12 New York City unique experiences

As well as being the city that never sleeps, New York has plenty of experiences to enjoy during your trip - here are the best!

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

16 min read

12 New York City unique experiences

Flying over Manhattan by helicopter | ©Hellotickets

New York has plenty of original experiences to discover the unknown side of the city during your trip. So much so that for many it is the best city to travel to. The one that embraces you when you arrive and makes you feel like a New Yorker.

I'll tell you the best plans so that you have an unforgettable memory of your stay in the Big Apple.

1. Stroll through the New York sky

Flying over Manhattan in a helicopter| ©Hellotickets
Flying over Manhattan in a helicopter| ©Hellotickets

Can you imagine crossing the sky in a helicopter at over 200 kilometres per hour? If you're afraid of heights, this might not be on your holiday agenda, but a bird's eye view of the immensity of this city is an experience you should have at least once in your life.

Here are a few suggestions:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why should you take a helicopter tour over New York: We all know that the New York skyline is a spectacle in itself that can be discovered in different ways, but to do it aboard a helicopter is to elevate the experience to another level. It's a unique moment where the adrenaline rush of travelling at such a high altitude and speed is added to the beautiful views of New York, and you'll feel your skin crawl with excitement!
  • What are the helicopter flights like: Flights are short and most tours last approximately 15 minutes. All routes follow the Hudson River and some follow the East River, giving you great panoramic views of New York, but in no case will the aircraft pass over the skyscrapers.
  • When is the best time to take a helicopter tour in New York: If you ask me when is the best time to take a helicopter tour in New York, I think it depends on the views you want to see during the flight. For example, if you want to see the city expand to the horizon and see the Big Apple's buildings in all their splendour, I would advise you to try to get a time close to noon, while if you want to see the Big Apple as the sun sets and witness the first lights of the night, then choose a time at the end of the day.

This is a must-do experience during your New York City getaway, without a doubt. If you want to know more about helicopter flights over Manhattan, take a look at the New York helicopter tour article where you'll find out all the details to enjoy this unique activity on your trip.

Book your helicopter flight over New York

2. Experience the NBA, the best league in the world!

Madison Square Garden| ©Hellotickets
Madison Square Garden| ©Hellotickets

One of the most fascinating spectacles you can attend in the United States is an NBA game. Whether it's because basketball is your passion or because you want to experience the craziness and atmosphere of the sport in New York, it's a unique experience you have to have at least once in your life.

There are two NBA teams in New York competing for the title and competing from October to April in the National Basketball League:

  • The New York Knicks play at the legendary Madison Square Garden, located in midtown Manhattan.
  • The Brooklyn Nets play at the modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn, to which they moved a few years ago.

When to travel to New York to enjoy the NBA?

If you are travelling to the city during the pre-season, i.e. before the official season starts, I recommend you keep an eye on the teams' pre-season schedule because they usually play friendly games in early October.

But NBA games in New York are only guaranteed between October and April. After that, it all depends on whether the New York Knicks or the Brooklyn Nets qualify for the Playoffs and ultimately the NBA Finals.

If you are an NBA fan and would like to include a basketball game in your trip to New York, my article on how to buy tickets for NBA games in New York tells you everything you need to know about the NBA, the local teams and how to get your tickets, among other things.

Book NBA tickets

3. Have a picnic in Central Park

Central Park| ©Broadway
Central Park| ©Broadway

Fancy a picnic on a sunny day surrounded by nature? Take some time out of your busy schedule to enjoy a relaxing moment in Central Park, New York's largest and most famous park. Any day is the perfect day to visit, but it's true that Sundays have a special magic, as it's a public holiday and many New Yorkers take the opportunity to go and spend a day outdoors, taking a photo tour, playing sports or simply relaxing and picnicking in the meadows.

The Great Lawn is the largest meadow in Central Park, where people gather to sunbathe, read a book or chat when the weather is nice. Here you can spread out a blanket and enjoy a fantastic picnic in this beautiful corner of Manhattan. It's one of the most pleasant and recommended experiences to have in New York.

After the picnic, I recommend a walk through Central Park to visit iconic places like Bethesda Terrace, Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle or the Alice in Wonderland statue. If you want to know more about Central Park, in the post 10 things to see and do in Central Park in New York I tell you all about this wonderful park of international fame.

Things to do in Central Park

Central Park offers numerous plans for all tastes. Here are the most popular ones:

Where to buy takeaway food?

  • Street stands: There are several food stands scattered throughout Central Park where you can buy hot dogs, sandwiches, waffles, ice cream, and drinks.
  • Whole Foods Market: Located at 10 Columbus Circle, this supermarket has a varied buffet of salads, sandwiches, burgers, ready meals, organic produce and juices.
  • The Plaza Food Hall: This is a food market in the underground level of the Plaza Hotel (1 W 59th St.) with a bakery, pastry shop and bar/restaurant where you can buy a variety of picnic foods. You can order a take away to go to Central Park.

Book your Central Park plan

4. Go shopping in New York

Macy's| ©Hellotickets
Macy's| ©Hellotickets

How many times have you dreamed of shopping in New York? This city is the mecca of shopping and offers all kinds of possibilities for all tastes: from department stores and outlets to luxury and designer boutiques, not forgetting the famous flea markets or neighbourhood shops where you can find a special souvenir.

Walking through the streets you will always see a shop that catches your eye and invites you to go in and browse through its products. And although the price difference with Europe is not huge, it can be significant, which will probably encourage you to give in to temptation and splurge. Be that as it may, shopping in New York is an experience not to be missed.

Strolling down Fifth Avenue

How about a stroll down the famous Fifth Avenue? This is one of the most important arteries of the city and where some of the most exclusive shops in the Big Apple are located, such as Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Ave), the Apple Store (767 5th Ave), the legendary jeweller Tiffany's (610 5th Ave), Nike (650 5th Ave), the NBA Store (545 5th Ave) or Armani (717 5th Avenue), among many others.

Route through New York's malls

If you like malls you should visit The Shops at Hudson Yards (20 Hudson Yards) in the trendy new neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan, Westfield World Trade Center Mall (185 Greenwich St.) in Lower Manhattan just below the impressive The Oculus or Macy's the most popular mall in the United States in Midtown Manhattan (151 W 34th St.).

Unique markets and shops

One of the best things to do in New York is to browse the flea markets. These are not your typical flea markets where items are just piled up in a pile. Instead, there is a careful presentation that draws the eye to the stalls to tempt you to take home a unique souvenir.

Such is the case at Brooklyn Flea Market (at Manhattan Bridge Archway - 80 Pearl St. Winter Brooklyn Flea at 25 Kent Ave. 8th fl.) in Williamsburg, Artists and Fleas inside the Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District next to High Line Park (88 Tenth Avenue), Grand Bazaar on the Upper West Side (100 W 77th St.) or Canal Street Market in Chinatown (100 W 77th St.).) or Canal Street Market in Chinatown (265 Canal St),

On the other hand, the city is full of tourist souvenir shops where you can buy a gift for your family or friends, but if you're looking for something different, in this post I'll tell you 10 things to buy in New York in unique and original places.

Book a shopping tour in New York

5. Kayak the Hudson River

Kayaking the Hudson| ©Hellotickets
Kayaking the Hudson| ©Hellotickets

During a trip to New York, you will most likely have a busy schedule with visits to museums, monuments, markets and many other places.

However, if you are a sporty person who likes to spend time outdoors, my advice is to take advantage of your trip to New York to live a unique experience while doing something different that wasn't in your plan. For example, go out and play sports while admiring the city skyline from the water and without spending a penny.

How? Go to Pier 96 on the Hudson River, next to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum! From the end of May to October you can kayak and enjoy the Manhattan skyline aboard one of these boats. The company offering this free activity is Manhattan Community Boathouse.

How to participate?

It's easy. You don't have to make any kind of reservation, just go to the dock where the company operates and sign a waiver stating that you know how to swim. After storing your belongings in a locker, all you have to do is wait for a kayak and paddle to be assigned to you before you can take to the water. If it's your first time doing this sporting activity, as it was for me, don't worry because there are monitors at each dock who will show you how to get in and paddle. They will also provide you with a life jacket for safety.

Although the kayak tours on the Hudson River last 20 minutes, you will really enjoy it because it is a lot of fun. The area where you can kayak is marked off by buoys and you're not allowed to leave - it's a New York experience not to be missed!

If you're looking for a different kind of river experience, you can also book this Zodiac ride on the Hudson where you'll be able to get the best shots, as well as see first hand the amazing sights that New York has to offer.

Book a Hudson River Zodiac Tour

6. Feel the magic of Broadway!

The Lion King| ©Broadway
The Lion King| ©Broadway

You go to New York to be amazed at every corner, to have fun and even to daydream. That's what Broadway musicals are for, where you can let your imagination run wild in fantasy worlds that will make you enjoy yourself like a child, no matter how old you are!

Whatever time of year you visit New York, one of the essential things to do is to attend a musical on Broadway, the famous boulevard full of theatres that runs through the centre of Manhattan, including Times Square. You can't miss the magic of Broadway. It's a unique New York experience you won't find anywhere else. Its musical numbers are legendary and its majestic staging transports you to a dream world. It's jaw-dropping.

With hundreds of performances a year, Broadway is the mecca of New York theatre. Here you can see prestigious plays such as The Lion King, Wicked, Chicago or Aladdin, among many others.

How to get your Broadway tickets?

Broadway musicals are one of the most popular shows in New York, so tickets sell out very quickly. If you want to know how to buy tickets for a Broadway musical, I recommend you to read the article 10 best Broadway musicals in New York where I tell you how to get your tickets and which are the best musicals that are playing this season.

Book tickets for Broadway

7. Experience a night at the movies at Bryant Park!

Bryant Park| ©Hellotickets
Bryant Park| ©Hellotickets

One of the experiences I enjoyed the most during one of my New York City getaways was attending the Bryant Park Film Festival during the summer. This little oasis in the middle of bustling Midtown Manhattan is one of the most loved gardens by New Yorkers and when the temperatures get hotter, it becomes a refuge from the intense heat under the shade of its leafy trees.

If there's one thing Bryant Park is known for, it's its great cultural agenda: from writing workshops and film talks to musical concerts and much more.

Why not dedicate an afternoon to going to the cinema in New York during your trip? A good plan for Monday evenings during the summer in the city is to head to Bryant Park for its outdoor film festival. In front of the park's famous fountain, a giant screen plays classic films while the audience picnics on the lawn and enjoys the evening lying on the grass.

When does the curtain open?

The area set aside for watching the film opens at 5pm so that the public can take their seats, although the film starts between 8pm and 9pm. From experience I advise you to get there early to get a good spot on the lawn and a free popcorn cone, which is provided at the entrance if you arrive early.

While you wait for the film to start you can relax on the grass, chat, read, review what you have yet to see of New York or have a picnic while enjoying the festive atmosphere in Bryant Park.

Isabel's Traveller Tip

Did you know that the audience chooses the film of the night at this festival? To participate, follow the @vultur Twitter account, which suggests several options and the one with the most votes will be screened.

8. Have a coffee in a secret waterfall between skyscrapers

A waterfall in the middle of New York| ©Hellotickets
A waterfall in the middle of New York| ©Hellotickets

New York is a bustling city at any time of the day, where it is a constant sight to see the incessant traffic on the streets and people in a hurry everywhere. It is not for nothing that it is also known as "the city that never sleeps"!

That is why discovering little treasures that are not normally listed in the guidebooks on the way to any of the tourist attractions in the centre of New York is always a joy.

Especially when it comes to gardens. It's wonderful to come across little oases in the middle of the asphalt where you can take a break surrounded by water and greenery. Such is the case of Greenacre Park and Paley Park, both in Midtown Manhattan.

Why go to these parks?

There are many parks in New York, the most popular of which is Central Park, the green lung of Manhattan and the largest urban park in the city that you may have seen in countless movies and series.

However, what makes Greenacre Park and Paley Park different from other parks are two beautiful waterfalls that adorn the surroundings and the sound of the water transports you to a peaceful place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city while sipping a coffee or reading a book at one of the pretty little tables available to visitors. The trees in both parks create that sense of intimacy and serenity that I love about this place.

My favourite time to visit is in spring and autumn, when the flora is at its peak. For example, in autumn the trees looked beautiful and were decorated with the pumpkins so typical of Halloween and Thanksgiving. You will be able to take some very cool pictures here, out of the ordinary.

Where are they?

  • Greenacre Park: Located in Midtown East at 217 E 51st Street.
  • Paley Park: Located between 3 East 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue.

9. Toast to your trip on a rooftop in New York City

Views from 230 - 5th Rooftop| ©Hellotickets
Views from 230 - 5th Rooftop| ©Hellotickets

After a long day of sightseeing around the city, there's nothing better than going up to one of the city's wonderful rooftops to watch the New York skyline at sunset, with a drink in your hand as the sun fades away and thousands of light bulbs slowly turn on to light up the New York night. It's one of the most unforgettable experiences I've had there!

The essential thing is to get to the bar, sit at a table and order your favourite drink to enjoy the panoramic views from any of New York's rooftops. If you have the opportunity, try to visit several rooftops in completely different areas of the city: the perspectives will be more varied and you will be surprised by the different facets of the Big Apple.

Almost all rooftops have Happy Hour. If you're planning to go to several, it's best to do so during Happy Hour to save money that you can spend on other things during your trip. Finally, remember that to access a rooftop you will need to bring your passport or identity card with you, as if you are under 21 you will not be allowed to enter. In my article the 10 best rooftops in New York I give you some ideas of where to go for a cocktail in the best company.

10. Celebrate Chinese New Year eating in Chinatown

Chinatown| ©Hellotickets
Chinatown| ©Hellotickets

In many cities around the world where the Chinese community is present, Chinese New Year, the most important festival of this culture, is celebrated. The date depends on the lunar calendar, although it usually takes place in February and is celebrated in style.

In New York it is celebrated in a special way and I have been lucky enough to witness it on one occasion. It is very worthwhile because every year a different animal is welcomed and thousands of people take part in a parade of floats, dances, music and dragons. It is a display of colour, joy, dance and excitement that is palpable in the atmosphere.

It is an event for all ages and is attended by many people, both New Yorkers and tourists. If you're going to see the parade, I recommend that you find a crossroads from where you can watch it well and experience the atmosphere. When the parade is over, don't hesitate and go to a restaurant or food stall in Chinatown to enjoy authentic Asian cuisine at very reasonable prices.

Where to eat in Chinatown?

Chinese cuisine is one of the most appreciated in the world for its variety of ingredients, flavours and textures. If you consider yourself a foodie, you're in for a treat in this New York neighbourhood because you'll find plenty of restaurants and bars where you can try some of the best Asian specialities in Manhattan.

I recommend places like Xi's an Famous Food: at 45 Bayard Street, Big Wing Wong at 102 Mott Street or Buddha Bodai: at 5 Mott Street (near Columbus Park and with very good vegetarian options).

If you still have time and want to take a walk around Chinatown, in my article 10 things to see and do in Chinatown in New York I tell you everything you can visit in this picturesque New York neighbourhood.

Book a tour of Chinatown

11. Get Married in Times Square for Valentine's Day

Times Square| ©Hellotickets
Times Square| ©Hellotickets

Many couples head to New York in February to celebrate Valentine's Day in a different way. There are plenty of romantic things to do in the city, but getting married in Times Square is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable experiences to be had in the Big Apple.

Under the slogan "Love in Times Square", several couples pledge their eternal love by getting engaged, getting married or renewing their vows withNew York as their witness. Can you imagine surprising your partner by being one of them?

To be among the lucky ones on February 14, you must register in advance online. A raffle will determine who will experience a very original Valentine's Day. A draw will determine who will experience a very original Valentine's Day. What a special anecdote to tell the grandchildren, isn't it?

Other Valentine's Day plans

But this isn't the only way to celebrate Valentine's Day in New York - there are so many! Here are just a few of them:

  • Tribute to love in Times Square: Every year an interactive sculpture with a love theme is installed so people can take some romantic photos of their trip to New York with lots of passion in the background.
  • Ice skating at Wollman Rink: Located in Central Park, the feeling of skating on this rink is unbeatable as you have the beautiful winter landscape of the park on one side and the views of the legendary skyscrapers in the background - it's like something out of a movie!

12. Take the Roosevelt Island cable car to Roosevelt Island

Views from the cable car| ©Hellotickets
Views from the cable car| ©Hellotickets

Although not one of the most popular tourist attractions for visitors to New York, the Roosevelt cable car offers a beautiful view of Manhattan and is well worth a visit.

Not only because it's not your typical crowded tourist site, which is sometimes appreciated during your trip, but also because of its special charm and because it connects to Roosevelt Island, a very quiet place to go for a nice walk.

Why do I like Roosevelt Island?

I love taking the cable car to Roosevelt Island because in spring, the East River bank is a great place to enjoy the cherry blossoms with the New York skyline in the background. Here you'll have the opportunity to take a nice photo of your trip!

There are also several overlooks by the water and little parks to let the kids play outdoors if you're travelling to New York as a family. You can even visit a cat sanctuary along the way.

How to take the Roosevelt Cable Car?

It's a very economical ride because you only need a Metrocard to travel, the same card you use to travel around the Big Apple by bus or underground. If you want to know more about this activity, I recommend you take a look at my article on how to take the Roosevelt Island cable car in New York and everything you can see on Roosevelt Island.