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13 Unique Things to Do in NYC: Tips and Ideas From Locals

New York City, the city that never sleeps, is an iconic metropolis that needs no introduction. Whether you’re living in NY,  or a wide-eyed visitor exploring the vast opportunities the city has to offer, NYC is a pulsating hub of energy, culture, and diversity. With its towering skyscrapers, world-renowned landmarks, and a rhythm that courses through its streets, this urban playground is a constant source of excitement and inspiration. In this Redfin article, we’ll navigate the bustling neighborhoods and uncover hidden gems, providing you with an insider’s perspective on the best experiences the city has to offer. Get ready to dive into the vibrant tapestry of New York City.

The Wonder Wheel at Coney Island in NY.

1. Explore NYC like a photographer

Explore the city like a local photographer and uncover the most picturesque spots hidden from the typical tourist eye. These are the places where seasoned photographers go to capture the true essence and beauty of the urban landscape. 

“Two of my favorite outdoor photography spots in New York City are Fort Tryon Park and Central Park,” suggests FJA Photography.

“Fort Tryon Park, perched at the highest natural point in Manhattan, offers a breathtaking canvas for photography enthusiasts, especially during the soft morning hours. The warm morning light along the Hudson River creates a magical ambiance, making it an ideal location for various photo sessions, including maternity shoots, weddings, and milestone celebrations like Sweet 16s and Quinceaneras. From lush greenery to river views, every corner of Fort Tryon Park provides a picturesque backdrop for capturing life’s precious moments.

Central Park, boasting numerous beautiful locations, stands out for me, with Bethesda Terrace and the Bow Bridge being particularly ideal for engagement sessions and weddings. In my exploration of Manhattan’s gems, I’ve had the privilege of capturing the diverse beauty of both Fort Tryon Park and Central Park.”

A Quinceañera holding a balloon shaped like the number 15.

Courtesy of FJA Photography

2. Grab some tacos

Emmanuel Lavoie from a local short-term rental platform in NYC, Jetstream Hospitality Solutions, recommends to visitors and taco lovers that his “favorite discovery in New York City was Los Tacos No. 1 which now has multiple locations across the City. I’ve traveled the world looking for the best tacos, and I never would have thought I would find the best and most authentic tacos in NYC. It’s super casual, stand-up counter only, and incredibly affordable. On a 4-day visit to the Big Apple, we went three times.”

3. Take to the town and eat like a local

Get the inside scoop on the city’s best spots directly from locals. Their recommendations go beyond the touristy areas, revealing hidden gems and non-touristy favorites for a unique and authentic city experience. Trust those who know the city best to guide you to the must-see places and culinary delights that make your visit truly special.

Gramercy Bagels on 246 Third ave

Jay Batra from Batra Group Property Management recommends, “This is an amazing place for brunch, bagels etc. But hands down the best thing on the menu is the Pesto Chicken Panini. This is a hole in the wall local bagel shop, very easy to miss. but the Pesto Panini will absolutely rock your world. I would ask for hot sauce on the side.”

Speedy Romeo on 376 Classon ave

“Pizza shop in an old car body shop in Clinton hill. Very Brooklynish, cool ambience with exposed brick and high ceilings. Friendly staff. My absolute favorite is the St Louie Pizza. This is definitely my favorite local pizza spot in NYC.”

Tomi Jazz 239 E 53rd St

“This place is a hidden gem. It is a speakeasy, Japanese restaurant and Jazz bar with a full Jazz band packed in about 300 sq ft. I don’t know how they manage, but somehow, someway, it works out pretty well. In fact, this to me is probably one of the best jazz bars and date spots around.”

4. Photo worthy spots 

15 year NYC resident and professional photographer Sasha Chou recommends some of NYC’s most picturesque spots: 

Dumbo Time Out New York’s Rooftop

Savor an exclusive view from Time Out New York’s rooftop in Dumbo, providing simultaneous glimpses of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. This hidden gem offers a unique and secret perspective of the city. 

Tip: Plan your visit during off-peak hours for a more intimate experience.”

Washington Mews in Greenwich 

Uncover the charm of Washington Mews, a secluded cobblestone street in Greenwich Village. Lined with historic townhouses, it’s a picturesque spot that feels like a secret oasis in the city.

Tip: Visit during different seasons to capture the changing colors of the trees and the atmosphere.”

Lower East Side – Essex Market Rooftop:

See the Lower East Side from a new perspective at the Essex Market Rooftop. This hidden gem offers panoramic views of the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of architecture and the urban landscape. 

Tip: Capture the dynamic street life below and the juxtaposition of old and new buildings.”

5. Visit these NYC parks 

Erin Fortin Photography  shares, “As a NYC family photographer, one of my favorite Manhattan locations is Battery Park, near Tom Otterness Real World Sculptures. With refreshing open space, stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and lower and upper Manhattan, this gem is the perfect place to bring young kids, a good book, or a picnic between sightseeing activities. 

Battery Park in New York City.

Another Manhattan hidden gem, perfect for NYC family photos and IG-worthy backdrop is Pier 35. Be sure to arrive just before sunset and find yourself a spot on one of the larger-than-life swings. Your whole family will be able to fit!

The Manhattan Bridge in NYC.

6. Chelsea Flea Market

“While I realize flea markets are often discussed, I don’t think people have an appreciation for the history behind some of the items you find,” says Joe Jenkins Photography. “I once met a woman who purchased a box of photos from a vendor at the Chelsea flea market. In that box was an image of a man at a parade. About six months after her purchase, she saw that very same man at a record store in the East Village, walked up to him, and said, ‘I have a photo of you at a parade at so and so.’ Six years later, they were married. So, with this being said, I always have an appreciation for the Chelsea flea.

flea market in NYC

Lastly, there’s a grey, seamless stucco wall at West Fourth Street and 6th Avenue that I’ve seen used in more headshots, advertisements, and portraits than I can count. It marks the boundary of a fish market but has been used not only by myself but also by every other burgeoning photographer in NYC more times than is recordable. It gets painted over once a year, and so there’s a wax and wane to how it performs as a backdrop, but every time I see it in a photographer’s portfolio, I smile a little.

stucco wall at West Fourth Street and 6th Avenue

7. Tribeca in the rain

“If you find yourself in NYC during a rainy day, take the opportunity to look up, not down,” recommends Joe Jenkins. “The building tops in NYC take on an ethereal, befogged quality that likely represents a sizable percentage of the fine art photography world and provides a mass of photo ops. Tribeca is the best place for this, as the buildings are varied and singular enough that you won’t end up taking the same building top repeatedly, and the architecture is insanely interesting.

Additionally, it’s home to the famous skybridge, which, while not off the beaten path, has produced some of the most iconic fashion photos ever created. Moreover, while Bow Bridge in Central Park is literally packed with people from sunup to sundown and impossible to photograph by itself, the Tribeca skybridge is always open, deserted, and waiting for image creators.

Furthermore, there are more rooftop gardens in Tribeca than in any other area of the city that I’ve seen. They’re fun to photograph and make you wonder what they look like and who inhabits them.”

New York City alleyway

8. Industry City activities

“I moved to Brooklyn,” mentions Ayano Hisa Photography. “So my favorite spot right now is Industry City, where I can buy Japanese groceries and enjoy international food (Thai, Korean, American BBQ, Vegan, Japanese, etc.), including good sweets. The Japanese stores sometimes host special food, art, and music events. There are unique stores in categories of fashion, books, art, food, and Brooklyn-related products all in the same spot. There are courtyards in between the buildings, so I often take my dog there; and some stores even have treats for her. 

Large stores like Costco and Petco are nearby. They sometimes host huge conventions like liquor and food conventions. And the best part, especially for our dog, is that it is close to Sunset Park. When it was warmer, I would go to Industry City and stop by the park to walk my dog, take a nap by the trees, and overlook the skyline of Manhattan. It is a pretty amazing view from the park.”

Black dog looking at his owner.

9. NYer’s favorite Central Park locations to check out

Loren Matthew, an Event Photographer in NYC shares, “While my work often captures the city’s dynamic events and personalities, I’ve also discovered that NYC offers photogenic locales perfect for both photography enthusiasts and sightseers. Here are three Central Park recommendations from my portfolio”:

Exploring the Architectural Marvels at Gapstow Bridge

“Begin your photographic journey at Gapstow Bridge, an idyllic spot offering vintage charm against the modern city skyline. It frames the park’s changing seasons, providing a haven for photographers seeking that quintessential NYC shot. Whether draped in autumnal gold or the fresh green of spring, Gapstow is perfect for a leisurely stroll, photography workshops, or simply observing the harmonious blend of city life and nature.”

Capturing Serenity at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir:

For a serene escape, visit the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The calm waters reflecting the sky and surrounding architecture provide a moment of peace in the city that never sleeps. It’s a fantastic location for landscape and wildlife photography, as well as for practicing reflections and sunrise or sunset shots. Joggers, bird watchers, and photographers share this space, creating a community appreciating the quieter side of city life.”

The Colorful Display at the Conservatory Garden

Lastly, the Conservatory Garden is an enchanting oasis within Central Park. As a photographer, I’m drawn to the kaleidoscope of colors in meticulously maintained flower beds, especially during the tulip season in spring. It’s ideal for macro photography, portraits, and even event photography, providing a romantic backdrop for weddings and celebrations. Photography classes often meet here, making it a great place to learn new techniques and meet like-minded individuals.

10. Walk down Freeman Alley

“I love visiting and photographing in Freeman Alley, in the Bowery,” suggests Ed Lefkowicz Photography. “It’s one of the few spots in the city where graffiti is not just allowed but encouraged—spray paint, wheatpaste posters, tags, all there, all ever-changing. You never know what will cover existing art, as anyone can contribute, from local street artists to those internationally known.

Freeman Alley, in the Bowery

11. Watch (or play) Pétanque in Bryant Park

Ed Lefkowics also recommends, “New York is a sports town, with the Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Nets, Knicks, Giants, and Jets coming to mind. However, some of the most interesting sports are found in the least likely places. Pétanque, for example, a game from the south of France related to bocce, can be watched in Bryant Park.The local club is La Boule New Yorkaise, but anyone can play for free. It’s slow-paced, making it easy to watch and understand the action..”

People playing Pétanque

12. Stroll through one of many NYC parks

“Some of my favorite places in New York are in Brooklyn,” says NYC wedding photographer, Erica Camille. “Greenwood Cemetery is great for strolling around if you want somewhere a bit quieter than Prospect Park. Coney Island, specifically for the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, is always a fantastic spectacle.”

13. Have a night out in town 

Erica Camille gives a few recommendations on how to spend a night in NY, recommending “For those that love an underground speakeasy, Shanghai Mermaid is a long-running party held every few months. There’s also the famous House of Yes in the artist neighborhood of Bushwick. Finally, for the holiday season there’s no better place to roam around than the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights display.”

In closing, these 13 unique experiences merely scratch the surface of what New York City has to offer. Whether you're a seasoned local or a first-time visitor, there's always more to discover in this vibrant metropolis. So, continue your exploration, dive into the full article, and let the city's energy and diversity inspire your next adventure. New York awaits, with countless stories and experiences yet to unfold. Happy exploring!

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