason—they’re tried-and-true ways to experience New York’s pulse and thrill.
But step off the beaten path and you’ll be rewarded for your creativity with unique experiences, smaller crowds, and a chance to see a different side of New York that fewer people tap into. These gems are slightly off the beaten path but still offer a fantastic way to feel a part of it all, learn some history, and maybe even feel slightly less crushed by the throngs of tourists.
New York Transit Museum
The name says it all. This museum is dedicated to the engineering wonder that is the New York subway system. The museum sits in a former subway station, underground, and is more than just a spot for train nerds to hang out. Check out vintage subway cars and turnstiles, plus a collection of mosaics that once decorated the stations. And learn the fascinating history of the subway.
Museum of the Moving Image
This thoroughly entertaining museum is dedicated to all things screen-based—from movies to television to video games. There are a slew of interactive exhibits, art, artifacts, and video sequences, all designed to inform and entertain. You can learn the technological aspects of filmmaking, watch demonstrations from working editors and animators, play throwback video games, catch a film, and more. It’s also a great spot for families traveling with kids.
Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum
This museum is the design arm of the Smithsonian Institute, so you know it has serious museum chops. The Cooper Hewitt explores “the impact of design on everyday life,” with fascinating and interactive exhibits. The whole thing sits in a mansion built by Andrew Carnegie, and holds a collection of ever-rotating exhibits. The one constant with every visit is that ticketholders receive a stylus to carry throughout the visit, visitors can save what they’ve seen and interacted with to view later at home, via customized (and private) personal URL.
Skip Manhattan’s Little Italy—it’s no longer the real deal. Instead, hop a train and head to the Bronx, where Arthur Avenue has held its own as a hub of Italian restaurants, markets, and bakeries since the late 1800s. There are scores of outstanding restaurants here—it’s hard to go wrong.
Roosevelt Island Tram
Yes, the ride is just four minutes long, but the Roosevelt Island Tram is worth the ride. The tram floats above the East River and the Queensboro Bridge, offering incredible city views—and the occasional peep into the apartments on the island. While you’re in the area, you can tack on a visit to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, a tribute to the president and a lovely spot to take in more views of the Manhattan skyline.
Rub elbows with locals at the Greenmarket, held Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in Union Square Park. The market is packed with around 100 vendors selling local produce, wine, flowers, cheese, and even rooftop honey. You can shop and sample at your leisure.
P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center
Set in a former public school, this quirky art museum is a memorable place to spend a few hours. The ever-changing art exhibits are as bizarre and avant-garde as they come, with around 14 art installations set in unexpected places (like the basement boiler room). On summer weekends, there are “beach parties” with sand, DJs, food, and games.