I’ve been to New York City twice and could go many times over, for there are countless ways to experience this incredible city. The first time I went I did all of the typical tourist highlights – The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty, and going on the Sex and the City Tour. The second time around I made it a mission to try to live locally and aid local business. I enjoyed strolling through local neighbourhoods, finding secret bars and tried, where I could, to eat at local establishments. It was about seeing things a little differently.
New York City has it all. Foodies will get their fill hopping to and from cafes, pizza parlours, iconic restaurants and rooftop cocktail bars. History buffs will enjoy the museums, libraries, historical walking tours and impressive 19th-century architecture. Even nature-lovers will find pockets of gorgeous green space among the ‘concrete jungle’, with sprawling urban parks and sparkling waterways dotted across the city.
But what about those of us who have a taste for the unusual, the offbeat, the bizarre or the downright weird?
That was what I was aiming for the second time around. There’s plenty to satisfy this demographic aside from the fantastic array of well-known sights. Here are just a few of the quirkier gems New York City has to offer:
From underground caverns and taverns, bars behind barber shops, bronze doors and metal shutters, and revived speakeasy sites, New York secret bar scene is one of the best known. The fun is in trying to find them, whether you have to knock on a certain door, or work through a maze of special directions. On my first visit 14 years ago I was taken by a local to one below a pizza shop in Little Italy and on my second visit was a bar down a few steps next to a door marked ‘Toys Inc’ in the East Village.
Trapeze School New York
Feel like flying? Just like its famous skyscrapers, you too can soar above New York City – all you need is a trapeze and a few lessons at Trapeze School New York (TSNY). This unique school offers classes on traditional ‘flying trapeze’ skills, as well as trampoline and acrobatic techniques.
OK, so this New York attraction may not be particularly quirky, but the fact that it allows you to tour a World War II aircraft carrier – one that sustained kamikaze attacks and a torpedo strike, no less – certainly makes it unusual. This impressive museum also showcases the space shuttle Enterprise and lets you explore the USS Growler submarine. Shelling out on Intrepid Museum tickets is well worth it to get your taste of epic sea, air and space travel.
The City Reliquary Museum in Williamsburg, Brooklyn showcases the fun and whimsical side of New York City. From funky Statue of Liberty figurines and colourful portraits of the city’s famous former residents to rotating collections from the surrounding community of artists, the City Reliquary is a true find for anyone hoping to learn more about New York art and culture.
Ninja New York
One of the kookiest eateries in the city, Ninja New York invites you to dine with the ninjas. At the Japanese restaurant on Hudson Street, your meals are served by ninjas (or, at least, waiters trained to act like ninjas) in a room that feels like the set of an old karate film. Expect plenty of hilarious surprises throughout the evening.
Staten Island Boat Graveyard
Whilst it’s not the easiest landmark to get to (you may have to negotiate with a padlocked fence), sneaking a peek of the creepy corner of Staten Island is well worth it. The Staten Island Boat Graveyard, situated in the Arthur Kill Road waterway about 13 miles from the ferry terminal, is home to several rusting, dilapidated ships and boats that have met an unfortunate, watery end.
Clearly, there’s more to New York City than its main spectacular sights, although they still are a must see. You can download this handy PDF of a shortcut guide to Manhattan to get you started.
If you’ve done the tourist thing before and are planning a second visit to the Big Apple, it’s certainly worth delving a bit deeper into the city’s stranger side. Who knows, you might even be tempted to return for a third time with an entirely new list of things to do.