Have you ever asked yourself what New Yorkers do in their free time? Which are the cool things to do in New York City that locals do? What is really cool stuff to do in NYC? This article will give you all the answers. After several years of living in the city, we have done it all. The sightseeing, the super fun things to do in NYC, the hidden NYC attractions, we have tried the best restaurants and bars in NYC and have seen the most incredible museums New York City has to offer.
If you are coming to New York and you’re looking for the coolest things to do in New York City, or if you’re already living here and have friends or family coming over and you have no clue what to do with them, keep reading. We got you. Fun fact: not a single one involves going to Times Square and I’m sure you may even want to save a few of our cool activities in NYC for yourself.
14 Really Cool Things To Do In NYC
The Cloisters / Fort Tryon Park / Inwood Hill Park
Free – $$ / Manhattan
People say New York City offers everything you can possibly imagine. This might be true because you can even visit a medieval castle. So if you’re looking for cool things to do in New York City, this is something you should consider going. The Cloisters is a branch of the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art and will blow you away with fabulous works of art and medieval tapestries.
The entrance can be found through Fort Tyron Park’s lush gardens where you’ll be able to enjoy breathtaking views. That alone is worth the visit. If you want to save some money, check out the sightseeing passes for NYC. Most of them already come with a free ticket to the Cloisters (99 Margaret Corbin Dr, Uptown A Train to Dyckmann Street).
Take the challenge and go for a run
Free / Manhattan
The running community in NYC is huge and probably one of the best you can find in the world. One of my favorite cool stuff to do in NYC that I also always do is challenging myself and go for a run in Central Park. Running in Central Park, no matter if you’re an experienced runner or a total beginner, is both amazing and a real challenge. The hills in Central Park such as Cat Hill or Harlem Hill require your full power and will leave you with lots of endorphins.
Enter the park at Columbus Circle and start running by going right. Early mornings are more peaceful without the crowds. If you want to find a crew to run with, make sure to visit the Jack Rabbits Running Store inside the Shops at Columbus Circle (Central Park, A Train to Columbus Circle).
Get a tattoo at Bang Bang Tattoos
$$-$$$$ / Manhattan
With now two locations (SoHo and Chinatown) Bang Bang Tattoos (owned by Keith McCurdy known as “Bang Bang”) will help you to get your NYC souvenir that will last forever. The team at Bang Bang Tattoos are the world’s best tattoo artists who are all specialized in different styles and incredibly talented. I have several tattoos from them and they are all just beautiful.
Bang Bang Tattoos offers walk-ins and accepts online bookings via email as long as you know exactly what kind of tattoo you want. As probably one of the most unique things to do in NYC getting inked at Bang Bang tattoos is something you will tell your grandchildren about. The experience is amazing and one of my favorite cool activities in NYC.
If you’re wondering how much a tattoo at Bang Bang cost: Tattoos at Bang Bang start at $400. They range from that minimum price to an hourly rate of $400 and up. Each artist may have a different billing structure though. Remember to also tip your artist (62 Grand Street & 328 Broome Street).
Spend a night at the museum
$$ / Manhattan
One of the really cool things to do in NYC (also with your kids) is spending the night at the museum. Your one-of-a-kind Sleepover with your little one at the American Museum of Natural History will be a once in a lifetime experience. You will be sleeping beneath the 94-foot-long blue whale, next to African elephants, or at the base of a striking volcanic formation.
The world’s most beloved museum offers the sleepover only a few times per year. Here is more information on how to sign up (Museum of Natural History, C Train to Museum of Natural History).
Explore the neighborhood of Red Hook
$$ / Red Hook
Are you in search of more cool activties to do in NYC? The cute neighborhood of Red Hook is only a ferry ride away and offers close-up views of the Statue of Liberty. Red Hook is a real insider tip and one of the cool things to do in Brooklyn. So what is there to do in Red Hook? The ferry ride there is an activity on its own but spending a day in Red Hook will show you a whole new perspective about NYC.
Red Hook is a tiny neighborhood that offers shopping on Van Brunt Street, great seafood, live music, exhibitions and good times at Brooklyn Crab, with mini-golf and a lot of entertainment. On top of that, you will find lots of authentic local bars and probably the best key lime pie on the East Coast (Red Hook, South Brooklyn Ferry to Red Hook).
Go indoor rock climbing
$ / Chelsea
My favorite cool things to do in New York is heading to Chelsea Piers for rock climbing. Chelsea Piers is a sports complex with tons of great activities. Their indoor rock wall is friendly for beginners but can also be a tough challenge for experienced rock climbers.
Instructor-led climbing sessions are available every Wednesday and Thursday night for just $25 per person. I have done it many times already and once you reach the very top of the rock wall, you’ll feel like a superhero (Chelsea Piers, 62 Chelsea Piers, 1 Train to 23rd Street)
Cool Things To Do In NYC: Smorgasburg
$-$$$ / Williamsburg, Park Slope
One of the coolest things to do in NYC is spending an entire afternoon at Smorgasburg. 25 new vendors are coming to Smorgasburg this year. The premier outdoor eating and drinking destination is a cool non-touristy thing to do while visiting New York. You’ll get to see and taste the best 100 local food vendors New York City has to offer while enjoying incredible city views from the Williamsburg Waterfront. Every Saturday from 11:00 to 6:00 pm (90 Kent Ave, L Train to Bedford Avenue)
Visit the Hayden Planetarium
$ / Manhattan
Another cool NYC activity is to come to see the Hayden Planetarium inside the Museum of Natural History. The one of a kind Space Show in the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space uses state-of-the-art technology to communicate cutting-edge science and is still a hidden attraction in NYC. It works with a digital video system that projects across the theater’s 67-foot-wide hemispheric dome.
Museum Plus One tickets include admission to the Museum and Rose Center for Earth and Space plus one special exhibition, IMAX film, or Hayden Planetarium Space Show (Museum of Natural History, C Train to Museum of Natural History).
Have some Soul Food in Harlem
$ / Manhattan
To me personally, Harlem is one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city. I love going there for the amazing soul food. Now you may ask yourself what defines soul food? For the Harlem community, soul food touches and delights the soul. Dishes like fried chicken, pork/beef ribs, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and smoked ham hocks are great examples for authentic Harlem soul food. It is a cool New York thing to do explore Harlem and it’s amazing culture.
Check out Hudson Yards
free / Manhattan
The Hudson Yards is the place to be right now and there’s more to come. By the end of the year, we will be able to enjoy the view of New York City from the highest observation deck in the city called “the Edge”. Make sure to check out our exciting neighborhood guide about the area before you go (Hudson Yards, 7 Train to Hudson Yards Station).
Watch a Broadway show
On my list of cool things to do in New York City is to catch one of the unparalleled musicals and shows on Broadway. It’s great on a rainy day in NYC or if you are looking for great things to do in New York with your girlfriend (or boyfriend). The Broadway is incredibly inspiring and you should definitely enjoy a special evening (or afternoon) on New York’s famous Broadway.
See forever at the One World Trade Center
$ – $$
As one of the most exciting sightseeing attractions and really cool activities in NYC visiting One World Observatory for sure will have long lines, many tourists with multiple cameras and huge crowds, but its all worth it.
The view from the currently highest building in the Western Hemisphere is more than breathtaking. Compared to other observation decks in the city, One WTC is an entire experience that looks back to the past to 9/11 and the days after. It also shows what’s possible when standing together as a city and building everything new from scratch if necessary. It’s one of the cool and fun things to do in NYC that you can also do when you visit New York City with your kids. It will leave you all with much more than just goosebumps.
Catch a Jazz Show
$ – $$
Vintage lighting, great cocktails, and vaulted ceilings will give you the old New York feels from back in the days.
My Personal Coolest Stuff To Do In New York City
Do you need ideas on what to do with your significant other in NYC? One of the best and cheapest things to do in NYC is riding the Staten Island Ferry. But don’t go at any hour of the day.
My personal recommendation for unforgettable moments during your ferry ride and also checking out one of the cool things to do in NYC is to hop on the boat during sunset. You might hit some rush-hour commuters, but they don’t really care much about the views so you will have the magical moments all to yourself (Staten Island Ferry Terminal, 1 train to South Ferry).
Another really cool thing to do in New York is enjoying happy hour at one of the many rooftop bars this city has to offer. The views are amazing and for tourists, you will really feel like a local here. There are so many cool activities in New York City, but the third on my list of really cool things to do in NYC is enjoying the sunset at Hunter Point in Long Island City. With the skyline in front of you, you will be amazed by the beautiful light and probably one of the nicest city sunsets you have seen so far.
I'm a true New York fan! Not only have I visited the city over 25 times but also have I spent several months here at a time. On my blog I show you the best and most beautiful spots of the city, so that you have a really good time! You can also find lots of insider tips in our New York travel guide. Also check out my hotel finder for New York!