There’s so much to do in New York City and so little time to do it. The five boroughs alone span an area of around 300 square miles and contain a population of over 8.5 million, so it makes sense that there’s an abundance of activities wherever you go. New things to do pop up every day, but there are certain experiences that are so authentically New York that you have to do them, no matter if you live here or are visiting. Here’s our list of 10 experiences that you have to have in NYC before you die.
1. Go to a Yankees or Mets baseball game.
Baseball is a US pastime, and there’s nowhere you can see that passion more clearly than in New York. There are two Major League Baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets. The rivalry runs deep between players and fans alike, so you’re not going to want to show up to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field showing support for the opposite team — if you do support one in particular but end up at a game for the other, keep it to yourself. The only time it’s safe to show your true colors in enemy territory is if it’s a Subway Series game. But whatever the game, you’ll feel the intense fan excitement and passion reverberating through the stadium, which is an experience in itself.
2. Witness Manhattanhenge.
One of the best things about Manhattan is that most of the borough sits on a grid system, making it extremely easy to navigate. Another great thing is Manhattanhenge. Manhattanhenge only happens twice a year and occurs when the sun lines up perfectly with the grid, lighting up the north and south ends of every cross street, draping the city in radiant orange and yellow. The phenomenon usually happens for two consecutive days in May and then again in July.
3. Rush a Broadway show.
Sure, you could buy your tickets in advance to Anastasia, Chicago, or Mean Girls online, but there’s nothing more New York than lining up hours in advance at the crack of dawn to nab seats at a fairly discounted price rather than paying into the three-digit range. Some shows, such as Hamilton and Phantom of the Opera, only have digital lotteries where you submit an entry online and hope for the best. But most have an in-person rush policy where you can try to buy cheaper tickets before the theater opens. There are a limited amount of rush tickets that are first-come, first-served, and Broadway theaters usually open at 10:00 AM, so it’s not unusual to hear of people lining up at 7:00 AM for coveted double-digit tickets. Waking up this early not only affords you a chance for tickets, but you’ll also get to watch as the city rises and see all manner of people begin their daily routines.
4. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge then watch the sunset over the skyline.
Opened in 1833, the Brooklyn Bridge is a hybrid of a cable-stayed and suspension bridge. Start your walk across the National Historic Landmark a couple hours before sunset to give yourself enough time to take photos of the view from either side of the bridge, snap a few shots of you and your companions in front of the iconic limestone towers, then make your way over to Brooklyn. The bridge will let you off in between the Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo neighborhoods where you can explore and grab a bite to eat at places like the famous Grimaldi’s Pizza. But you’re going to want to head to the water sooner rather than later. You can either post up on the left side (if you’re facing Manhattan) of the bridge in Brooklyn Bridge Park or on the right side near Jane’s Carousel to watch the sunset over the skyline.
5. Ice skate in Wollman Rink.
Built in 1950, Wollman Rink opens every October until the end of the winter season. The ice skating rink is located in Central Park and is set against a backdrop of skyscrapers and either fall foliage or snow-covered trees. Rates vary depending on what day you’re going and your age, but it’s typically $6 for children ages 11 and under, $12-$19 for adults, and $5-$9 for seniors. That doesn’t include skate rentals, which are a separate $10 per person. Lockers are also available at a price of $11 with a $6 deposit refunded upon your exit. No matter your experience level, you’ll definitely enjoy a few hours of ice skating here, but if you’re really that worried, the rink does offer lessons.
6. Drink at a speakeasy.
New York City was once full of speakeasies, and even with the end of Prohibition and years past, there’s a good number still operating. Except now, it’s more for the experience than hiding from the law. One of the bigger venues is The Back Room in the Lower East Side. The address is 102 Norfolk Street, and to find it, you’ll need to look for a sign hanging on a short iron gate that reads “Lower East Side Toy Company.” Push past the gate and head downstairs; once you’ve reached the bottom, go up the staircase in the very back of the space. If you see cocktails being served in teacups and beer in brown bags, you’ve arrived.
7. Ride the Cyclone at Coney Island.
The Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island’s Luna Park opened in 1927 and has since been listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been mentioned and featured in a number of movies like Marvel’s Captain America and ridden by famous figures like Beyoncé. The ride itself consists of 12 drops and 27 elevation changes, and if that doesn’t take your breath away, then the panoramic views you’ll get will.
8. People watch in Central Park.
No visit is complete without a stop at Central Park. The park encompasses around 843 acres, going from 110th Street down to 59th and from 5th Avenue to 8th, taking up a large chunk of Manhattan. There’s so much to do in the park alone — from concert series to festivals, sporting events, and picnics — but there’s nothing better than finding a spot to just sit and take it all in. An interesting variety of people make their way to the Big Apple, and Central Park is one of the best places to see them in action. Some great spots include the Bethesda Foundation, Sheep’s Meadow, and the Great Lawn.
9. Visit the more authentic Little Italy.
Little Italy in downtown Manhattan does have a good degree of authenticity, but it’s just so overrun with people that it can get a little too touristy. A perfect alternative is just north in the Bronx. Arthur Avenue in said borough is also dubbed Little Italy, named for the Italian community that has thrived in the area for generations. There are so many options for dining that where to eat is going to be one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make. To make it easier for you, some popular places are Pasquale’s Rigoletto for a full lunch or dinner, Mario’s for pizza, Artuso Pastry for dessert, and Prince Coffeehouse for a cup of joe.
10. Have someone ask you for directions.
This is a small, simple pleasure, yet it’s one even we longtime New Yorkers enjoy. We live in a big city, so it’s not uncommon for people to stop others for directions regarding where the nearest subway line is, how to get to a particular attraction, and so on. You can’t control when or if it happens, but when someone asks you for directions, whether you live here or are just visiting, it gives you an exhilarating rush because it means that you look like you know your stuff — and fit right in with the NYC crowd.