Oh, New York City: There truly is no other place like it. It’s big, it’s brash, it’s (sometimes) beautiful, and whether you love to hate it, or hate to love it, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s something for everyone just waiting to be discovered. It’s one of those cities you could live an entire life in and still find something new to see, do or experience everyday. But, if you’re a tourist looking for something a little different, or maybe you’re a local who’s just run out of steam, here are some top tips for the weird, the wacky, the unusual and the unheard of things to do for your next Big Apple adventure.
Over 100 blocks north of Central Park, the medieval Cloisters, found in Washington Heights, is actually a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum specializes in art and artifacts from the Middle Ages, including original stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and most famously, a notable collection of tapestries including the 16th century Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. Of course, the main event is the cloisters themselves, which are original and were taken from medieval abbeys and monasteries in both France and Spain, dismantled, shipped to New York City and then resurrected, with astonishing accuracy and attention to detail. After your visit, stroll through the beautiful Fort Tryon Park and then when you’re hungry, head to nearby Arthur Avenue and eat your way through the Bronx’s authentic Little Italy.
Tucked away on Church Street in Tribeca is Dream House, a sound and light installation and occasional performance venue. While iterations of the space have been around since the ‘60s, the current version was created in 1993 by visual artist Marian Zazeela and minimalist composer La Monte Young. Dream House is a culmination of both of their work, featuring Young’s continuous sine wave composition and Zazeela’s own lighting, setting the rooms alight with a neon pink and purple glow. Set inside an unassuming apartment, with just a white neon sign on the front door reading THE DREAMHOUSE as a guide, the space offers a fully immersive, meditative experience and lets visitors stay as long as they like.
Designed by the inimitable Isamu Noguchi himself, The Noguchi Museum in Queens is a must-visit spot for any true lover of art, architecture or design. The museum is dedicated entirely to preserving and showcasing the sculptures, furniture designs, drawings and architectural models of the famed Japanese-American sculptor, most known for his geometric, bamboo Akari light sculptures. Housed inside a converted factory building, the museum is also home to a tranquil outdoor garden, featuring Noguchi’s sculptures and illustrating the artist’s exploration into the world of Japanese garden design. Don’t forget to buy yourself something nice from the museum’s artfully curated shop on the way out. If your day still has room for a little more art, swing by the Socrates Sculpture Park across the road before you call it a day.
Rooftop Reds, sat atop a building in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, is the world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard. Since the spring of 2016, they have turned the New York State wine market upside down with their unprecedented levels of innovation and viticultural expertise, creating excellent quality wines along the way. For all the wine lovers out there, you no longer have to trek off to some far flung corner of the globe to enjoy a worldclass winery. Instead, enjoy stunning views of Lower Manhattan as you sip on some of their finest red wine, with grapes grown right on that very spot. If you want to learn a little more about the process and their various wines, attend one of their tours and tasting events. They even host regular pizza, wine and movie nights!
The Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island is an iconic and important site for LGBTQ+ history and also the history of photography. The Victorian Gothic cottage, also known as Clear Comfort and now a National Historic Landmark, was the once home to Alice Austen, a wealthy lesbian who became one of America’s earliest and most prolific female photographers. Austen was one of the first female photographers to work outside of the studio, capturing life in the streets of New York City during the Victorian era. She was a rebel who broke free of the rigid expectations of her time and captured images of her private life and the intimate relationships of women. She even spent 30 years living together with her partner Gertrude Tate in the home. The museum showcases rotating curated exhibitions as well as a permanent exhibit focusing on Austen’s life, her work and the home which became her darkroom, her haven and an endless source of inspiration for generations of New Yorkers.
Midnight Moment is the world’s largest and longest running digital art exhibition in New York City’s most iconic location, Times Square. Every night, at exactly 11:57 p.m. until midnight, the billboards take a break from their regularly scheduled programming and instead, spend three minutes showcasing digital work from a variety of contemporary artists. Of course, Times Square is hardly an unusual or unheard of place to visit in the Big Apple, but Midnight Moment is something special; if you have a late night planned, it’s well worth it to swing by.
Hidden inside a former freight elevator on Cortlandt Alley in Downtown Manhattan, you will find Mmuseumm, New York City’s tiniest museum. The miniscule space, first opened in 2012 by Alex Kalman and the Safdie brothers, the filmmakers behind Uncut Gems, is considered to be a museum of “modern natural history” which focuses on exhibiting objects that highlight the human condition and current events. While the collection changes every year, notable objects have included the receipts for death row meals, objects made by prisoners, censored Saudi Arabian pool toys, and tissues used by world leaders. The museum’s entire 2020 collection has also been memorialized into a coffee table book and is available for purchase. Swing by anytime to view the collection through the glass or, if you’re feeling extra curious, private tours are available via appointment.
If you’ve made your way through this list and are still looking for something else, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add these honorable mentions: Tenement Museum, The Frick Collection, The Basilica of St Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Evolution Store, City Hall Station, Morgan Library and Museum, Shakespeare in the Park, Elevated Acre, City Island and Cooper Hewitt. Enjoy!
Cloisters photo from Unsplash
Alice Austen House photo by Elise Rolle under Creative Commons license
The Noguchi Museum photo by Shinya Suzuki under Creative Commons license
Bryony Parker is a writer and artist currently living in São Paulo, Brazil and working on her Masters in International Affairs. You can find her at @par666ker on all social media.