11 things to do in New York City you won’t find in guide books

26 May 2016

There are a million and one things to do in the city that never sleeps. A whopping 8.5 million people live in this sparkling city that all share a small amount of space of just 303 square miles (780 sq km’s). Entrepreneurs, artists, creatives, dreamers, business tycoons and even us tourists – everyone wants a bite of the big apple. It’s no surprise that such a high density living environment also offers some real gems when it comes to eating, boozing, dancing, entertainment and other one-of-a-kind experiences.

Things to do in New York, Manhattan skyline

Here are 11 unique New York experiences that you don’t have to share with hundreds of tourists.

1. Sing along to show tunes with the staff at Brandy’s Piano Bar

Things to do in New York, Brandy's Piano Bar

A night at Brandy’s is one you won’t forget so fast. That is, unless the amount of booze you consume has anything to do with it. A shabby old saloon bar dating back to 1979 with a piano guy belting out show tunes, classics and movie favourites. Anything you can sing along to, really. ‘Cabaret’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘American Pie’ are all regulars, but you can put requests in for your favourites along with a small tip. The bar staff all chime in and have their time on the mic throughout the evening with enthusiastic, yet slightly out of tune backup from the patrons. It’s like having a singalong in your living room with 40 of your best friends you’ve never met. It’s hidden away on the Upper East Side.


2. Find treasures old and new at the Brooklyn Flea Markets

Not only can you find some really fantastic treasures like vintage sunglasses, clothes, gilded picture frames and classic furniture here, there’s plenty of young designers that showcase their talent in shoes, jewellery, art and clothes. As an added bonus, ‘Smorgasburg’ is an extensive food court with a great selection of foods to refuel you after a morning of digging for treasures. Locations depend on which week day and time of year, so check on the website:


Read more about a great Brooklyn designer purchase I made at the Brooklyn Flea Markets here

Things to do in New York, Brooklyn Flea Markets

3. Shop for designer fashion at bargain prices

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Big Apple without doing a little retail therapy.  Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and the fabulous Bergdorf Goodman department stores are iconic and have the price tags to match. For designer wares that come at much more affordable rates, head to Nordstrom rack, Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW) or New York’s worst kept secret, Century 21. You’ll find your Jimmy Choo’s and DVF threads along with Kate Spade handbags  at these places at a fraction of the price.


Things to do in New York, Century
Things to do in New York, Century 21
Things to do in New York, DSW Show warehouse

4. Experience an authentic old fashioned diner in Brooklyn at Sunset Park Diner and Donuts

Many head to Brooklyn to discover the trendy cafés of Williamsburg, the revamped warehouses of Dumbo and the shops and restaurants near Park Slope. If nostalgia is your thing and you wonder what Brooklyn looked like before hipsters invaded it, head to Sunset Park. The grunge is still here. $5 haircuts and cheap Chinese takeaway shops are the order of the day. It doesn’t get more authentic than stepping inside the Sunset Park Diner and Donuts.  A bottomless cup of coffee and a huge plate of Huevos Rancheros served by a pinafore aproned waitress will set you back just US$9. There is nothing contrived here, it’s still what it was 30 years ago. Red leather banquettes, brown tiled booths, bricked walls and prices that allow you to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Things to do in New York, Sunset Park Diner and Donuts
Things to do in New York, Sunet Park Diner and Donuts

5. Make friends at one of Brooklyn’s grungiest dive bars – Hank’s Saloon

Oh, Hank’s! If you like fancy cocktails and sparkling bathrooms, DO NOT walk into Hank’s. However, if you’re interested in meeting friendly Brooklyn locals, drink cheap booze, sticky floors and fairy lights with your night of live music, this is your heaven. Opened over a century ago, its original clientele were the steel workers building the Empire State. Many a rockstar has made an appearance at this character filled bar, but they will welcome anyone from any walk of life with open arms. Just leave your attitude at the door.

Hank’s Saloon Facebook page

Things to do in New York, Hank's Saloon

6. Do Sunday like a New Yorker and go for brunch at Vic’s, East Village

Brunching is like a religion in NYC. You have to do it at least once a weekend. The #1 rule is: book ahead. Since everyone does it, popular spots book out in advance. Rule #2 – It’s totally ok to drink before noon. Brunch hours are officially 10.00am til 3.00pm. Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, cocktails and beers are listed right beside coffee and soft drinks, so go ahead and indulge. The menu covers any craving you might have from sweeter items to egg dishes and farm fresh vegetables to pastas and hearty burgers. Natural light filters into the bright coloured rustic room with exposed brick and white washed furniture. Bring friends, order a jug of cocktails and settle in for the day. And don’t leave without experiencing the bathroom…


Things to do in New York, Vic's
Things to do in New York, Vic's bathrooms

7. Have New York’s best pastrami sandwich at Harry & Ida’s

It would be a crime to miss out on one of NY’s famous Jewish delicatessen. Whether you’re more of an eel or fish salad person, or prefer a smoky brisket or melt in your mouth pastrami, New York City is the place to get your fix. No doubt that Katz’s Deli and Russ & Daughters hold the reigning titles in this field, however there are newer and smaller contenders on the playing field who are serious competition. Harry and Ida’s is a hole in the wall general store/deli run by a sister and brother team Will and Julie Horowitz. Named after their great-grandparents store from over a century ago, their generous servings of thickly sliced, super soft pastrami has won the owner the top prize in the ‘Brisket King of NYC’ competition in 2014. It’s a classic with some modern additions. The fall-apart smoked & spiced pastrami is brought to life with buttermilk fermented cucumber, caraway cracked rye berry, anchovy mustard and finished with fresh green dill sprigs. It’s a one of a kind sandwich that you’ll be talking about for a long time.


Things to do in New York, Harry & Ida's

8. Experience Manhattan’s most lavish cocktail parlour: Dear Irving

There are no secret entrances via phone booths for this one of a kind cocktail bar, but there is an air of mystery about it. Walking in you’re welcomed by a hostess who will take you, if you’ve made a reservation, through some velvet curtains in to the first of four parlours. Each parlour is inspired by a different era, so if you play your cards right, you can time travel your way through the night with cocktails in hand. In the main parlour sitting areas with Gatsby worthy leather arm chairs and shiny metal ceilings are divided by crystal droplet curtains. This space is aptly named the F.Scott Fitzgerald room. There’s also the equally excessive yet completely different french inspired Marie Antoinette room, a bar and red velvet couches in the Abraham Lincoln room and a 60’s inspired JFK room. Dare to be fabulous with a calibre of drinks to match!


For stunning images of this unique lounge, check out http://wwd.com/eye/food/gallery/dear-irvings-parlor-games/

Things to do in New York, Dear Irving

9. Join in the burger wars and treat yourself to a Brindle Room Burger

This small East Village eatery serves shareable American comfort food. Luckily the one thing that comes in a one person serve is its main attraction, the burger. The attention here is on the exceptional quality meat used, sourcing the prime dry aged beef trimmings from Sebastian’s steak house in New Jersey. Served simply with caramelised onions and american cheese, it comes with a side of crunchy skin-on thick cut fries. Burger perfection at a very reasonable price of just US$16.00.


Things to do in New York, Brindle Room Burger

10. Dance at one of New York’s oldest and legendary’s clubs,  The Pyramid Club

If the walls at this place could talk, it would make for some jaw dropping storytelling. Converted in 1981 from a Polish Club to an underground  art and performance space, the Pyramid became the stomping ground for some of New York’s most influential artists, musicians and drag stars. In the 80’s it was a place for the wild and the weird, the geeky and the crazy to let loose. Lady Bunny and RuPaul found success at the Pyramid, and the likes of Nirvana and Red Hot Chilli Peppers performed their first NY shows here. Not much of the décor has changed here since the early days. The logo certainly hasn’t had a facelift since 1981 and neither have the toilets. Drinks are served in plastic cups, come at affordable prices and most probably end up on the floor whilst you shake your booty to 80’s music and new wave tunes. A neon coloured Rubik’s cube adorns the walls, you get the picture… In the words of the Pyramid club: “If you remember the 80’s you didn’t do it right.”


Things to do in New York, Pyramid club
Things to do in New York, Pyramid Club

11. Walk the Brooklyn Heights promenade for the best view of Manhattan’s iconic skyline

There are many great views to be had for a lot of tourist dollars in New York City. This much less touristy alternative from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is where you get to enjoy the length of the Manhattan skyline – for free! You won’t be fighting for space here, instead you’ll find yourself amongst Brooklynites walking the dog or going for their morning coffee run. You’ll marvel at some of Brooklyn’s prime real estate to one side of the promenade whilst the other shows off the best view of the Manhattan skyline. Grab a coffee and pull up a park bench.


Things to do in New York, Brooklyn promenade
Things to do in New York, Brooklyn promenade, Lady Liberty
Things to do in New York, Brooklyn promenade

No matter how many times you visit this city, you will never run out of things to explore. New Yorkers are some of the friendliest city folk you’ll ever come across.  Surprising for a place where you have to share a lot of your personal space? Or perhaps that’s exactly why they enjoy talking to perfect strangers? Give it a try, strike up a conversation, ask someone for their favourite coffee place, sandwich shop or art gallery and you may get much more that what you asked for.

Happy exploring and Oy Vey, will it be hard to leave this place!

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