15 Unusual And Unique Things To Do In NYC: Offbeat Experiences Await

July 14, 2023

When you think of things to do in NYC, you may think of visiting the Empire State Building and getting photos of the Statue of Liberty.

What if there was a way to delve deeper into the heart of New York, and walk away with an experience that might change your life?

This is why I’ve compiled a list of my top 15 unusual and unique things to do in NYC, where I’ve uncovered some of the hidden gems in ‘the city that never sleeps.’ These ideas will transform your time in New York and give you a good starting point for your next trip.

Let’s take a look.


Key Takeaways

  • Seeing New York from the sky in a helicopter by Blade.com, is a quick way to skip the traffic and create a jaw-dropping, unique experience. 
  • Uncovering secrets in New York, like its hidden speakeasies or off-limits catacombs, can instantly make a unique and unusual experience for you.
  1. Fly in a Helicopter and Experience NYC from the Sky

At the top of my list of the most unique things to do in NYC is soaring through the skies in a helicopter with Blade.com. If you want a way to take in the views of the city from the sky, beat the traffic, and create an unforgettable moment, riding with Blade may be your ticket to freedom.

Blade offers a unique and exhilarating way to experience New York, all from the skyline. Elevate yourself above New York’s highest sky deck and enjoy breathtaking aerial views you won’t find anywhere else. You can get a bird’s eye view of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, all from the comfort and security of your helicopter.

What stood out to me was that booking a helicopter lets me take photos from 10,000 feet in the air, whereas the highest sky deck in New York only goes up to 1,100 feet. That means I can get more value for my money booking with Blade, instead of buying tickets for a sky deck that won’t offer the same breathtaking views.

In addition to offering once-in-a-lifetime views, Blade lets you get around traffic easily. Traffic in Manhattan can be a nightmare, especially with time-sensitive events like getting to the airport on time. Luckily, Blade streamlines the experience, letting you fly over traffic and arrive at airports like JFK from New York in less than 15 minutes. Having the reliability of a helicopter to get you from point A to point B cuts out the stress of commuting through unknown traffic delays, which I think increases Blade’s value for visitors.

Blade also creates a luxurious, unforgettable moment the second you book with them. You can expect a high level of personalized service when Blade’s car services drop you off at their VIP lounge, and throughout your flight. They also ensure you get to your final destination smoothly and that your journey is a flawless experience.

  1. Ride in The Beast, a Sea-side Tour

One of my unique things to do in NYC would be riding in The Beast, which offers high-speed thrills and a unique view of the city, all conveniently located in the heart of New York.

Thrill-seekers can strap down in its bolstered seats and sight-see New York from the sealine, all while twisting up and down the New York Harbour at high speeds. These heart-pounding speeds are largely due to the ‘inner beast’ that sits under this speedboat’s hood.

The Beast comes with engines that can stack up to thrill-seeker’s expectations, with a horsepower of 1400 BHP-horsepower. In comparison, some of the world’s leading high-end speedboats with comparable horsepower cost over $400,000. That means riding The Beast is not only fast, but it gives boat enthusiasts an eye into what a luxury boat feels like at a fraction of the cost.

The Beast offers a unique view of the city, letting you take in sights like the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. It enables visitors to combine sightseeing and thrill-seeking all at once. That means you use your time more efficiently in the busy day-to-day of New York.

I also like how The Beast is located in the heart of New York, with easy and fast access for tourists. You can reach Pier 83 via bus, where the Beast is located, in less than 10 minutes from Times Square. That makes riding The Beast one of the most fun unique things to do in NYC.

Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to arrive 30 minutes before you want to ride The Beast to ensure you have a seat.

  1. Sleep in an Aircraft Carrier: Explore the 1900s on the Intrepid

Yes, pretending you’re a soldier sleeping aboard an aircraft carrier may just be one of the most unique and unusual things to do in Manhattan. The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum offers guests the unique opportunity to spend the night among the aircraft, just as enlisted sailors once did, enjoying history after hours that are reasonably priced.

You’ll be able to immerse yourself in an aircraft carrier that served in many wars, dating back to when sailors lived and breathed on the sea to defend their homeland. It offers views of fully restored, authentic planes on the flight deck and fully restored gallery decks and squadron-ready rooms.

The Intrepid is a historical monument that gathers crowds throughout the day during the year. With exclusive overnight access, you enjoy the exhibits all to yourself, without the crowds. I think this is handy for taking one-of-a-kind, crowd-free photographs — it’s just you and history. That makes a trip to the Intrepid one of my unique things to do in NYC.

Not only that, but sleeping aboard the Intrepid may not be as expensive as you think. Some of the cheapest hotels in Manhattan can reach upwards of $200-300 per night, which means $100-150 per person. That means sleeping overnight at this museum may not only be comparably priced or slightly cheaper, but it is also an unforgettable experience in New York’s heart.

Remember to come on days with good weather as part of the museum, namely the flight deck, is open to the elements, and does close if there’s rain.

Staying Overnight on the Intrepid
Person/Event TypePrice
Individuals$130 per person (Members receive a 25% discount.)
Group/Scouts$99 per person
Leadership Package$130 per person (Must include 30 people or more.)
Birthday Parties$135 per person (Must include 30 people or more.)
  1. Tour the Catacombs of NYC by Candlelight

What may be one of the most weird things to do in NYC is taking part in the guided tours through one of New York’s only catholic catacombs. The Catacombs by Candlelight tour gives you access to a unique experience that is usually out of public reach, soaking up a candlelit ambiance guided by knowledgeable staff.

The crypts below St. Patrick’s Basilica usually are out of reach to the public, which means you get VIP access when you book a tour on their website. You can explore a hidden world right underneath the busy streets of New York City. Tours are generally small groups, so you’ll get an intimate viewing of the catacombs with your tour guide.

The mystery surrounding these elusive catacombs is illuminated by the candlelit decor sprinkled throughout the crypt. It illuminates the names of the New Yorkers laid to rest, transporting you to another era as you dive into the streets.

Not only do you get to see a sight exclusive to only a select few, but the tour is guided by experts. They bring the crypts to life and give you an appreciation for New York’s history. What I like most about these guided tours through the catacombs is their flexible times, running during the weekend to accommodate travelers and locals who work during the week.

  1. Get Swept Up in a Night of Elegance at the Queen’s Ball

Whether you enjoy the Bridgerton series or simply want a night of elegant extravagance, attending the Queen’s Ball is one of my unique things to do in NYC. The Queen’s Ball offers a night of dancing, an interactive and compelling performance, and one-of-a-kind photography opportunities. 

Learn the Regency-era dance steps as actors dressed up in costume play live classical music for your entertainment and waltz with you. You can be on the dance floor, twirling with a crowd of friendly guests and actors, all dressed to the nines to enjoy the evening. In addition, the venue is highly decorated, making you feel like you’re right in the middle of the first season of Bridgerton.

While dancing, you can enjoy a compelling love story unfolding on the dance floor, just like in the series. Watch exceptionally talented actors dance and twist with acrobatic tricks as they slowly fall in love over the course of the evening. What I like most is the chance that anyone in the crowd can get selected as the Queen’s favorite, her ‘Diamond of the Evening.’ It means all the guests have a chance to feel specially chosen by royalty, and elevate their Bridgerton experience to a new level. 

Amidst the dancing and acting, the ball offers many photo opportunities. Sit on a cushioned sofa behind an ornate curtain, or walk out on a red carpet adorned by hanging flowers and lights. The excuse to wear your finest Regency-style dress, and excellent background, will make for some jaw-dropping photos that will make your time in New York unique and exquisite.

  1. Explore NYC’s Hidden Speakeasies 

Uncovering the hidden speakeasies that still hold to tradition from a bygone era is one of the most unique ways to pass your time and create memories in New York. There are many hidden speakeasies with convoluted entrances sprinkled throughout the busy streets of New York, but the dens that stood out to me the most were the Apothéke, the Please Don’t Tell (PDT), and the Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store.

Apothéke Speakeasy

The Apothéke is a hidden speakeasy with a medicinal theme, from how the bartenders dress to the highly detailed decor to the ‘Chemist’ sign hanging outside. You’re encouraged to dress fine for sitting in this den to match the sophisticated decor. Bartenders mix drinks with medicinal herbs and botanicals to create ‘medical’ cocktails, fitting the theme of an apothecary. 

What I enjoy most about this speakeasy is its academy events, where you can sign up and learn the ‘elixirs’ to good health and wellness.

Location: 9 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013

How to Get In: It won’t be marked ‘Apothéke.’ Instead, you will want to look for a door illuminated with a red light and a ‘Chemist’ sign hanging above it.

Please Don’t Tell (PDT) Speakeasy

Hosting one of the most iconic speakeasies in New York is the Please Don’t Tell (PDT), with an incredibly secretive theme. The den is dimly lit, with muted decor along rustic brick walls to create a cozy, hidden-away vibe. The cocktails are innovative and fresh, which you’ll find more enjoyable with their in-house hot dogs.

What I like most about this speakeasy is its hidden entrance, where you have to know the secret way in, in order to access the den.

Location: 113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009

How to Get In: To get in, enter the Crif Dogs restaurant, and access the phone booth. You just have to pick up the red phone, and you’ll be connected with the hostess of the Please Don’t Tell (PDT). 

Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store

A mix of moody class and cozy elegance is the Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store in Midtown. You enjoy a low-key vibe draped in plush velvet in this hidden-away den, with artisan food and drinks. The cocktails are unique and hand-crafted, like the Blue Parrot, which consists of gin, lavender, butterfly pea flower, and Fever-Tree soda for a bright, popping taste.

What stood out to me the most regarding this speakeasy was its focus on live music. A piano near the bar adds a touch of class that will bring you back to the days when speakeasies, cigars, and jazz were all the rage. If you come by after 8:30 PM, please note that Bo Peep will add a $10 live music fee to your bill.

Location: 70 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018

How to Get In: Enter The Ragtrader and find the small staircase that leads into the subterranean den of the Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store. Reservations are recommended.

  1. Ride the Aerial Roosevelt Tram

One of the most unique and unusual things to do in NYC is ride in the Roosevelt Tram. This little cable car ride offers a bird’s eye view over New York, easy access to Roosevelt Island, and makes your journey a part of the destination.

You’re suspended 250 feet over the city when riding in the Roosevelt Tram, alongside the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge. There are many photography opportunities here, as you’ll pass by the Empire State Building and the United Nations Headquarters. You’ll also cross over the river, giving a full view of the New York skyline as you enter Roosevelt Island.

For visitors or busy day-goer’s on a tight schedule, getting to Roosevelt Island for some sightseeing is much easier when using the cable car. You can skip over traffic with cabins that leave the station every 7 to 15 minutes. 

Once you arrive on Roosevelt Island, there’s plenty to do. Stroll through the Four Freedoms Park, the local RIVVA (Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association) art gallery, and have lunch at the Anything At All restaurant. 

What stood out to me the most about the Roosevelt Tram is that an experienced cable car operator operates every cabin by hand. That way, if I have any questions, there’s someone on-site to help.

Pro Tip: There’s no air conditioning or heating when riding the tram, so be prepared and dress appropriately for the weather. 

  1. Test Your Skills at Spyscape

Become a spymaster at Spyscape, a fun and unique thing to do in NYC. Immerse yourself in an interactive experience right in the heart of Manhattan, try hands-on spy challenges, and learn from real-world spies. 

You put on your Sherlock hat the moment you step through the front entrance and past the colorful display of CCTV cameras. Spyscape is where you can feel like a real-life spy, just like Batman. Spyscape is filled with interactive tests, which allow you to run surveillance on other guests in the building, break codes, and see how well you can tell if someone is lying. Ultimately, the interactive games will score you, deliver a personalized report, and tell you what type of spy role suits you best.

On top of that, Spyscape has fun challenges that require you to run, jump, and twist in games designed by CIA experts. Dodge green lasers, stay hidden from spotlights, and watch your feet on the pressure-sensitive floors — all designed to bring out your inner spy.

You can also learn from real-world spies, both past and present, in Spyscape’s interactive museum. What I liked most about this spy-themed museum was how it talks not only about old spy stories, like cracking the Enigma Machine from WWII, but also about modern-day spying, like how social media collects and uses user data. That means you’re getting a well-rounded insight into how espionage has changed the world and how it’s affecting us daily.

  1. Step Back in Time at the New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum is one of the most unusual things to do in NYC. It’s a preservation of time, taking visitors back to the 1900s with its vintage subway cars, interactive exhibits, and convenient location. 

The New York Transit Museum offers a tour of their fully restored vintage cars, sitting on the track in the subway, fully lit and ready for you to board. You can sit in the seats of a bygone era and feel the history of New York’s complex subway system. You even get insight into the prototypes that never made it to being serviced, like the R-11 Prototype from 1949 with its stainless steel innovations.

In addition to being able to sit in the old, fully restored cars, there are also several interactive exhibits you can try. You can get behind-the-scenes details on the construction behind transit systems, learn about the transformation of transportation furniture throughout the decades, and learn how subway etiquette has evolved. 

What I like most about this place is its convenient location. The New York Transit Museum is located in downtown Brooklyn, just a half-hour bus ride from Times Square, with buses arriving every 5-10 minutes. That means you can easily include this stop in a busy day of sightseeing around New York. 

  1. Immerse Yourself in the Wild Coney Island Circus Sideshow

One of the most weird things to do in NYC is visit the magical and strange Wild Coney Island Circus Sideshow. You can witness incredible feats, embrace the history of the Island, and create an unforgettable memory.

The Coney Island Circus Sideshow is home to some of the most amazing performers, performing feats you wouldn’t think possible. You’ll witness real sword swallowers, fire eaters, and illusionists that will make you question your reality. Performers are recruited from around the world, ready to dazzle you with a little magic that will transport you deep into the heart of Coney Island entertainment.

The island has a remarkable history that’s capstone by the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Developed as an amusement district in 1880, the island saw the rise and fall of many amusement parks, like Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland. The sideshow, in particular, has been around since 1911, still housed in a nostalgic tent with a ten-in-one sideshow.

For nostalgic entertainment enthusiasts and those that want to be shocked and amazed, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow knows how to dazzle, amaze and inspire. After witnessing the performances on this island, you’ll have memories that will last a lifetime. I like this sideshow the most because it tries to represent the golden age of circus sideshows as closely as possible, giving you an authentic experience of a bygone era.

  1. Enjoy the Seaside at the Lobster House on City Island

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown New York, then an afternoon at the Lobster House might be just what you need. The Lobster House offers an experience of dining by the ocean and has something delicious for everyone. Enjoy the freshest seafood, take in the waterfront views, and soak up a friendly and inviting ambiance.

The Lobster House is located right on the edge of New York on City Island, with easy access to the ocean’s bounties. All seafood is made fresh. You can enjoy a lemon-squeezed lobster tail, Norwegian salmon, and snow crab legs. Then, top it off with their unique City Island Iced Tea, made of five liqueurs, coke, and a spritz of lemon.

The Lobster House has large windows open to a full ocean view. You can enjoy lunch and a show, watching boats in the harbor float past. This tranquil, refreshing atmosphere is exactly what a busy day goer in New York needs to relax.

On top of that, the atmosphere of the Lobster House is kid-friendly, with smiling wait staff that makes you feel welcome on the island. This diner ensures you receive quality service and hot comfort food, perfect for an afternoon on the seaside.

What I noticed about the Lobster House was its location. This restaurant is away from the busy downtown areas and provides a seaside retreat. But, for visitors, it may be a challenge to reach. The shortest bus takes slightly over an hour to get to the island from Times Square.

  1. Step Back in Time at the Lexington Candy Shop

Founded in 1925, the Lexington Candy Shop luncheonette has been serving the Manhattan area for almost 100 years, making it a unique and memorable thing to do in New York. The Lexington Candy Shop tantalizes guests with its rich memorabilia and old-fashioned comfort food.

From the inside out, the Lexington Candy Shop has preserved itself like a time capsule from a bygone era. You can take a selfie with the storefront, a picture-perfect mirror of how it looked in 1925. Inside, there’s a display of Coke bottles that date back almost 100 years. Immerse yourself in memorabilia that layer the walls, from newspaper clippings to old photos of New York.

The Lexington Candy Shop is also one of the few places that serve Coke the old-fashioned way with its soda fountain. The menu is relatively unchanged with all the comfort fare a 1920s restaurant and soda shop would have, meaning you don’t have to go far to live the good old days of New York.

What I liked most about this place was its soda machine, with drinks hand-pumped with soda syrup, then mixed with carbonated water. It’s a method I don’t see in many places, which makes the authentic vibe here hard to replicate.

  1. Discover Little Britain in New York

The Tea & Sympathy restaurant and shop is the best place in New York to feel like you’re in your own Little Britain. The Tea & Sympathy offers a unique cultural dining experience with authentic Afternoon Tea and lets you take the British vibes home with its adjacent store.

Among the authentic fish and chips, welsh rarebit, and beans on toast, Tea & Sympathy serves Afternoon Tea all day. You’ll feel like a noble when they bring out a multi-tiered tray filled with sandwiches, pastries, and cakes for Afternoon Tea. It’s all served in delicate china for an elegant and up-class feel.

After you’ve had your fill of freshly-baked cakes, the Tea & Sympathy store is beside you, offering an assortment of goodies. You’ll find snacks right from the heart of London, like Walkers chips and PG Tips tea bags. Tea & Sympathy also offers an array of British china, so you can bring home a proper ‘cuppa’ or gift the British ambiance to a friend.

What I think Tea & Sympathy really gets right is its restaurant and shop combo. I like being able to take some of Britain with me after I enjoy my tea.

  1. Get Immersed in the Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum is a unique experience in the heart of New York City, holding some of the rarest collections of fine arts and celebrating the arts through its many programs. What first started as a private library is now a vast collection of artifacts that any art enthusiast will love.

You’ll jaw-drop at the vaulted ceilings adorned with intricate paintings as you peruse the fine assortment of manuscripts and novels perfectly preserved. The Morgan Library & Museum holds a scratched-out draft of one of Beethoven’s scores, penned by the master classical composer himself. This museum also offers guests an intimate view into the minds of great authors, displaying handwritten drafts of novels from Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

In addition to offering breathtaking rarities, the Morgan also puts on curated programs frequently. Tantalize your senses with live music, readings, and films. The Morgan also offers lectures that bring the manuscripts and Renaissance paintings to life.

What I appreciate most about this museum is its accessibility. It’s only a five-minute walk from the empire state building and a ten-minute bus ride from Times Square. That means I can see the Morgan after touring the empire state building super easily. 

  1. Play in the Fishbowl at the Seaglass Carousel 

Immerse yourself in an underwater fantasy at the Seaglass Carousel, where a mix of imagination and design takes you on a journey at the Battery Conservancy park. This unique experience offers an immersive setting and an ideal location.

The Seaglass Carousel entices you with its nautical atmosphere the moment you step inside. The walls are glass, shaped like a fish bowl, with a ceiling littered with LED lights. As you sit in the delicately painted fiberglass fish, the carousel sweeps you away with music and lights, transporting you deep under the sea.

The Seaglass Carousel is located in the heart of the Battery Conservancy, a massive, 25-acre park primed with the perfect opportunity to escape the downtown traffic. It’s just a 25 minutes bus ride from Times Square, making it an easy getaway in the middle of your day of sightseeing.

What stood out to me regarding the Seaglass Carousel was its wheelchair-accessible ride. One of the fishes is designed to fit a wheelchair and spins on the furthest edge of the carousel platform for easy access.

FAQ:

What is something unique in New York City?

The New York Transit Museum, located below in what used to be a functional subway system, gives a unique insight into how New York City’s transit system looked and felt many years ago and is unique to New York.

What is special or unique about New York City?

According to WorldAtlas, over 800 languages are spoken in the New York area (18).

What can only be found in New York?

Central Park is a unique and famous park that can only be found in New York, complete with conservatory gardens and horse-drawn carriage rides, all while enjoying the skyline of Manhattan. 

Conclusion

New York City is filled with offbeat experiences and unusual things to do. Our list shares some of the most eye-popping and captivating experiences. Riding in a helicopter or spinning out at fast speeds on the river, for example, are some ways you can elevate your time in New York. Whether you prefer dancing with the Queen, or being wowed by a circus feat, there are many unique things to do in NYC that suit everyone. 

What are your unique experiences in New York? Share with us in a comment below!

Additional References

  1. Blade (2023.) Fly the future, today. Retrieved from: https://www.blade.com/ 
  2. The Beast (20230.) The Beast Roars Again! Retrieved from: https://www.thebeastnyc.com/ 
  3. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (2023.) Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Retrieved from: https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/ 
  4. Catacombs by Candlelight (2023.) Catacombs by Candlelight. Retrieved from: https://catacombstournyc.com/ 
  5. The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience (2023.) The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience. Retrieved from: https://bridgertonexperience.com/new-york/ 
  6. Apothéke (2023.) Apothéke. Retrieved from: https://www.apothekemixology.com/apotheke-nomad-nyc/ 
  7. Please Don’t Tell (PDT) (2023.) Please Don’t Tell (PDT). Retrieved from: https://www.pdtnyc.com/ 
  8. Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store (2023.) Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store. Retrieved from: https://www.ragtradernyc.com/bo-peep/ 
  9. Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (2023.) Roosevelt Island Tram. Retrieved from: https://rioc.ny.gov/302/Tram 
  10. Spyscape (2023.) Spyscape. Retrieved from: https://spyscape.com/ 
  11. New York Transit Museum (2023.) New York Transit Museum. Retrieved from: https://www.nytransitmuseum.org/ 
  12. Coney Island Circus Sideshow (2023.) Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Retrieved from: https://www.coneyisland.com/coneyislandcircussideshow 
  13. Lobster House (2023.) Lobster House. Retrieved from: https://cilobsterhouse.com/ 
  14. Lexington Candy Shop (2023.) Lexington Candy Shop. Retrieved from: https://www.lexingtoncandyshop.com/ 
  15. Tea & Sympathy (2023.) Tea & Sympathy. Retrieved from: https://www.teaandsympathy.com/ 
  16. The Morgan Library & Museum (2023.) The Morgan Library & Museum. Retrieved from: https://www.themorgan.org/ 
  17. Seaglass Carousel (2023.) Seaglass Carousel. Retrieved from: https://www.seaglasscarousel.nyc/ 
  18. World Atlas (2020.) How Many Languages Are Spoken In The New York Area. Retrieved from: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-languages-are-spoken-in-nyc.html


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