Best things to do in NYC: Manhattan below 14th Street
“Rejuvenate at Aire Ancient Baths. It’s like an underground temple to relaxation.”—Zach, Tribeca
Lit by candles flickering from terra-cotta lanterns, this Spanish-imported spa offers calm and relaxation away from its bustling downtown neighborhood. Only 15 people are allowed in at a time to take advantage of the six thermal baths, which range from 100-plus degrees to 46; the space also includes a salt water pool, steam room, and eucalyptus-infused aromatherapy room. The experience is co-ed and swimsuits are required; we recommend adding a massage for extra relaxation.
“Take an Alphabet City Beer Co. booze cruise in the summer. There’s nothing like sailing by the Statue of Liberty at sunset while sipping on a craft beer.”—Tazi, Bed-Stuy
With over 350 varieties of craft beer by the bottle and 12 varieties on tap, the ABC beer company is your place to pick up a growler or meat and cheese platter to go, catch up with friends for happy hour at their communal counter, or pop open a beer while responding to work emails on your laptop. If you like your summer drinks outdoors, snag a ticket to one of their summer sailing cruises aboard the Ventura, a sailing yacht built in 1919. You’ll get unlimited craft beer and snacks and the chance to take in NYC from the water. Cheers, Lady Liberty!
“Shooting pickleback shots at the Belfry—it’s a great way to start a night out in the Lower East Side.”—Kelly, Upper East Side
The candle and chandelier-lit speakeasy atmosphere at the Belfry is worth experiencing no matter your choice of intoxicant. Those who just can’t get enough of the combination of pickle brine and liquor can wash down their pickle backs with the Pickle Martini ($10).
“See stand-up at the Comedy Cellar. The price is right, especially when Aziz Ansari drops in!”—Caitlin, East Village
Even though it opened a second location at the Village Underground, the original Comedy Cellar is still the place to go if you want to see stand-up by legendary performers who often appear unannounced (Jon Stewart and Chris Rock recently dropped by). For those who like to plan ahead, check the calendar and make a reservation. Warning: If you sit up front, you might be part of the show.
“Have a whiskey at the city’s smallest bar, Copper & Oak.”—Rheanna, Hamilton Heights
A hilariously tiny watering hole that looks like a cross between a high-tech archival room for precious 1,000-year-old manuscripts and the inside of a bourbon barrel, Copper & Oak sure seems to expend more square footage on shelf space for its exhaustive collection of fine whiskeys than it does on room for people to sit and stand. If that sounds like a bad thing to you, well, it leaves (just a little) more room for the rest of us.
“Hanging out at the Cubbyhole—all of the crazy stuff hanging from the ceiling, like the fish and toys, and the great jukebox give it so much character. It’s definitely my favorite lesbian bar.”—Jane, Inwood
“Kitschy” doesn’t begin to describe the glorious rainbow of rubber ocean creatures, paper lanterns and parasols that dangle from the ceiling of this feel-good bar, a haven of loud pop music, free popcorn and cheerfully inebriated patrons.
“Get to Film Forum and have an egg cream on a weekend.”—Josh, Brooklyn Heights
With screenings of thoughtful indies, groundbreaking foreign cinema and noteworthy repertory films, it’s no wonder this small three-screen theater has garnered quite the reputation among cinephiles. Besides the top-notch programming, visitors love the theater’s concession stand. Why? In addition to standard cinema fare (popcorn, soda, candy), they serve lemon-poppy sponge cakes and the preferred fizzy drink of New Yorkers of yesteryear: egg creams.
“Buy comic books at Forbidden Planet—it’s an independent bookstore with a great selection and the people who work there are really nice.”—Joey, Murray Hill
We’ll let the door handle at this Union Square shop do the talking: It’s a replica of Captain America’s shield. Comic book fans visiting this geek paradise can snag graphic novels, toys, movie memorabilia, Magic: The Gathering cards and more.
“View art at the New Museum, then grab some drinks at Freemans right nearby.”—Sabella, Nolita
One of few museums in the world devoted only to contemporary art, the New Museum is always a conversation starter, whether you love, hate or don’t quite get its exhibits. Discuss them over a few French 75s (champagne cocktails) at Freemans, where retro portraits in fittingly worn frames should inspire intellectual conversation.
“Riding the free bike rentals on Governor’s Island in the summer, because it’s a beautiful, peaceful experience that you can always afford.”—Brian, Astoria
Carving out a bike path in NYC can be tricky, what with all the insane taxi drivers and oblivious pedestrian. By comparison, green, peaceful, and automobile-free Governors Island is a biker’s paradise – and it’s only a free eight-minute ferry ride from Battery Park away.
Best things to do in NYC: Manhattan above 14th Street
“Check out new artists at 54 Below. Everyone in the audience acts like they’re supporting family.”—Kenneth, Upper West Side
Elegant and sexy, this 1920s-style supper club is affectionately known as Broadway’s Living Room—with its dark mahogany and red banquettes, it’s easy to see how you could get comfortable there. Pre-theater dinner is offered nightly until 5pm, the lounge is open late and all tables for nightly shows are no more than 24 feet from the stage, which makes it the perfect vantage point to take in up to three shows per night.
“Taking out-of-towners to the Museum of Natural History—looking at the big blue whale from their eyes reminds you just how amazing it really is.”—Alise, Upper East Side
While the most beloved and well-known exhibit is the blue whale—suspended from the ceiling in the oceans room to remind tourists and locals of the magnificence of the sea—it’s only one of the many reasons to visit. Two awesome new reasons to go, even if you’ve think you’ve seen it all: Dinosaurs Among Us (did you know some had feathers, similar to birds of today?) and Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World (opening the end of May), which features four live species, including a forest-dwelling crocodile.
“Ice skate around the tree at 30 Rock—the tree is so huge and beautiful that I feel the Christmas spirit, even though I’m Jewish.”—Rachel, Upper East Side
Aside from the free skating and the opportunity to fill yourself with holiday cheer, the BoA Winter Village rewards you just for visiting: Points at The Rink and Shops can be redeemed for anything from branded snow globes, mugs, blankets or cameras to capture you and your friends during all of the ringside fun. Skate rentals are just $15 a pair, and no worries if you can’t skate—the ring offers private, semi-private and group lessons. Just remember to reserve 48- hours in advance.
“Watch RuPaul’s Drag Race at Boxers. There’s nothing better than watching a show about drag queens while enjoying drag-queen hosts.”—Andy, East Village
Hate football? Don’t be fooled by this gay sports-themed bar: Monday nights are devoted to music videos, with two for one Stoli drinks from 4-9pm. If you need a snack, the hunky, boxer-short clad bartenders will whip up anything from BBQ Chicken Sliders to Mini Boxer Burgers, a platter of sliders served with special sauce.
“Catch an outdoor movie at Bryant Park. There’s nothing like seeing a flick on the big screen with the city as your backdrop.”—Joe, Williamsburg
While this park is worth visiting year-round for its state of the art wireless network (yay, working outdoors!), the real draw in the summer is the Summer Film Festival, held Monday nights from 5-11pm. While this year’s lineup of classic films isn’t announced until mid-May, past showings have included classics like The Shining and E.T.
“Geo-cache around Central Park. By playing the game and following my navigational device I visited all 24 bridges and arches of Central Park—there’s so much history and beauty there.”—Mary, Ridgewood
Think of geocaching as a high-tech treasure hunt—an app gives you coordinates and clues to locate hidden, marked boxes holding logbooks for finders to sign. The Geocaching app ($9.99) has plenty of games that take you around the park, including Bridges & Arches of Central Park. It’s the best way to make a stroll in the park feel like an Indiana Jones adventure (minus punching).
“Hit some baseballs at Chelsea Piers Batting Cage, because it’s a fun way to exercise and blow off steam away from the gyms.”—Julian, Staten Island
Not just for kids, Chelsea Piers’ 80,000-square ft. sporting complex the Field House offers athletic opportunities aplenty, including indoor rock climbing, gymnastics classes and a spot to practice your swing. So go ahead and channel your inner A-Rod as the machine throws your choice of fast, medium, or slow pitches.
“Look at the tapestries at the Cloisters, because they’re really beautiful and many are quite unusual—they took a lot of time and artistry to make.”—Catie, Bushwick
Want to feel like you’ve been transported to medieval Europe without leaving NYC? Head to Fort Tryon Park to visit the Cloisters and get lost looking at the chapels, sculptures, unicorn tapestries and gardens. Impress your history-buff friends with this fun fact: the museum was reconstructed from five European abbeys that were dismantled in the 1930s, sent to New York, and reassembled as the buildings you see today. See? History is fun.
“Go bird watching on the FDR [East River] Promenade. I love seeing the nature that’s still in Manhattan.”—Gavin, Marble Hill, Bronx
When the city began construction on the FDR Drive back in the 1930s, there was no green space on the Lower East Side’s industrial waterfront to speak of—but city planner Robert Moses added a 10-ft wide extension to the Island’s shorefront, thus giving the neighborhood the much-needed East River Park. The park’s promenade offers great views of the Williamsburg Bridge and a spot to take in the sights and sounds of the river.
“Fly a kite at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. it makes me feel like a carefree kid.”—Sam, Astoria
At the pointy southern tip of Roosevelt Island stands a three-acre memorial to the namesake President and his famous 1941 Four Freedoms speech. The park is surrounded by the East River with Manhattan to the west and Queens to the east. The lack of tall buildings surrounding the green space makes it particularly windy, so from September 20 through 24, in honor of International Peace Day, visitors can make their own kite with the supplies provided by the park and let it fly.
Best things to do in NYC: Brooklyn
“Catch some live music at Baby’s All Right. It gets a good mix of local and touring bands and the sound is always stellar.”—Dave, Williamsburg
Since opening in Williamsburg in late 2013, this place is known for awesome live music and great stage views—no matter where you are in the venue. But the spot has recently expanded its grub offerings by opening a Thai restaurant inside the venue: Don Muang Airport. Now, instead of bar snacks, you can munch on coconut-topped lettuce cups with smoked pork or tofu to give you energy for events like the Holy Trinity—a Beyoncé/Rhianna/Nicki Minaj dance party—or the always fun and ever-reoccurring Drake Night.
“Drink a Club-Mate at the Bossa Nova Civic Club; it’s one of the only places where you can get one in America.”—Eric, Bed-Stuy
Situated beneath a subway overpass in Bushwick, this club caters to those craving a house or industrial techno fix on Sunday and Monday nights. You can trust that you’re in good hands: it’s owned by nightlife veteran John Barclay of Let’s Play House, Mister Saturday Night and Trip House parties in a four-story, 20-room mansion. He continues this tradition at Bossa Nova, where folks in the mood for a tropical vibe and big sound in a small space will feel right at home.
“Stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge—it’s so romantic that is has the power to turn platonic relationships into something more.”—Javier, Little Italy
Fourteen years and 600 workers (including the original designer, who died during construction)—that’s how long it took to build the Brooklyn Bridge, which has been an iconic landmark of the city since 1883. Thankfully, the NYC Department of Transportation removed the hundreds of “love locks” that were attached to the bridge last year, protecting its status as a historic landmark.
“Finding great gifts at Brooklyn Charm—they have so many unique charms to choose from that I can keep going back to find new necklaces and earrings for my friends.”—Caroline, Williamsburg
If you’re into making jewelry out of taxidermy, gemstones, and other imported materials sourced from around the world, Brooklyn Charm is the place to be. The helpful staff members will help you create unique pieces at one of their on-site jewelry classes, which include wire-wrapped ring and pendant-making, stamping, engraving and how to craft chandelier earrings. Not into DIY? Pickup a pre-made piece at their Etsy shop, which includes meat cleaver pendants, area code charms, and a custom-engraved “boss bitch” pendant.
“Walk the fruit streets of Brooklyn Heights. They have that Brooklyn-from-the-movies feel.”—Dana, Crown Heights
In the mid-1800s, prominent Brooklyn Heights resident Lady Middagh saw the “pretentious” street names in her ’hood—those named after Brooklyn’s wealthy families—and decided to take matters into her own hands by changing the street signs by cover of darkness to Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple. The names stuck and to this day add even more charm to the historic 19th-century brownstones and tree-lined streets where several movies, like Moonstruck, were filmed.
“Seeing a show at the Bushwick Starr—it always has original shows that expand your horizons without breaking your wallet.”—Ade, West Village
The Bushwick Starr is what every city needs: a no-frills, black-box theater where young playwrights, actors, dancers, musicians and poets can afford to stage a show. Seating just 60 people, it’s a fantastically intimate space for experiencing up-and-coming talent.
“Get down to one of the Celebrate Brooklyn! concerts in Prospect Park.”—Jesse, Red Hook
One of the best things about summer in Prospect Park is the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival featuring live music under the stars. While catching acts like the Violent Femmes and the Digable Planets makes for a fun, nostalgia-filled night out, you shouldn’t miss your chance to catch two great music-and-movie combos: David Bowie in the cult classic Labyrinth with the Donny McCaslin Group (who backed Bowie onBlackstar), and Run Lola Run, with a live score by The Bays. The best part: All of the above are free.
“Celebrate the Sakura Matsuri [Cherry Blossom Festival] at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It doesn’t feel like spring until I’m surrounded by cherry blossoms, and I love the elements of Japanese culture.” —Liz, Windsor Terrace
When the winter finally begins to thaw in early April, the pink buds on the cherry blossom trees greet the rising temperatures, and it’s a sight to see. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden pays homage to the Japanese spring festival Sakura Matsuri with Kabuki dance, tea ceremonies, anime/manga cosplay and cherry blossom as far as the eye can see.
“Play bocce at Floyd’s in Brooklyn Heights, because it’s pretty cool seeing sand indoors and bocci is a great drunk game—nothing to get stabbed with.”—Thomas, Park Slope
It’s true, drunk bocce sure beats drunk sword fighting, so head to Floyd’s, where you’re encouraged to slather beer cheese—a spreadable beer-bathed cheddar—on Ritz crackers, order bourbon and throw around tiny balls like the Italians do.
“See DJs at Good Room—they’re always great.”—Ari, Ridgewood
A promising newcomer in the former Europa space, this Steve Lewis–designed club serenades vibing Greenpointers with techno, electronica and nu-disco. Stellar acoustics, a super dark main floor lit by circling blue spotlights and a chill side room, boasting a second DJ spinning vinyl and shelves teeming with records, makes it a decent spot for even club-hating locals.
Best things to do in NYC: Queens and Staten Island
“Swim in the Astoria Pool. It’s massive and has a stunning view of the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate bridges.”—Ali, Astoria
Not your typical NYC public swimming hole, the Astoria Pool is one of the largest in the country, with a 330-foot main pool, an Olympic-standard diving pool and an additional wading pool. City planner Robert Moses reportedly designed it in 1936 with somewhat narcissistic intent: Swimmers looking up from the water could see one of his greatest accomplishments: the Triborough (now RFK) Bridge, also completed in 1936.
“See the Moth. Even though anyone can put their name in the hat, it's rare to encounter a bad storyteller.”—Dana, Crown Heights
Held monthly in various locations across the city, each StorySLAM sees 10 storytellers competing to see who spins the best tale on a specific theme, without using written notes. With so many writers, comedians and actors living in New York, it makes sense that the tales told at the slams are better performed and more engaging than in other cities. Unsurprisingly, this hugely popular event is always packed, so line up early to snag your spot.
“Slurp soup dumplings from Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing, which has better food than Chinatown.”—Hallie, Astoria
Good soup dumplings are like miniature volcanoes, waiting to erupt with broth and meat. Find some of New York’s best at this Flushing mainstay, which packs maximum pork and crab into delicate dumpling wrappers. Just wait for them to cool down a little first.
“Complete the corn maze at the Queens County Farm Museum, because it’s nice to experience simple country fun without having to travel to the boondocks.”—Jim, Sunnyside
With its 47 acres of fully operational farmland, Queens County Farm Museum immortalizes New York’s otherwise long-lost agrarian past, when the city that never sleeps was the city that had to wake up at 5am to feed the pigs. The biggest attraction is the three-acre Amazing Maize Maze, open during the fall. General admission to the museum is free, but there’s a $9 fee for the maze. Other events, like a sheep shearing in May and a Native American celebration in July, make this destination worth the trek year-round.
“Take the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free and you can drink!”—Suzannah, Kew Gardens
You heard the woman: It’s free and you can drink! Need we say more? Okay, fine, how about “amazing views of the Statue of Liberty”? Oh, by the way, the hour-long round-trip ride boasts some of the lowest beer prices in the city—cans of Bud go for $4 or less—so you can live it up booze-cruise-style for less than a five-spot. Classy.
Best things to do in NYC: The Bronx
“See animals at the Bronx Zoo—for free!”—Danny, Flushing
If you’ve got a hankering to reconnect with wildlife, play hooky on Wednesday and visit the biggest metropolitan zoo in North America—for free! With over 265-acres of animals and wildlife, you won’t be able to see everything in one day, but you can take a two-hour tour of the Congo Gorilla Forest, World of Reptiles or the Himalayan Highlands exhibit. Be sure to pay a special visit to the American Bison, which was just declared America’s national mammal.
“Visit any of the restaurants along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx—I love Italian food, and these places put any of those spruced up expensive versions of Olive Garden to shame.” —Dave, Gramercy
Trumpeted by many as New York’s “Real Little Italy,” the Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood saw a huge influx of Italian immigrants in the early part of the 20th century and is now home to dozens of Italian bakeries, butchers, specialty stores and restaurants. Most of the destinations are on or near Arthur Avenue, where you can dine on veal parmigiana at Dominick’s, brick oven pizza from Cafe al Mercato, oysters from Randazzo’s Seafood or some classic pasta with tomato sauce at Tra Di Noi.
“Grab a pizza from Katona Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx—it’s my absolute favorite and it happens to be in my neighborhood.”—John, Woodlawn
While few outside of Woodlawn may be all that familiar with Katona Pizza & Pasta, the place has tons of local charm—the owner regularly works behind the counter and family photos hang from the walls. They have plenty of funky specialty ‘za to choose from including Chicken Marsala, Lasagna, and Taco pizzas, or you can chow down on their pasta options (usual suspects: Eggplant Parmigiana, spaghetti with meatballs).
“Celebrate the holidays at the Botanical Garden’s train garden—seeing all those miniature NYC buildings is worth the crowds.”—Michael, Brooklyn Heights
You’ll want to make a special trip to the NYBG this year, since it’s celebrating its 125th birthday. Special exhibits include Saving the Plants of the World, gardening’s relationship to the arts and humanities and a how-to course on creating your own green oasis.
“Explore the trails around Pelham Bay Park. It’s actually the largest public park in New York City and there’s so much to see there.”—Greg, City Island (Bronx)
Pelham Bay Park isn’t just the end of the 6 line—it’s a green space three times bigger than Central Park. Among its treasures: two golf courses, a massive historic mansion, a 13-mile saltwater shoreline along the Long Island Sound, plenty of hiking trials and, for you bird watchers, a hearty population of osprey.
“Attend Calendar Day at Yankee Stadium. Go Yankees!”—Alex, Hamilton Heights
Sure, the free team calendar is nice, but chilling out in the bleachers at the House that Ruth Built, in all its manicured-lawn glory, is nicer. And even if A-Rod doesn’t launch his 661st career home run, passing Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time list, you’ll wind up going home with a more valuable souvenir—a memory (aww). Celebrate history after the game by hitting Yankee-fan bar Stan’s just down the block.