8 non-touristy things to do in NYC | A couple of travel makers

What to do and where to be that's (practically) crowd-free.

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So you've been welcomed by the Statue of Liberty, re-lived the final scene of Sleepless in Seattle on top of the Empire State Building, shopped like Carrie Bradshaw down 5th and Madison and caught a show on Broadway. Now what?

Whether you've exhausted the icons or you're searching for a unique experience of The Big Apple, we spent our last New York trip uncovering the spaces and experiences where you're less likely to find snap-happy tourists and more likely to enjoy the city like a local.

Here's our shortlist:

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We're Stef and D, a pair of married jet setters. Together, we've visited over 50 countries, and we're determined to see even more – all while working full time and paying off a mortgage. We count our dollars at home and while away and are here to share our tips on how you can travel on a budget.

New blog posts every fortnight on Mondays. Follow us: @acoupleoftravelmakers

1. See the city from Brooklyn Heights

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While we won't deny you the achingly beautiful view of the city from the Statue of Liberty Ferry, if you're seeking an inexpensive or more unique point of view, head to Brooklyn Heights.

As it's located south of the Brooklyn Bridge, not too many tourists make the hike. Those who do are greeted by a tree-lined promenade that boasts picture-perfect views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

Numerous parks and green spaces speckle the walkway and are often filled with locals on the weekends. As the area is quite serene, it's ideal for a stroll for two.

New York travel tip:

If you're keen on a closer view of the Statue of Liberty, but aren't thrilled by the queue or the cost, then take the Staten Island Ferry. It's free to ride and sails right past her. The only negative is that it doesn't stop at the island itself.

2. Catch live comedy at Comedy Cellar or UCB

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Now you can catch a show on Broadway or be part of a live audience, but if you'd prefer to veer away from the norm, comedy is the way to go.

The most popular shows can be found at the Comedy Cellar. Big-name acts who have tread its boards include Ray Romano, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer and Damon Wayans, so you never know which rising star you might witness before their big break. You don't have to really plan this one, as multiple shows play every evening. They're priced from US$14 to $US$22, plus a mandatory two-item minimum food or drink purchase per person. Make a night of it.

For something a little more low key, try the UCB Theatre in Hell's Kitchen. Again, shows run every night and you don't have to pre-book. We rocked up for an evening of live improv with SNL's writers 30 minutes before the gig and had no issues getting in. The crowd here is very much local or "in the biz" and tickets start from US$7 with no mandatory food or drink purchases.

3. Walk the High Line to Hudson Yards

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This is hands down my (Stef's) favourite experience in New York. Truth be told, it is a tourist attraction, but it's also a local haunt, so we're keeping it on this list.

Essentially, it's a freight rail line that's been repurposed into a garden and art walkway. You'll find it running along the western edge of Manhattan from Gansevoort Street to the redeveloped "billionaires playground" of Hudson Yards.

Along the 2.33km walk are gardens, resting spaces, street viewing areas, cafes, art installations and graffiti walls. At a stroll, it'll take you about an hour. If you'd prefer a more immersive experience, you can always join a walking tour.

4. Attend a book tour or live gig

Whether you're a book geek or a music maven, New York is the place to fangirl/boy your heart out with your favourite writer/musician/actor. Particularly, ones that haven't (and most likely won't) make it to Australian shores anytime soon.

While in town, D caught Randall Munroe debuting his latest dictionary-sized read How To, while Stef got her inner country on by catching Sister Hazel at a venue near Broadway.

Whatever your desire, you should organise this one before you land, as these are mostly ticketed events. We like Bandsintown for a head's up on the acts visiting during your stay.

5. Eat, drink and check out the city from Williamsburg

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North of the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side of the city, is where you'll discover Williamsburg. It's a hipster base with trendy rooftop bars, boujee cafes, quality coffee and modern apartments and buildings overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

Unlike Brooklyn Heights, lady liberty is out of sight from Williamsburg, however, you can still capture the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building from here.

On the plus side, being a developed area, the promenade is wider and more inviting compared to that of Brooklyn Heights. And, being inconveniently placed away from attractions, it's also a much quieter spot to hang out and relax in.

6. Eat at Smorgasburg

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One of the best ways to eat and explore like a local is by hitting up the markets. And one of the most popular is Williamsburg's Smorgasburg.

Hosted primarily on the weekends, this food-stall haven has grown so rapidly it's now held in several locations across the city.

While Williamsburg is the original, if your plans are elsewhere, you can tuck into the local gastronomy at Prospect Park in Breeze Hill Brooklyn (pictured) or outside the World Trade Centre in the CBD.

7. Explore Flushing/Queens

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From the Unisphere made famous by Men in Black to the US Open and the locally lauded Chinatown, Queens is the underrated district that you should make the effort to visit.

Because, you know, most tourists don't.

The atmosphere is bustling and honestly, it has more going for it than you think. For the curious, there's the New York Hall of Science, Queens Zoo and Westinghouse Time Capsules. For the hungry, you can opt to eat the authentic dumplings and bubble tea in Flushing Chinatown. You won't regret it.

New York travel tip:

I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you're in town for the US Open, then book your tickets early. We only discovered that our dates aligned a month out from our travels, so we were stuck purchasing resale tickets and, as you can see below, they weren't the closest seats you can get. They also cost us US$300 (ouch!), though bear in mind that we were at the Women's Finals.

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8. Discover the world of slam poetry

Bred out of Chicago, slam poetry – or spoken word – is a relatively modern art form that takes poetry and turns it into performance. It could be as simple as an engaging read or as magical as a musical performance.

Select venues around the Big Apple host performances and competitions throughout the week. The Bowery and the Nuyorican are both spaces renowned for slam poetry that we highly recommend. They're intimate, relaxed and – because slam poetry hasn't received heavy traction worldwide yet – aren't usually hit by tourists.


How much money do I need in New York?

Here's a breakdown of what we spent on our trip over a week to give you an idea of how much you should set aside. We stayed cheap in an Airbnb but splurged on experiences such as a steak lunch at Peter Luger and finals tickets to the US Open.

  • Bus ride: $18.74 (Philadelphia to New York City via Megabus)
  • Internal transport: US$86
  • Accommodation: $1,190.35 (Airbnb)
  • Meals and drinks: US$744.23
  • Activities and experiences: US$794.32 (US Open tickets, MET tickets, Natural History Museum tickets, Central Park Zoo tickets, concert tickets, Broadway musical and book tour entry)
  • Other: US$254.26
  • Annual leave days taken: 6

Total for 8 days/7 nights for two people: $3,948.48

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