Times Square is more quiet than normal, but still filled with lively billboards and plenty of attractions.
Times Square is more quiet than normal, but still filled with lively billboards and plenty of attractions.

Line-Free NYC: 20 Things To Do and Enjoy in NYC Right Now

If you've trekked through Times Square lately, you likely saw as many pigeons as pedestrians. For the first time in decades, the city is deserted. Locals can enjoy all the usual tourist spots without waiting in line. Bollards are waiting to restrict lines of visitors for crowds who haven't shown up and social distancing markers on the sidewalk are barely scuffed. And the scene replays itself at tourist hotspots and beloved local institutions all across town. In short, it's a little slice of paradise for New Yorkers weary of dodging slow-walking tourists and selfie snappers.

The city streets are quiet when compared to pre-pandemic times. Office workers are still mainly working from home, and tourists are steering clear. This is all good news for intrepid New Yorkers, who are ready to explore again after months of making the best of stay-at-home orders. Museums are reopening, and Times Square mega shops are debuting. So, if you're ready to get out, the city is your playground. With flexible work arrangements and hybrid school schedules, now is the perfect time to play tourists in our hometown.

So, book those timed-entry tickets, skip the lines that usually run blocks long, and step out to visit a favorite museum, support a local business, and show New York City some love with these 20 things to do before the rest of the world discovers NYC is back.

Subscribe to our FREE newsletters to get posts like this delivered to your inbox.

Reimmerse Yourself in Culture

1. If you've ever dreamed of seeing The Met on an Empty Met Tour, but can't handle the VIP price tag, a visit to a capacity-limited reopening is the next best thing. See The Met's Making the Met: 1870-2020, plus a Jacob Lawrence exhibition, a new rooftop commission, and the rest of the museum's treasures.

RELATED: NYC Museums Reopen With FREE Admission Deals and New Exhibitions

Visit the calm and picturesque medieval museum gardens at The Met Cloisters. Photo by Suzy Q

2. A visit to The Met Cloisters is equally worthy of your time, and the views of the Palisades this time of the year offer picture-perfect leaf-peeping.

3. When is the last time you explored the rotunda of the Guggenheim? See the art and architecture at this Museum Mile gem now.

4. Relive the magic of Studio 54 at The Brooklyn Museum.

5. We barely had time to enjoy the renovated MoMA in the spring, so now's your chance! You can also visit its sister site, MoMA PS1, and these other kid-friendly Queens art spots nearby.

Learn all about T. Rex at the AMNH exhibit dedicated to the fearsome dino. Photo courtesy of the museum.

6. Reintroduce yourself to T. Rex, the titanosaur, and the rest of their friends at the American Museum of Natural History. Be sure to take in The Nature of Color while you're there.

7. Explore the galleries of The Whitney to see its collection of contemporary American art.

8. Explore the Queens Museum and see if you can spot your apartment in its famed Panorama. While you're there, hit up the Queens Drive-in at the New York Hall of Science or the Broadway-themed drive-in, Radial Park, in Long Island City.

Enjoy the Great Outdoors

9. Explore a new-to-you corner of Central Park. Stroll through the North Woods, gawk at the animals at the Central Park Zoo, pose for a picture on the Bow Bridge, and see if you can find the brand new statue dedicated to Monumental Women.

RELATED: Family-Friendly Hiking Trails in NYC to Tackle This Fall

Get goofy while enjoying passive recreation on Governors Island. Photo by Sara M. 

10. Governors Island is particularly lovely in the absence of crowds. Book your ferry tickets in advance, pack a picnic, and plan to spend the day. Bonus: Fueled by donations, the island's adventure playground opens for two weekends of play, September 26-27 and October 3-4.

11. Explore one of the city's beautiful botanical gardens: the New York Botanical Garden, Wave Hill, Queens Botanical Garden, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden have all reopened.

RELATED: 30 Things We Can't Wait To Do This Fall in NYC

The Brooklyn Bridge makes for an easy stroll with stunning views.  Photo by Crystal Bueno

12. Stroll across the crowd-free Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy the action-packed Brooklyn Bridge Park, with kayaking, plenty of playgrounds, and the brand new Pier 2 Uplands.

13. Book your tickets to walk along The High Line. The one-way path drops you off near Hudson Yards, where you can pose for a photo with King Nyani, a larger-than-life gorilla.

Hit a Tourist Hot Spot

The time has finally come! Krispy Kreme's Times Square flagship store is officially open for business! 

14. When was the last time you visited Times Square? While the slow-walking tourists are MIA and there are a few less costumed characters mugging for the camera, our favorite kid spots are open for business. Visit the Disney Store, M&Ms World, Hersey's Chocolate World, or our new favorite, Krispy Kreme's 4,500-square-foot doughnut wonderland.

15. Climb aboard the Roosevelt Island Tram for a sky-high ride over the East River and explore the family-friendly fun on the other side.

RELATED: 100 Things To Do With NYC Kids Before They Grow Up

Take in the stunning views of Lady Liberty and New York Harbor on the ferry.

16. Hit the water and take a ferry to Liberty Island. While the Statue's interior is still closed, visitors can explore the Statue of Liberty Museum and take in the stunning views of Lady Liberty and New York Harbor.

17. We know you've always wanted to see the city from the water ... and a marathon Circle Line Cruise around the island of Manhattan.

18. Another unique usually-reserved-for-tourists-view: Visit one of the city's famed observation decks. Whether you go classic and choose the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock or hit the brand new Edge at Hudson Yards, this trio of observation decks have all reopened and are ready to test your fear of heights.

Wander around the kid-friendly Bryant Park while it's still quieter than usual.  

19. Wander down the crowd-free sidewalks of Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center south through Midtown. See if you can spot a masked-up Atlas. Step into Grand Central Terminal, gaze at the stars in the main terminal with a little less hustle and bustle than normal. Meander over to Bryant Park to see what's happening at this kid-friendly park and enjoy an alfresco lunch.

20: Stroll along the Coney Island boardwalk now that the summer crowds are gone and visit the newly reopened New York Aquarium and its just-debuted Spineless exhibit.

Unless noted, photos by the author

Paleo Playdates
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University - 10:00 AM Pick
Aladdin & the Wonderful Lamp
Puppetworks Inc. - 12:30 PM Pick
What We Call Home: Teens Curate the Collection
Bronx Museum of the Arts - 1:00 PM Pick
Radio Rewind: Broadway Hits
Bryant Park - 5:00 PM Pick
Monuments Now
Socrates Sculpture Park - 9:00 AM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides