16 Fun Things to Do in New York City and the NYC Boroughs

16 Fun Things to Do in New York City

Like the song goes, it's the concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

Picture this: You’re finally in New York City — you know, the one that never sleeps. After being hyped by your friends and every dreamy attraction you’ve seen on social media, you find yourself not knowing where to start. NYC, after all, is actually composed of five boroughs that are filled with several places to explore. Well friends, that’s why we’re here. We’ll name staple, interesting, and new NYC attractions for your journey. Some of them will cost you, while others are one of the free things to do in NYC. So grab your pen and paper, here’s a list of fun things to do in NYC!

Also read: USA Entry Requirements: What to Know When Travelling During COVID-19

Manhattan (New York county)

1. Visit Times Square

Image credit: Andreas M

If there’s one place you should go for fun activities in NYC, it’s Times Square, the biggest commercial intersection in the middle of the city. From here, you’ll have easy access to souvenir shops, cafes, and food trucks that will take you around the world. From pastries and burgers to halal food, the eateries in Times Square meet all your cravings. 

What’s more, you’ll have the most Insta-worthy view while you’re chowing down. And that is — the giant electronic billboards of your favourite Broadway shows. Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Hamilton: An American Musical, and a lot more hit musicals are just a stone’s throw away from Times Square itself. Take this opportunity to watch them live!

What’s more,  already discounted tickets can be found online at websites like TodayTix for classics like Book of Mormon, Hamilton, Chicago, and many other shows

2. Go to Top of the Rock

Image credit: Pedro Lastra

Speaking of views, you should get an eyeful of the concrete jungle from above by visiting the Rockefeller Center. On top of this NYC attraction is an observation deck called Top of the Rock, which gives you a brilliant view of the Empire State Building as well as that of other cool establishments. You will, however, have to pay for entrance inside the Rockefeller Center, so always plan ahead and book your tickets in advance. 

3. Gawk at the Vessel

Image credit: Diego Allen

Next on the list of fun things to do in NYC is taking a trip to the Vessel. This is relatively new among NYC attractions, and despite needing to book a timeslot online, it’s totally free to enter. As part of Hudson’s Yard, the Vessel is a stunning 16-story, honeycomb-inspired structure. The main purpose of this huge art installation is to really just earn people’s awe. 

The Vessel is meant to stand out to pique people’s interest, and visitors are encouraged to climb the whole structure feeling like they’re in a futuristic jungle gym. You’ll get a generous view of the Hudson River once you’re at the top too, making the Vessel one of the best viewing decks in the city.

4. Take a stroll in Central Park

fun things to do in nyc

Image credit: Harry Gillen

When you think of the things to do in New York City, there’s absolutely no way you could set aside walking in Central Park. We see this park on TV and in movies, but a lot of people still don’t realise how huge it is. You can take tours of the park, whether walking or on horse-drawn carriages. These tours have different routes and you’ll never be able to see everything by choosing just one route since Central Park is one of the biggest parks in the world. 

In spring or summer, have a picnic in the vast green fields and go boat riding on the lake. You can also go ice skating in the winter. No matter what season you visit, there’s always something to do and beautiful nature to admire in Central Park.

The Bronx

5. Enjoy the New York Botanical Garden

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Now, if it’s an afternoon in a colourful garden that you’re after, head to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Dubbed the “living museum,” this garden is a National Historic Landmark boasting 250 acres and more than one million healthy plants. 

Snap your photos as you enjoy the dedicated gardens for roses, azaleas, lilacs, and even cherry blossoms. If you’re in it for the education, the New York Botanical Garden offers classes, exhibitions, as well as the world’s largest plant research programs. Nature lovers can’t go wrong here. 

6. Experience Italian-American cuisine on Arthur Avenue

Image credit: Nick Owens

Food is always fun, and it gets even more fun when your food is a blend of different cultural influences. Hence, one of the most fun things to do in NYC is getting a taste of the Italian-American cuisine on Arthur Avenue, aka the Little Italy of the Bronx. This is the best place to appreciate Italian recipes in the city, and only the freshest ingredients are used in the glorious Italian food staples, from the healthy green salads, creamy pasta, and scrumptious pastries. Better come with empty stomachs!

7. Drop by the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

Image credit: Zoirusha

Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage is a classic NYC attraction that will take you back to the early 19th century. Before the area’s developments, the cottage was in the middle of farmland and fresh air — an ideal escape for a poet looking for some peace and quiet. It’s no wonder that this place was also where Edgar Allan Poe spent the last few years of his life with his wife.

Before he died here, he was able to write his masterpieces, Annabel Lee, The Bells, and The Cask of Amontillado. Guests can do audio tours inside the house, as well as see the famous poet’s personal effects. 

Note: The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage is temporarily closed as of writing.

Brooklyn

8. Check out Brooklyn Flea

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One of the most fun activities in NYC is definitely shopping. But contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy your shopping experience in the Big Apple. The Brooklyn Flea market, an outdoor bazaar, is one of the best places for bargain hunters to buy clothes, accessories, vintage items, and unique finds, without breaking the bank. You can find this flea market either in Dumbo or Williamsburg

9. Take photos on Brooklyn Bridge

fun things to do in nyc

Image credit: Colton Duke

Should you be looking for free things to do in NYC that involve another extremely popular attraction, look no further than the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a commuter’s bridge where people walk or bike to and fro Manhattan and Brooklyn. However, it tends to get crowded. So if you want to get a decent photo for the ’Gram, make sure you have a photographer with you, or visit early in the morning or late at night.

10. Have a picnic in Prospect Park

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Did you know that the designers of Central Park, namely Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, also designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn? In case you’d rather be based in Brooklyn than Manhattan, this is the best park to picnic with family and lay down on clean fields of grass. 

There are more than enough trees to shade you from the strong sunlight as you peacefully people watch to kill time. Not to mention, the park is very kid-friendly, what with its zoo and lakeside. Everyone can roller skate in the spring or ice skate in the winter too. 

Queens

11. Explore the Flushing Meadows Corona Park

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Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Brooklyn is more than just a place to be one with nature. It actually houses important cultural institutions, such as the Queens Museum, Queens Botanical Garden, New York Hall of Science, and Citi Field. Aside from exploring these establishments, you can bike, boat ride, and follow trails inside the park that are perfect for a sightseeing experience. You’re sure to hit several birds with one stone in this verdant meadow. 

12. See the unique art instalments in the MoMA PS1

fun things to do in nyc

Image credit: Ncoriaty

Manhattan isn’t the only one that boasts of a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). You can find one in Queens too, and it’s called MoMA PS1. Here, you can spectate on performance art and installations that will have the wheels in your head turning. If you like to dance, the best time to visit is in the summer when the museum hosts dance parties, along with other youth and music programs throughout the year. Get the party started and grab your best travel buddy!

13. Entertain yourselves in the Museum of Moving Image

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Any film buffs in the house? Among the many NYC attractions, Queens’ Museum of Moving Image is the best museum you can visit for educational purposes. Take a walk down memory lane as you feast your eyes on vintage artifacts from the earliest years of filmmaking. Then, fast forward to the present time as you learn about viral internet videos and what it is about all of them that generate buzz online. 

There are even classic arcade games you can play inside the Museum of Moving Image, which makes it an exciting place for young ones who have an affinity for film. You never know, the next Steven Spielberg might be in the same room as you!

Staten Island

14. Go around New York Harbor

fun things to do in nyc

Image credit: Avi Werde

New York Harbor is one of — if not the most — historical and recognisable harbors in the world. This harbor was the first thing that the Europeans saw as they landed in NYC. Today, several significant establishments surround it, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Stonewall National Monument, and Alexander Hamilton’s family home (Hello, Hamilton fans!). 

Hop on a ferry to have a guided tour and sail by all the interesting places New York Harbor has to offer. But even if you choose to keep your feet on the ground, you still get a gorgeous view of New York Harbor from the banks of Staten Island. That would make a stunning background for a family photo for sure. 

15. Visit and camp out in Fort Wadsworth

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Fort Wadsworth guarded New York City for over 200 years and is one of the oldest military forts in the USA. As it no longer serves its original purpose, it became a 226-acre public park and part of the Gateway National Recreational Area. Aside from featuring educational tours, the fort also offers camping grounds for adventure seekers.

You might even catch goats in the summer, as the National Park Service actually gets these goats to clear out weeds from the giant park. Taking photos is allowed, just make sure to ask the fort keepers about camping rules. Talk about the fun things to do in NYC, right? 

16. Sightsee in the historic Richmond Town

fun things to do in nyc

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Historic Richmond Town is said to be a living history museum, mainly due to its restored buildings that date back to the 1600s when Dutch settlers entered the fray. In case you’re curious about how American life was like during this period, there’s an on-site museum that will educate you on events and the town’s way of living over the past 300 years. 

There’s a 100-acre park to explore for families to spend their lovely afternoons too. But if you’re really up for a challenge, how about embark on a paranormal quest? The town has rumoured ghosts, and oddly enough, these rumours have become part of the hamlet’s culture and tourism. Book a ghost tour at your own risk. 

Also read: 2-Day New York City Itinerary for First-Timers

Each NYC borough has its own unique charm and a lot to offer. It’s just a matter of knowing the types of experiences you’re after. So, which among these fun things to do in NYC speaks to you the most?


Featured image credit: Emiliano Bar | Unsplash

About Author

Therese Sta. Maria
Therese Sta. Maria

Therese's close friends know that if they haven’t seen her around recently, then she’s probably having an adventure with her luggage and camera in hand. Though she loves staying at home and spending lazy afternoons with friends, there are times when she has to be "away from home to feel at home," — that’s when she’s bitten by the travel bug. See her travels on Instagram @reesstamaria.

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