- 1 The Best Experiences in New York City
- 1.1 1. Go glamping on Governor’s Island
- 1.2 2. Take a trip to the top of one of the most magnificent observatories in New York City
- 1.3 3. City Climb at The Edge
- 1.4 4. Head out on a full-day walking tour
- 1.5 5. Soar high above the city on a helicopter tour
- 1.6 6. Cruise around the five boroughs on the water
- 1.7 7. Indulge your sweet tooth on a desserts walking tour
- 1.8 8. Head back to class at the Pizza School NYC
- 1.9 9. Go underground on a subway tour
- 1.10 10. See the catacombs glow by candlelight
- 1.11 11. Learn the method behind the magic on a Backstage Broadway tour
- 1.12 12. Attend a taping of your favorite talk show
- 1.13 13. Take a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
- 1.14 14. Hone your secret skills at SPYSCAPE
- 1.15 15. Climb to the Statue of Liberty Crown
- 1.16 16. Learn more about Ellis Island on a Hard Hat Tour
- 1.17 17. Experience sports on the Hudson River at Chelsea Piers
- 1.18 18. Sit back for the time of your life on The Ride
- 1.19 19. Grab a VIP ticket to one of the city’s music festivals
- 1.20 20. See a baseball game or take a tour of the stadium
- 1.21 21. Relax during a spa treatment at Aire Ancient Baths
- 1.22 22. Ride one of New York City’s floating food shacks
- 1.23 23. Dare to try a thrill ride on the Hudson River
- 1.24 24. Take an EmptyMet Tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- 1.25 25. ‘Tis the season for an autumn or holiday experience
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Whether you live in or visit New York City, one of the best parts about this place is the incredible activities, things to do, and places to visit. And having new experiences outside of your comfort zone is really the foundation of traveling, right? They’re called “travel experiences” for a reason!
New York City is overflowing with absolutely incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for you to experience when you’re here.
Want to go backstage on Broadway? Done.
Love luxury camping experiences in The Great Outdoors of New York City? It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s totally possible.
Go from underground exploring the deepest parts of the city all the way to the top of the highest observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, all without leaving the five boroughs.
If you or someone you love is coming to the “Greatest City in the World” (thanks Hamilton) and you want to give them a trip they truly will never forget, take a look at this list of handpicked experiences to find some amazing New York City experience gifts. Find one that resonates and go on your adventure of a lifetime.
The Best Experiences in New York City
1. Go glamping on Governor’s Island
One of the most memorable New York City experience gifts I’ve ever been given was a night glamping on Governor’s Island. Found just off the shore of Lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island was utilized for US military activities until the 1990s. Although the public park is open to the public year-round, it has never been a place where you could stay overnight–until now.
Collective Retreats has introduced a luxury camping experience where sleep in a luxury tent with beautiful views of Lower Manhattan, Jersey City, and the Statue of Liberty right outside your front “door.” Because you’re far enough away from the city’s dazzling lights, you might even see some stars.
Collective Retreats also operates the Fire & Water restaurant at Three Peaks Lodge. It provides brunch on weekends and lunch and supper every day and has a one-of-a-kind, chef-designed cuisine.
Insider Tip: If you don’t want to stay overnight, you can make a dinner reservation at Fire & Water Restaurant instead! They have a private boat that will pick you up in Manhattan and transport you back and forth to the retreat.
2. Take a trip to the top of one of the most magnificent observatories in New York City
Name for me another perfect experience gift in New York City as iconic as visiting an observatory in NYC! The Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and Top of the Rock are titans of the time, while newcomers like The Edge and SUMMIT One are incredible as well.
For my partner’s birthday, I gave him the tickets to go to the top of The Edge. The Hudson Yards observation deck is the highest in the Western Hemisphere, and it’s open-air.
That’s right–you’re standing outside on the city’s highest observation deck.
I swear it’s not as dangerous as it sounds! There are huge glass panes–and windows so you can see to the street below– that view out and down, but if you’d rather have a high view from inside or inside/outside, check out my complete guide to the greatest New York City observation decks.
3. City Climb at The Edge
Standing outside on the tallest observation deck in New York City not thrilling enough for you? Take it a step higher and try City Climb. Calling itself the “Ultimate Skyscraping Experience,” you’ll be harnessed in as you hike up the world’s highest open-air building climb before reaching the top of 30 Hudson Yards and leaning out from the outdoor platform at the top.
Don’t worry; if this personally freaks you out, you can watch your favorite adrenaline junkie do the climb from the safety of The Edge’s observation deck!
4. Head out on a full-day walking tour
It’s incredible how much ground you can cover on a tour! To discover as much as you possibly in New York City, one of the best experiential gifts you can give is a full-day walking tour of New York City. As a New York City tour guide, I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to take a guided tour. It’s an opportunity to get advice from a local and learn about the hidden history of a city.
This 6-hour walking tour covers almost all of Manhattan, starting in Times Square and covering Fifth Avenue, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, Lower Manhattan, and ending at the 9/11 Memorial.
Pro Tip: Remember – tip your tour guides!
5. Soar high above the city on a helicopter tour
Ready for an extravagant thrill? A helicopter flight is the ultimate New York City bucket list activity.
There are several different helicopter rides you can take to fly high above the New York City skyline:
- Manhattan Island Helicopter Tour – Soar above Manhattan along a pre-determined route you choose with floor to ceiling windows to admire the view.
- Doors-Off Helicopter Experience – This 16-minute flight is not for anyone afraid of heights! You’ll be high above lower Manhattan in a helicopter that has kept its doors open. Since you’re strapped in, you can safety dangle your feet outside and take totally unobstructed photos of New York City from above.
- Taste of NYC Helicopter Tour – This helicopter tour flies over all of the most patriotic landmarks in NYC, like the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
- New York Helicopter Tour – This tour hits just about every major New York City site. You’ll cover everything from Central Park on Manhattan, over to Brooklyn and even to Staten Island before your flight is over.
6. Cruise around the five boroughs on the water
New York City has a ton of different food tours, but nothing creates more unforgettable gift experiences than a cruise. Delicious food, great music, and stunning views await you on the water around the five boroughs of New York City.
If you’re looking for a truly luxurious morning, take a skyline and champagne brunch cruise. There’s something decidedly decadent about having brunch at an outdoor space, enjoying the warming sun rays. You’ll see priceless views of the city skyline while sipping on bubbly booze and treating yourself to the midmorning meal essential to an authentic bougie New York City experience. I mean, really, what’s better than brunch?!
Or, enjoy a romantic sunset sail in the evening. After all, Manhattan and Staten Island are islands, and Brooklyn and Queens are technically part of the landmass known as Long Island (but yes, there are huge differences between the boroughs and the island they reside on.) You’ll see the city lights on a dinner cruise with lovely food choices and narration from a world-class guide as you sail around the water.
7. Indulge your sweet tooth on a desserts walking tour
Who has a sweet tooth? If you’re visiting New York City for someone’s birthday, take an opportunity to book them a delicious experience they’ll never forget! There are a few different kinds of dessert walking tours through other NYC neighborhoods where they congregate:
- Cupcake Bakeries Walking Tour – Walk around the historic Greenwich Village, learning a little about the history and a lot about how the neighborhood helped birth the modern cupcake.
- Chocolate Tasting Tour – Greenwich Village isn’t just famous for its cupcakes; it also has a number of notable chocolate shops. This tour is every chocolate lover’s dream!
- Underground Donut Tour – From massive and cakey to smaller and more like pastry, if you love donuts, you’ll relish the opportunity to try different styles and unique flavors at some of the city’s best-kept donut shop secrets.
- Broadway Dessert Tour – The Theater District has some phenomenal foods around, including desserts. From Schmakery’s cookies to frozen custard, learn about how these sweet shops help support the theatre community and find the best places for great post-show treats.
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8. Head back to class at the Pizza School NYC
Have you ever wanted to learn how to make excellent New York-style pizza? Book a pizza-making session at the Pizza School NYC! You’ll learn more about the process of pizza, and of course, enjoy the spoils of your work at one of their workshops. These kinds of casual classes make great gifts for couples or date nights out!
9. Go underground on a subway tour
Whether you’re just learning how to navigate the NYC subway or you’re a seasoned pro, the subway has been the primary transit system for New Yorkers for over a century. It’s filled with historic moments, decommissioned stations, and secret stories that you’d only hear from living here for years–or on a guided tour. If you love the transit systems, you don’t want to miss this underground tour of the subway!
10. See the catacombs glow by candlelight
Major National Treasure vibes. Now, Nicholas Cage found the buried treasure under Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, which you absolutely can and should visit. But you won’t be going underground under that church—instead, head inside the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on a Catacombs by Candlelight tour. You’ll go underground to explore the off-limits areas where famous New Yorkers were once laid to rest.
11. Learn the method behind the magic on a Backstage Broadway tour
As an actor in NYC, one of my favorite rainy day activities in New York City is attending a Broadway show!
But did you know you can go behind the scenes to learn about what it really takes to create a Broadway production? At the New Amsterdam Theater, one of the most historic Broadway theaters right on the corner of 7th Ave and West 42nd Street, pull back the curtain on how Disney gets a show Broadway-ready.
Insider Tip: If you want insider scoop on seeing a Broadway production, I’ve written a complete guide to buying Broadway tickets and tips for attending a Broadway show.
This 2-hour tour will show you different backstage areas of the New Amsterdam Theater, where the Disney magic gets made. You’ll explore the space with a historian who will teach you the fascinating history of the theater and New York City’s tradition of theatre. Your favorite theatre lover will never forget this immersive experience!
You can check for availability and book the tour here.
If Disney isn’t your go-to, you can also check out this backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall.
12. Attend a taping of your favorite talk show
SNL and Oliver and Noah (and Fallon and Colbert and Myers)–on my!
Many of your favorite late-night shows film here on studio sound stages throughout New York City, and the ones that film in front of a live studio audience in New York City have free ticketing rules in place to fill their venues. However, tickets are often issued and snapped up months in advance.
That’s right–this is a totally free NYC activity; the studios don’t charge for live audience tickets.
If you plan your trip to New York City months in advance, you should be able to get tickets to your favorite late-night taping using websites like 1iota or TVTaping. Or, if you’re willing to wake up and stand outdoors from early morning till late afternoon, you can attempt to get a stand-by ticket day-of. This is such a cool experience gift in NYC!
13. Take a tour of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Money–something we all have and are always in need of more. Here at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, they hold gold that belongs to various world governments, banks, and other organizations. They have a gold vault, where yes, there are literally tons of solid gold bars.
If you love American history, or money, or the history of money, don’t miss an opportunity to take their Museum & Gold Vault Tour. The 1-hour tour runs Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. for the general public. The tour is free to take, but you do need to reserve your place online in advance.
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14. Hone your secret skills at SPYSCAPE
If you’re visiting New York City with an escape room enthusiast or someone who lives for spy moves, bring them to SPYSCAPE. This immersive museum, designed by psychologists and a former head of Training at British Intelligence, offers a unique experience in New York not found anywhere else. You’ll hear stories about real-life spies, learn about gadgets and devices used in the field, and have the chance to put your skills to the test in their interactive challenges.
15. Climb to the Statue of Liberty Crown
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor near Ellis Island, is a sculpture by French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. It was designed and cast in Paris before being delivered to the United States as a gift from France in 1885.
And one of the most incredible views of New York City comes from the Statue of Liberty’s crown.
It isn’t easy to access. Not only do you have 168 stairs to climb if you use the elevator (if you choose to climb the entire way, it’s 366 steps from her to her crown), but tickets to the crown generally sell out months in advance.
If you know you’re going to New York City and already have plans to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, take a once-in-a-lifetime chance and try to snag tickets for the view of Lower Manhattan from the crown. You can buy tickets on the CityExperiences website.
Take the CityExperiences Statue City Cruises ferry (formerly Statue Cruises) to Liberty and Ellis Island from Castle Clinton in Battery Park.
16. Learn more about Ellis Island on a Hard Hat Tour
Ellis Island served as the primary entrance point for more than 12 million immigrants coming into the United States from 1829 to 1954. While many new immigrants were promptly screened and sent on their way, others were found medically unsuitable and incarcerated. Those who came with infectious ailments such as TB or diphtheria were sent to Ellis Island Hospital. When Ellis Island closed, so did the hospital.
And although the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration opened to the public in 1976, the hospital complex remained fully closed. Decades later, a nonprofit named Save Ellis Island began raising funds with the express purpose of preserving the hospital complex’s 29 structures.
For one of the most remarkable tours in the country, the Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour is one component of these fundraising activities. When tours began in 2014, it was the first time the public had been allowed to view the abandoned hospital in more than six decades.
Guides accompany tourists on a 90-minute tour of the hospital, including the infectious and contagious illnesses ward, the autopsy room, the kitchen, the laundry facility, and staff quarters. Windows are shattered throughout the complex, and walls and ceilings are disintegrating. Sturdy shoes are required, and hard helmets are distributed at the trip’s start.
Adult tickets for the Ellis Island Hard Hat Tour cost $59.25 and include the boat trip to Ellis Island and access to the immigration museum. You can buy tickets directly through the Ellis Island website or through CityExperiences.
17. Experience sports on the Hudson River at Chelsea Piers
Did you know–you can golf in New York City?! Chelsea Piers is a massive athletic facility on Manhattan’s Pier 62 that offers more than 25 recreational sports for anyone to drop in on.
Drop-in activities such as rock climbing, open gym, open skating, the driving range, and other sports are available at their facilities, which overlook the Hudson River and Jersey City across the water. Their website has all of the most up-to-date information and hours.
18. Sit back for the time of your life on The Ride
You’re in for a treat if you haven’t heard about THE RIDE. This is way more than a traditional bus tour. You’re going to ride around New York City in an enclosed bus with plush stadium seats, catching sights of various staged acts taking place across the city.
It’s really more like a theatrical show taking place outside in the city that you’ll be able to watch from the comfort of your seat with a guide leading you along the way. The wonderful experience is great for kids, rainy days, or anyone who wants a break from all the walking required in the city.
Insider Tip: While they have a variety of themes throughout the year, their Holiday Edition is a fun, family-friendly activity in NYC in December!
19. Grab a VIP ticket to one of the city’s music festivals
Our inaugural NYC fall festival is one of the final fantastic summer activities in New York City! Pinknic takes over Governor’s Island with its distinctive pink and white for two days at the beginning of every September.
This music event features world-renowned live bands and DJs and luxurious incentives for concertgoers. After a brief boat voyage to the island, you’ll be handed Pinknic packs with blankets and, of course, a reusable wine glass to refill on the event’s trademark drink–rosé.
Dance the day away, eat meals from numerous New York City restaurant pop-ups, and end the night with a fireworks show–all without leaving the island. On their website, you can purchase regular admission and or splurge for the VIP experience. You can even attend a true music festival all without leaving the city!
20. See a baseball game or take a tour of the stadium
Heading to a major league baseball game is a surreal gift experience in NYC. The Yankees, whose stadium is in The Bronx, and the Mets, whose stadium is in Queens, are the two Major League Baseball clubs in New York City. Both stadiums are accessible on the subway.
To get to Yankee Stadium, take the B/D or 4 subway lines to 161st-Yankee Stadium, or get off on certain Metro-North trains at the Yankee Stadium station.
To get to Citi Field to see the Mets play, take the 7 metro line, the Q48 bus, or the LaGuardia AirTrain to Mets-Willets Point.
If your trip is outside of baseball season, you might be able to score a tour of your favorite team’s stadium. Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field offer tours of their facilities, where you’ll have the chance to walk around with a team historian to see artifacts and learn more about the game.
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21. Relax during a spa treatment at Aire Ancient Baths
New York City has it all–including Ancient Roman baths. At the Aire Ancient Baths in TriBeCa, you’ll be immersed in a luxury experience from the moment you step inside. Built inside an 1883 textile factory, spend some time soaking in the thermal baths before and after a tranquil massage.
I highly recommend arranging a couples massage so that both of you can rest for a few minutes and work off the muscle tension caused by hiking across the Big Apple. It’s really one of the indulgent experiences for couples and makes for a great winter date in NYC since you’re inside soaking in the heated water.
This New York City experience is an expensive gift, but you’re worth it.
22. Ride one of New York City’s floating food shacks
You haven’t lived until you’ve spent the day floating around on a lobster shack while watching the New York City skyline pass overhead. The North River Lobster Company and the specialized lobster rolls they sell are a local favorite for an afternoon up and down the Hudson River.
Boarding tickets are a mere $10, and the boat departs multiple times every day from Pier 81 in Manhattan. A season pass for $25 allows you to access the ship as many times as you like during the current season. Boarding is first-come, first-served, and once onboard, you can spend as long as you like until the final call, purchasing anything from the food and drinks list.
If seafood isn’t for you, check out La Barca Cantina, their partner company. It’s the first and only floating Mexican restaurant in New York City, also operating from Pier 81.
23. Dare to try a thrill ride on the Hudson River
The Beast is a brand-new jet-powered thrill ride on New York City’s Hudson River. The high-powered, 70-foot-long speed boat, operated by Circle Line, propels you through the water at 45 miles per hour, with violent twists and turns throughout the route.
The ride lasts roughly 30 minutes and concludes in spectacular up-close views of the Statue of Liberty. From June through September, you can see The Beast for yourself on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., departing from Pier 83.
24. Take an EmptyMet Tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of my favorite indoor activities in New York City is visiting a museum; it’s a great way to stay warm in the winter or out of the rain while also learning about history and different cultures.
But, how often do you have one of the world’s most important museums to yourself, where you can explore uninterrupted and ask a guide any question you can think of about the art and history of the artifacts around you?
During an EmptyMET tour, you’ll have exclusive VIP access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You’ll head inside before the museum opens for general admission for the day and have an opportunity to walk through the exhibits with a museum guide. Talk about an authentic once-in-a-lifetime NYC gifting experience!
Pro Tip: Major New York City museums provide free admission hours weekly or monthly throughout the year, allowing tourists to enjoy many spectacular exhibitions for free. If you wish to visit a couple of New York City’s museums, make sure to check their calendar and take advantage of the free admission hours.
25. ‘Tis the season for an autumn or holiday experience
If you’re visiting New York City during the autumn season, take one of the fall foliage tours from New York City to see how the leaves change in the Northeast. Several tours will take you up the Hudson River to experience the season’s beauty; you can check out my guide to the best ones and other fall activities in NYC.
Or if you’re already planning out your New York vacation for the next holiday season, take a look at my top list of Christmas tours in New York City for even more recommendations.
What are your favorite experiences in New York City?