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Flatiron Food and History Tour
Photograph: Shutterstock

18 things you can only do in NYC

Where else in the world could you drink at a Revolutionary War–era bar and visit the country’s first sex museum in the same day?

By Annalise Mantz

There’s really no place in the world quite like New York City. 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. Whether you’re a local or only here for a few days, don’t squander your time on run-of-the-mill attractions. To discover the most unique parts of the city, you have to tear yourself away from the best New York attractions to go off the beaten path. You might even uncover some of what locals call the secret New York while you’re at it. As the saying goes, when in Rome…

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in NYC

Things you can only do in NYC

Photographs: Lizz Kuehl

Drink at the bar George Washington and Alexander Hamilton frequented

Bars Beer bars Financial District

Samuel Fraunces first purchased the property at 54 Pearl Street in 1762, and revelers have been drinking their cares away at Fraunces Tavern ever since. There’s plenty of history within these hallowed halls: British forces shot a cannonball through the roof in 1775, George Washington raised a glass here on several occasions and the bar even served as the headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs for a time. Whether your order one of Fraunces Tavern’s 140 craft beers or 200 whiskeys, make sure you raise a glass to the revolution!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photograph: Shutterstock/Tupungato

Get lost in the largest art museum in the country


If the Metropolitan Museum of Art is on your must-see list, you’re not alone: A record-breaking 7 million people visited the museum's three locations in 2017. Escape the crowds at the flagship Fifth Avenue location by taking an EmptyMet Tour before the museum opens for the day. The early morning sun streaming into the galleries is truly spectacular.

Unisphere at Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Hear hundreds of languages in one neighborhood

New York is the most linguistically diverse city in the world, with more than 800 languages spoken across the five boroughs, according to Endangered Language Alliance. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Queens, where you can hear snippets of Urdu, Croatian, Javanese and Coptic over the span of a few blocks. Explore the beautiful mosaic of neighborhoods that make the borough so diverse on a guided New York City International Express Tour.

Order a hot dog at what is (probably) the first hot dog stand

Restaurants Hot dogs Coney Island

There’s some disagreement among hot dog historians about where the favorite ball-park food originated, but many claim that German baker Charles Feltman first sold them at a Coney Island stand in 1871. Guess who worked for Feltman? Nathan Handwerker, who opened his eponymous sausage business a few years later. Order up one of the snappy all-beef dogs at the original stand on Coney Island—and take a spin on the Cyclone, while you’re there.

Winnie the Pooh at the New York Public Library
Photograph: Courtesy New York Public Library / Jonathan Blanc

Visit the original Winnie-the-Pooh

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Midtown West

Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the other characters from the beloved children’s books really are real—or at least, real stuffed animals. Author A. A. Milne got his inspiration for the series from his son Christopher Robin’s collection of toys, all of which are now on display at the New York Public Library’s Children’s Center. Seeing the well-loved bear bought at Harrods in London in 1921 almost feels like stepping into the Hundred Acre Wood.

See a real Broadway show

Sorry folks: If it’s not in New York City, it’s not Broadway. Even if your home town has the most gorgeous, 900-seat theater that hosts only the best touring companies, it doesn’t count. To see a real-deal Broadway show, you have to do it here. Whether you shell out the big bucks for Hamilton or go for a newer addition, like Dear Evan Hansen, you'll be amazed at the caliber of the production.

The Explorers Club
Photograph: David Wolsky for The Explorers Club

Dine on invasive species and exotic meats at the Explorer’s Club

Clubs Lenox Hill

Like many New York social clubs, the Explorer’s Club holds an annual gala and dinner. The menu, though, isn’t the usual filet mignon and caesar salad. Past dinners have included everything from fried tarantulas to goat eyeballs. Though the club only offers membership to a select group of adventurers—think Neil Armstrong and James Cameron—the annual gala is open to anyone who can afford the (pricey) tickets.

New York attractions
Photograph: Jessica Lin

Shop at the country's largest department store

Shopping Department stores Midtown West

With 11 floors and more than 1.2 million square feet of retail space, Macy’s Herald Square location is the largest department store in the country and one of the largest in the world. Come in December to catch a glimpse of the famous holiday windows or in the spring to peep the annual flower show. No matter what time of year you visit, you can always take a historic tour to learn how the popular chain got its start and ride the original wooden escalators.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Joe D.

Order baked Alaska at the restaurant where it was invented

Restaurants American Financial District

Despite this dessert’s name, baked Alaska wasn’t invented in the frozen territory to the north, but at Delmonico’s in the Financial District. The United States’ acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867 inspired pastry chef Charles Ranhofer to create the dessert he called “Alaska, Florida”: walnut spice cake topped with banana ice cream covered in a layer of torched meringue. The dessert originally sold for the equivalent of $40, since it required the help of the entire kitchen staff to create. Thankfully, the advent of modern culinary equipment has brought the cost of today’s version down to just $13.

Photograph: Shutterstock

See the real-life haunts of Spider-Man, Superman and Batman

Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent all lived in the same city—although it was called Gotham City in Wayne’s world and Metropolis in Kent’s. See the real-life inspiration for the Daily Bugle offices and Green Goblin’s Gothic mansion on a superhero tour of Manhattan.

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