Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure, and curiosity.
Cool Things to Do in NYC
New York City is the city of cool. The dynamic cultural and art scenes mean the newest and coolest in every sphere of entertainment and life in general hits New York City long before most other places. Even visitors who've seen it all will find that the city has a few surprises up its sleeve. Here are some awesome things to do in NYC for the well-traveled visitor.
1. Ride the Beast Speedboat
Boating and other water travel have always been around on New York City's rivers. There has, however, never been anything like the Beast. The neon boat is like a party on steroids that happens to pass by amazing views of the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty. The fast boat takes boating to a new level. It promises a fast ride that guarantees riders will get wet in the spraying water created by the boat's fast pace, or by the water guns aimed at passengers by an energetic crew that entertains with high energy for the entire trip. Getting wet is only part of the fun. Stunning views of the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty make for perfect photo opportunities that the crew will willingly stop to accommodate. Pulsating party music and antics from the crew ups the cool factor. Add in fascinating passengers from all over the world and a manageable time (the ride lasts only 45 minutes) and it isn't difficult to see why a ride on the Beast is considered one of the most fun things to do in NYC.
The Beast operates from May until October and tickets should be booked in advance on their website.
2. Walk the High Line Park
There are many public parks in New York City. Some are even famous. But none are as cool as the High Line Park. As the name suggests, High Line Park is an elevated green space- the only one of its kind in NYC. It occupies abandoned train tracks that stand way above the city, spanning the space of close to twenty city blocks. The trailblazing High Line Park has become a model for many cities worldwide that want to utilize unused train tracks in a way that integrates green space and art into city life. This fact alone makes it one of the coolest things to do in NYC.
To experience High Line Park is to become part of an exotic garden dotted with the latest in modern artwork. Yet, this is in the air-- far above the grittiness of the greatest city on earth. Imagine walking above New York City on a track-like garden that winds through the tops of buildings, over a river and even inside of buildings at some point. Along the way, creative installations and murals pop up to add interest to the journey, and chairs for resting are never far away.
Since the park is more than a mile long, at some point you may get hungry. Not to worry, there are small eateries, ice cream vendors and numerous exits into the main areas of the city.
Speaking of exits, the High Line Park's many exits or entrances depending on how you look at it, provide the perfect opportunity to explore the different parts of Manhattan that it goes through. Of particular interest is the artsy Chelsea neighborhood or the foodie haven known as the Meatpacking District. Add all this to the amazing views of the city and of NYC's sunsets, and it is clear why visitors seeking cool things to do in NYC must add this park to their itinerary.
High Line Park can be accessed by numerous entrances. Check their website for more information.
3. Watch a Movie Taping Live
One of my favorite New York City memory is the morning when, while walking under the Manhattan bridge, I walked upon a slum that hadn't been there the night before. Imagine my surprise to find what looked like the new home to a whole colony of homeless folk in an area that had been fairly clean just the night before. Of course, I had to stop and chat with one of the guys under the bridge. Turns out I had, in fact, walked into a taping of the cult hit Gotham. This is what the set looked like:
Really, I shouldn't have been surprised. It is not strange to walk past a movie set in New York City. The city's character is intertwined with the world of movies and filming so passing a filming in progress is just another part of the day for New Yorkers. Visitors who love movies and would appreciate seeing one filmed will find New York City is the perfect place for making their dream come true. Even those who don't particularly like movies may find the buzz that surrounds a movie set and the setup before the actual filming fascinating.
Finding the filming schedule in New York City takes just a little research. The best resources I have found so far are NYC Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo's blog and On Location Vacations.
If you do want to see a filming just check the schedule and show up at the location. The areas that showcase the famous NYC skyline, Central Park, Fifth Avenue and parts of Brooklyn are the city's most filmed areas so be prepared to journey to these spots.
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Even before the actual filming, there is the setup which is in itself fascinating. Service people set up tents filled with food, equipment and other elusive elements along the sidewalk, while extras and actors move in and out as they prepare for their scene. If you are lucky you can spot your favorite actor or actress going in and out of one of these tents. Even if you don't, the realistic world that the designers create is sure to impress.
4. Help Design a Play at Upright Citizen Brigade Theater
Of all the cool things to do in NYC, this is the one that theater-lovers will love most. The highly interactive, and belly-achingly funny Upright Citizens Brigade (UPC) company is home to New York City's most revered improv theater shows. Although the company's small theaters won't make the glossy tourist publications, local theater lovers and visitors looking for budget-friendly theater entertainment flock to the shows in droves.
Those who watch SNL will remember the Upright Citizen Brigade from the skits of the same name in the early 2000s. The theater is the training school that inspired the skits and was founded by some of the SNL cast members. That alone should tip you off to the coolness that is the Upright Citizen Brigade.
Many of the interactive shows start off with a group from the company taking suggestions from the crowd. As the crowd comes up with characters and scenarios the actors begin their play. Expect it to get weird but always to be fun as the audience challenges the actors and actresses with roles and ideas that will either horrify or have you rolling on the floors. Other shows are straight-up comedy acts where no one in the audience is off-limits. Needless to say, these improv shows are one of the most fun things to do in NYC.
If you do want to contribute to the show be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a seat in the front rows. The cheap seats are first-come, first-serve and go fast.
5. Read Comics at Midtown Comic
Comics, superheroes and everything Marvel call this store home. The small space attracts a devoted following that frequently visits to devour the action-packed illustrated creations that remain cool even as the age of technology has made more traditional books obsolete.
Midtown Comics is located right outside Times Square and can be reached by the 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, N, Q and R trains to the 42nd Street stop.
6. The Comic Con Festival
Speaking of superheroes and comics, the Com Con festival is one of the coolest events to hit New York City each year. The festival celebrates all things related to comics, video games, anime, pop culture and movies. For the four days in early fall that the festival happens, the city's streets get taken over by kids and adults dressed in their favorite costumes while passersby snap photos. One of the festival's big events is the cosplay competition where cool costumes made from inventive materials get judged by a panel. If you are into pop culture, video games and anime this really is the coolest thing you can do in NYC.
Plan a visit on their website for some of the most fun you will have while in NYC.
7. Watch a Street Artist Create Art
Nothing is as cool as watching an artist create. Make this a street artist creating on the colorful streets of New York City and the cool factor goes through the roof. New York City's street artists run the gamut. Caricature artists are in good supply, artists offering more traditional portraits are also well represented as are those using more modern methods. Look out for these artists around all the more popular public spaces. In particular, Union Square, Central Park and Times Square are known to be great places to watch street artists create art or better yet to get your own artsy souvenir to take home.
I stop to watch street artists every chance I get. Here is a photo of a Time Square street artist using spray paint to create a cityscape of New York City while I watched.
8. Be a Locavore at Union Square Market
Union Square Green Market is New York City's largest green market and its coolest. The market's collection of everything natural, wholesome or food-related makes it a cool place to spend a few hours. Add in the opportunities to see the city's celebrities or chefs doing their food shopping and the market is a must.
A visit to the market will quickly prove why it's so cool. Fruits, vegetables and other produce in a rainbow of colors dot shelves and tents where the chance to talk to the farmers who toiled over the ground makes it a special experience. If the baked goods like breads, pies, muffins, cookies, pastries and buns don't entice shoppers to break their diets then the delicious smells from vendors selling stews, sandwiches and other hot foods may do just that. Other natural products like woolen goods from a sheep farmer, jams and fruit preserves jarred on nearby farms and cheeses, yogurts and meats are also regulars in the market.
The Union Square market may not be a tourist attraction, but those who find markets and learning about the food of a region interesting will find it to be one of the most things to do in NYC. The market happens every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and can be reached by taking the 4, 6,L, N and Q trains to the 14th Avenue/ Union Square stop.
9. People Watch in Times Square
My favorite memories involve some of the cool or weird people I have seen and met in New York City. There are the numerous subway entertainers-- the most interesting being a family of five banjo wielding Mexicans who told me good-natured stories of Mexico and an older cane dependent blind man who is a regular entertainer at a particular train stop and who confided that he wasn't really totally blind but kept up the act to bolster his Stevie Wonder renditions. Then there are the times I start talking to a visitor from a fascinating town in a part of the world I had never heard of or the times when I spot an actor or actress.
My point is anything can happen in New York City and it all happens because of the city's amazing population. This is precisely what makes people watching such a fun thing to do in NYC.
Those who really want to take in the vibrancy that a collection of people from varied backgrounds and nations packed into one area can bring will want to head to Times Square. Times Square sees about 400,000 people walking through its streets on any given day. This makes it perfect for people watching.
Anything goes here so just plop down at any convenient spot or head to Duffy's Square where seating is set up specifically for those who want to take in the magic of the area.
10. See Medieval Europe at Cloisters Museum
This treasure of a museum never gets too busy as it's far from the usual NYC tourist spots. Yet it is the coolest museum in the city. The Cloisters takes one back into medieval and Europe through a collection of old religious manuscripts, gorgeous period tapestries, art, glass sculptures, furniture and more.
The buildings themselves are also a treat. Reproductions of Spanish and French religious buildings and actual pieces from four European cloisters which are incorporated into the main museum give the museum an authenticity that will provide pleasure for those who want to escape reality for an afternoon. Lovers of history, religion and architecture should also put this on their list of cool things to do in NYC.
Visitors are inevitably surprised by the views outside the museum. The gardens surrounding the building themselves deserve their own tour and the view overlooking the Hudson River from the top of the hill where the museum is located is one that is always talked about by first-time visitors.
The easiest way to get to the cloisters is by taking the A train to 190th Street stop. The walk from the train to the museum is long (though doable) so bear that in mind when planning your trip.
New York City will always be the city of the cool. The activities on this list are some of the most fun things to do in NYC for the hip and for those seeking off the beaten track activities to do while in the city
© 2018 Rosheda Stephenson