Got teens in tow? Sure, they might be hard to please back home, but in brimming-with-action Manhattan, rest assured that there's more to entertain them than you can even begin to imagine. We've looked past the obvious teen-pleasing bucket list attractions for this list (like the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Empire State Building) to turn up these 20 cool things to do with teens in NYC that fall a little more under the radar. We bet that if you take them to do any one of these cool offerings while you're in town that they might even think that you're pretty cool yourself (at least for a little while).
Take an Educational Hip-Hop Tour
Help hip-hop-loving teens hone in on their passion by taking them straight to the source, with high-rated Hush Tours leading guests of all ages to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Harlem streets where hip-hop was born and from where icons like Jay-Z, Nas, and Biggie hail. Indeed, NYC can claim the musical genre and hugely popular subculture as part of its unique cultural heritage. Hush Tours has stepped in over the last 15 years to "preserve the roots of hip-hop culture" and to show off the city streets through a "hip-hop lens" via education, including stops at historic hip-hop sites and commentary and lore offered by celebrity pioneers of hip-hop who double as tour guides.
Try to Bust Out of an Escape Room
Up to the challenge of the escape game craze that's been sweeping the nation? It's the kind of fun that lives up to the hype. Imagine a video game mission come to life wherein you and your crew team up for an hour-long attempt at making the ultimate escape. Come with a group or be paired up with new friends as you race against the clock to solve puzzles and clues and overcome obstacles that stand between you and your "escape" from your game room. Mission Escape Games on the Lower East Side ranks tops for their great customer service and well-designed games touting varying degrees of difficulty like the space mission-inspired "Escape the Nemesis" or the spooky "Escape the Darkest Hour," which is run in the dark. Whichever one you choose, it's lots of fun for teens—and for adults, too!
Take a Harbor Line Cruise
Teens will be wowed by the up-close views of Lady Liberty and the NYC skyline from aboard this thrilling sailing on a 19th-century-style schooner, equipped with billowing white sails. Set out into New York Harbor from Chelsea Piers aboard Classic Harbor Line's 49-passenger Schooner Adirondack or the newer, larger (with capacity for 76) Schooner America 2.0. Teens love the speed, tilt, and crew skill set showcased during the sail-driven boat ride, and the friendly crew is on hand to answer questions about the workings of such a vessel, from hoisting the sails to commanding the wind.
Go See a Show
For teen-friendly shows that won't break the bank like Broadway will check out two of our longstanding favorites: Blue Man Group or Stomp. In Blue Man Group, a trio of blue-headed, mute humanoids takes center stage, serving to entertain audiences of all ages with their wacky, space-age antics. Count on the comical bunch to engage teens with their over-the-top mime-like movements and expressions, musical renditions performed on tubes, messy attempts at spin art (there's a "poncho section" for audience members looking for full immersion), and more, all mixed in with high-tech stage effects.
Or, for the high-energy teen who loves to get his/her hands onto just about everything, Stomp puts on a fascinating show. From brooms to garbage cans, inner tubes to wooden poles, the Stomp crew can find music in just about everything. There's no real narrative to follow; it's just a joyful celebration of music and rhythm, presented via amped-up dance and drumbeats.
Take a Class at Trapeze School
If you were ever tempted to encourage your kids to run away with the circus, here's your big chance to get them off to a flying start—literally. Trapeze School New York proposes one of Manhattan's most unique activities, for both kids and adults alike, with different training programs dedicated to the aerial art of flying trapeze. Sign up for flying trapeze classes geared toward all levels, from novice to advanced, and learn to "fly" (as it's so dubbed in the industry) in no time.
Classes are run with a state-of-the-art trapeze apparatus, set to standard circus dimensions, with a jump-off platform elevated more than 20 feet high, and a soft, stretchy net, for controlled landings, set just underfoot. Safety's the priority for the school, and participants are accordingly harnessed into safety belts, with a spotting system in place via trained staff.
Take a Ride on "The Ride"
A huge departure from the city's traditional double-decker tour buses, The Ride delivers a unique take on the tour bus experience, infusing its "ride" through the streets of Manhattan with theatrical flair. Yes, all the world's—or at least Midtown Manhattan is—a stage aboard The Ride, which is more theatrical experience than tour, and one that really delivers on the laughs. Offering a unique "stage" set on the streets of NYC, guests experience the show from aboard a portable theater, in the form of a technologically tricked-out bus, which passengers board near Times Square.
Experience Immersive Theater at The Accomplice
Scavenger hunt meets murder mystery theater meets self-guided walking tour in this innovative take on the "immersive theater" craze that's swept the city in recent years, serving to make an art form out of tearing down the "fourth wall." The Accomplice experience is a cloaked-in-mystery yet entirely comedic theatrical experience where the streets of NYC set the stage. Yes, no reviewer would want to spoil the fun (the less you know about what's in store, the more you'll enjoy it), so you won't find any spoilers here. All you need to know is that you can opt in for one of two variations, including the original Accomplice New York, and the newer Accomplice The Village show. Both are lighthearted, comedic affairs, driven by scavenger-hunt-style clues and crude maps, team-building sleuthing, and loose story lines, all of which all brought to life and tied together by a troupe of improv-trained actors en route.
Visit One of the World's Largest Bookstores
Bookish teens will delight in The Strand, whose shelves span more than 18 miles. Situated just a few blocks away from Union Square (another teen must-visit), this historic bookstore is among the largest and most famous in the world. In addition to newly-released best-sellers, the store has a huge selection of used books and incredible rooms of rare and hard-to-find titles.
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
One of the city's best views comes from free. Head downtown on a beautiful day and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of three bridges that connect the island of Manhattan to Brooklyn. Built in 1883, this engineering marvel is beautiful to look at, but also gives an incredible view of Manhattan's skyline. On the other side, you can visit popular Brooklyn neighborhoods, DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights—the former is home to one of the city's best and most beautiful waterfront parks.
Go Vintage Shopping
If your teen wants to do some shopping without the price tag that comes along with Madison Avenue, take them to one of Manhattan's many cool vintage stores. They'll be thrilled to get some cool duds that their friends will be envious of and you'll be thrilled at the price. Manhattan's East Village is home to some of the city's best vintage shops, with outlets like Buffalo Exchange and Tokio 7 offering the most extensive selection. Also nearby, long-standing shop Trash & Vaudeville has an incredible range of rock-and-roll staples: Think band T-shirts and combat boots.
See a Movie at Nitehawk Cinema
Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema shows a roster of old-school cult films and new releases, with a unique touch: At this unique theater, you can order food directly to your seat while you watch. And no, it's not just typical stale popcorn and flavorless hot dogs. Most special films have creative menu items just for their screenings!
Ride Amusement Park Rides at Luna Park
Every summer, New Yorkers and tourists alike flock to Coney Island's Luna Park. The old-school amusement park is situated along the boardwalk and is famous for rides like the wooden roller coaster the Cyclone. After a day spent on the rides, you can take a dip in the ocean, topped off with a Nathan's Famous hot dog and some cheesy fries.
Try New Types of Food at Smorgasburg
Smorgasburg is an outdoor food festival created by the founders of another popular Brooklyn activity, the Brooklyn Flea. What was once a small collection of food vendors now attracts snacks of all kinds, ranging from tacos to pho, to inventive pastries. It's held in two locations: Brooklyn's Prospect Park and the Williamsburg waterfront.
Learn About Film at the Museum of the Moving Image
Teen movie lovers will adore the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. While the museum is a draw on any day, try to visit on a Friday afternoon, when the museum hosts a unique Teen Digital Media Lab, which gives teens ages 14 and up special access to media-making tools. The next Oscar-winner could be in your midst!
Watch a Ball Game
Seeing Major League Baseball action is easy in New York City, with two stadium—Yankee Stadium and Citi Field—both easily accessible via public transportation. Whether you're rooting for the Mets or the boys in pinstripes, a baseball game is an affordable and fun part of New York history that any teen will enjoy! (The city is also home to minor league teams—the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones—that are fun to watch as well.)
Eat Dim Sum (and More!) in Chinatown
Few neighborhoods are a feast for the sense in the way that Manhattan's Chinatown is. Teens will marvel at the colorful sights, exciting sounds, and a wide array of fresh and genuinely unique food being served. Treat them to an exceptional dining experience by heading to an authentic dim sum restaurant like Jing Fong, Red Egg, or Golden Unicorn.
Have an Authentic Slice of New York Pizza
Even the pickiest teen surely likes pizza—and there's no better place to have a slice than New York City. While almost every New Yorker has an opinion about their favorite slice, most visitors will find that any pizza pie in the city tastes better than what they can get back home. New York City classics include Bleecker Street Pizza, Joe's, John's, and Lombardi's.
Climb Aboard an Aircraft Carrier
Moored along Manhattan's West Side Highway, the USS Intrepid is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that's now open to visitors. Climb aboard to see fighter jets, a test space shuttle, and the USS Growler, a tiny submarine that housed sailors for months at a time.
Take a Surf Lesson at Rockaway Beach
Surfing? In New York City? Yes, it's true: Queens's Rockaway Beach if a surfing hotspot and it's easily accessible by train. Once you're there, your teens can take a surf lesson or just spend some time in the sun and the sand. The beach's boardwalk has also become a hipster hangout, with cool eats like Rockaway Taco and Ripper's.
Bike Around the City
Thanks to Citibike, a citywide bike-sharing program, it's easier than ever to hop on two wheels and go. Stick to protected bike paths, like the West Side Highway's Greenway or try riding over the bridge in Brooklyn. Either way, your teen will love cover a lot of ground in not a lot of time.