Offbeat NYC: Quirky Things To Do In New York City

New York City consistently ranks in the top ten of destinations for American travelers, and for good reason. With a population of over 16 million people and countless buildings and sights instantly recognizable around the world, NYC is always a “must-see” destination for both US citizens and foreign tourists alike. But few experience the real offbeat, quirky, obscure side of New York City off the beaten path.

Whether Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, or even Ground Zero, most visitors already have a long list of sights to see before they even arrive in the city. And while all those destinations are interesting for their own reasons, they are also rather predictable. There is so much more to NYC than just the stereotypical spots!

Seek out the obscure and off the beaten path things to do in New York City! Below are some of my favorite finds. Know of any others? Add it in the comments.

Relaxing at a friend's penthouse in NYC
Relaxing at a friend’s penthouse in NYC. I am equally happy in a penthouse or a hostel…but luxury travel is necessary occasionally. Notice all the music festival wristbands? It was a busy summer 😉

Recently I returned to the Big Apple with a local and we decided to check out some of the odd, obscure and offbeat things to do in New York City. I was also able to experience the city itself from a whole new side: a Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park.

My Favorite Offbeat NYC Activities & Obscure Sights:

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium

Definitely more offbeat than obscure, this destination will leave you amazed, intrigued, confused, and possibly even a tiny bit grossed out. While the building exterior may not be as wild as some of the other Ripley’s locations, inside it spans two massive floors and is a great way to kill an hour or two. If you have never tour a Ripley’s museum before, well then you might as well start with what is arguably one of their best. It’s located at Times Square and is impossible to miss.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium at Times Square in New York City, one of the cool offbeat NYC things to do
Now this just screams offbeat NYC. Sadly building codes prevent this structure from being more extravagant.

Night Court

Looking for a cheap date or a bit of one-of-a-kind entertainment? Go to night court!

Many know that crime in NYC has always been a problem, one that even to this day is not yet fully under control. (In fact the only modern metropolis to have effectively curtailed blue collar crimes thus far has been Tokyo). While America is infamous for its court cases and legal proceedings that can drag on for years or even decades, current laws mandate that those arrested be charged within 24 hours. Although increasing amounts of US citizens are unjustly being denied this basic right in the post-9/11 America, those suspected of petty crimes and misdemeanors are still afforded this right. In the Big Apple that equates to well over a thousand people every day!

As such, the courts in NYC are forced to extend their hours just to cope with the sheer influx of new “suspects.” Night court is like any other small courts session: there are judges and lawyers, defendants but no juries. However often there are also spectators from the general public getting their jollies in.

Sit in the night court audience for an offbeat NYC experience
Be glad to be part of the audience instead of the one in front of the judge

Things kick off half hour after the traditional courts close, at 5:30pm, and run until 1am, with a brief recess for the night shift lunch break. But you won’t see any high profile murder cases here, as most individuals are represented by public defenders (aka court-appointed attorneys).

Admission is free, just be prepared to have to clear security. Oh and be respectable inside the courtrooms — no photos or loud talking. But that should go without saying.

Museum Of Sex

Need more sex in your life?

“Ehhh…good, but not great.” That was my feeling, at least. However the missus absolutely loved this place. Conveniently referred to as MoSEX, it should go without saying that although this is not a kid-friendly destination, most open-minded adults will enjoy the exhibits. Especially those who get a kick out of controversy or anyone fascinated by sex. It wouldn’t be a quirky and offbeat NYC without a museum dedicated to sex, right?

The Museum Of Sex in New York City, one of the cool offbeat things to do in NYC
I recommend visiting MoSex drunk. Seriously.
Like what you’re reading? More Offbeat Travel Guides


You’ve Seen It In Countless Movies…Now See It In Real Life!

Yes, in one word Chinatown is AWESOME! From the unmistakable sights and smells pervading the area to the downright impressive “people-watching” that the region offers, there is nothing disappointing about a trek thru Chinatown — especially if you are a fan of people watching. Come hungry and definitely indulge in some authentic Chinese food.

Chinatown is another offbeat NYC sight to check out when visiting the Big Apple
Every Chinatown in the world is “same same but different”

The Abandoned City Hall Subway Stop

Dating back to 1904, the now forgotten City Hall station has always been an amazing site — perhaps ever more so since it was officially closed down in 1945. However the glass skylights and impressive tile-work are still visible to this very day.

Because this station is at the “end of the line,” it is characterized by its curve. Unfortunately it was this iconic curve that eventually led to the station’s demise, as it proved to be an issue for the newer and longer trains running these lines.

Abandoned city hall subway station in New York City, one of the obscure and offbeat NYC sights
My pick for the #1 offbeat NYC activity. Photo via John-Paul Palescandolo and Eric Kazmirek

Until a couple years ago the only way for the public to observe this long forgotten subway station was by riding the 6 train to its final stop, the Brooklyn Bridge, and then hiding when they cleared the train to turn it around and send it back along its course in the opposite direction.

Thanks to the sheer spectacle of this urban underside combined with the power of social media, the “train 6 turnaround” secret eventually got out. Due to the subsequent increase in people attempting to see this historic sight, the MTA now allows the public to ride the turnaround, instead of clearing everyone off at the last stop.

Whether you love New York City or hate it, the fact remains that NYC is an amazing city which offers up something spectacular around nearly every corner — you just have to know where to look!

Speaking of, let me leave you all with one final off the beaten path recommendation to get your jollies on while visiting NYC: connect with a local and try some “urban exploring” — New York City has a hidden underbelly to it that most never even see!

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

8 thoughts on “Offbeat NYC: Quirky Things To Do In New York City”

  1. I love NYC, too — I’m also a born and raised New Yorker 🙂 You can take a tour of Grand Central offered by Municipal Art Society which is quite fun. Used to be free, now they charge 🙁 but they do offer a whole lot of fascinating tours. And it benefits a good group.

  2. Tour the Grand Lodge of the Masons — it’s a non-descript storefront on 23rd, but go into the middle of the full block building and take a free tour of the incredible masonic lodges

  3. Ah, these are what am looking for.
    Will be considering to visit Ripley’s, since they have branches in south east Asia.
    MoSEX will definitely visit, but can I take photos inside?

    The subway looks cool, but I still confuse how to get it.

    Thanks Derek, you look chubbier here 😉

  4. I’ve been looking for incredible things to do in NYC, hidden gems and New York attractions that most people don’t know about unless you hear it from “the natives” and I think your list is awesome! I’ll definitely include these places into my itinerary. I already visited some museums, Time Square and Statue of Liberty. I also went to a lot of diners and clubs and I watched free concerts at Central Park after checking out the NYC Parks website.

    • Hey Roxanne, glad you enjoyed the article and hope you have time to check out a couple of the items on it. Thanks for the tip on free concerts — New York, New York, its a helluva (expensive) town! 😉


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