Jessica Festa a RoamRight Blog Author

NYC Beyond The Tourist Sites: Top Lesser Known Experiences


While the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Metropolitan Museum of Art are all worthwhile attractions, sometimes it’s necessary to explore beyond the popular NYC tourist sites to see a side of the city not made popular in guidebooks. Whether you’re interested in free comedy shows, quirky museums, lesser-known views, unusual chocolate experiences or something more you can find it in New York City. To help you plan your trip, here is a guide to NYC beyond the tourist sites. 


1. Explore History At The City Reliquary

Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this unassuming museum showcases New York City history in a quirky fashion. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 to enter this small but rich museum, which displays unusual artifacts you don't get to see in more prestigious museums like rat bones, a rotting birthday cake, water from old aqueducts, L-train paint chips, geological core samples, antique subway maps, a vintage subway turnstile, an old newsstand, Coney Island memorabilia and more. The City Reliquary also features rotating exhibits that showcase NYC culture. For example, their latest installment, Keep Your Eye Upon the Donut, runs from December 2013 to February 2014 and focuses on the Big Apple’s rich donut culture. They’re also known for hosting a number of community events, like pop up shops, concerts, lectures, show-and-tells, holiday parties and more.

2. See A Free Improv Show At The PIT

While NYC is known for its entertaining but expensive Broadway shows, one can find a number of smaller venues offering free live entertainment. One of the greatest of these is the Peoples Improv Theatre (PIT), offering free improvisational comedy shows that range from free to $10. They also host insanely cheap improv classes ($10 to $40) for those who want to learn the art of acting. Other NYC venues offering insanely cheap laughs include the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and Magnet Theater.

3. Savor Free Chocolate Samples At Mast Head Brothers

Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers Chocolate shop and factory is a treat for visitors in more ways than one. Not only can you see how their artisanal dark chocolate is made in their open factory, one can also enjoy free samples of their high-quality bars. Chocolate is sourced from small farmers from places like Madagascar, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, with chocolate bars crafted in flavors like “Papua New Guinea,” “Brooklyn Blend” and “Serrano Pepper.” If you’re sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, NYC is home to a number of other worthwhile chocolate experiences, like a chocolate-themed walking excursion with New York Chocolate Tours, chocolate-infused bacon goodies at The Baconery, and chocolate wellness treatments at Madison Spa.

4. Live Music-Hop Around The Lower East Side

While New York City is home to an array of performance venues, nowhere is setup better for a live music crawl than the Lower East Side. Here you’ll be able to walk from venue-to-venue listening to free or extremely cheap shows from a variety of genres. Some top live music venue picks for the Lower East Side include Rockwood Music Hall, Bowery Ballroom and the National Underground.

5. Ride The Tram To Roosevelt Island

While the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock are renowned for their impressive aerial views, a lesser-known and more affordable option is riding the tram to Roosevelt Island. You can access the tram using a MetroCard swipe ($2.50) from 59th Street & Second Avenue Station in Manhattan. Once in the air, you’ll enjoy a panoramic gondola ride over the East River along with views of the Empire State Building, Randall's Island, United Nations Building, Queensborough Bridge and well-known city neighborhoods.

Insider Tip: For a free and unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty, take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. This also allows you to take faraway photographs of the iconic Manhattan skyline.

6. Enjoy High Tea At Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon

You don't need to fly to England to have a proper afternoon tea. With its Victorian architecture, fringed lights and chinoiserie, Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon transports guests back to a time when refined elegance was the norm. Sample a five-course menu of items like smoked salmon finger sandwiches, scones with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, and Mille Crepe Cake while high-quality and rare teas are poured from whimsical tea pots. If you wish, don bowler hats and Downtown Abbey-inspired attire as the setting is appropriate. While $40 may seem a little pricey, it's worth it for an afternoon of refined indulgence, pampering and seamless service.

Have you ever been to any of these unusual non-tourist destinations?

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.


About the Author

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa, a RoamRight Blog Author Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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