Unusual things to do in a spare hour in New York
New York may be the biggest, the boldest, and the most dynamic city in the US, but don’t let that intimidate you. Despite its scale, some of the best (and most unique) corners of the city can be discovered in as little as an hour. From cultural stops to lush public parks, shopping sprees to culinary quests, the Big Apple is ripe for exploring – even for those who are short on time.
Beautiful Hudson River views, miles of greenery, and the opportunity to mingle with New Yorkers from all walks of life: when it comes to immersing yourself in the pace of the city, local favourite Riverside Park is a good place to start. The narrow public space hugs Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and stretches all the way from 72nd street to 158th street – though if you have only an hour in New York, you don’t need to march along all four miles. Credit for the park’s planning goes to Frederick Olmsted, who also designed Central Park, while landmarks like Grant’s Tomband the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial offer sightseeing along the way.
The Manhattan Bridge
What if we said you could take in incredible New York Harbor views – for free? For marine breezes and the chance to gaze out over Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and innumerable other local landmarks, all you have to do is go for a stroll along the Manhattan Bridge. Stretching from Chinatown to DUMBO in Brooklyn, the bridge may not be as famous as the adjacent Brooklyn Bridge, but its uncrowded walkways and wonderful views make it a refreshing change. Follow the locals and choose the southern path for the best vistas.
Jump on the subway or hail a cab to Chinatown and see a different side to New York. One of the largest Chinatowns in North America, the neighbourhood offers colourful and crowded streets that are totally transportive. Ignore the vendors inviting you to browse their knock-off designer merch and instead wander among the many casual eateries, taking in the sights as you go. Vanessa’s Dumplings sells steamed pork and chive dumplings for pocket change, Great NY Noodletown does some of the city’s best roast duck and Mei Li Wah’s baked pork buns are well worth sampling.
Located in Midtown, MoMA (or the Museum of Modern Art), offers one of the world’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art. But with the array of masterpieces come long lines and heavy crowds. For a cultural experience without the masses, head instead to PS1, MoMA’s satellite exhibition space, which occupies an old public school building in Queens. Instead of 20th century works, you’ll find experimental, avant-garde installations and exhibitions from today’s artistic talent. And for those looking to let loose, PS1 also hosts Warm Up, a series of outdoor parties all summer long.
If you’re starting to droop after a busy day of sightseeing or business meetings, drink coffee like a real New Yorker at Café Grumpy, one of the city’s cult, independent java outlets. Though Café Grumpy’s beans are roasted just a few miles away in Brooklyn, the purveyor’s Midtown outlet is easy for visitors to dive into. And don’t fret when it’s time to order your latte: despite its name, the baristas here peddle more good humour than attitude.
The New York Public Library
Guarded by Patience and Fortitude, the two carved lions that flank its entrance, the main branch of the New York Public Library isn’t only for the scholarly. The 100 year-old Beaux Arts building is a landmark in its own right, while inside you’ll find a stunning, chandelier-lit reference room and exhibitions that feature bibliophilic treasures like a copy of the Gutenburg Bible. Once you’ve nourished your mind, catch some sun in the adjacent Bryant Park.
Momofuku Má Pêche
No chef has had more of an influence on New York’s dining scene over the course of the last decade or so than David Chang. His Momofuku restaurants look to Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines, blending traditional flavours and ingredients with experimental, tongue-in-cheek preparations. The only Momofuku restaurant in Midtown, Má Pêche is open all-day and serves sharing plates and dim sum-like specialties. If you’re going with a big group, indulge in the large format menu before staggering into the adjacent Momofuku Milk Bar, where you can pick up decidedly quirky desserts like cornflake marshmallow cookies and cereal milk flavoured soft serve ice cream.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central isn’t just a busy commuting hub. The soaring, historic terminal, which dates to the early 20th century, is worth visiting even if you don’t have a train to catch. The station’s Whispering Gallery lets you communicate to a friend across the room, while dining options include classic New York-born eateries like Shake Shack. You can also opt to snag a seat at the famous Oyster Bar, where locals slurp down briny bivalves.
New York is still the only city where you can visit Bergdorf Goodman, the classic luxury department store – so far, it’s resisted the urge to expand. Best suited to shoppers with designer tastes (and the budget to match), those hoping to drop a little less cash should visit Century 21, the popular discount clothing and accessories retailer whose sprawling flagship is located in the Financial District.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Central Park may be an obvious choice for those seeking some green space, but the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is perhaps the city’s truest oasis. Occupying 52 acres next to Prospect Park, the garden is open all year long – visit in spring for the flowering cherry blossoms, in summer for blooming lily pads, in autumn for vibrant leaves and in winter for tranquil, snowy views of the Japanese Garden. With tranquil surroundings like these, it’s difficult to believe you’re just a few miles from Manhattan.
Written by Claire Bullen