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Five things to do on your Day off in New York City
In a city that never sleeps, it’s not difficult to keep yourself occupied. In fact, the biggest challenge with organizing your free time in New York City is cherry picking activities from the overwhelming list of options. And while you could easily spend all your free time seeing the major sights, by going just a bit deeper and further, you can find some truly unique New York experiences. Here are a few of my favorite ways to unwind and recharge on my days off in New York City.
#1 Head out of the city to experience New York and New Jersey’s nature
While New York City offers a million diversions, sometimes the best way to unwind is to escape the concrete jungle for some real nature. With trains leaving from Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, you can be whizzing past rivers and suburbs in just half an hour. The Metro-North line can spirit you away to quaint towns like Cold Spring, which is located right across the Hudson River from West Point. Or you can hike through lush state parks or relax in thriving art communities like Beacon. Or you can take the LIRR to explore Long Island’s beaches and vineyards. Even heading west into New Jersey on the PATH train offers some peaceful options, like Princeton’s elegant campus.
#2 Make a day of it at Coney Island
Coney Island is historic and iconic — and often overlooked by locals. But conveniently located on the F/D/N/Q lines, Coney Island is an easy destination for a day trip. The beach is insanely popular in the summer, so you’ll want to arrive early and stake out your claim in the sand. Pack a picnic lunch or grab a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, a Brooklyn institution that has held a hot dog eating contest for over a hundred years. In the afternoon you can try all the rides at Luna Park, including one of the granddads of roller coasters, the Cyclone. Then cheer on the Brooklyn Cyclones at a minor league baseball game – which I think can be more raucous and dramatic than the major leagues!
Coney Island throws unique parties all throughout the year. The Mermaid Parade is the biggest art parade in the country, a showcase of dazzling and hilarious sea-themed costumes. You can even march in the parade if you have a particularly clever idea for a costume. On New Year’s Day, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club dives into the frigid Atlantic waters for a refreshing start to the new year. You can join them for a dip or provide moral support from the beach.
#3 Go hunting for New York’s street art
With all its art and advertising, New York is one of the most colorful cities in the world. Its very walls are canvases for artists – both commissioned and guerrilla. You can admire the best in street art at showcases like The Bushwick Collective or the 100 Gates project in the Lower East Side. Or you can create your own New York City street art scavenger hunt. Track down pieces left by famous graffitists like Banksy and Invader. New York even has historical street art – there are at least three pieces of the Berlin Wall scattered around the city.
#4 Focus on exploring a specific neighborhood
New York City is so dense, you can easily spend a whole day just exploring a few blocks. One of my favorite neighborhoods to spend the day in is Harlem. Rich in history, culture, and music, Harlem’s diversity will keep you entertained from brunch to late night drinks. And, to be frank, food is one of the biggest draws of the neighborhood. One of my favorite places to stuff myself is as Amy Ruth’s Restaurant, which has been serving up mouth-watering fried chicken and waffles since 1999. With dishes like The President Barack Obama, The Ludacris, and The Rev. Al Sharpton (my favorite), Amy Ruth’s is a celebration of African-American history and delicious soul food. Follow it up with an unforgettable night of interactive entertainment at Amateur Night at the Apollo, where the crowd boos and cheers to decide the winner of the competition.
And with the diverse cultural influences that make it so multifaceted, you can even pretend you’ve escaped the US for a bit. Thinking about teaching English in Korea? Hit up K-Town! Indulge in some bibimbap or Korean fried chicken, down some soju shots, then grab the mic at a karaoke bar.
#5 Take advantage of New York’s more obscure museums
New York has some of the best museums in the world, like the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes, since you can easily get lost and spend hours wandering through the vast halls (and remember to check if the admission is required or just ‘suggested)!
However, these aren’t the only museums in New York City – in a city of millions of people, there’s a niche museum for every interest. The Museum of the Moving Image celebrates the history and advancements in television and film, with exhibits on icons like Martin Scorsese, Jim Henson and the Muppets, and Mad Men. The Queens Museum draws culture-hounds with its 9,335 square foot miniature panorama of New York City that was build for the 1964 World’s Fair. The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of American innovation – not to mention that during the summer you can catch an outdoor movie on the deck of this historic aircraft carrier.
What are some of your favorite things to do in New York City on your day off?
Amy snagged a CELTA from Teaching House New York in 2013 and since then has taught on three continents (and counting). Having a CELTA has made her dream of moving abroad possible, and currently she is slow-traveling through Europe. She loves getting to know students, wandering around cities, and trying to find the world’s best donut. You can check out her travel adventures and mishaps at The Wayfarer’s Book.