If you’re looking to get off the beaten path in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, then you’re in for a spectacular treat.
On this list, you’ll find 33 unusual activities in New York.
Some will give you goosebumps…
Others will challenge your discovery skills…
Hell, one or two might even disgust you.
One thing is for sure, though. You won’t find an ordinary experience in this article.
The Quirkiest Museums in New York
New York boasts countless unusual museums. You won’t have a dull moment if you decide to add them to your itinerary.
- Mmuseumm. Museums don’t get much smaller than this one! The tiniest NYC exhibition is arranged inside an old freight elevator. The peculiar collection includes items such as the shoe thrown at George W. Bush in Baghdad. You can pay the museum multiple visits, as the displayed items are often replaced with new ones.
- The Smile Face Museum. This wacky space should be ranked as one of the top 10 unusual things to do in New York. It is a tribute to the classic yellow smiley face created in the 1960s. What started as a private collection in 1992, grew into an enormous assembly of toys, clothes, bags, posters, and all kinds of items featuring smiley faces.
- Museum of the American Gangster. A former speakeasy in Manhattan, this East Village spot is like a time machine that brings you back to a dark period of the city’s history. All the prominent figures from the prohibition period are featured here via different items and memorabilia. The collection is related to Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and other gangsters that once made the streets unsafe. Tip: Apart from housing some of the weirdest things to do in NYC, East Village is one of the best areas to stay in New York for foodies and partygoers.
- The Robotic Church. Even if you consider churches to be quite alike, this one will definitely surprise you. What used to be the Norwegian Seaman’s Church is now home to dozens of handmade robots. Some of them are 15 ft. (4.57 m) tall. That alone is enough to earn the church a spot among the most unusual things to do in New York. The contrast between the old building and the technologically advanced pieces is staggering.
- Spyscape. This establishment is more than just a museum. It allows you to put your spy skills to the ultimate test and gives you the chance to engage in fun activities, such as deceiving a lie detector. You can find out how good you are at surveillance and hacking, too. Spyscape is where you’ll also learn details about the history of spying.
- The Museum of Interesting Things. If you love vintage gadgets and geeky stuff, you shouldn’t miss this place. The East Village exhibition is a private collection featuring awesome items such as a butter churn, a fuel iron, and an extending telephone. Every visitor can take pictures and even hold the items – including the cool crystal radio powered solely by radio waves.
- The Trash Collection. You can visit a garbage depot in NYC and discover a quirky collection of treasures. Nelson Molina, a former sanitary engineer, started gathering items he found while on the job. His treasures include exotic lamps, vintage toys, and art pieces. The museum is not open to the public (except for sanitary workers). However, you can join one of the frequently organized private tours.
- The Museum of Sex. You’ll probably expect to find such a place rather in Amsterdam than in the Big Apple. Of all the unusual things to do in New York, this is among the quirkiest ones. The museum houses 15,000+ pieces of adult content, including photography, art, clothing, and everything imaginable related to sex. Make sure you visit the gift shop, too.
- The Daredevil Tattoo Museum. You have the chance to explore one of the most famous tattoo shops in existence. It is full of artifacts dating back to the early days of tattoo art. The vast collection eventually turned the studio into a museum. The items displayed include old newspaper clippings, vintage photos, and old-school tattoo machines.
NYC’s Weirdest and Spookiest Attractions
The weirdest and spookiest attractions of New York have something for everyone – from gamers and magic lovers to street art and dark history fans.
- Explorers Club Headquarters. Stepping inside this exceptional space is one of the most unusual things to do in NYC. Art pieces, artifacts, and books from a bygone exploration era are gathered behind a century-old building with stained glass windows. Since 1904, when the club was founded, its collection kept growing and amassed more than 13,000 books. The Explorers Club Headquarters also houses Thor Heyerdahl’s giant globe and curious polar artifacts brought by club members.
- Pier 54. Part of the historic Chelsea Piers, the spot is associated with the Titanic and Lusitania seafaring catastrophes. In 1912, the dock received the rescued passengers of the Titanic. The eerie location participated in another disaster three years later. The Lusitania sailed from Pier 54 and was torpedoed before it reached Ireland.
- Roosevelt Island Cat Sanctuary. Some may find this place a bit creepy, but most visitors love it. An abandoned hospital is currently home to hundreds of felines. They survived most of their lives on their own before a group of dedicated people stepped in. Over the past 15 years, they’ve been taking care of the cat colony.
- Neue Galerie. You could hardly expect to find such a place in the Big Apple. This is the only museum in the city that is focused solely on European art. The name stands for New Gallery in German. You can marvel at the works of several 20th-century Austrian and German artists, including masters like Gustav Klimt, Wassily Kandinsky, and George Grosz.
- Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store. The attention-grabbing name of this weird place is nothing compared to the goods sold inside. Superhero fans can find all they could possibly wish for among the insane variety of merchandise. You can buy a mind reader, as well as a cyclone in a can. There is no better gift for a friend’s birthday than a black hole in a bottle, right?
- The Statue of Liberty’s Original Torch. The iconic Statue of Liberty is one of the most popular NYC landmarks. It is one of the craziest facts about New York that it’s actually not American. However, the following is even more peculiar: its original torch was replaced almost 40 years ago. The still-intact torch is part of the nearby museum. Check it out when you pay Lady Liberty a visit.
- Buzz-A-Rama. Behold, the very last slot car arcade in NYC. This vintage Brooklyn attraction looks like a time capsule and you’ll feel like you’re in 1965. Years ago, the shop competed with 40 other establishments. Today, it’s the last one standing. The tiny cars can reach incredible speeds of more than 100 mph (160 km/h). You can also buy your own toy speed machine.
- The Modern Pinball NYC. The Modern Pinball NYC is one of the most action-packed of the unusual things to do in New York. Even if you are not a 90s kid, we bet you’ll still enjoy the vintage pinball machines. The collection includes modern pinball games, too. You can try your skills on every pinball available and learn about the games’ history.
- The Life Underground Sculptures. We bet you haven’t seen sculptures like these before. You’ll find the tiny bronze creations on the corner of the 8th Ave. station. Due to their miniature size, most people miss this incredible art installation. The sculptor, Tom Otterness, wanted to express his controversial past as a violent performance artist. He did that by modeling these unique pieces of art.
- Gimbel’s Bridge. This rare construction feat is three stories high and links two buildings in downtown Manhattan. As a former shopping center, the buildings’ main attraction was the 1925 copper bridge. The extraordinary Art Deco style is a feast for your eyes. Today, the bridge is privately-owned. But although you can’t walk on it, admiring it on the outside is still an awesome experience.
- Street Art in Bushwick. NYC is famous for its street art. If you want to see the best of it, you must take a stroll through the Bushwick district. It features artwork from famous names such as Barry McGee. Join a walking tour, if you don’t want to miss the best art pieces. It’s a lot of fun and you’ll learn unexpected details about each street mural. Tip: Another great city for seeing amazing street art is the Belgian capital. The comic route is among the coolest things to do in Brussels.
- The 191 Subway Station Graffiti Tunnel. If you want to skip the trivial tourist attractions and see something extraordinary, then check out the Graffiti Tunnel. The location used to be quite spooky back in the day, but a group of skillful artists transformed it completely. You’ll love what they’ve done with the tunnel, especially if you’re an artist or a photographer.
- Tannen’s Magic Shop. Welcome to NYC’s oldest magic shop! Plenty of strange items will capture your attention here. Except for card decks and dice, you can get your hands on items such as a multiplying billiard ball or a magic cane. Since its establishment in 1925, the shop’s clientele has always included famous magicians. Oh, did we mention you can opt for a free demonstration?
- House of Yes. One of Brooklyn’s quirkiest places offers surreal performances by aerialists and circus artists. The breath-taking cabaret shows are highly innovative and full of energy. One of the best things about it is the after party that follows almost every show. These parties are known to be vibrant, wild, and fiery.
- The Evolution Store. One of SoHo’s gems boasts an endless variety of historical items. Everywhere you look, you’ll discover a new and intriguing collectible you’ll want to buy. The friendly staff knows their trade, and you’re likely to walk away with something wacky such as a fossil or a framed butterfly.
The Extraordinary Tastes of New York City
You can find anything your taste buds desire in a cosmopolitan city like New York. However, these extraordinary locales will blow even your wildest imagination in tiny pieces.
- Shopsin’s. Foodies from around the world need to try their Bread Pudding French Toast. If this doesn’t sound tempting, you can always choose one of the other 900 items on the menu. Kenny Shopsin, the late founder of this location, used to kick people out if he thought they didn’t fit the casual style of the restaurant. He hoped that this would prevent Shopsin’s from becoming a tourist attraction.
- Nonnas of the World. When you’re out looking to grab a bite, consider visiting this unusual place on Staten Island. The eatery offers home-cooked meals prepared by real grandmas. That’s where the name comes from – “nonna” is Italian for “grandma”. Instead of having a master chef, a different grandma is in charge of the kitchen each night.
- Toloache. Care to try what mold tastes like? Nope, we are not joking. Toloache is a Mexican restaurant with a specific clientele. No wonder, as they serve dishes such as the huitlacoche (corn-mold tacos). Much to our surprise, the meal has become a BIG hit. Of course, the edible fungus is harmless. If you don’t wish to risk it, you can always try the Oaxacan fried grasshoppers’ tacos called chapulines.
- Kenka. The St. Marks location stands out from other restaurants with both its decoration and cuisine. When you think of Japanese food, you probably imagine sushi or tempura. At Kenka, you’ll find “slightly” different dishes. If you’re a daredevil with a strong stomach, you can test your taste buds on a bull penis or octopus wasabi.
- Meow Parlour Cat Café. To all cat lovers out there: prepare to fall in love with the Meow Parlour Cat Café. The NYC location offers activities such as Yoga and Kitties. Our personal favorite is called the Cats Package – you get to spend 1:30 h with the felines while enjoying a tasty meal and a beverage. You have to try the mouthwatering French macaroons, too.
- Cacao Prieto. This place will awe you not just with the gorgeous building it’s located in. The Prieto family has a long history of producing organic cacao. They have established a factory and a shop in NYC. Today, their menu includes a variety of yummy organic chocolates. Did we mention the quality homemade rums and liquors they also produce? To guarantee the perfect quality of their products, the family designed their own machines.
- The Campbell. Grand Central Terminal is a popular tourist destination. However, most people don’t know about its secret: the hidden bar. The entrance is on 43rd street. This spot rocks vintage Art Deco interior complete with a stone fireplace, as well as a unique hand-painted ceiling. The glamorous atmosphere and the hard-to-find location makes it one of the most unusual places for a drink after a full day of exploration in New York.
- Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. The authors of the New York City for Dummies book claim that this place offers the best ice cream in NYC. This is a bold statement, but it just might be the truth. Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is not your typical gelateria. It is a quiet shop where you don’t have to wait in line for a cone of ice cream. And if you happen to run into the owner Mark Thompson, you’d be in luck. He’ll gladly tell you stories from the Big Apple’s past while you nibble on your delicious treat.
- Fraunces Tavern. This joint boasts a lot of history. The Wall Street bar used to be a revolutionary activity hub back in the day. According to historical records, this is the location where Washington took his farewells with the officers who were about to fight in the Civil War. This is also the tavern where the Sons of Liberty used to plan their affairs, including the Boston Tea Party. Fraunces Tavern now features an in-house museum to commemorate its past.
The Most Unusual Things to Do in New York – Rare, Spooky, and Unexpected
Your visit to the Big Apple won’t be complete if you don’t include at least a few weird activities on your itinerary.
With a whopping 33 unusual things to do in NYC, this list gives you plenty of juicy ideas. Just don’t forget to go nuts with the photos. New York is incredibly picturesque.
Now, tell us:
Which quirky place will you visit first?