Every experienced world traveler has either already been to New York City — probably lots of times — or has plans to go one day. But the most heavily trafficked sites like Times Square and the Empire State Building are crowded, obvious, and potentially disappointing, especially after an initial encounter. To get the authentic, real-deal New York flavor, try these alternate sights (and tastes) of the city.
1. The insta-beautiful street art of Brooklyn
If you're being honest, you might admit that half the reason you're into New York is all the great Insatgram-ready backdrops and city skylines. The street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is just a single subway stop away from Manhattan and found on most corners, ranging from simple and cheerful to intricate.
2. Real Housewives-approved cannoli in Little Italy
Local New York area Bravolebs are obsessed with Ferrara's Bakery in Little Italy, and after a long day of walking around downtown Manhattan, you will be too. It's hard to find fresh-filled, authentic old style Italian cannoli anymore, but this little espresso-and-sweets stop will satisfy every craving.
3. The babka scene
If you've never had a babka, it's a traditional eastern European Jewish dessert that's served in just about all New York City homes because it may have started out as an ethnic treat, but the layered pastry dough caught on and became a mainstream New York dessert that is served as a coffee-and-cake style snack or following a heavier meal. Breads Bakery makes the most famously chocolatey one in New York, and has a location next to Union Square so you can top your touristy day off with a layer of carbs and happiness. You will go home wondering why you don't live in New York and why babka isn't your own tradition.
4. The arch at Washington Square Park
The arch itself is made of solid marble and modeled after the iconic Arc de Triomphe. It's gorgeous, loaded with history, and a great place to people watch. Also, if you're going to get engaged, share a romantic kiss, or take some unforgettable photos, this is just the place to do it.
5. Street performers in every major park
If you're already in Washington Square Park to see the arch, stay for the street performers. You'll also catch the local talent in Central Park, Union Square, Prospect Park, and the many other green spaces around the city. For a dollar or two in tips you'll get to see (and participate in) some of the best amateur break dancing, spray paint art, and musical acts in the world.
6. Subway performers
Sure, a cab or called car may be easier, but taking the subway is quick and exposes you to local music. Just about every major train station throughout Midtown Manhattan down will be loaded with performers trying to get noticed.
7. NYC's own nude beach
If you're visiting during warmer months and forget to pack a bathing suit, don't worry. You can experience our local waters and see our local people in their barest form at Jacob Riis Park, a perfect sunny patch of beach facing the ocean in Queens. Yes, 50 Cent grew up pretty close to there, so you can imagine yourself running into him naked there, too.
8. The other zoo
While everyone may go wild for the Bronx Zoo, there's a smaller (but still great) zoo on the grounds of the one-time World's Fair in Queens. It's a short drive or subway ride from Manhattan and offers the benefit of never waiting in a line or competing with half of the city to see the exotic birds. There's even a petting zoo for little kids and a big open park next door to watch expert level local skateboarders, frisbee fanatics, and sports.
9. Saint Patrick's Cathedral
You don't have to be Catholic to appreciate the architecture, history, and inspiration found inside (and out) the walls of Saint Patrick's Cathedral. It's conveniently located in Midtown Manhattan next to Saks Fifth Avenue, so you can come for the spirituality and stay for the shopping.
10. Shoe shopping
We're not even kidding: Saks' shoe department has its own zipcode. And if you came to New York to shop, that's enough shoes to fill even Imelda Marcos' heart. The store's holiday windows are pretty iconic, too.
11. Hell's Kitchen
No, it's not the TV show. Hell's Kitchen is the name of the neighborhood just steps north and west of Times Square, and if you absolutely must venture out to the worst tourist trap of all time, you'll be pleased to know that a neighborhood brimming with local history, some of the best eateries in New York, and the most vibrant gay community is just next door. This neighborhood is particularly fun for those fond of Thai food (there are several Thai restaurants in a five block stretch), Broadway shows, pubs, and comedy clubs.
12. Roosevelt Island's abandoned hospital
If you're into the weird, somewhat creepy attractions, skip the Ripley's visit and take the tram or subway to Roosevelt Island (a small sliver of land in the East River just between Manhattan and Queens), where you'll find the ruins of an old smallpox hospital. The building itself looks like a horror film fortress and will give you the heebie jeebies for decades.
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