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Unusual Things to Do in a Spare Hour in New York

by ClaireBullen July - last edited August

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.

Riverside Park

Hour in New York | Riverside Park

Riverside Park, a favourite of locals, stretches for four miles along the Hudson River © Sam Aronov/iStock/Thinkstock
 

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 Tomb and the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial offer sightseeing along the way.

The Manhattan Bridge

Hour in New York | Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge is a less crowded alternative to the Brooklyn Bridge © Luke Andreson/iStock/Thinkstock
 

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 (and it offers more of an industrial feel, with overhead train tracks and colourful street art), but its uncrowded walkways and comparable views make it a refreshing change. Follow the locals and choose the southern path for the best vistas.

Chinatown

Between Meetings New York | Chinatown

Vanessa's Dumplings sell delicious steamed dumplings for pocket change © John Joh/Flickr
 

Jump on the subway or hail a cab down 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 transportative. Ignore the vendors inviting you to browse their knock-off designer merch and instead wander among the many casual eateries, taking in the views as you go. Vanessa’s Dumplings sells steamed pork and chive dumplings for pocket change, Quickly is a go-to bubble tea house, Great NY Noodletown does some of the city’s best roast duck and Mei Li Wah’s baked pork buns are well worth sampling.

MoMA PS1

Hour in New York | MoMA PS1

PS1 is MoMA's avant-garde satellite exhibition space in Queens © Forgemind Archimedia/Flickr
 

Located in Midtown, MoMA – or the Museum of Modern Art, to the uninitiated – 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 artists working today. And for those looking to let loose, PS1 also hosts Warm Up, a series of outdoor parties all summer long.

Café Grumpy

Between Meetings New York | Cafe Grumpy

Coffee the New York way at Cafe Grumpy © sripfoto/iStock/Thinkstock
 

If you’re starting to droop after back-to-back 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 business travellers 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

Between Meetings New York | New York Public Library

Not just for the scholarly: The New York Public Library © AndrewsGarciaM/iStock/Thinkstock 
 

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

Between Meetings New York | Ma Peche

Tuck into tasty small plates at Má Pêche © Gabriele Stabile
 

No chef has had more of an influence on New York’s dining scene over the course of the last decade than David Chang. His Momofuku restaurants look to Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines, blending traditional flavours and ingredients with avant-garde, 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

Between Meetings New York | Grand Central

Grand Central is always a hub of action © Vladone/iStock/Thinkstock 
 

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.

Bergdorf Goodman

Between Meetings New York | Bergdorf Goodman

A view outside shopping Mecca Bergdorf Goodman © mi cheung/Flickr
 

New York is still the only city where you can visit Bergdorf Goodman, the classic high-end department store – so far, it’s resisted the urge to expand. Make sure you come with a full wallet before browsing its many floors. For those with designer taste but limited cash, Century 21, the popular discount clothing and accessories retailer whose sprawling flagship is located in the Financial District, is a good alternative.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Hour in New York | Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Open year-round, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a New York oasis © Colin Young/iStock/Thinkstock
 

Central Park may be an obvious choice for those after a bit of greenery, 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 views like this, it’ll be hard to remember that you’re just a few miles from Manhattan.

Virgin Atlantic operates six daily flights to New York from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

What would you do with a spare hour in New York? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Claire Bullen


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About the author: ClaireBullen

Claire Bullen

Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen