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How to have the perfect spring staycation in NYC

Snug Harbor
Photograph: Dan Q. Dao

Let’s have a moment of silence for the spring breaks of the past. From kindergarten through college, we could always count on that blissful week or two of freedom in March or April.

Too bad it’s not so common for adults. If using up two weeks of paid vacation time just isn’t in the cards this year, why not create your own spring staycation? After all, there’s no shortage of things to do in New York City—even lifelong New Yorkers probably haven’t explored all that this city has to offer.

Take inspiration from this list of 13 tours, experiences and days out that just might make you feel like a tourist in your own city. To really enhance the vacay vibes, you might even want to book a room at one of the best NYC hotels for a staycation. Even if your apartment is only a few blocks away, you’ll feel like you’re on holiday.

Explore the most underappreciated borough
New Yorkers from the other four boroughs tend to give Staten Island a hard time. Sure, you have to drive across a bridge or take a ferry to get there, but there’s plenty to see. Book a tour of the island to visit the picturesque Snug Harbor Cultural Center, historic Richmond town and other local attractions.

Peep the blooms at the New York Botanical Garden
Dreaming of a tropical getaway? You’ll find the next best thing in the Bronx, believe it or not. Once you step inside the light-drenched greenhouses at the New York Botanical Garden, you’ll be enveloped in the humid climate and lush greenery of warmer locales. Visit before April 9 to catch the popular Orchid Show—this year’s exhibition celebrates the vibrant vanda blooms of Thailand.

Walk through the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Take a trip—back in time, that is—by boarding the Intrepid aircraft carrier at Pier 86. The ship features exhibits on WWII military history and the day-to-day routines of the naval officers who manned it, while the outdoor flight deck holds jets and helicopters for visitors to inspect. The nearby Space Shuttle Pavilion showcases the space shuttle Enterprise, completing the sea, air and space trilogy.

Pop Champagne on a brunch sailboat cruise
Nothing says “I won’t be answering my email today” quite like drinking on a boat. Sail away from all your cares and worries on this cruise around New York Harbor. A full brunch spread of bagels, lox, schmear, quiches, pastries and fresh fruit will be provided, along with unlimited mimosas and prosecco.

Hike through Forest Park in Queens
Find your escape from the gridlock and taxi exhaust of the city in the 165 acres of woods at Queens’ Forest Park. You could wander the dirt paths solo, if you’re craving some alone time, but newcomers would do well to join a foraging walk led by self-described “wildman” Steve Brill. Bring a canvas bag and keep your eyes peeled for sorrel, field garlic, chanterelle mushrooms and other seasonal herbs growing along the path.  

Pamper yourself with a spa day
Once you’ve settled in for your massage at Metamorphosis Day Spa, you’ll forget you’re still in New York City—in fact, you probably won’t be thinking too much of anything, if the treatment proves as relaxing as it seems. Take advantage of the spa’s current deal for a day of relaxation that won’t break the bank. For just $149, you’ll get an hourlong massage and soothing facial.

Grocery shop on Arthur Avenue
The tricolored T-shirts and deep-fried nutella balls you’ll find in Little Italy don’t exactly scream “authentic.” For a real Italian experience, head up to the Bronx neighborhood of Belmont, a tight-knit enclave full of old world–style bakeries, butcher shops, fish markets and specialty stores. It’s a foodie’s paradise, and home cooks will want to come prepared to stock up on imported olive oil, fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and other hard-to-find ingredients.

Visit the exclusive Gramercy Players Club
Long known as Manhattan’s most exclusive neighborhood, Gramercy is home to some gorgeous Gilded Age architecture. Explore this wealthy district on a walking tour. You’ll see Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace, learn why residents must pay thousands of dollars a year to access Gramercy Park and even walk through The Players, a private social club for actors located inside an 1800s mansion.

Get schooled in the Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Zora Neale Hurston: Some of the biggest names in African-American art, music and culture cooled their heels in Harlem during the 1930s. During the Harlem Renaissance, the neighborhood was home to the hottest jazz clubs in the city, including Connie’s and the Cotton Club. Step back in time on this historical walking tour complete with lunch at a local restaurant.

Score VIP access to the American Museum of Natural History
Touring the American Museum of Natural History during school spring break sounds like a nightmare—too many screaming children and cranky parents. Instead, book an exclusive tour of the museum before it opens to experience the exhibits solo, like the VIP you are. Scoping out the rearing barosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in complete and utter silence is a once in a lifetime experience.

Pretend you’re in Italy at a cooking class at La Scuola
Even if there’s no Mediterranean getaway in your future, you can kick the travel bug by indulging in the next best thing: delectable Italian food. Eataly’s La Scuola offers cooking classes and demonstrations in everything from pesto to tagliatelle to help you get your fix. Explore the cuisine of the Italian Alps or go all out with a four-course dinner party featuring food and wine from the region of Emilia-Romagna.

Tour a working rum distillery in Brooklyn
Betcha didn’t know that The Noble Experiment distills its distinctive Owney’s white rum in the heart of Williamsburg. Let the professionals show you how it’s done, from sourcing the finest raw ingredients to fermentation to hand bottling. Of course, you’ll get to taste the rum at the end—both on its own and blended into a signature cocktail.

Learn the history of the Bronx
Most Manhattanites and Brooklynites don’t spend much time in the northernmost borough, but don’t let that stop you from venturing off the beaten path. There’s so much to see in the Bronx, from the stunning grounds of the Bartow-Pell Mansion to incredible views of City Island and the Long Island Sound. Take a historic tour of the borough to explore a new part of New York City—it almost feels like getting out of town for the day.

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