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Helicopter over the NYC skyline

Epic experience gifts in NYC for adventurous people

Wow your friends and family with one-of-a-kind experience gifts in NYC, from helicopter rides to salt caves to glass blowing

By Annalise Mantz and Rheanna O'Neil Bellomo

Instead of yet another winter sweater or holiday-themed socks, gift something adventurous and super memorable this year. Giving experiences in lieu of stuff makes gifts feel hyper personalized and often more fulfilling. Plus, it caters to your loved ones' interests. If your bestie knows every word to the Hamilton soundtrack, snag tickets to one of the best Broadway shows. Or book tours that offer behind-the-scenes access to the top New York attractions for your history buff dad. Better yet: join them and share the experience together! And if you really can't resist wrapping something up, you can always pick up a few stocking stuffers.

RECOMMENDED: See the full holiday gift guide 2018

14 best experience gifts in NYC

Cooking classes
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education

Things to do Schools and universities Battery Park City

Help home cooks take their culinary skills to the next level with a class at the Institute of Culinary Education. An introductory Knife Skills class would give them all the technique they need to mince, julienne and chop with precision, or they could indulge their most carnivorous desires in the Whiskey Steakhouse course. And since most classes include a full meal with drinks, it doubles as a night out.

$95–$275 per person

New York City at night
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jakob Nilsson-Ehle

2. New York Helicopter Tour: City Lights Skyline Experience

Even lifelong New Yorkers have never seen the city quite like this. Board a helicopter after dark to spend half an hour soaring high above the glittering skyline. The Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building and countless other NYC landmarks will be on full display in all their glittering glory. The helicopter flight ends with a loop around the Statue of Liberty for one final moment of New York City pride.

$244 per person

Burger Box
Paul Wagtouicz

3. Time Out Table For Two: The Burger Box

We know every Gothamite loves a damn good cheeseburger, so we created this unreal deal at eight choice NYC burger palaces. Time Out's Table for Two Burger Box gives you cards to restaurants like Peter McManus Cafe and Corner Bistro, where, upon presentation you and a dining companion will have your food bill split in half. It is the perfect experiential gift for the metropolitan meat-eater in your life. 


Brooklyn Glass
Photograph: Kimberly Kubali

4. Introduction to Glassblowing at Brooklyn Glass

Things to do Classes and workshops Gowanus

Rather than a stylish set of rocks glasses, why not give your friends the chance to handcraft their own? In this evening class at Brooklyn Glass, the instructors will teach you to form molten glass into tumblers and decorate them with colorful swirls and patterns. Then, whenever your friends serve old fashioneds in those unique glasses, they’ll be able to brag about how they were made.

$195 per person

EmptyMet tour

5. The EmptyMet Tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Unless you’re a donor, journalist or curator, you’ll likely never spend any one-on-one time with the Met—that is, until you sign up for the EmptyMet tour. This serene, 90-minute jaunt through the museum’s galleries happens first thing in the morning, before the Met opens to the public. It might be your only chance to spend a few quiet, and maybe even transcendent, moments with the Temple of Dendur or contemplate Johannes Vermeer’s Portrait of a Young Woman in silence.

$175 per person

Russian Tea Room
Photograph: Courtesy Groupon

6. Vodka and Blini Tasting at the Russian Tea Room

This former high-society hangout offers an undeniably ritzy experience: the red banquettes, gilded friezes of birds, enormous crystal polar bear and grand chandeliers appear as ornate ever. Lean into the fancy ambience with a vodka and blini tasting. You’ll sip a flight of three vodkas while you nibble on buckwheat blinis topped with trout, salmon or whitefish roe. Nostrovia!

$185 per person


7. Digital Photography: An Introduction

If you someone who's picked up a DSLR this year, give them a set of photography lessons to help make the most of his new toy. Start with the three-hour introductory session at the Art of Intuitive Photography, where the expert instructor will cover all the basics—including exposure, white balance and depth of field—and help the class decode all the complicated buttons and modes.

$150 per person

Broadway Shows
Photograph: Shutterstock/Andrey Bayda

8. Tickets to the best Broadway shows

There’s a perfect Broadway show for everyone on your Christmas list. If your mom loves singing along to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, get her tickets to The Phantom of the Opera. Your teenage sister who’s obsessed with Tina Fey will flip over the chance to see Mean Girls on Broadway and The Book of Mormon is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, as long as the person you take can handle some politically incorrect jokes.

Tickets start at $30

Trapeze lessons
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Laura LaRose

9. Trapeze Lessons

You can fly! Or at least get the sensation of soaring through the air during a flying trapeze lesson. For an hour and a half, your instructor will teach a 10-person class how to latch onto the bar with your legs, release your arms and fly across the field to a catcher. If you've ever dreamed of running away to the circus, now's your chance! 

$130 for two people

Montauk Salt Cave
Photograph: Courtesy Groupon

10. Salt Cave Sessions at Montauk Salt Cave

We’ve all got that friend who seems to run on caffeine and nervous energy. And that friend who swear by the power of crystals, salt lamps, and burning sage. Gift either (or both!) the chance to relax with a 45-minute session inside Montauk Salt Cave in the East Village. The Himalayan pink salt lining the room is purported to have anti-inflammatory benefits ranging from healing respiratory illnesses to reducing anxiety. Whether or not the treatment is scientifically valid, it’s a good excuse to unplug and close your eyes for the better part of an hour.

$25 for 45 minutes

Photograph: Shutterstock

11. New York Beer and Brewery Tour

Any suds lover would jump at the chance to taste beer from three New York City breweries. Treat the beer snob in your life to an afternoon tasting tour that traverses three boroughs on a quest to find the best craft beer in the city. Your day will begin at Eataly's La Birreria, and continue to Brooklyn Brewery and Singlecut Beersmiths before ending at Spuyten Duyvil for your final rounds and a charcuterie board. Tickets include all booze, bites, and transportation during the 4-hour tour.

$125 per person

makeup palette

12. One-on-One Makeup Class

Know a budding make-up artist? Give her a private, expert-led session to help take her skills to the next level. With more than 10 years of experience in industry, instructor Shara Strand knows all the tricks of the trade—from basic contouring and shadow skills to mastering a strobing palette. Plus, your bestie can purchase any of the brushes, kits, and skincare featured in the one-hour class.

$125 per person


New Year's Eve fireworks

13. New Year's Eve Dinner Cruise

Snag some of the best (and most romantic) seats in the city for you and your boo on New Year's Eve. During this three-hour cruise you'll enjoy an open bar, and nosh on complimentary hors d'oeuvres and delicious buffet-style dinner, while dancing the rest of the year away. On deck in New York Harbor as the clock strikes midnight, your unrivaled view of the fireworks bursting above the twinkling skyline will be one to remember for years to come.

$199 per person

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/

14. Gelato-Making Class at Mia Chef Gelateria

Still can’t think of a suitable gift for the person who has everything? No one will say no to a gelato-making lesson. An expert dessert chef at this Murray Hill gelateria will explain the history of the frozen Italian dessert before helping you make your very first batch. Best of all, you get to take home all the gelato you make during the two-hour class. Now there’s only one question left: Will you make stracciatella or cherry?

$96 per person

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