The train schedule billboard inside Grand Central Station / Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Photo by Deni Verklan. © The Full-Time Tourist, 2016.
Rainy weather is usually code for a lazy day. But when you’ve spent money on flights and accommodations to explore a new city, you have to make the most of your trip despite the gloomy weather. I recently came back from an unexpectedly rainy weekend in New York City where I spent a couple of late nights and mornings trying to find mostly indoor activities. And for the most part, I failed to calculate the number of people thinking about the same rainy-day activities as me.
Apparently, here are some activities you shouldn’t do on a rainy weekend:
- Go to a pay-what-you-can museum on a Sunday. (Hello hundreds of people lining up outside the building!)
- Go to the Top of the Rocks to see the New York skyline. (Clouds for miles.)
- Outdoor activities in general. (Cue frizzy wet hair and shivering.)
Luckily, I’m heading back to NYC within the month, so it made sense for me to get an American mobile phone plan while I was in the U.S.A. and was able to re-plan part of the day when rainy day plans fell through. But paying for data or for an American number isn’t always a viable option for international visitors that might only be in the U.S. for a few days.
To make sure you get the most out of New York City in the rain, I’ve created a three-day itinerary that includes two week-day activities and one weekend day to have an authentically New York experience despite the rainy weather.
Quick note: If you’re in the city for 4-7 days, invest in an unlimited metro pass ($31). The city is bigger than your feet could have ever imagined.
A 3-Day Itinerary for Exploring New York City in the Rain
Day 1: Exploring Manhattan’s iconic buildings
Day 1 is best for weekdays as it includes some popular spots for locals and tourists alike to go to during rainy weather. The day starts at the American Museum of Natural History, which is a small enough museum that you can see most of it in a single day, but not so small that you dilly-dally to let the day run by. From the museum, I recommend going to a gluten-free bakery in the East Village before going to Grand Central Terminal to eat it (in lieu of the famous Magnolia Bakery that doesn’t offer gluten-free treats). From Grand Central, this itinerary will take you to some of New York City’s best known landmarks like the Flatiron Building and the Empire State Building, ending in a comedy show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade East Village. If you choose to follow this itinerary, please book your tickets to UCB either the night before or that morning before you start your day to ensure a spot. It’s also important to arrive at UCB 15 minutes before your show starts, as they will give away spots to people lined up at the box office.
American Museum of Natural History– Central Park West & 79th St., Manhattan
By subway: Take the B or D train to 81 St- Museum of Natural History
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Unlike a rainy weekend, going to the American Museum of Natural History during a low-tourism-season weekday isn’t horribly busy. The museum is known for its detailed exhibits, including a large collection of taxidermied animals from around the world that are carefully posed in scenic backdrops. It also includes numerous artifacts from cultures in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe, numerous marine and land animals, and prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones. I only saw the Asian and African wings of the museum, which took close to 2 hours to explore. As most of the exhibits are pay what you can, you can spend as much or as little time as you want in the museum. I’d recommend going for 2-3 hours to really see a good amount of the exhibits. For some specialty exhibits, like the planetarium or butterfly exhibits, prices vary between US$27-$35 per adult.
As I mentioned in the launch of The Full-Time Tourist’s recipe section, traveling with food allergies can be tricky. It’s part of the reason why I usually choose to stay in AirBnB when I travel and why I will usually pack a lunch to cut back on trying to find gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian options (which takes time and money). As the rain had stopped briefly when I left the American Museum of Natural History, I ate lunch in the adjacent Central Park.
But if it’s still raining, I would grab lunch from the museum cafeteria (or buy a coffee and eat a pre-packed picnic).
Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery– 338 E 11th St.
By Subway: Take the A/C train. Transfer to the L train at 14th St. Stop: 1 Ave.
Price range: Under $10
Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
This entirely gluten-free bakery is heralded as one of NYC’s best gluten-free bake shops. And it also serves vegan baked goods as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to go this trip, but I will definitely be recommending my favourites via Instagram when I go back to the Big Apple later this month. Grab one of their cheap gluten-free cupcakes and catch the subway to…
Grand Central Terminal– 89 E. 42nd St.
By Subway: Take the 6 train from Astor Place. Stop: 42 St.
Hours: 5:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Whether it’s sunny or rainy outside, Grand Central Terminal is a must-see in New York. When it was first built in 1871, Grand Central Depot- as it was known at the time- provided a loophole for other train companies to get around a city ban on steam engines below 42nd Street- away from New York’s population. Soon, the amount of train traffic quadrupled and Grand Central expanded in 1901 as Grand Central Station. The iconic structure we know today was built in 1913, when it was christened as Grand Central Terminal. While it is known for the ceilings, clock and ceiling smudge in the main concourse (near the crab constellation), there is also a cafeteria level to grab an afternoon tea.
Chrysler Building– 405 Lexington Ave
Hours: Monday- Friday: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Closed Saturday & Sunday
To get there: 2-minute walk from Grand Central exit
A short walk from Grand Central Terminal is another iconic landmark in NYC- the Chrysler Building. When it opened in 1930, it was the tallest building in New York, until the Empire State Building took that title less than a year later. Today, the Chrysler Building is known for its Art Deco style, with murals covering every surface of the lobby. Unfortunately, tourists can’t venture further than the lobby, but it’s a sight that truly cannot be missed.
New York Public Library– 5th Ave at 42nd St
Hours: Monday & Thursday- Saturday: 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday: 1-5 p.m.
To get there: 10-minute walk down 42 st.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am the biggest library/book nerd of all time. So when I happened across one of the most famous libraries known to American films last year, I was seriously geeking out. Although I didn’t have time to see the interior, the scale and detail of the building’s exterior was incredibly memorable and worth stopping for photos, even though I was running late at the time. (Sorry, not sorry!)
A photo posted by Deni Verklan (@thefulltimetourist) on May 22, 2016 at 12:25pm PDT
Empire State Building– 350 5th Ave
Hours: 8 a.m. – 2 a.m.
By Subway: Walk to Times Sq.- 42 St station. Take the N/Q/R to 34 St.
If you weren’t listening to Alicia Keys & Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind on your way over, now would be the time. But, unlike what romantic comedies may tell you, I would stick to the Art Deco lobby and stunning exterior. Although the Empire State Building provides a beautiful view of Manhattan, you can’t see it in the skyline! Plus, there will likely be a line up for the elevators going up to the observation decks. Check out my post about how to avoid crowds in NYC for where to find the best view of the city.
Flatiron Building– 175 5th Ave
By Subway: Walk to 34 St. Take the N/Q/R to 23 St.
A quick subway ride away from the Empire State Building is the Flatiron Building. Named after a popular household appliance, the building quickly became a New York landmark when it was built in 1902. The Beaux-Art-style building was particularly known amongst young men when it was first built, as the Flatiron’s unique shape created a wind tunnel that lifted women’s skirts to see their ankles. (Gasp!) Nowadays, the Flatiron Building is home to publishing houses like Penguin Random House and Macmillan’s Flatiron Books. The protruding base of the building is also a rotating art exhibit, so be sure to check that out as well!
Two Boots– 42 Avenue A
Hours: Sunday- Tuesday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Wednesday- Thursday 11:30 a.m. – midnight; Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.
By Subway: Take the F train from 23 St. to 2 Ave.
This small pizza chain first started in New York City in 1987 before expanding to 18 other locations in NYC, Los Angeles, Baltimore and other major cities in the U.S. Although they’re known for their cornmeal crust and picquante sauce, they’re also known to have per-slice vegan and gluten-free pizza meaning there’s no need to buy a whole pizza to satisfy your dietary restrictions!
Upright Citizens Brigade East Village – 153 East 3rd Street
BOOK TICKET IN ADVANCED HERE.
To Get There: Walk next door.
Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) is one of the best places in the city to see up-and-coming comedians that are still trying to break into the industry. Founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, UCB is a small, intimate space that is a guaranteed good time. When I went, some of my favourites of the night included Aparna Nancherla from Conan and Last Comic Standing and Mike Lawrence from Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. I didn’t know either of them before going to the show, and I would definitely see them again. Please note that UCB’s recommendation to arrive 15 minutes before the show start is more of a requirement, as they start giving away seats to people who line up at the box office if you haven’t checked-in in time.
Day 2: Feel a little fancy in Manhattan
Usually rainy days make me feel a little sleepy and lazy, but it’s New York. The constant hustle and bustle of this city means that there’s no time to waste! So what better way to combat rainy weather than with getting a little fancy in Manhattan? This itinerary starts at The Frick Collection, continues to SoHo for a little shopping and ends at Comedy Cellar. Again, it’s best to book tickets to the show either the night before or morning of. Please note that this day is the most expensive of the three days, but it’s better to use a rainy day for shopping and museums instead of using one of your sunny days to do the same.
The Frick Collection– 1 East 70th St.
Hours: Tuesday- Saturday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sundays: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Closed on Mondays
Admission: $20 for adults; $10 for students
By Subway: Take the 4/5 to Grand Central- 42 St.; Transfer to the 6 train. Stop: 68 St.- Hunter College
I heard about The Frick Collection through a family friend who had graciously let me stay in her apartment while she was out of town during my first trip to New York. The museum is lesser known on a tourist scale and may turn people away due to it’s non-negotiable admission, but it’s worth every penny. It’s an American Versailles. The museum was originally the mansion of the late industrialist Henry Frick, who collected beautiful art and furniture with the intent of his home becoming a museum after his death. For more photos, visit my post on How to Avoid Crowds in NYC.
As mentioned in Day 1, I tend to pack a lunch just to make sure that I don’t get hangry and so that I don’t have to waste time on Yelp trying to track down cheap, nearby gluten-free, vegan restaurants for lunch. As the Frick borders Central Park, I recommend walking into the park through the 69th St. entrance and eating lunch in the canopy pictured above.
SoHo – Between Avenue of the Americas & Crosby St., and Canal St. & W Houston St.
By Subway: Take the 6 from 68 St. to Spring St. Station.
Somehow SoHo always manages to be pretty in the rain. This area is one of the go-to spots for shopping and for getting a feel for a more upscale New York without having to venture further uptown to the Upper East Side. Some of my go-to shops in SoHo are the Uniqlo, which is great for basics, H&M and American Apparel, which can get expensive quickly. The past two times I’ve been, I mostly stuck to Broome St. and Broadway.
Eva’s Kitchen – 11 W 8th St
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Price: Under $15
Eva’s Kitchen is kind of off the beaten path, but it was some of the best gluten-free and vegan food I had on the trip. For less than $10, I got a delicious Mediterranean-inspired salad with baba ghanoush, hummus and vine leaves.
Comedy Cellar– 117 MacDougal St.
Admission: Sunday- Thursday: $12-$13 per adult (*must be over 21 years old)
To get there: Walk down MacDougal St., just past W 3rd St.
If some of you recognize the interior of Comedy Cellar, it’s probably because it’s also the set of Louie C.K.’s Netflix series, Louie. It’s also where more established comedians do their sets. I went a late show, which went from 11:30 p.m. to about 2 a.m., as it was the last show of the night. There was also a surprise set from Jeff Ross, who some may recognize from Comedy Central’s Justin Bieber Roast. Although UCB was a great show, Comedy Cellar was a lot less informal and some of the performers- notably Michelle Wolf from the Daily Show (writer) and Godfrey from 30 Rock (writer)- had me laughing so hard, I cried. The only issue with Comedy Cellar is the two-drink minimum that came as a surprise when I was seated. The people I shared a table with had been there previously and said that they don’t enforce this rule, but be prepared to drop another $15 on top of admission.
Day 3: Escaping the weekend rush in Brooklyn
A Manhattan weekend in the rain is a recipe for crowds. So escape across the East River and check out the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, grab a crepe (or two) and explore Brooklyn’s hippest neighbourhood, Williamsburg. Finish the night a-la-Brooklyn at an arcade bar.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden– 990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn
By subway: Take the C train to Franklin Ave. station, transfer to S train. Stop: Botanic Gardens
Admission: $12 per adult
Hours: CLOSED ON MONDAY; Tuesday-Friday: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I was in New York. But based on the photos and reviews of the conservatory, it’s well worth the trip into Brooklyn! The garden is divided into five distinct indoor areas, each hosting plants of different climates. The Aquatic House showcases a large orchid collection, waterfalls and plenty of tropical and subtropical plants. The Bonsai Museum is one of the largest collections of bonsai trees outside of Japan. In the Desert Pavilion, shrubs, cacti, wildflowers and succulents from Africa, South American and some southern U.S. states are kept in a hot, dry area. The Tropical Pavilion demonstrates the importance of the conservation of the world’s natural rainforests through its display of plants representing medicine, food, fragrance and industry. Finally, the Warm Temperate Pavilion demonstrates the resilience of plants that survive in both warm and cool temperatures. The website advises to visit the Warm Temperature Pavilion in February, when the South African Bulbs are in full bloom.
Little Choc Apothecary– 141 Havemeyer St.
By Subway: Take the B48 bus to Classon Ave. Station. Take the G train to Court Sq.
Hours: Monday- Thursday: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Price: Under $15
Words cannot describe my love for Little Choc Apothecary. This Brooklyn Gem was the 1st fully vegan creperie in NYC and it’s also gluten-free! They make their own coconut and almond milks, nutella and vegan pesto, so the flavour in the crepes and coffee I had was incredible. I tried a sweet and two savoury crepe in the two times I visited. For the sweet crepe, I picked ‘newtella’ and raspberries as my toppings and the tartness from the raspberries tasted amazing with the sweet chocolatey goodness of vegan newtella. I had Room for Mushroom as a savoury crepe, which I had to restrain myself from licking the plate afterwards. The sauteed mushrooms and vegan basil pesto with cashew cheese rivalled my favourite crepe back in Toronto! (Check out my guide to Kensington Market to read more about Hibiscus.) I also had a bite of The Breakfast, which was surprisingly delicious considering I’m not a big fan of scrambled tofu. I may have also just really liked their coconut bacon. I could easily rave more about the food here, but a photo’s worth a thousand words:
Browse in Williamsburg– Bedford Avenue
By Subway: Walk to Lorimer St. Take the L train to Bedford Ave.
Williamsburg is one of the better known areas in Brooklyn and is one of the more “hipster” areas in the Big Apple. With lots of cute shops and cute roads, it’s easy to wander around Bedford Avenue and enjoy the laid-back attitude of Williamsburg.
Barcade– 388 Union Avenue
By Subway: Take the L train to Canarsie- Rockaway Parkway.
Hours: Monday- Thursday: 4 p.m. – 4 a.m.; Friday: 2 p.m. – 4 a.m.; Saturday & Sunday: 12 p.m. – 4 a.m.
** Must be 21 years old or older
Not going to lie, I was exhausted and in a grumpy mood when I went here, which is why I don’t have photos from this bar. But once I played a couple of games, I had a great time. Drinks here are expensive compared to most bars in Brooklyn, but games are cheap. At the most, I paid $1 in quarters for a 2-player game.