Discover the ultimate 15 best experiences in New York for gay explorers

Laid out like an upscale 10-course spread, with hipster district appetizers and rich skyscraper mains, New York is always a pleasure to tuck into. Whether it’s a deli sandwich too big to grasp or a Broadway musical too popular to miss, New York breathes freshness from every street corner. Stay cultured by visiting any of the city’s best independent bookstores or join an LGBT Walking Tour, learning of the queer activism that helped forge LGBTQ+ rights across the nation and the grit and solidarity of the wider local community. Discover all the gay activities and experiences New York has to offer with our top 15 rundown, or, for more on where to stay and how to party, see our full New York City travel guide.

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New York | Photo: Jerome Dominici

1. Central Park

A bird’s eye view of the city puts Central Park right amidst it all, as the biggest patch of green flanked by residential builds and gleaming skyscrapers on all sides. Accessible from 59th Street, Central Park is 693 acres of urban reprieve, bringing gardens, meadows and quiet forested areas to the heart of the city. To walk the whole park on its Elm-lined trails would take 19 hours total, but a couple of hours is more than enough to re-enact all the best New York rom-coms. As well as hosting a zoo, a castle, and row boating activities, in winter there’s also an ice-skating rink and sledding opportunities to add to that wonderland atmosphere. Look for the John Lennon memorial or get lost within the Ramble forest, joining the city’s diverse population of business people, marauders, hipsters and beyond for picnics on the hills. For that something special, visit Central Park during one of its free live-music concerts on the Great Lawn, or go highbrow at a Shakespeare in the Park production at the open-air Delacorte Theatre.

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

Photo: Marta Wave

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Move into the world of art without ever leaving the park, by climbing the tiered Gothic-Revival steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Move into the world of art without ever leaving the park, by climbing the tiered Gothic-Revival steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the east edge of Central Park. Believe it or not, there are 5,000 years of history all preserved within the Met, inclusive of paintings from the European masters, ancient Roman and Greek nudes, Egyptian temples and even contemporary fashion pieces from across Asia. As well as spanning the world’s art movements across history, the Met also hosts an impressive number of temporary exhibits, including a gallery dedication to Rodin. Do your research before arriving to avoid becoming frozen by the art overload on arrival, opting for the audio guide ($7) to educate yourself on the meaning of a number of the museum’s best exhibits at your own pace.

Metropolitan Museum, NYC

Metropolitan Museum, NYC | Photo: Henry Mado

3. Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Back among nature, New York surprises us yet again with its love of all that’s green. At Brooklyn Botanic Garden, it’s manicured gardens and pavilions that steal the show, linking stylish conservatories on looping paths through the grounds. Like something out of a Japanese version of Bridgerton, the gardens are diverse enough to keep anyone amused, growing exotic bonsais, orchids and succulents inside, while outside, the lily pond and pagoda see out the spring under cherry blossom confetti (best seen during Sakura Matsuri festival). Music is also a feature at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, particularly on ‘Spring Weekends’ when tens of artists – including diverse international groups such as Sachiyo Ito dance company and Mantra Percussion – perform over the course of four weekends (from April 17th to 9th May).

4. Theatre shows

You’re bound to have heard of Broadway but have you heard of the latest hits besides Hamilton? Not to knock the hip-hop musical of America’s founding father Alexander Hamilton (it’s better than it sounds!), Hamilton is not the only star to be found in New York’s theatre district. For decades, Broadway has been the centre of the country’s arts world, showcasing the East Coast’s best stand-up comedians, dancers and performers. More than that, Broadway has nurtured much of the country’s LGBTQ+ talent, providing spaces to explore queer stories, such as during Playbill Pride in Pride Month. Besides the big theatres showing star-studded big hitters like Les Misérables and Moulin Rouge! , the district also extends to smaller venues in the East and West Village such as Performing Garage (home of the Wooster Group) and Public Theatre, with additional highlights in Brooklyn including the Brooklyn Academy of Music. For women’s theatre, the WOW Café Theatre is an indie bestseller, showcasing the empowerment of women and transgender people of all sexualities, through burlesque and drama performance.

Broadway, NYC | Photo: Florian Wehde

Photo: Cottonbro

5. Marjorie Eliot's Parlor Jazz

A little gem on a Sunday afternoon in Harlem goes by the name of Parlor Jazz, taking place in the home of the iconic jazz singer Marjorie Eliot. Running for over a decade without a break (launching even earlier back in 1992), this is one of the ultimate gay experiences in New York City, allowing visitors to buzz in like family to enjoy intimate piano concerts performed by Marjorie herself in her living room! The event is free (donations welcomed) but coming early is recommended to compete with locals for the small number of seats.

6. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Manhattan’s most visited gallery, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), lies in the heart of Midtown. Though focusing on contemporary classics, MoMA’s range is a broad one, spanning 630,000 square feet to incorporate exhibitions, film screenings, research, education and public programming events. Since reopening in 2019 with added space, MoMA has only gotten more popular, offering thematic exhibitions across six floors, covering everything from Van Gogh and Monet to experimental photography, film and high fashion. On site, you’ve also got two Michelin-starred restaurants as well as the ever-popular MoMA design store (set apart from the Museum Store) selling stylish home décor, tech accessories and furniture on 53rd Street, with successful off-shoots in both SoHo and Japan.

7. Leslie–Lohman Museum of Art

A third choice of art gallery for those art fiends out there is the Leslie–Lohman Museum of Art, formerly known as the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, which today maintains its original theme with a curated collection from LGBTQ+ artists and other artists exploring LGBTQ+ issues and identities. As well as being a cultural hub for the community, Leslie-Lohman is also an educational institution examining the intersection between art and social justice, tackling art scholarship from a queer perspective. The non-profit has evolved from its humble beginnings in 1969 when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman held an exhibit of gay artists in their loft, now accumulating a total of 30,000 works stretching through 300 years of history, including works from victims of the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and a research library of over 3,000 publications.

Leslie-Lohman Museum | Photo: Kristine Eudey

Photo: Juan Ordonez

8. LGBTQ Historical Walking Tour

We never tire of walking in New York City but sometimes taking a rest from navigating is exactly what we need. Enter the LGBTQ Historical Walking Tour which takes visitors on a comprehensive tour of the city, telling of the Stonewall Uprising and the rise of the pride movement through the years. One of the best activities in New York City for gay travellers, the Village Pride Tour will delve into the history of Greenwich Village as the centre of LGBT life in New York, even before the Stonewall riots and resulting gay revolution of 1969 which marked opposition to increased political repression of the community. As well as learning of certain queer activists, you’ll also pass the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, the NYC AIDS Memorial and the LGBT Community Centre.

9. The Cauldron Magical Pub

When it’s time for a cocktail, look no further than the Cauldron Magical Pub. Like something straight out of Diagon Alley, the Cauldron Magical Pub is a fantasy-inspired brewhouse running potion-making cocktail classes in an immersive setting. As well as signing up for their potions experience, you could also attend the FreeBritney Drag Bingo bash held every Thursday to indulge in ‘Toxic’ shots and Britney’s best hits in both song and food format; including top hits ‘Oops, I Hummus Again’ and ‘I’m a Slave, for Smoked Street Corn’. It would be Crazy to miss! Uncover more of the best cocktail bars in NYC with Mr Hudson.

Coney Island | Photo: Benjamin Voros

10. Coney Island

A frequent feature in 80s movie references, Coney Island has long been labelled as a little bit trashy, with its circus-like atmosphere and touristy promenade. Rather than changing to meet the times, however, Coney Island remains blissfully nostalgic with its amusement park entertainments and hot-dog stand vendors, catering to kids, tourists and baseball fans from MCU park stadium. Join the rowdy lot for a kitschy yet charming day by the sea, enjoying ice creams along the wooden boardwalk before taking on the famed Cyclone rollercoaster. The rides close up in winter, but summer activities are worth the wait, with events like the annual Mermaid Parade drawing punk mermaids from all sides of the city.

11. Sail in New York City

What better way to gain perspective on the city and the Statue of Liberty than to take a Private New York City Sunset Boat Tour along the Hudson River. Starting in New York Harbour, board a classic 1920s-style yacht to sail by some of the city’s best sights, including One World Trade Centre in the glittering financial district, Brooklyn Bridge and Ellis Island off the shore. Hear your captain’s rundown of NY’s best bits over a complimentary drink, sitting inside or outside for a view of the sunset over Battery Park. Alternatively, set sail at midday for a champagne brunch with an onboard buffet and open Prosecco bar.

Photo: Dimitry Anikin

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

12. Whitney Museum of American Art

Informally known as the Whitney, the next art museum on the set list is a belter like Houston herself. Founded in 1930 by prominent American socialite Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Whitney Museum of American Art has since become the place to view 20th and 21st-century American art in the Meatpacking district. The building itself is a work of art, a glass covered vision designed by Renzo Piano, holding 50,000 square feet of whitewashed space adorned with masterpieces by Basquiat, Warhol and Calder (and 3,000 other artists). Shimmy through the diverse crowd (arriving early for more room to roam) and take advantage of the museum’s four outdoor spaces and terraces, theatre and library, with a multimedia guide on offer for modern art novices. After taking a breath afront the Hudson River, rise to the rooftop bar for skyline views at sunset, returning to the ground floor for a fine dining experience in the hands of famed restauranteur Danny Meyer.

13. Bowery Poetry Club

One for the poets among us is the performance space known as the Bowery Poetry Club, located on 308 Bowery in the East Village. The meeting point of literature lovers and aspiring artists alike since 2002, Bowery Poetry Club specialises in slam poetry events where performers take turns on stage to present stories and poems in freestyle. One of the more established slam poetry venues in the city, the quality of the performers is second to none with a friendly atmosphere towards newcomers. Try the PoetNY Open Mic each Sunday or opt for the Nuyorican Poets Café for more choice of Open Mic events, including the monthly ‘All That! Poetry, Hip Hop & Jazz’ event.

NYC | Photo: Juan Ordonez

Photo: Mohamed Almari

14. The Cloisters

Despite belonging in part to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters deserves a listing all of its own as the city’s only museum dedicated to Middle Age art and architecture. Based apart from the Met proper in Fort Tryon Park, The Cloisters has been around since 1938 when John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the land for the Met to develop five medieval-inspired cloisters inside a modern structure, a site that could give a contextual backdrop for the museum’s 2,000 artworks and artifacts all gathered from Medieval Europe. A 30-minute subway ride from Midtown, The Cloisters seems a world away from the city centre thanks to its lack of crowds, all within the wide, green garden location of Tryon Park.

15. New York Helicopter Tour

A high point to cap off your NY trip is to take the best helicopter tour New York over the entirety of the city. Exclusive and iconic, the tour gives bird’s-eye views across Manhattan, allowing passengers to marvel at the architecture of the Rockefeller Centre, the 150-year old Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, as well as to gain perspective on the skyline marked by the Hudson River and the perfectly rectangular Central Park. Tours leave at various points throughout the day, giving the option for a romantic sunrise or sunset proposal.

Not finished munching on your Big Apple? Discover more of the best gay things to do in New York City.

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NYC | Photo: Florian Wehde

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