New York Off the Beaten Path: 9 Experiences for Curious Travelers

New York is one of the most popular tourist cities in the world. Because of that, most parts of the city have already been discovered and explored by visitors. But what about those experiences in New York off the beaten path? This is where you get to explore places no tour guide talks about and become a true connoisseur of New York’s wonders.

Everyone who’s heard of New York knows exactly what they must do when visiting. Go to Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, visit the Empire State Building, see a Broadway show, and walk through Central Park and down the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, we will introduce you to nine things to do that will ultimately take you off the beaten path. Discover neighborhoods, art, and flavors you never knew you’d find in New York!

Young woman with large bag walks down a boardwalk with many people in the hot sun
Ready to explore NYC off the beaten path? Photo credit: Nelson Ndongala

Smallpox Hospital at Roosevelt Island

You can see Roosevelt Island from Midtown East and Lower East Side, right in the center of the East River. The tiny island houses the abandoned smallpox hospital, Renwick Hospital, which treated people until the 1950s. Not too long ago, the place became a landmark of New York, and now people can come and take a look at its structure from the outside. The Gothic building was reinforced so it wouldn’t fall apart, and greenery hugs the few walls that still stand.

While you’re here, make sure to take in the Manhattan skyline and enjoy the East River breeze.

 

An old, hollowed-out stone building with ivy climbing over it
The ruins of the Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island completely transports visitors to the 19th century. Photo credit: Adam Jones

The Elevated Acre

The Elevated Acre (55 Water Street) is a park in the sky where you can escape from the city’s noise for a while. Here you can find unique views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Hudson River. Chill in the grass that stands between two buildings on Water Street, right in the heart of the Financial District. Sip on craft beer from the built-in beer garden, munch on a taco or two from Tacocina, and relax during a warm summer afternoon.

An urban landscape with skyscrapers is broken up by a green area, shurbs and people relaxing
The Elevated Acres is a peaceful, hidden oasis in the Financial District. Photo credit: cereid2

The Old City Hall Subway Stop

Initially one of the central subway stops in New York, the City Hall station was closed in 1945 because of its low traffic and failure to restructure. The station is not open to the public, but you can join a guided tour to see the architecture of the place.  Built by the same architects who designed the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the place is packed with tiles that run across the arches over the train line. It was one of the first subway stations in New York, preserved since 1904, and paying a visit to it is an excellent way to see New York off the beaten path.

A dark, tiled room with dome-shaped entrances on two sides
The fare control area at the old City Hall Station. Photo credit: Julian Dunn

New York Transit Museum

While we’re on the subject of ransportation, why not visit the New York Transit Museum? Here you can learn about the history of the New York City subway system and how it became the complex and gigantic system that it is today. Explore the life of those who used to work in the subway and bus lines of New York when they first appeared, and take a look at vintage subway cars parked on platforms.

Notice how the ads on the walls of each car match the period where they used to run, from the beginning of the 1900s to the 1970s. Inside, notice their wooden or metal structures, seats, and windows.

Dark interior of an old subway car, illuminate dimly by flash bulbs
With old subway cars and other nooks and cranies to explore, the Transit Museum is fun for kids of all ages. Photo credit: Kevin Gessner

Coney Island

Sometimes we feel like escaping the noise and crowds of New York City, so we head to Coney Island. Here you will find one of those traditional American amusement parks, where you can rollerblade down the boardwalk during those hot summer months. Maybe even ride a wooden rollercoaster and eat a hotdog (or other New York street food) afterward.  Enjoy the other rides as well, and then have dinner in one of the charming, beach-side restaurants.

Large yellow hotdog restaurant on a boardwalk by the water in summer with many tourists and birds

Photo credit: Thoma Loizeau

Sunshine Laundromat

You know those clubs you see on Instagram, with a hidden entrance, where only cool people get to hang out? Well, this is kind of like that. Sunshine Laundromat may look like a regular laundromat from the outside. However, at night, the place becomes a craft beer bar with pinball. Come with friends and enjoy a night of games, drinks, and fun at this unique hidden spot!

Secret Gardens at Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is one of the top tourist attractions in New York. But did you know about the secret garden on the rooftops of the famous building? Go up and find 620 Loft and Gallery, a private garden with amazing views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There were originally five of these gardens, which were closed in 1938. Take a look at them from an observation deck, and enjoy greenery right in the middle of Midtown Manhattan. You’ll feel in the center of it all while still experiencing New York off the beaten path.

Rooftop garden with tourists beside a cathedral and city skyline

During the winter holidays this rooftop garden has a Christmas tree, but the views are impressive any time of year. Photo credit: Rian Castillo

See a Piece of the Berlin Wall

If you don’t know about it, this piece of the Berlin Wall will look just like another art mural from the hundreds in New York. However, take a closer look and see the five concrete slabs painted by Kiddy Citny and Thierry Noir, originally found on the Berlin Wall. Find the artwork on 520 Madison Avenue and be transported to another time and place.

Outdoor murals painted on concrete slabs in dull colors
Did you know that part of the Berlin Wall lives in NYC? Photo credit: Joerg Moellenkamp

House of Yes

Perfect for those who love to party, this off-the-beaten-path nightclub is ideal for ending the day. House of Yes has a lot of weird and fantastic stuff, from drag and circus shows to glitter flying around on the dancefloor. It is a quirky and unique place to dance, listen to DJs and their music, and party until closing hours.

Person wear spiky stiletto platform shoes with glitter with a megaphone in the background
House of Yes promises a glittery good time. Photo credit: Mark

New York City off the Beaten Path

New York City is filled with wonders. Exploring the essentials is nice, but sometimes we need to experience New York off the beaten path and find new things to do in this fascinating city. Luckily, New York never runs out of activities and places to visit. A unique perspective of the city may be all we need to learn how to see it with different eyes.

Lush green garden grows in front of a rural city skyline

Let us know where you have enjoyed NYC off the beaten path. Photo credit: Max HarlynkingLooking for more unique ways to explore New York? For some options that are a bit further afield, check out our guide to the eight best day trips from NYC