Fun is not just for kids. Teens and adults can enjoy exploring the city. Go with friends. Go with your spouse. Or, enjoy some alone time!
A few years ago, I was telling a friend that the monotony of fall and winter was getting to me—I love being outdoors but I don’t do well with the cold. And because I was avoiding the cold, I was becoming a bear in hibernation… and not a very happy one at that. She told me she made a point of getting out two Sundays a month and exploring New York City. She and I both live in Brooklyn, do not own cars, and rely heavily on the subway system. New York City, I’ve since learned, is a treasure trove of hidden gems to explore.
Word got out to a few of my friends that I was visiting lots of places. They asked for ideas. Then they gave me ideas. Some of us used these ideas for solo trips, some with spouses, some with friends, some with siblings, and some with adult children. A few of the places below may work for children and teens, but each place had to do well on the adult scoring board to earn its spot on the list. Some of the ideas we mention are free, some cheap, and some pricey. Also, some of us love nature (ehhh, not me so much) and some love adventure (a little bit me), some love learning something new (very me) and some love a combo (OK, OK, very much me), so you’ll see that some reviews will be both raving and cautionary, telling the story of who might like what.
* Disclaimer: Most NYC indoor facilities currently require proof of COVID vaccination as well as masks. Outdoor facilities generally don’t require this. As the laws keep changing, be sure to check before you schlep.
** Additional disclaimer: I absolutely cannot and do not endorse any of these places on any level. At the time of my visit, they worked for me and whoever I was with, but exhibits and features tend to change by the season—please do your own research.
Indoor Classes and Games
Stores that Provide an Experience
- Highline: This was once a railroad and was converted into a walking path with beautiful views of the city from above. It’s open all day until 10 p.m. and is quite full in the evenings too. thehighline.org
- The Little Island: This attraction finally opened and it is worth the hype! I highly recommend going early on a weekend (you need tickets after 12 noon on weekends) or during the week as it will be less crowded and you’ll get to enjoy every drop of the beauty. This walk has lots of steps and views that are filled with beauty from both an architectural vantage point and nature. littleisland.org
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge: The first I did this, I couldn’t believe how simple and beautiful the walk was. It’s about an hour with few rest spots, so be prepared for that!
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Once a week, this gem in Brooklyn is still free. During the winter, you can visit their indoor exhibits but it’s not so beautiful outside and feels like a waste. Early fall is unbelievable. bbg.org
- Prospect Park: Right across the street from Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Prospect Park is huge and has lots of walking and biking paths. prospectpark.org
- Central Park: There’s a lot more happening on this side of the river! You can walk one section of the park and come back another time to explore a different section. Or if you get tired midway, you can take a horse and buggy ride! If you’re into zoos, the Central Park Zoo is small but nice. centralparknyc.org
- Bronx Treetop: My fear of climbing trees held me back but the rest of my family has gone multiple times and loves it! It’s an unbelievably tranquil ropes climbing course through the trees. You won’t believe you’re anywhere near the city. Closes mid-October and reopens in April/May. bronxzootreetop.com
- The Edge: The highest sky deck in NYC is located in Hudson Yards. The mall at Hudson Yards is so beautiful that I spent some time legitimately window shopping and staring at the decor. They also have classes happening in there which I need to come back for. But then you get to The Edge & the views of NYC are truly unbelievable. It is not for those with serious fear of heights because trust me it’s high. You can also buy some soft drinks and sit at an indoor table overlooking the city from high above. hudsonyardsnewyork.com
- The Tenement Museum: I haven’t made it here yet but my friends have and they say they could practically hear “Mrs. Piiiiitkin” of Shmuel Kunda fame come alive. You take a tour of a tenement building and learn about immigrant life and see the living conditions. (Maybe your apartment in Brooklyn is not that small after all?) tenement.org
- Museum of Illusions: I took my teens here but there were plenty of adults there on their own. You can either simply enjoy each illusion or you can take the time to read all the descriptions to understand HOW these illusions work. It’s not a museum you can spend more than an hour at but it’s fairly well priced. newyork.museumofillusions.us
- National Museum of Mathematics: I hate math but I had such fun here! I don’t think I understood much math but the exhibits are great. Admittedly, it’s more for children and teens BUT if you’re a math-loving adult, you may love seeing all those geometry lessons come alive. momath.org
- 9/11 Museum: This museum is not for the faint of heart but it’s a magnificent tribute to all those who lost their lives. There’s a phenomenal series of videos, as well as artifacts that make you appreciate the sacrifice of the many who lost their lives on that day and in the war on terror. Allow at least an hour and a half so you don’t have to rush through it. Oh, and at the gift shop, stop a staffer and ask them to tell you about the tree outside. It’s a magnificent story. Then, go look at the tree. 911memorial.org
- Sloomoo Institute: I visited this slime hub under the pretext of taking my kids. I sent my fun-loving adult friends back there and the adults loved it too. If you’re one of those who likes playing with slime and playdough, this place is for you! It’s a moving museum, meaning they spend time in various cities and then move on. They’re not going to be in NYC more than another few months (or so they say—I heard that six months ago and they’ve stuck around because the crowds keep coming!) so go soon. sloomooinstitute.com
Indoor Classes and Games
- The Uncommons: This board game cafe is a great date spot but if you just want alone time, they’re loaded with one player games too! Personally, I love playing board games and they have over 1,500 of them. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and can teach you how to play nearly any game. It’s $15 a person and you can stay as long as you like. uncommonsnyc.com
- Beat the Bomb: How the rest of my group made it here without me when I’ve been begging to go, I’m not sure. But if pictures and videos are to tell a story, this place is high thrill with lots of laughs. Go with a group of family and friends or you may get placed with random people. This is a combination of escape room and paint bombs (yes, you do get suited up!). It’s hilarious and full of the best kind of tension. beatthebomb.com
- Pottery and Glasslands: This is a frum-owned pottery painting establishment in Flatbush. I’m not artsy (to put it mildly) and yet I find this to be so therapeutic and simple. I love that it has a frum vibe versus some of the paint spots in NYC, which are more about the alcohol than the paint. During the weekends or school vacations, it can be full of kids but if you go when kids are in school… it’s just adults. They just opened a pottery making class—I’m so up for that! potteryandglassland.com
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra: If you love classical music, the sound is extraordinary. They’ve just gone back to performing post-COVID and their tickets sell quickly. Tickets are expensive and the audience is mostly an older, classy audience. If you want the experience without much expense, they have rehearsal sessions that you can watch for about $30. While 99% of these performances are strictly instrumental, some can be themed around secular holidays and there are 2-3 a year that contain vocals. So check all details before you book. nyphil.org
- Brooklyn Brainery: Located in Park Slope, they offer many reasonably priced classes where you can learn some really cool things, like letter art, calligraphy, portrait photography, indoor gardening, etc. Since COVID, some classes are online rather than in person, so read before you book. brooklynbrainery.com
- Textile Art Center: I didn’t get here yet but my friends took a basket weaving class here and said it was like living in the 1800s for a few hours. You can learn to weave on a loom too. Lots of rotating classes with expert instructors at reasonable rates. textileartscenter.com
- Brooklyn Boulders: This isn’t the rock-climbing you know. I don’t think they let children in. If you’re there for the first time, they give you a 60-minute rock climbing class (and a free pass to come back a different day). I know you think you can skip this… You can’t. It takes a lot of skill and practice, and it’s a workout like you’ve never experienced—and also fun! brooklynboulders.com
Stores that Provide an Experience
- B&H Photo: This is a tech-lover’s candy store. Right now, most of their (mostly free) classes have gone online but some may be back in their event space soon. The classes are given by serious experts who teach you how to use all the features on your camera, printer, or drone. Additionally, the store is built so wisely that it’s fun to hang out in. bhphotovideo.com
- Barnes and Noble: One of their NYC locations has the claim to fame of being listed by Guinness World Records as the largest bookstore. I’ve been known to spend an hour or more going through the sections and new titles. Most Barnes and Noble locations have a Starbucks inside too. barnesandnoble.com
- Westfield Mall at the World Trade Center: This mall is full of stores with items I mostly can’t afford but the architecture and proximity to the World Trade Center gives it so much character. westfield.com
- Union Square Green Market: Only open some weekdays and not weekends, this bustling farmers market fills many blocks. You can buy fresh-from-the-ground veggies and meet the farmers who grow them. You also can learn about and access many fruits and vegetables that don’t appear regularly in your produce aisle. If you give yourself time to walk through the whole thing (there’s a map!), you’ll find other specialty products like honeys and jams that are surprisingly sometimes certified Kosher! grownyc.org
- Strand Books: This bookstore is known for having rare and out-of-print books. As a reader, I couldn’t get enough of this family-owned store with quite the collection. They also buy many used books and sell them at greatly reduced prices. strandbooks.com
- NY Public Library: This library is huge! I went from room to room, savoring the quiet in a building that has ceilings with intricate moldings and designs that are beyond anything we would dream of building today. nypl.org
- Sea Queen Fishing Experience: I haven’t gotten on this one yet but it’s on my bucket list. This half-day fishing boat tour is supposed to be one of the best in NYC. A friend of mine did this with her family and I’d suggest going as a group (they only take up to 10 passengers, I believe) so you don’t end up spending hours in a small setting with a bunch of strangers. They go year round and actually catch more fish in the winter than in the summer. seaqueenvii.com
- Staten Island Ferry: This free ferry was built for commuters from Staten Island to NYC but it’s full of tourists too. I took it on a whim only to discover that at the Staten Island dock there’s a phenomenal outlet mall. Who knew? The free ferry cost me a whole lot more when I came home lugging bags! It’s a beautiful mall with lots of indoor/outdoor space for walking and tables overlooking the Hudson River. siferry.com
- Cruise Fall Foliage: Who is joining me on this one this year? Two of my friends took this cruise last year and said they’d never seen foliage like this, ever! You have time to explore the idyllic village of Cold Spring, NY, before heading back to NYC. seastreak.com
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