Best things to do in New York City on your own

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Few cities on earth can compete with New York for sheer urban energy. This is a city of characters, from its people to its neighbourhoods. Yet in a place so densely populated, some of its treasures are best enjoyed alone – a feeling that’s long inspired the city’s artists and writers

So you’re ready to explore New York City solo? Here are the nine best things to do on your own.

1. Explore its art museums

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New York’s artistic legacy is quite legendary, boasting a roll call of artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. Fittingly, its museums are just as illustrious: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Rubin Museum of Art and the Frick Collection are all celebrated institutions, amongst many more. Dive into any of these, and your inner art-lover will be in for a treat.

2. Watch a Broadway theatre show

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New York’s iconic theatre district is on par with London’s West End when it comes to high-profile commercial productions. Shows have been running since around 1750, when the first theatre opened on Nassau Street. Since then, Broadway has blossomed to become the number one theatre hub in the USA. Shows currently running include The Lion King, Aladdin, Chicago, The Book of Mormon and Mean Girls – meaning there’s something to suit you, whatever takes your fancy. 

3. Visit the New York Public Library

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The New York Public Library (also known as the Schwarzman Building) is the second largest library in the USA, dating back to 1895. It’s housed in a lavish Beaux-Arts style building that nods to old New York, complete with a stately colonnade entrance and grand reading room. It’s appeared across a variety of films, TV shows and books, from Ghostbusters to Stephen King’s novels. If you’re looking for a beautiful spot to enjoy a quiet moment (or perhaps take a book out), this library is well worth a visit. 

4. Walk across Brooklyn Bridge

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The iconic Brooklyn Bridge connects the neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and Manhattan, dating back to 1883. It’s one of New York’s most recognisable landmarks, with neo-Gothic features and steel-wire suspension. Take a walk across the bridge to enjoy sweeping views of the city unfolding before you, or savour a fresh breeze rolling off the East River. 

5. Stroll along the High Line

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Another lovely walking route lies along the High Line, an urban greenway running along a repurposed railroad. Bringing together elements of ecology, architecture and urban planning, this is one of New York’s most innovative and unique outdoor spaces, fringed by vegetation which flourished after the railroad fell into disuse. It’s now a serene and picturesque route along which you can enjoy a walk, run or cycle.

6. Enjoy a true New York bagel

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Bagels, alongside pizza, are one of New York’s most famous exports. The bagel’s roots lie in the city’s Ashkenazi Jewish community, and it’s since become a staple of New York cuisine. Traditional toppings include lox and schmear – smoked salmon smeared with cream cheese – and pastrami. Some of the best places to try an authentic NY bagel? According to Timeout, Tal Bagels H&H Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel and Kossar’s are all worth checking out.

7. Peruse the city’s bookstores

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For book-lovers, few things compare to the pleasure of exploring a new bookstore at leisure – and New York has no shortage of characterful shops on offer. Love crime novels and thrillers? The Mysterious Bookshop could be the place for you. Or if feminist activism and social commentary appeals to you, head to Bluestockings – a collectively-owned radical bookstore. If you’re looking to pick up some adventure inspiration, make a beeline for Idlewild Books, exclusively tailored to the world of travel.

8. Relax in the Shakespeare Garden

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Enjoy a peaceful afternoon in Central Park’s lovely Shakespeare Garden. Here you’ll find stone pathways weaving between flora and fauna which change with the seasons. The garden is scattered with rosemary and pansies (referenced in Hamlet), thistle (from Much Ado About Nothing) and a mulberry tree which, urban legend has it, was planted by Shakespeare himself in 1602. True or not, it’s a beautiful spot to feel secluded from the hubbub of the city (even if you are, in fact, in the middle of Manhattan).

9. Explore the city by foot

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New York is a patchwork of neighbourhoods and districts, famous characters in their own right. If it’s shopping you’re after, head to SoHo, where you’ll find a range of boutiques, cafes and art galleries, set against cobblestone streets and elegant apartments. Alternatively, if you’re drawn to NY’s bohemian history, while away an evening in Greenwich Village’s bars and jazz clubs. And for a taste of the Big Apple itself, Manhattan offers so many contrasts to explore. The best way to do so? Put the map away and just let your feet guide you from one spot to the next. 

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