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11 alternatives to touristy New York attractions

Tired of tourist traps? Check out these alternative things to do in New York for out-of-towners and savvy locals alike.

Photograph: Shutterstock

Don’t be seduced by hop-on, hop-off buses and promises of a once-in-a-lifetime trip: If you’re going to all the most touristy attractions in NYC, it won’t be memorable in a good way. Instead, hit up these lesser-known NYC attractions that lie off-the-beaten-path. You’ll escape the crushing crowds, make some truly wonderful memories and maybe even discover the secret New York that everyone’s so keen to find.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best New York attractions

Manhattan views

Alternative: Sunset Park

The thing about the wondrous Manhattan skyline is that you can’t really appreciate it from Manhattan. For a truly memorable look at the cityscape, travel to the highest point in this South Brooklyn park. The vista is especially striking during the time of day for which the green space is named. Hell, from here, even New Jersey looks good.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Robb Todd

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Sunset Park

Museum

Touristy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York has many prestigious institutions, but the Met might just have them all beat. Add a pay-what-you-can entry fee, and you’ve got near-constant herds trampling through exhibits. In fact, a record-breaking 6.7 million people swarmed the museum in 2016.

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Central Park

Alternative: The Cloisters

Tucked away in scenic Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters—an annex of the Met—showcase art and architecture from medieval Europe. Numerous artifacts, illuminated manuscripts and ephemera fill the halls. Even the building itself—constructed from European monasteries transferred to the U.S.—looks like something out of Game of Thrones.

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Washington Heights

Park

Alternative: Fort Tryon Park

This Washington Heights green space was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of one of the men behind Central Park. And in some ways, the little guy’s work outshines his dad’s. Fort Tryon Park provides a much more intimate outdoor experience than does Central Park, Prospect Park or most other designated open-air acres in the city. For some of the most breathtaking views, make your way to Linden Terrace near the Cloisters, or wander through the two main gardens.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kristine Paulus

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Washington Heights

Chinatown

Alternative: Flushing, Queens

Queens has been a prime borough for non-American fare for a while now, and generally speaking, its Asian restaurants offer more variety than the ones in the Manhattan enclave. On the whole, it’s a slightly less overwhelming experience—and it’s tough to go wrong here, so take your pick among Zhu Ji Dumpling Stall, Pho Hoang or the original Xi’an Famous Foods.

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By: David Goldberg

Artsy neighborhood

Touristy: Chelsea

Between the Gagosian galleries, Andrea Rosen, Anton Kern and dozens of other spaces, this neighborhood remains a destination for huge, museum-sized shows and art openings. But it ain’t the only one.

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By: Tazi Phillips

Alternative: Long Island City

LIC may lack Chelsea’s number of galleries, but in terms of quality, it more than holds its own. There’s MoMA PS1, which mounts cutting-edge shows like the current exhibition of Ian Cheng’s computer-generated Emissary video trilogy. During the summer, the museum also hosts Warm Up, its weekly outdoor music series. And if you’re still jonesing for a culture fix, hit nearby attractions like the Noguchi Museum, the Flux Factory or SculptureCenter.

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Long Island City

Photo op

Touristy: Times Square

Everybody wants to see the center of the world, but it’s hardly the same as it was when the sailor kissed the girl on V-J Day. Now your backdrop choices range from the M&M Store to T.G.I. Fridays. What are all the tourists here to see, anyway?

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Midtown West

Alternative: Bushwick street art

Thanks to The Bushwick Collective and other local muralists, this neighborhood's alleys and warehouses have become examples of some of the best local street art. Wander through the outdoor galleries of Morgan Avenue, Siegel Street, East Moore Street and other local thoroughfares to snap some actually Instagram-worthy photos.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Eric Gross

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By: Tazi Phillips

Historic architecture

Touristy: Grand Central Terminal

With its grand Beaux Arts architecture, beloved brass clock and cerulean blue ceiling dotted with constellations, Grand Central Terminal is certainly an architectural wonder. But (and here’s a big but) most people probably don’t need more than a brisk walk through the station on the way to the subway to take it all in.

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Midtown East

Alternative: Woolworth Building

When the Woolworth Building—the tallest structure in the world at the time—opened in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson flipped a switch at the White House to turn on the lights. Suffice it to say, this neo-Gothic building is kind of a big deal, but it’s been off-limits to the public for the last few decades. These days, the only way to get a peek at the grand marble arcade and stained glass ceiling light is to book a guided lobby tour. Something this exclusive always gives you a delicious thrill.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Ludovic Bertron

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Financial District

Brooklyn Bridge views

Touristy: Brooklyn Bridge

Close to 100,000 cars cross the toll-free Brooklyn Bridge every day, and we’d be willing to bet that the daily foot traffic also numbers in the thousands. In fact, on a clear, sunny day, you can barely find space to walk, let alone bike, on the upper pedestrian deck. Yes, the granite and limestone Gothic towers and views of lower Manhattan are pretty spectacular, but is braving a sea of selfies worth it?

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Manhattan

Alternative: Brooklyn Bridge Park

For the exact same views of Manhattan and an even better look at the Brooklyn Bridge, stroll the footpaths in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It never feels as crowded as bridge itself, thanks to the 85 acres of waterfront. After you snap the obligatory photos, take a spin on Jane’s Carousel or go for ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/dumbonyc

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Brooklyn Heights

Garden

Touristy: New York Botanical Garden

We love the Orchid Show as much as the next guy, but it can be tough to appreciate the flora and fauna when you’re pushing your way through a throng of visitors. If you must get your flower fix, head up to the Bronx on a weekday or stick to the outer edges of the 50-acre forest to evade the crowds.

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The Bronx

Alternative: Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Once a retirement home for aging sailors, Snug Harbor reinvented itself as an arts center and botanical garden in the 1970s. Explore the property's nine distinctive gardens, including the bamboo forest and koi ponds of the Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the intricate maze of boxwoods at the Connie Gretz Secret Garden. Since it’s on the north shore of Staten Island, you’ll encounter far fewer tourists than you would in any of the other boroughs.

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Staten Island

Classic venue

Touristy: Radio City Music Hall

Known as the “showplace of the nation,” Radio City Music Hall has hosted everything from Lady Gaga concerts to the Rockettes’ high-kicking Christmas Spectacular. The Art Deco decor is lovely, sure, but the massive marquee is what most tourists come to see. Snap a picture or two from the sidewalk if you must, but don’t spend your hard-earned money on a show here just to check it off your list. 

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Midtown West

Alternative: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

You’ll be blown away by the architecture of Lincoln Center’s main plaza: The gurgling fountain is framed on three sides by the gorgeous glass facades of the Metropolitan Opera House, David Geffen Hall and the David H. Koch Theater. It’s certainly a more elegant environment. And, since it’s the home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center and a bevy of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, you also have a much wider array of performances to choose from.

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Upper West Side

Kid-friendly attraction

Alternative: Museum of Mathematics

Long division, algebra, geometry—they’re all pretty much the worst. Or are they? MoMath pushes the reset button on deep-seated calculus hate and seeks to make the art of numbers more accessible. Now that the pressures of homework and the SATs are long past, maybe it’s time to re-engage with the Euclidean party, people.

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Midtown

Ready to explore more of New York City?

15 things you can only do in NYC

Thanks to its dense population (one in every 38 people in the United States live here) and storied history, NYC offers plenty of things to do you won’t find anywhere else.

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By: Annalise Mantz

Comments

7 comments
Matt D
Matt D

Clearly a hipster gush piece over Brooklyn. Lame.

Marge
Marge

I read the reviews and at first I thought they were kidding, but no! Everything save 1 or 2 things are in Brooklyn. WOW that's lazy writing.

NoJustNo
NoJustNo

I agree that Brooklyn has some cool things, but none of them were listed here. I will bet you any amount of money that the Author of this article is a shaggy-haired, scruffy-bearded white dude who mostly wears hoodies and sock hats that transplanted here and lives in apartment in Brooklyn with either his dog, cat, girlfriend or all three. .

Giosue
Giosue

Should be called the Hipster tourist trap. None of these are fun things to do.

Joey Cupcakes
Joey Cupcakes

Basically what they said, things to do when in Brooklyn.

JH
JH

This whole article is basically "go to greenpoint". With all the hype, media attention and relentless hipsters, Brooklyn is quickly becoming mainstream