When it comes to NYC, everyone knows the big sites. It’s common knowledge that first-time visitors should check out Times Square, the Empire State Building, and museums like the Met. Kati and I have done all that many times. I come from PA and started going to NYC on a bus when I was 15. NYC was one of the first cities Kati explored when she moved from Germany 20 years ago. NYC has so much to offer.
So what if, like us, you’ve been to New York before? Or, maybe you’re a first-time traveler that wants to explore a few of NYC’s hidden gems. That’s why we created this list of 11 off-the-beaten-path places to visit in NYC. Hint—you’ll have to leave Manhattan to see some of them!
Prospect Park (Brooklyn)
Everyone knows (and loves) New York’s sprawling Central Park. But its designers—Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—also put their talents to the test in Brooklyn. The result? A stunning park in the middle of one of New York’s busiest boroughs.
Generally, Prospect Park is less crowded than Central Park. The people lounging in the grass are likely locals from the surrounding neighborhoods, so expect to see picnics, volleyball games, and barbeques in full swing. Hawks, herons, turtles, and geese also enjoy the generous green spaces and idyllic ponds.
The park is also less manicured than Central Park. In Prospect Park, you’ll find meandering wooded trails, elegant stone bridges, and sweeping green fields. It’s an ideal spot to read a book on a sunny day. Or, for a peaceful walk in the snow. Or, simply to escape the noise and bustle of NYC.
On Saturdays, be sure to check out the Green Market at the north end of Prospect Park (near Grand Army Plaza). You can grab fresh produce, coffee, or a snack. Then, join the locals deep in the park to enjoy a morning in the sun.
Dim Sum (Queens)
Manhattan’s Chinatown is a wonderful place to explore—and it’s even better if you have time to stop for dinner or lunch. But if you’re looking for an excellent, delicious dim sum, hop on a subway. You’re going to Flushing, Queens.
Queens is not only the most diverse place in New York City—it’s considered to be one of the most linguistically diverse neighborhoods on the planet. Here, you’ll find mouthwatering Mexican food, glorious Greek cafes, and a fantastic array of other options. (In the mood for a Bosnian pastry or a Brazilian buffet? You’re likely to find it here.)
But you have a mission! You’re going to track down some of the city’s best dim sum. So, settle down on the 7 train because it’s a bit of a trek. You’re going to Flushing!
Here, you’ll find a healthy selection of dim sum restaurants. Places like Asian Jewels are rightfully acknowledged as having some of the best dim sum in the city. They’re crowded on the weekends, but it’s worth the wait. Carts filled with sizzling dishes will zip by once you sit down—you’ll be eating delicious dim sum in no time.
Roosevelt Island (between Manhattan and Brooklyn)
What makes this next place fun to visit is how you get there. Roosevelt Island is an island, of course. So, how do you get to Roosevelt Island? There are a couple of ways—this is New York City, after all! —but I’d recommend either taking the ferry, or the tram.
First, the ferry. This route also connects to Astoria, Long Island City, East 34th Street, and Wall Street (look for the Astoria line). This is a cool way to get a unique perspective of the city skyline.
But I’d recommend the second option. The tram costs as much as a subway ticket and leaves pretty often from 59th street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. From here, you’ll literally lift over the city. That’s a view that’s difficult to beat.
Once you’re on the island, your adventure continues. History lovers will adore exploring Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Anyone who likes a view should check out the lighthouse on the north tip of the island. And if you’re looking to send a chill up your spine, there are few places as creepy as the Renwick Ruin, an abandoned smallpox hospital.
Green-Wood Cemetery (Brooklyn)
Although visiting a graveyard may not strike many as a “fun” thing to do in NYC, this beautiful Brooklyn cemetery is worth a visit (even a quick one).
Green-Wood Cemetery, which contains 478-acres, is full of fascinating things to explore. Not only that, it’s beautiful, a park that rivals Central and Prospect Parks with its rolling green hills, peaceful glades, and escape from the city. Budding photographers and history buffs will enjoy exploring the elegant graves and mausoleums.
So, what is there to see here? Honestly, it’s wonderful to simply stroll around Green-Wood without an agenda. Wander the paths and see what you find—you’re sure to discover some curiosities.
But you may want to check out a list of Green-Wood’s permanent inhabitants as you decide where to wander. Civil war soldiers, Titanic survivors, and big names like F.A.O Schwarz are buried here.
Aside from visiting with Green-Wood’s citizens, I’d suggest hiking as far up the hill as you can go. Green-Wood is the highest point in Brooklyn. That means, from certain angles, you’ll get a fantastic Manhattan view from across the water.
Socrates Sculpture Park (Queens)
Instagrammers and art-lovers will love this next off-the-beaten-path place to visit in NYC. The Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens is home to an array of zany sculptures.
Once a landfill, this piece of riverside land was designated as a park in the 1980s. Today, it’s home to an impressive array of sculptures. One cool thing about the Socrates Sculpture Park is that it has no permanent exhibit. Every time you visit, you’re bound to see something new. And the sculptures themselves are fascinating! Since it’s an outdoor art space—unconfined by the walls of a museum—most are big, ambitious, and bursting with creativity.
The park is also used by the surrounding community. In the past, they’ve sponsored Yoga Sundays, farm stands, tai chi practices, outdoor film viewings, and theater and dance performances.
Do keep in mind that the park is small in size. I’d suggest visiting it as part of a bigger trip to Queens—hopefully, you’re already headed there to indulge in some delicious dim sum food.
Little Italy on Arthur Avenue (Bronx)
Many people know about official Little Italy. Located in downtown Manhattan, it’s turned into something of a tourist trap in recent years…
So, if you’re looking for fantastic Italian food and to get off-the-beaten-path in NYC, I’d suggest going north, to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. The so-called “real” Little Italy of New York is packed with wonderful eats! Plus, as it’s far from the main drag of Manhattan, you’re less likely to encounter touristy crowds.
Arthur Ave, located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, is home to generations of Italian families. For an excellent sampling of what this hidden gem neighborhood has to offer, check out the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Here, you’ll find sausages, bread, cafes, pastries, fish, and even wine—in other words, you can basically find anything.
As you wander the streets, you’ll find even more delightful fares. The area is packed with delis (like Joe’s Italian Deli on 187th street, which makes their own mozzarella) and pastry shops (like Madonia Brothers Bakery on Arthur Ave, known for offering some of NYC’s best cannoli.)
Staten Island Ferry (Manhattan-Staten Island)
Can we qualify a constantly moving object as a place to visit? In this case, yes. The Staten Island ferry perpetually drifts back and forth between Manhattan and Staten Island. Even so, it definitely qualifies as off-the-beaten-path in NYC.
So, why take the Staten Island ferry? First of all, it’s free. You simply have to board the orange ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan. No ticket needed!
Secondly, the ferry offers one of NYC’s best views of the Statue of Liberty. Find a place along the west side of the vessel and peer out over the waves. You’ll get an excellent perspective of Lady Liberty.
Once you hit Staten Island, merely disembark the ferry and then turn around and get back on. Snap another picture of the Statue of Liberty and be sure to go to the front of the boat so that you can enjoy the Manhattan skyline on your approach.
When it comes to off-the-beaten-path places in NYC, however, Staten Island may top the list. Most visitors—and many locals—never make it over. But Staten Island has plenty to offer! Here, you can find great pizza, a museum dedicated to lighthouses, and even some fantastic hikes.
Brooklyn Botanical Garden (Brooklyn)
For a peaceful getaway, look no further than the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. This green oasis in Brooklyn is full of colorful blooms, winding paths, and peaceful ponds.
You can take your time exploring the 52 acres of the garden—and you should, as there’s plenty to explore. In the spring, you can enjoy the bright pink blooms of cherry trees. In the summer, the Garden’s rose bushes burst into vibrant colors.
This is a peaceful spot to visit all year round. I especially like the Shakespeare Garden, an enclosed space filled with plants that William Shakespeare mentioned in his plays or sonnets. Talk about romantic!
While in the area, you can easily check out the Brooklyn Museum (right next door to the Botanical Gardens) or walk down Eastern Parkway to the Brooklyn Library.
The City Reliquary Museum (Brooklyn)
For something quirky, zany, and really off-the-beaten-path in New York City, go to Williamsburg. A few blocks from the Metropolitan Ave subway station, you’ll find—but you have to look for it—the City Reliquary Museum.
What is a City Reliquary Museum, you ask? This tiny, hidden gem is full of New York history and treasures. You can tell that from the window, where they have displayed city oddities like a carton of chocolate milk that someone left on top of a mailbox…and where it stayed…for weeks…
The museum is cool but small. Once you’ve enjoyed the curiosities inside, go for a wander around the Williamsburg neighborhood. If you walk west, you’ll hit the water, as well as some fantastic Manhattan views.
If you go east, you’ll definitely get off the beaten path. Here, you’ll find an industrial part of the city untouched by crowds of tourists. Be sure to stop by Grimm’s Artisanal Ales for a glass (or two) of local craft beer.
Riverside Park (Manhattan)
We’ve discussed Central Park and Prospect Park. But perhaps the most unrecognized park in New York City is Riverside Park, which stretches four miles along the west edge of Manhattan, from 59th street all the way up to 155th street. It includes 330 acres of parkland and trails.
Here, you’ll find absolutely unbeatable river views. This is a popular spot for runners, bikers, and walkers, so it may be a good choice if you’re looking to start your day with a jog, or simply walk off some of those NYC calories.
You can walk the length of the park. Or, you can look out for some of the sights along the way. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial (89th street) and Grant’s Tomb (on 122nd street) are the perfect spots for history buffs.
One thing’s for sure—there’s no better spot in the city to watch a sunset than Ellington In the Park. Grab a table, order a beer, and prepare for some dazzling colors.
Governors Island (off Manhattan)
Finally—one last off-the-beaten-path place in NYC is Governors Island. Getting here is a breeze. The island is only 800 yards from lower Manhattan, and the ferry ride takes less than 10 minutes.
This former military base—it was used during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812—is now a peaceful respite from city life. Its 172 acres are filled with grand, abandoned former military buildings, green fields, and plenty of beautiful NYC views. In the summer, you’re also likely to find art installations to explore.
Many New Yorkers opt to bring a picnic to Governors Island. You can bring food, but you’ll also find a selection of food trucks—and even places to have a drink.
So if you have been to NYC a few times, or just have extra time, check out some of the off the beaten path destinations.