HealthyWay’s Ultimate Wellness Vacation Guide: Things To Do In New York

The city that never sleeps actually has a soothing soul. Here’s where to find it.

April 19, 2018
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When you think of things to do in New York, you probably imagine being in a yellow taxi zooming down the street, seeing the flashing lights of Times Square, and making your way through crowds of people strutting down the sidewalk. And the overwhelming imagery’s not far from reality—the city is a hectic, vibrant place that never stops moving.

New York doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the world’s most restorative destination, but New Yorkers know that taking care of their bodies and minds is essential to thriving in such a hurried environment. We’ll book it to that yoga class (even after 10 hours at the office), we’ll splurge on a gorgeous manicure (especially at a non-toxic salon), and we’ll insist on walking an extra six blocks at lunch for the best salad. These forms of self-care keep us locals going in our everyday lives while energizing travelers to see all that this amazing city has to offer.

Considering all of the incredible things to do in New York, where’s a healthy traveler to start planning her trip? Right here!

During the past five years I’ve called this city “home,” I’ve tried (almost) every vegan restaurant, embraced eccentric exercise classes (trapeze, anyone?), and searched out the most tranquil spas (it’s a hard job but someone’s gotta do it).

If there’s one thing I know well, it’s all the fun, healthy things to do in New York. And I’m about to share them with you.

Things to Do in New York: Healthy Food and Drink

New York might be best known for its pizza and bagels (and you should definitely indulge in those while you’re here!), but the city also has a healthy food and drink scene to write home about. Where else can you find vegan pizza that looks like a still life, gold-dipped matcha soft serve, and local produce in the shadows of skyscrapers? Exploring the healthy food and drink options should be at the top of your list of things to do in New York—and you won’t have to travel far to find it.

Friend of a Farmer: Brunch tops every local’s list of her favorite things to do in New York, and you can’t go wrong at Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy. With a stone fireplace, floral wallpaper, and exposed wood-beam ceilings, this rustic two-story restaurant feels as warm and welcoming as your grandma’s house. This pioneer of the farm-to-table movement serves up hearty, country-style brunch options, including homemade granola, buttermilk apple pancakes, cinnamon-raisin French toast, and omelettes galore.

Avocaderia: New York will never have the abundance of avocados found in California, but there’s one place in the city that comes pretty close: Avocaderia. Avocado is used in every single item on this fast-casual eatery’s menu, from toasts and bowls to smoothies and desserts. You can find everything at their original location in Industry City, Brooklyn, or at a space that’s set to open this spring in Chelsea.

by Chloe.: If there’s ever a time to get a fast food fix, it’s when you’re traveling. Fortunately for visitors to New York, you can do it sans guilt at by Chloe., a popular vegan fast food joint that focuses as much on dishing out healthier versions of your favorite foods (pesto meatball sandwich, anyone?) as it does on creating a chic, Instagrammable atmosphere. (The Greenwich Village location has wicker swings for chairs!) There’s always a line of people waiting to order, but once you dig into the whiskey barbecue sandwich (with smoky mushrooms and seitan, grilled pineapple, onion marmalade, and sauteed kale on a potato bun) and a Hostess-style cupcake, you won’t regret the wait.

Double Zero: The list of the top things to do in New York always includes sampling the pizza—seriously, it’s the best. You could grab a hit-or-miss slice from wherever, but I suggest you make a reservation at Double Zero, a classy dairy-free pizza joint from the famous plant-based chef Matthew Kenney. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill pizzas: The cheese is handcrafted from cultured nuts, the low-gluten crust crackles with every bite, and the pies are piled high with your choice of toppings, including shiitake bacon, wild mushrooms, and farro–fennel sausage.

Union Square Greenmarket: Area farmers set up shop in Union Square Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays year-round. New Yorkers love this place, and once you see the vast abundance of produce, local wine and spirits, fresh cheese, and homemade bread, you will too. If having a picnic in Central Park is on your list of things to do in New York, you’ll find everything you need to fill your basket here.

Matcha N’ More: That 24-karat gold-dipped matcha ice cream I mentioned? This is where to find it, along with lattes, lemonade, croissants, and cream puffs—all made with ceremonial-grade matcha from Uji, Japan.

Mother of Pearl: If you think tiki bars are tacky, you’re in for a delightful surprise at Mother of Pearl. The East Village cocktail lounge elevates the tropical experience with swaying palm-leaf fans, totem-inspired bar stools, and vintage parrot upholstery. Fruity cocktails (both boozy and virgin!) are served in an endless variety of novelty glasses, including mini skulls and an open-mouthed shark. Soak it all up with plant-based Polynesian snacks.

Things to Do in New York: Wellness, Self-Care, and Fitness

One of the things out-of-towners always ask locals is, “How do you live here?” The things that overwhelm visitors—mainly the noise, the crowds, the sensory overload—can drive even locals a little batty after a while.

So we burn off steam at creative fitness classes and fill our schedules with all the best wellness-inspired things there are to do in New York. Here’s where you can escape the frenzy.

Haven Spa: Out of all of the spas in the city, Haven Spa near Washington Square Park offers the most consistently thoughtful, relaxing, and innovative experiences. (The team once created a Game of Thrones–themed spa package.) The Mini Escapes menu is the best bet for travelers on a time crunch. It includes five 30-minute treatments—such as a body scrub, manicure, and massage—that will restore you on the fly. Have a little more time? Try the “Fire and Ice” facial, which uses anti-inflammatory botanicals to leave you with a healthy glow.  

AIRE Ancient Baths: Indulging in a 90-minute bathing ritual at this lofty, candlelit Tribeca space feels otherworldly. The restored 19th-century textile factory boasts half a dozen water chambers, including a cold plunge pool, a hot bath, and a saltwater pool that gives you a weightless feeling. The entire experience has roots in ancient Greek, Ottoman, and Roman civilizations and promises to relax your muscles and ease joint tension while toning the skin and improving circulation.

tenoverten: Non-toxic nail care isn’t easy to find, so a visit to tenoverten is one of the essential things to do in New York for people in need of safe pampering. The nail salon, with four beautiful, minimalist-designed spaces in New York, is a favorite among magazine editors for its detail-focused mani–pedis and exclusive use of high-performance, 8-free polish.

Modrn Sanctuary: This luxury wellness center offers alternative therapeutic experiences you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Looking to deepen your yoga practice? Book a chromaYOGA class, which combines classic yoga flows with color therapy to align your chakras in Modrn Sanctuary’s Himalayan salt room. You can also try acupuncture, cupping, crystal light cleansing, aromatherapy, and meditation in a special pod that’ll make you feel like you’re flying.

Trapeze School New York: If you’ve ever dreamed of running away and joining the circus, you’ve got to include a class at this trapeze school on your list of things to do in New York. Encouraging instructors in the two-hour introductory class give you the training and confidence you need to grab a metal bar, leap from a platform in the clouds, and soar through the air on the flying trapeze. They’ll also teach you how to swing from the bar using just your legs. It’s not an easy feat, but if you can conquer it, you’ll get an upside-down view of One World Trade Center that you’ll never forget.

Circuit of Change: The mat classes at this intimate, no-frills studio will push you to new heights, both mentally and physically. Circuit of Change’s signature class, Mind Body Bootcamp, combines kickboxing, plyometrics, yoga, stretching, and bootcamp exercises for 55 minutes of non-stop movement that will invigorate and inspire you.

Box + Flow: Ever wanted to punch up your yoga practice? Box + Flow does just that with its combination boxing-meets-yoga classes. You’ll start with 35 minutes of shadowboxing and heavy bag work to get the blood pumping. Then you’ll round out the classes with a juicy yoga sequence to open up your hips and heart.

Things to Do in New York: Tourist Fun

For new visitors to the city, the sheer number of amazing things to do in New York could fill a book. There are historic buildings, important monuments, world-class museums, perfectly preened parks, and so much more. But if you’re looking for a healthier way to tackle the tourist sites, you’ll have to be intentional with your itinerary. Some spots just have more to offer—and these won’t let you down.

The High Line: Few parks offer the sort of urban mystique found at the High Line. You can walk the 1.45-mile-long promenade—historic train tracks converted into a park with lush gardens, romantic lighting, moveable wooden lounge chairs, and crazy-cool views of downtown Manhattan—on your own. Or take one of the fascinating tours that explain the secrets of the High Line and how New Yorkers rallied together to preserve and repurpose this unique space.

Citi Bike: This bikeshare program has 12,000 bikes and more than 700 stations around Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Jersey City and offers short-term passes for tourists looking for a refreshing way to get to all the fun things to do in New York.

Fit Tours NYC: The motto of Fit Tours NYC says it all: “If the views don’t take your breath away, the workout certainly will!” The company offers fitness-focused tours of Central Park led by an exercise instructor who doubles as a tour guide. Tour options include 5K fun runs, core tours, and sunrise yoga walks.

Rubin Museum of Art: This beautiful museum in Chelsea is dedicated to Himalayan art and culture and is a sanctuary that connects the reality of contemporary life to the myths, legends, and visuals of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern philosophies. The rotating exhibits offer plenty to admire and contemplate, but if you’re looking for an even more engaging experience, check out the events calendar. It’s chock-full of creative workshops, inspiring talks, dance and music performances, and much more.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: With artifacts spanning more than 5,000 years of art and culture, the Met offers so much to see that you could spend days wandering around the encyclopedic museum and never get bored—talk about a good way to get your steps in. You could grab a map and wander around the exhibit halls that most interest you or hop on a guided tour or gallery talk and learn more about the exhibits from the knowledgeable docents. If you happen to visit on a Friday, stay for the evening drop-in drawing session. The museum provides all the materials (and inspiration) you need to practice sketching among the world’s finest works of art—no judgment allowed or talent required.

Statue of Liberty: Visiting the Statue of Liberty is one of the most popular things to do in New York, and it has a healthy twist you might not have realized: a tightly spiraled staircase inside the bodice with 377 steps leading up to the crown. Who thought there’d be hiking on a trip to one of the biggest cities in the country?

Things to Do in New York: Shopping

There’s a reason New Yorkers are always seen with a half dozen bags strapped on each arm: This city has too many tempting shopping options. Stretch your legs at the massive department stores (Bloomingdale’s is my favorite!) or pay a visit to some local gems and see what treasures you uncover.

Credo Beauty is a great spot to stock up on eco-friendly, cruelty-free cosmetics and body products. You can create a custom lipstick at the BITE Beauty Lip Lab, using all-natural ingredients. And if you need one-of-a-kind souvenirs, head to Artists & Fleas in Chelsea Market, where local artisans and craftspeople sell handmade jewelry, block-printed apparel, vintage clothing and records, and cute totes.  

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