9 Quirky Things to Do in NYC that Most Tourists Don’t Know About

9 Quirky Things to Do in NYC that Most Tourists Don’t Know About

From sipping on cocktails in a bank vault to hunting for a hidden bookstore, here are some of the wackiest things to do in New York City!

A concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s no other place in the world that can compare to New York City! With hustling streets that make you feel brand new, and big luminous lights that will inspire you, the Big Apple is teeming with diversity and vibrancy. So don’t be fooled, this incredible city is so much more than just the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty!

Here’s the good news – there’s no need to go hunting for its hidden gems, we’ll bring them to you! Dare to be different with these 10 quirky activities that will be sure to set your Big Apple holiday apart from everybody else’s! So what are you waiting for?

Alternatively, you can leave your NYC trip in the good hands of EU Holidays, where they specialise in tours to the USA. If you can afford the time, don’t miss out on their epic 14D10N Best Of Eastern USA and Orlando package, where you’ll get to experience the best of the Big Apple and other cities such as Washington D.C.

Let’s hear it for New York!

1. Sip on cocktails in a bank vault

Buried deep underground in the heart of New York City’s financial district is a hidden old bank vault built in 1904. Yet, it is no ordinary bank vault. Ingeniously transformed into a swiss bar and restaurant, Trinity Place Vault Bar is both rustic and elegant. It is, quite literally, a hidden gem!

Image credit: http://www.trinityplacenyc.com/

Originally built by Mosler Safe Company for the New York Realty Bank, the vault was so large and heavy that it had to be sailed down the Hudson River and then transported on special railway tracks from Battery Park to where it currently sits.

Apart from its unusual size, another peculiarity is the vault’s dual entrances at either end, each leading to the bar and restaurant respectively. In addition, each steel door weighs a whooping 35 tons and is five-inch thick! One definitely cannot find a more secure place to have a drink.

Image credit: http://www.trinityplacenyc.com/

That’s not just it! 115 Broadway, the building in which the bank vault sits under, is one of the original twin towers of New York City. Decorated with gargoyles, dragons and eagles, the gothic skyscraper was constructed during a period where, interestingly, goth detailing was uncommon.  Coupled with stained glasses and ribbed ceilings in the lobby, one might even mistake the building for a medieval cathedral!

If you are craving for a drink in New York City, ditch the boring street-side bar and check out the one-of-a-kind Trinity Place Bank Vault Bar!

Address: 115 Broadway, New York, NY 10006 (Entrance on Cedar Street)
Opening Hours: 11.30am 3pm & 5pm 11pm (Monday to Friday)

2. Volunteer with St Joe’s Soup Kitchen

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/stjosephsoupkitchen/

Did you know that there are around 61,000 homeless people in New York City? The sheer volume is why St Joe’s Soup Kitchen continues its weekly effort to provide nutritious food to the hungry and homeless. Serving up to 450 trays a week, meals are also free for all and no questions will be asked.

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/stjosephsoupkitchen/

Instead of hopping from one tourist attraction to another trying to learn about the Big Apple, get involved in the American community by volunteering with St Joe’s Soup Kitchen in New York City! Make friends with like-minded locals, plus, no prior experience or skills is required! If you’re feeling adventurous, put your new-found skills to the test with an electric machine for pancakes – your friends will thank you this!

Address: 371 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10014 (Casserly Hall)
Opening Hours: 10am (preparation) & 1pm (serving) (Saturdays only)

3. Star in Alice in Wonderland

Ever dream of starring in a play? Well, here’s your chance! Immerse in a participatory theatre by Third Rail Projects and be part of the cast of Then She Fell, a play inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. A unique approach to storytelling, audiences can expect to be very actively involved in the whole artistic experience.

Image credit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/thenshefell/

In an intimate setting, Then She Fell takes place in an unused mental hospital where audiences of 15 are divided into small groups as the plot went on. These small groups are led from one room to another, where they are to explore them by themselves in order to unearth clues, discover hidden scenes, encounter the performers individually, and even drink elixirs custom made by one of New York City’s leading mixologists.

For instance, during a particular scene (spoiler alert!), the participant will be asked to transcribe a melancholy letter written by a Charles Dodgson to Alice, pleading her to reply him. Afterwards, Dodgson places the letter into a small glass container before dropping it into a pool of water which contains dozens of similar letters. A sense of despair pervades the air as Dodgson then sits sorrowfully in his pool of tears, knowing that he is condemned forever to his loneliness.

Image credit: https://www.facebook.com/pg/thenshefell/

Admittedly, though, tickets aren’t cheap. During peak periods, it can up to US$200 per person. Yet, every single minute of the profoundly personal experience is worth your money. With poignant and heartfelt scenes, you will be so tightly interwoven with the plot and characters that you will become one with the play!

Our advice? Keep your eyes peeled on the exchange rates from USD to SGD, and book your tickets early to enjoy savings. So, the next time you are in New York City, follow the Rabbithole for an extraordinary time in Wonderland!

Address: Kingsland Ward @ St. Johns, 195 Maujer Street, Brooklyn NY 11206
Opening Hours: Now – December 2017

4. Find the secretive Brazenhead Books

The enigmatic Brazenhead Books sits in an apartment whose location is a hush-hush. Operating outside the laws of retail, the clandestine bookstore has to remain secretive precisely because it is illegal. Visitation is by appointment only, unless you have contacts that could show you the way very much like an induction into a secret society, no?

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/brazenheadbooks/

Brazenhead Books has come a very long way. At the beginning, it was just like any other normal bookstore. It was not until when rent skyrocketed that Brazenhead Book shifted into its owner’s own apartment. For a long time, Brazenhead remained invisible to the eyes of local authority and settled comfortably into queer circumstances where owner and books lived side by side.

This shift also caused Brazenhead to undergo a major transformation. Gone were the old days of simple retail and instead, the speakeasy bookstore became a peculiar form of a book club. Alongside some booze, Brazenhead hosted weekly salon sessions with poetry reading and musical performance. A wedding was even officiated here once!

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/brazenheadbooks/

Like a Phoenix in flames, the bookstore was resurrected from its death to a brand new location (again) in 2016 after an eviction notice by authorities in late 2015. Now, this elusive bookstore is even more so secretive. If you desire to locate this legendary temple of books, prove yourself worthy to its owner only then can you open its chamber of secrets.

Address: Ask and it shall be given (or not)
Opening Hours: By appointment only

5. Laugh out loud at Comedy Cellar

A dark brick-walled dungeon, a tiny platform that’s barely a stage, and a ceiling so low that those above 1.9 metres may hit their head – it’s not much, but it’s where Louis CK, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock call home.

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/nyccomedycellar/

Sitting in a small cramped basement, Comedy Cellar is as intimate as it is ruthless – bring your best arsenals, or prepare to get bombed by the audience brutally. As such, only the most tenacious can survive this gruelling training ground and become an incredible stand-up comedian.

Image credit: https://www.instagram.com/nyccomedycellar/

A typical night in Comedy Cellar is filled with fun, alcohol and roaring laughter. Located just a block away from New York University, this iconic comedy haven is extremely popular especially amongst locals! In fact, it is near impossible to get in without any prior reservations.

So, if you are in New York City, a night at Comedy Cellar is a must! Make sure to grab your buddies and head down for an unforgettable night of comedy action!

Address: 130 West 3rd Street, New York NY 10012 (right around the corner between 6th and MacDougal)
Opening Hours: Varies. Check the official website below for more information!

6. Get intimate with 9/11 memoirs

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack, Gary Marlon Suson was granted 24-hour access to every inch of Ground Zero each day till rescue efforts were over. What was meant to be official documentation business culminated into a personal mission for the young photographer – capturing the tragedy in the most humanised manner so that these lost lives will never be forgotten.

Image credit: Dominic Low

The brainchild of Suson, Ground Zero Museum Workshop is a powerful portrayal of humanity, courage and love. One photo showed a retired firefighter carrying his son, a firefighter who had died during the rescue efforts, out of Ground Zero.

Another other photo series depicted young black workers melting metal from the debris of Ground Zero to sculpt into crosses for families who had lost someone in 9/11 – an initiative they had taken upon themselves to provide comfort to their fellow Americans.

A police officer saying a short prayer before continuing to dig | Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/6Hzdak

Each picture and artefact tell such compelling stories that words simply cannot encapsulate. Coupled with the audio stories personally recorded by Suson himself, visitors truly share intimate moments with these moving stories. A visit to Ground Zero Museum Workshop is very likely to leave you in tears.

To provide visitors with ample personal space to completely immerse in each story, Ground Zero Museum Workshop caps the number of visitors at 28 people. In addition, self-guided tours are conducted in Italian, English, Spanish and French. Visitors are also given the opportunity to hold artefacts and view over 100 images from the recovery.

If you prefer a quiet and homely environment to hear the personal stories of those involved in 9/11, Ground Zero Museum Workshop is exactly what you are looking for.

Address: 420 West 14th Street, Floor 2 New York, NY 10014
Opening Hours: 11am – 3pm (Wednesday to Sunday)

7. Catch movies with a view

Want to catch a Hollywood movie while in New York? What better way to do it than in the outdoors with the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge and Hudson River as your backdrops! One of the locals’ favourite past-time, outdoor movies are a popular alternative to your conventional theatres. Not only can one enjoy the breathtaking night view, the flexibility to lounge around in any position is also an added advantage!

things to do in new york

Image credit: Lee York (https://flic.kr/p/jm61hy)

There are several locations where outdoor movies can be caught. Every Thursday during summer, Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park attracts over 7,000 moviegoers to enjoy popular screenings and a breathtaking Manhattan skyline in the background. This summer, the movie lineup includes The Lego Movie and 42!

Image credit: https://www.hudsonriverpark.org/

Hudson Riverflicks takes place every Wednesday at Hudson River Park. Energising its summer crowd with a bunch of big hits, this year’s movies include La La Land, Logan and Hidden Figures. Did we mention that there is also FREE popcorn provided? Woohoo!

Address: Brooklyn Bridge Park & Hudson River Park
Opening Hours: 8.30pm, Wednesday (Hudson River Park) & 6pm, Thursday (Brooklyn Bridge Park)

8. Revel in Broadway flops at Joe Allen

Many celebrate the success, but few remember the flops. At Joe Allen’s, these flops are given their due recognition – they may have failed to make it up the Times Square Billboard, but they have certainly made their way onto the restaurant’s wall.

Image credit: http://joeallenrestaurant.com/

It started that same year when Joe Allen (owner of the restaurant) was given a poster of the show Kelly. Where else to hang the poster than right in his own restaurant? Unfortunately, the show ran for one performance before it flopped. Since then, it became a Broadway tradition (or curse) for these ill-fated shows to accessorise Joe Allen’s walls.

things to do in new york

Image credit: http://joeallenrestaurant.com/

Situated in Broadway, Joe Allen is the perfect place for pre-theatre dining. If you are scouting for a good dinner place, search no more, for Joe Allen is definitely your to-go! Apart from its quirky history, Joe Allen also serves unpretentious and good old American food. The absolute best in the theatre district, make sure you head to Joe Allen for some comfort food before your Broadway play!

Address: 326 West 46th Street New York, NY 10036
Opening Hours: 12pm – 11.45pm (Monday, Tuesday & Thursday); 11.30am – 11.45pm (Wednesday); 12pm – 12am (Friday); 11.30am – 12am (Saturday); 11.30am – 11.45pm (Sunday)

9. Experience paranormal activities in The Morris-Jumel Mansion

Do not be deceived by the seemingly harmless look of this mansion. An eerie and ghastly past shrouds the historical Morris-Jumel Mansion in mystery, and it is known as one of most haunted place in New York City.

Image credit: http://www.morrisjumel.org/

The story goes like this: In 1810, French merchant Stephen Jumel and his wife, Eliza Bowen Jumel, moved into the house. Despite being one of the wealthiest families in Manhattan, they were shunned by high society. Eliza had come from a working class Catholic family in Rhode Island, and there were cruel rumours going on that she was once a child prostitute in her mother’s brothel. Stephen Jumel died in 1832 and the cause of death remained a mystery till this day. Yet all the rumours pointed back to Eliza as the cause. A local medium claimed that Eliza had buried her husband alive There were also gossips that she had opened his dressings from a wound and watched him bleed to death.

That was not the end of it. Months later, Eliza married Aaron Burr, the then vice president, in the front parlour of the mansion. On the day of their divorce, three years later, Burr mysteriously died. Since then, Eliza lived in the huge mansion as a recluse, eventually becoming demented. At the age of 90, she also died alone in that very house.

It is said that her tormented soul continues to roam the hallways and secret chambers of the mansion, her long hair draped over her shoulders and her clothes soiled.

things to do in new york

Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/bJc4jp

As if that’s not scary enough, The Morris-Jumel Mansion also installed these creepy-looking mannequins within each room to illustrate life in the 18th century. Although with good intentions, this only made the guided tours around the mansion even more uneasy and jittery. For the fearless, go ahead and explore the spooky mansion on your own… we certainly hope you do not encounter its troubled old mistress!

Address: 65 Jumel Terrace, New York, NY 10032
Opening Hours: 10am – 4pm (Monday to Friday); 10am – 5pm (Saturday & Sunday)

About Author

Sim Yi Zhen
Sim Yi Zhen

Adventurer and athlete, Yi Zhen has a penchant for planning travel itineraries that are off the beaten path. She also daydreams about travelling to Liverpool for the 2019 Netball World Cup.


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