Nine things to do in New York City just off the main trail

We all know about the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but what about the Fraunces Tavern or Sagamore Hill? Academy Travel tour leader Dr Matthew Laing used his comprehensive knowledge of New York’s history, his love of modern art and design and his fondness for a racy Broadway play to come up with this list of sites that you may not have heard of, but will love.


Samuel Paley Park in 53rd St New York

1. Find the Pocket Parks in Midtown

Amidst the endless row of skyscrapers in Midtown are a small assortment of tiny parks that offer respite from the city. Known as the pocket parks, they represent the rare cases in Manhattan where private individuals have decided to build green spaces rather than capitalise on their real estate. To get you started, find your first on 53rd St, between Madison and Fifth Ave.


The Cooper Hewitt – located in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on 2 E 91st St

2. Explore the Cooper Hewitt Museum

More popular as the years go by, but still not well known to the average tourist, the Cooper Hewitt is a branch of the Smithsonian focusing on historical and contemporary design, and showcases one of the best collections of decorative and design objects in the world, with world class exhibitions that rotate frequently.


Avenue Q – Tony award-winning musical comedy now playing at New World Stages

3. An Off-Broadway Play

A Mecca of the dramatic arts, New York is famous for the bright lights of Broadway. Yet just as thriving is the ‘Off-Broadway’ scene, a collection of dozens of smaller theatres and playhouses that serve as the laboratory for cutting-edge drama and the proving grounds for some of Broadways greatest productions. And often for a fraction of the price!


The Algonquin Hotel, located on 59 W 44th St, near Times Square

4. Lunch at the Algonquin Hotel

Long an anchor of New York’s literary establishment, its greatest claim to fame was its eponymous ‘round table’, the meeting place of the New York cultural elite of the 1920s, including humourist Dorothy Parker, playwright George S. Kaufman and New Yorker editor Harold Ross.


The Eldridge Street Synagogue is a hidden gem located on the old Jewish Lower East Side

5. Tour the Eldridge Street Synagogue

Located in the Lower East Side, this synagogue is a stunning reminder of the millions of Jewish immigrants who passed through New York City in the 19th and 20th centuries, many of whom made their home in the area.


Belvedere Castle in Central Park –  79th St

6. Look out from Belvedere Castle

Central Park is on every tourist’s list, but surprisingly few make it past the lower third of this massive reserve. Get away from the crowds around Bethesda Terrace – find a path through ‘The Ramble’ and make your way to Belvedere Castle as the starting point for exploring the park’s inner realms.


Greek antiquity in the USA – the Onassis Cultural Center

7. Find the Onassis Cultural Center

Right next to St Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of Midtown is a tiny gem of a museum funded by the estate of Aristotle Onassis for the development of Greek-American relations. It has made a name for itself in recent years by bringing some exceedingly rare masterpieces of Greek antiquity to the United States for public display, as well as developing the profile of modern Greek art. And it’s free!


The North Room in President Theodore Roosevelt’s trophy room at Sagamore Hill

8. Discover Sagamore Hill

Home of President Theodore Roosevelt from 1885 to 1919, Sagamore Hill is a 40km trip from downtown New York but it’s well worth the journey to an estate that matches the larger-than-life character of its most famous resident. The charming nearby community of Oyster Bay is a perfect accompaniment.


Fraunces Tavern is a landmark museum and restaurant in New York City, situated at 54 Pearl Street at the corner of Broad Street

9. And finally, enjoy a beer at Fraunces Tavern

In a town not known for its heritage buildings, this tavern in Lower Manhattan is the closest you can get to the era of the American Revolution in New York. First opened in 1719, it’s famous as the site where George Washington farewelled his officers in 1783 after the Revolutionary War.

Dr Matthew Laing

Dr Matthew Laing is a historian and political scientist at Monash University who has led tours to the Americas and Europe with Academy Travel for five years. He has a strong personal interest in architecture, cultural history and modern art, with a particular expertise in the United States. Matthew holds a BA and PhD from the Australian National University, and wrote his doctorate on the history of the United States presidency.


Sign up to our mailing list for tour updates and latest news.