There are countless things to do in NYC, but if you’ve already covered most of the major tourist destinations, you may be itching do something a bit more off the beaten path. Fortunately, NYC has tons of interesting spaces and places, ready for you to explore. Check out the list below of some of my favorite unique NYC tours so you can try something new and exciting for your next NYC adventure!
Catacombs by Candlelight at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral
“Old” St. Patrick’s is actually the “first” St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. Completed in 1815 and located in Little Italy, Old St. Pat’s has played a major role in the history of NYC and the Catholic church. And this is definitely more of a history tour than a ghost tour, though you do get to wander beneath the cathedral in the catacombs, which are the final resting place to several priests and bishops, a Civil War general, and the Delmonico family, who you can thank for introducing the world to Eggs Benedict and Baked Alaska. If you’re a fan of Gangs of New York and the history of that era (and aren’t afraid of the dark), the Catacombs by Candlelight Tour should be right up your alley!
More info: Catacombs by Candlelight Tour at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 32 Prince Street, New York, NY 10012
Green-Wood Trolley Tours
And if the catacombs at St. Pat’s aren’t quite enough for you, head over to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery for one of their fascinating trolley tours. The cemetery is nearly 500 acres in size, so taking one of their tours that includes transportation is the best way to see everything! At one time, Green-Wood was the second-most-visited tourist destination in America after Niagra Falls, and when you see the cemetery for the first time, you’ll understand why. It’s absolutely stunning. Lots of hills and meandering paths, beautiful ponds, and old tombstones and mausoleums as far as the eye can see.
More info: Trolley Tour of the Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232 (Main Entrance)
Before everyone had multiple TVs in their homes, people would go out to the theater for their news and entertainment. In the late 1920s, a group of five theaters was built in NYC known as the “Wonder Theaters”. They were massive and ornately decorated and created a sense of awe in all who had the pleasure to sit inside of them. Today, these theaters still exist and are being used as theaters, churches, and performance spaces, and you can visit most of them! The New York Adventure club runs tours at three of the theaters: The Loews Valencia in Queens, the Loews Jersey City across the river in Jersey, and the United Palace in Washington Heights. The other two theaters are the Paradise in the Bronx, which isn’t currently running tours and the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, which runs its own tours.
More info: Valencia Theater, 165-07 Jamaica Ave, Queens, NY 11432 and the United Palace, 4140 Broadway at 175th St, New York, NY 10033. Visit New York Adventure Club’s tour schedule for more info about Loew’s Jersey City. The Kings Theatre in Brooklyn runs its own tours.
Staten Island Zoo’s Meet and Greet with Animal Ambassadors
If you love animals and want to get up close and personal with some animals you might not otherwise get to interact with, then check out the Staten Island Zoo’s behind-the-scenes tour with their animal ambassadors. New York Adventure Club organizes this tour, and you’ll get to see (and touch!) several of the zoo’s stars (if you’re lucky you’ll meet the guy pictured above, Duncan the sloth). You’ll also learn a lot about the important role zoos play in helping to protect and restore endangered species’ numbers in the wild.
More info: Behind the Scenes Tour with the Staten Island Zoo’s Animal Ambassadors, 614 Broadway, Staten Island, NY, 10310
Old City Hall Subway Station
Though modern-day subway stations don’t feel all that grand, NYC has a secret subway station hidden under City Hall Park that is not only grand but also incredibly GORGEOUS. Opened in 1904, the City Hall Station welcomed the first riders of the new NYC subway system. Small in size, it was retired in 1945 in favor of other, larger stations nearby. Today, you can only visit the Old City Hall station by hopping off the Downtown 6 train just past Brooklyn Bridge station as part of a New York Transit Museum tour. You will need to become a member first in order to take the tour, but I promise it will be worth every penny. And don’t forget to sign up as soon as tickets go on sale because these tours sell out almost instantly!
More info: Old City Hall Subway Station, City Hall Park, Broadway & Chambers St, New York, NY 10007
Treasures in the Trash Museum
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that is certainly true at NYC’s Treasures in the Trash Museum! Back in the 80s, garbage collector Nelson Molina began salvaging items from the trash and displaying them together in a Harlem sanitation garage. Today, museum visitors can walk through 30 years of history, and it’s so fascinating! Toys, electronics, diplomas, pictures, clothes, decorations, and more can all be found in Nelson’s amazing collection, and you can visit it on a New York Adventure Club tour.
More info: Treasures in the Trash Museum, 343 East 99th St., New York, NY 10029
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant Digester Eggs
Maybe garbage isn’t your thing but wastewater treatment is? Well, if so, you’re in luck! You can actually take a tour of the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment facility and walk on top of their futuristic-looking “digester eggs”, which process NYC’s sludge. This tour is actually very interesting, especially if you have an interest in the environment and clean water, and you may be surprised to learn some of the ugly truths about the quality of NYC’s waterways. Tickets for these tours are free, but they go quickly, so snatch some up the second they become available!
More info: Newtown Creek Digester Eggs, 329 Greenpoint Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11222
Ellis Island’s Abandoned Hospitals
Ellis Island was the gateway to America for millions of immigrants. Sadly, some of those immigrants were unwell upon their arrival, and they would be sent to the hospitals on Ellis Island for medical help if they couldn’t afford private care. The island closed as an immigration center in the 50s, which means the hospitals closed as well and were left to deteriorate. They’re presently in various states of disrepair, and you’ll need to wear a hardhat on your visit, but this tour offers a fascinating journey back through NYC and American history. New York Adventure Club offers a special behind-the-scenes tour, which takes guests to a couple places not normally available on the regular tour offered by Save Ellis Island, the nonprofit who is restoring the old hospital buildings.
More info: Ellis Island’s Abandoned Hospital Buildings, 1 Battery Place, New York, NY 10004 (ferry departure point in Battery Park)
Farm.One Hydroponic Farm
Ever wonder where NYC restaurants source their produce? Well, a growing number are getting their herbs and edible flowers from a basement in TriBeCa! At Farm.One, an indoor hydroponic farm, you’ll learn all about hydroponic farming and with a glass of prosecco in hand, you’ll taste a dozen or so different herbs and flowers. The Farm.One team will even explain how best to use each plant if you want to cook with them yourself. Some of the flavors will be familiar and others just might surprise you! New York Adventure Club offers tours of Farm.One, or you can book with the farm directly.
More info: Farm.One Hydroponic Farm, 77 Worth Street, New York, NY 10013
Little Red Lighthouse
Under the George Washington Bridge sits an adorable little red lighthouse! It’s so adorable, that it was even the subject of a children’s book called The Little Red Lighthouse and Great Gray Bridge written in 1942, and it was instantly known and loved by children everywhere. Built in the 1800s and decommissioned in the 1940s, the Little Red Lighthouse was slated to be dismantled and auctioned off by the Coast Guard, but school children across the country helped to raise the funds needed to save the dear little lighthouse. Today, access to the lighthouse is limited, but you can occasionally catch tours (and climb up to the top!) with the New York Adventure Club or during Open House New York in October.
More info: Little Red Lighthouse, Fort Washington Park, Hudson River Greenway, New York, NY 10032
Interested in even more tours? Check out some of the other unique, unusual, and unexpected places in NYC and beyond where you can take a tour!