As I wrote about yesterday, I recently moved out of New York City after living there for two years as somewhat of a resident tourist.
One of the main reasons I move as often as I do is that I like to leisurely explore new cities. Living someplace for a couple years lets you explore all the nooks and crannies of a city in a way that you just can’t do on vacation for a couple days.
Everyone knows about Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, and other major tourist destinations, so I thought I’d share the highlights of things to do in Manhattan that you might not know about.
The eligibility criteria for selection were 1) I didn’t know about it before I moved to New York, and 2) I had a lot of fun doing it.
1. New York City TV & Movie Sites Tour
New York City is the most filmed city in the world. Friends, Sex & The City, Ghostbusters, Seinfeld, the list goes on and on. This 3.5 hr tour takes you to filming locations all over Manhattan. My hands down favorite part of the tour was seeing the Ghostbusters firehouse that still has the Ghostbusters logo painted on the sidewalk outside.
You can find out more info and get tickets here.
2. Helicopter Tour
Need I say more? You haven’t seen New York City until you’ve seen it by helicopter.
Helicopters are a surprisingly smooth ride–smoother than an airplane. You glide over the city as your pilot and tour guide points out hot spots from the air. We also got some up close and personal photo opportunities with the Statue of Liberty.
I won’t lie, it’s not cheap, but helicopter tours aren’t as expensive as you might think. I went on a 30 minute private tour starting out of New Jersey that ran around $300 for two.
However, I would recommend using one of the tour companies based in Manhattan. It takes over an hour to get to the airports in New Jersey and you spend half of a 30 min tour just getting to Manhattan and back. At the time of this post, New York Helicopter has tours starting at $138 (personally I’d splurge for a 60 min tour, the 30 min tour flies by and leaves you wanting more).
3. Shakespeare in the Park
Everyone knows about Broadway, but did you know that every summer The Public Theater hosts productions of Shakespeare in Central Park? And it’s free.
When my New York friends first told me about this I had envisioned sitting on a blanket on a lawn half a mile away from the stage trying to make out what the actors were doing, but still enjoying the fact that it was free.
However, the way it actually works is that you can either line up early in the morning at 9am to wait for the box office to open at 1pm, or you can enter the online ticket lottery. I had all summer to try and win tickets, so I entered the online lottery. After two weeks of entering every day, I finally won tickets.
The Delacorte Theater where productions are held is a small open air theater in the park. Since attendance is limited and the theater is small, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The sun sets as you watch the play, and by the time it’s over you are watching the play under the glow of the moon and the Chrysler building poking out over the trees in the background.
Bonus Tip: If you have time and don’t mind taking a chance you can also enter one of the Broadway ticket lotteries. I won the Wicked ticket lottery and got front row seats for $25!
4. Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden is open year round, but you’ll enjoy it more if you go in the summer time. Normally the entrance fee is something like $10, but I went on the first Saturday of the month, which it turns out is free.
This is one of the largest botanic gardens in the country. It took a few hours of wandering around to cover the whole park. There are many outdoor as well as indoor plant habitats. If you are there in the spring time, there is also a massive cherry blossom garden that would be a great spot for a picnic.
5. Free Performance at Juilliard
You might be vaguely aware that there is a music school called Juilliard, but you may not know that it’s located in New York City and it frequently offers free performances by its up and coming star students.
I’ve been to Juilliard performances a couple times and enjoyed seeing a wonderfully talented, humorous young jazz musician and a chamber music performance. It’s free and fun to see the up and comers.
Keep in mind this isn’t Carnegie Hall though, you’ll be watching students perform. That said, indeed it is not Carnegie Hall and you will be in a small, intimate room watching the performance rather than far off in the distance in a large concert hall.
See the event calendar here.
Finding Things to Do
Even if you aren’t planning a trip to New York City any time soon, there are a few different ways you can find new and interesting things to do outside the normal tourist traps.
Daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial have been key for me. I discovered both the TV & Movie Tour and the helicopter tours that way. Even if you aren’t living in a new city like I was, you can start checking the deals before your trip and see if anything interesting pops up.
You can also search for top 5 and top 10 things to do type of lists like this one. When I first moved to Manhattan I compiled a list of something like 50 different attractions I wanted to see just from various online top things to do type of articles. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden was one of the gems I found this way.