12 Unusual New York Attractions Most Tourists Don’t Know About

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Craig Adderley, www.pexels.com

New York City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world because of its many attractions. But when visiting, most people think about the Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and other notable tourist spots. However, there are many attractions to enjoy that are a little off the beaten path. And some of them are even free, which can’t be said of many overpriced tourist traps in and around the city. Whether this is your first visit, or you are making a return trip, here are some unusual and often overlooked things to do next time you’re in the city.

1. Building 92

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this small museum was first a shipbuilding center. During World War II, it employed almost 70,000 people. If you enjoy history and especially military history, then you can browse the permanent exhibits. You’ll also get to hear the stories of people who worked on the building and repairs. It’s a small but fascinating museum and a great spot for history buffs.

2. Tour the Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Located just a short ferry ride from busy Manhattan, this place was first a home for retired sailors. It still remains a hidden gem, although it’s spread across 83 acres. You’ll have the chance to enjoy the vast botanical gardens and cultural center. The cultural center and gardens are surrounded by Tudor and Victorian homes and beautiful cobblestone streets. Make sure to take a few hours to explore the Chinese Scholar’s Garden; you won’t be sorry.

3. Walk through the Green-Wood Cemetery

Although cemeteries often aren’t at the top of people’s list of things to do in NYC, this spot is actually a great place to visit if you want to see the graves of some of the city’s most notable celebrities. This is the resting place of over half a million people, including Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. If you want to do more than tour the cemetery, go to the Gothic arch at the main entrance and climb to the top of Battle Hill. This was where the Battle of Brooklyn took place in 1776.

4. The Museum of the Moving Image

Since NYC is a city that is often featured in films and shows, it’s only natural that there would be a museum dedicated to this industry. If you visit the museum in Astoria, you can spend a few hours watching classic films in the updated cinema. You can also look at some props from film sets. The latest exhibit features puppets from The Muppet Show, in addition to some amazing archival footage.

Their exhibits do change on a frequent basis though, so you’ll want to plan out your trip soon. If you are travelling to New York from Canada, look at Porter Airlines. You can find cheap flights to New York through their online portal. If you’re planning a trip, take a look to see when flights are available.

5. Drink in a Bank Vault

The Trinity Bank Vault Bar was a hidden vault built in 1904. It was later transformed into a bar and restaurant. What tends to draw people in is its rustic and elegant setting. The vault was amazingly heavy and was built by the Mosler Safe Company. It’s an unusually large vault with two entrances. You won’t find a more secure place to have a drink, so put this on your list!

6. Volunteer with a Soup Kitchen

New York City is known for many things. Unfortunately, the city has thousands of homeless people as well. St. Joe’s Soup Kitchen is an established charity that aims to provide nutritious foods to the homeless and hungry of the city. The meals are free with no questions asked. While you’re on a trip, why not take the chance to give something back? This is also a good time to make friends with locals. Contact the kitchen to set up a date and time to volunteer.

7. Be a Secret Agent at Spyscape

Great for families of all ages, this is a part museum and part training ground for aspiring spies. Read about spies throughout history such as Alan Turing or Virginia Hall. After you’ve learned about some of the greats, try your hand at sneaking through a lasered hallway, try a lie detector test, and take part in other Bond-style skills. You’ll also have the chance to use their profiling system to get a grade on your performance at the end.

8. Chow Down at the Museum of Food and Drink

If you’re tired of museums that can only be enjoyed through your eyes, then go to the Food and Drink museum down in Brooklyn. You can smell, taste, and touch the exhibits here. The museum hosts rotating exhibits about food science, culinary history, and more. Chow, one of their recent exhibits, was centered around the history of Chinese-American restaurants. You’ll have the chance to enjoy various original Chinese-American dishes while learning a little more about the Chinese community in NYC.

9. Take Part in Alice in Wonderland

If you have an interest in acting but can’t commit full time, then the Third Rail Project is for you. This participatory theatre has a unique approach to storytelling and allows audiences to be a part of “Then She Fell,” a play inspired by Lewis Carroll’s well-known book. The audiences are led from room to room throughout the play. You’ll get to unearth clues, discover secrets, and even drink elixirs made by a well-known mixologist.

10. Shop at Brazenhead Books

This bookstore is in an apartment, although no one really knows where. In fact, the bookstore is illegally operated. You’ll need to set an appointment to visit unless you can find a contact who can show you the way there. The bookstore originally began as any other normal business. However, when rents began to increase, the store shifted locations into its owner’s apartment. Chances are, you may struggle to find the location of this bookstore, but it’s well worth asking around. If you meet some locals at your other stops, ask them if they can help you get there.

11. Tour 9/11 Memoirs

After the 9/11 attacks, Gary Suson was given access to Ground Zero every day until the rescue efforts were completed. This workshop is his brainchild and portrays the humanity, love, and courage of New Yorkers during this tragedy. Although this is certainly not the only place to learn more about 9/11, this museum is quiet and capped at only 28 visitors a day. Make sure to plan your visit to this workshop early.

12. See a Movie with a View

If you want to see a Hollywood movie when you’re in NYC, why not do it with the Hudson River and Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop? Movies are shown at the Hudson River Side Park all through the week during the summer and it’s a very popular attraction for the locals. You can check out which movies are playing by visiting the Hudson River Park website.


These 12 lesser-known attractions provide a range of things to do and see when you’re in the big apple. Make sure that you plan out your trip, so you don’t miss anything. There’s always something to do here so make a NYC a top spot on your list.

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