Top Adventurous Things to Do in New York City

written by local expert Becky Rogers

Becky is an avid rock climber and outdoor enthusiast and is now living in France as an expat. When she is not writing about travel gear and various destinations she has visited during her travels, you can find her playing with her two dogs.

When we think about New York City, our minds automatically think of iconic skyscrapers, impressive Central Park or the neon-lit Times Square, full of the best Broadway theaters in the world. What many people don’t know is there are a surprising amount of adventurous activities to do in and around New York.

We want to help you make the big city your own adventure playground, so we teamed up with to share our top picks for adventurous things to do in New York.

Face Your Fear of Heights in the Empire State Building

What is a top things to do list in New York without the Empire State Building? Nothing! The observation deck is the most famous in the world, as well as the highest in New York. So, if you want to stand at the heart of New York City 86 floors up in the air, this activity is for you.

If these 360 views of New York City just aren’t high enough, take the elevator up another 16 floors and take in New York in its entirety. Obviously, the thrill of this experience is the height — when you can see 80 miles of views below you, you’re seriously high up.

Visiting the Empire State Building is one of the most romantic things to do in New York City, so it can’t be missed if you’re visiting with your significant other!

Tip: It’s always crowded at the Empire State Building, so it’s good idea to buy a ticket online so that you can skip the line and go straight to the top!

empire state building

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White Water Raft Down the Hudson River

As if white water rafting isn’t cool enough, how cool is it doing it on the Hudson River?

Starting at the Upper Hudson River, you can take an exhilarating 17-mile adventure, taking on class III-V rapids. Surrounded by gorgeous views of the Adirondack Mountains, you really won’t feel like you’re even in a city.

The great thing about this activity is the range of fast-moving rapids to calm waters. This allows the guides to give you bits of history about the area before the next burst of action, giving you culture and adventure all in one!

Bike the Big Apple

If you haven’t guessed already, cycling around a city is one of our favorite ways to explore and learn some handy facts too! With so many bike tours to choose from, you can find yourself cycling anywhere from Central Park or Harlem to the secret back streets of the city.

What’s also great about bike tours, apart from the obvious physical activity, is that you stumble across the best local food places that you might of otherwise overlooked. Adventure in You founders, Tom and Anna, did an interesting bike tour with the guys over at Bike the Big Apple through The Bronx — it was one of the highlights of their trip!

Related: New York City Break Guide: The Best of New York in 72 Hours and New York Tips for Insiders

cyling in new york

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Take Part in a Scavenger Hunt Adventure

To spice up a normal sightseeing day, why not turn it into a scavenger hunt day? New York has interactive scavenger hunts in Central Park and Midtown where you can follow hints and complete challenges whilst trekking around the city.

Not only do you learn a thing or two about the city, but you’ll also come across popular sites such as Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Columbus Circle. The best thing about this adventure is doing it with friends.

Explore the urban jungle and make awesome memories along the way!

Ride a Jet Boat at the Niagara Falls

If you have more than a weekend in New York, it is definitely worth making the trip to see the famous Niagara Falls.

Located in the Finger Lake region of New York, you can reach it with a very short scenic flight or opt for a 2-day bus tour. The 2-day bus tour offers highlights such as Watkins Glen Canyon, Seneca Lake, and finally the beautifully breathtaking Niagara Falls! The falls themselves are truly magnificent, and unlike anything you’ll ever see.

For a real thrill, take a jet boat ride through the Class 5 rapids of the Niagara River. You’ll get wet and wild — literally!

Urban Stand-Up Paddling

Explore New York City in one of the most unique ways possible — on a stand-up paddleboard! Paddle along Manhattan in the Hudson River or head north to Croton Point Park or into Queens by Rockaway Beach. Trust me, you will feel tiny compared to the towering buildings around you but the view from the water is pretty incredible.

For those who are a bit apprehensive about stand up paddle-boarding, you can opt to go kayaking instead. The Manhattan Community Boathouse even offers free kayaking on a walk-in basis. That’s right, you heard me — FREE in New York. Unreal right?

Go Bouldering in Central Park

I love the sport in general, so bouldering in the middle of Central Park is way cooler than in a climbing gym.

If you want to spend an hour or two taking on the challenge of the rock, head to Rat Rock. It is the most popular bouldering spot in the whole park, where you’ll find plenty of experienced climbers along with people attempting the climb because it looks “easy.” It might be only 10 feet but trust me it’s more difficult than it looks!

Where to Do It: Rat Rock, Upper West Side in Central Park South.


Feel the Rush on a Speedboat Tour

Who doesn’t love an intense dose of adrenaline? Take a thrilling powerboat ride and race down the Hudson at 45mph, taking in all the sights of Manhattan along the way.

Feel the wind rushing through your hair as you skim across the water and your heartbeat banging against your chest. It won’t be long before you stop for pictures of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and then you’ll be racing back the way you came.

Don’t forget to hold on to your hat (if you have one)!

Experience Mountain Biking in Highbridge Park

Think New York City is just one big urban jungle? Well, it is, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have secret spots where you can test your mountain biking agility.

Head to Highbridge Park and experience its beginner routes through rocky cliffs, all the way to expert routes for more advanced riders.

Oh, there is also a dirt jump park for those that want to try out their luck. To make things more interesting, there are various trails like the Hellfighter trail with various drops and challenges. Other trails to check out for beginners are Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows and Wold’s Pond Park in Staten Island.

Explore Catacombs in New York City

How about heading underground and learning about a side of New York that few know of? This candlelight tour of the catacombs of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a unique way to spend an evening.

With a local guide, you’ll gain access to this otherwise off-limits area and learn more about the church’s history and the high-profile Americans resting in the crypts.

Explore Brooklyn

If you want to see where all the cool kids go, don’t just stick to the hot spots of New York. Instead, venture out to smaller areas like Brooklyn which has a ton of things to do. Want ideas? Check out this post on things to do in Brooklyn for insider tips on what to do.

Fly High with a Helicopter Tour

You could stand in the heart of New York City in one of its many towering skyscrapers. However, to get a bird’s eye view of the city as a whole, you will have to take to the actual skies via plane or helicopter.

A helicopter tour of New York give you a vantage point unlike any other, flying you over all the major sites and buildings.

One of the most spectacular sights is the One World Trade Center building, standing tall beside the 9/11 Memorial reflecting pools. It is really a stunning sight to see, and a helicopter tour is a great way to experience this fantastic city!

If you have the extra dough, squeezing this in your New York itinerary is worth it.

nyc helicopter

As much as I’d love to keep talking about all the adventures New York City offers, I’m going to stop now. With many more on offer, hopefully, I’ve given you enough of a taste of the thrills that can be found within the city.

All that is left to do now is explore it all!

Looking for more adventurous things to do and other travel tips? Check out the articles below

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