It’s no big secret that New York is one of the greatest cities to visit on the planet – a fact that’s attested to by the 38 million visitors who stayed there in 2017. It’s packed to the rooftops with world-famous sights and attractions that people have seen on the big screen ever since childhood. How many of those visitors ever get off the beaten track, though?
Beyond the museums and landmarks there’s a lifetime’s worth of other sights and sounds, and if you don’t look beyond the headline attractions you’re missing a trick. Here are five great things to do in New York City which you might not have thought of.
Chow down at Smorgasburg
Street food has made a big splash on the culinary scene in recent years, with many of the hottest trends and restaurants starting with street food vendors who can afford to push the boundaries of food and drink thanks to their low overheads. New York is a huge part of that movement, and Smorgasburg is the beating heart of the New York scene.
It’s the biggest open air food market in America, and anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people visit Brooklyn each weekend to sample the wares of 100 local vendors. On Saturday the market can be found on the Williamsburg waterfront, on Sundays it finds its home in Prospect Park and nowadays it can also be found in outside the World Trade Center in Manhattan on a Friday.
Whatever day you visit it, however, you’ll find a mix of leading edge new food trends and tried and tested favorites, all served in an iconic setting with a buzzing atmosphere.
Visit the Catskills
Head out to the Catskills and you’ll find one of New York State’s most recently opened resorts which started to enjoy its latest lease of life in February 2018. Located on the shore of Kiamesha Lake and operated by Empire Resorts, it was built on the site of the former Concord Hotel.
There is a total gaming floor area of 65,000 square feet with over 120 table games and 2,150 slots games. Catskills has a designated poker calendar, with events running year-round. Buy-ins range from $50 to $599, so you’re bound to find something for you. Be warned, the events with higher stakes aren’t for the feint of heart so you’ll want to avoid the higher profile events if you’re only just learning the rules of poker.
Afterwards, maybe you can spend some of your winnings at the neighboring Entertainment Village, opened in December of last year.
See a medieval castle
OK, so it’s not strictly speaking a medieval castle, but The Met Cloisters is an ensemble building inspired by some of the great buildings of Europe’s past. The building is a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the architecture and art of medieval Europe.
It’s located in a four acre plot in Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River in Northern Manhattan. The building incorporates elements of both religious and secular buildings in chronological order, including Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert and Trie-sur-Baïse, among others.
Outside are gardens based around information gleaned from medieval works of art, treatises, poetry and other documents, while inside you’ll find around 2,000 pieces of art work from medieval Europe, including stained glass, metalwork, illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, ivories and enamels.
It’s a far cry from what you’d normally expect of New York’s bustling art scene, and an oasis of calm and contemplation in a city famed for its fast pace of life.
Go on a book-buying splurge
New York may no longer be the haven for antiquarian book buyers and sellers that author Larry McMurtry describes in his essay ‘Lost Booksellers of New York’, but that’s all the more reason to patronize the remaining bookshops – antiquarian or otherwise – while you still can.
Despite the increasing encroachment of the likes of Amazon and big brick and mortar chains like Barnes and Noble, New York remains a bastion of the literary and bookselling world.
There are famous standouts such as the massive warren of shelves that is The Strand, but there’s far more to New York’s community of indie booksellers than that. Looking for the latest radical feminist texts? Try Bluestockings. Want to browse a deep range of African American literature? Sister Uptown has you covered. Got a hankering for weird and interesting art books and zines? There’s Printed Matter Inc. for that. Always wanted to lose yourself in a bookshop devoted entirely to cookbooks? You can even do that thanks to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks.
That selection barely scratches the surface of the specialist shops on offer and doesn’t even start on some of the excellent general interest bookshops such as Astoria Bookshop, McNally Jackson and Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic.
Drink in a secret speakeasy
The days when New York residents had to do their drinking in secret are long gone, but the city still has plenty of ‘secret’ speakeasies for you to go and wet your whistle in – a couple of them even claim to date back to the prohibition era!
One of them is The Back Room. On Norfolk Street in the Lower East Side if you keep an eye out you’ll see a sign saying ‘The Lower East Side Toy Company’. Head through the gate, down the alley then up some stairs. If they let you in, you’ll find yourself in a dimly lit, windowless bar straight out of the 1920s. The cocktails are served in teacups and the beer comes in brown mugs. If you’re a VIP you might even make it past the trick bookcase into the real back room…
Or, if you want something a bit more fun and frothy, you could try the Sunshine Laundromat and Pinball. It’s an actual laundromat in Greenpoint that fronts a bar and pinball arcade, with machines that range from the vintage to the modern day.
Love learning about NYC secrets? Then join me on my Secrets of New York tour that I do every Friday from 11am - 2pm. Learn more about it here.