The Best Things To Do Around New York City When It's Raining

Is there a more walkable metropolis in the United States than New York City? The Big Apple is where locals proudly pound the pavement from Point A to Point B (and then all the way to Z), and many take pride in their rapid clip. It's definitely a place where people are outdoors a lot, and that includes tourists. Think of all the iconic sights to see — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and more — as well as the neighborhoods to explore. 

Sure, such exploration is best done when the conditions are good, meaning when it's dry outside. But NYC gets its fair share of H2O, with more than 60 inches of rainfall in 2018, and — let's not forget — some monumental downpours (hello, September 2023). That pesky problem doesn't mean that your trip to the Big Apple has to be put on hold or that you need to stay holed up in your hotel room or rental apartment. The city has so much to do, even in the rain, that the wet weather might even be a plus — you could see a whole new side of NYC that you didn't plan on seeking out.

Go museum hopping

There are so many museums in the Big Apple, among them some of the most famous in the world. This includes the stately Met, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim, whose swirling form is as delightful as the art it contains. But New York is also home to scores of small repositories spread throughout the boroughs. This is where to encounter gems like the Alice Austen House — a former photographer's home on Staten Island with incredible, distant views of Downtown Manhattan from its grounds — and the Rubin Museum, an intimate institution in Manhattan that focuses on the cultural riches of the Himalayas. 

There are also tons of galleries that showcase fine works — venues that might not grab the headlines but that are, nonetheless, remarkable spots for admiring art. As drops start to pitter-patter on the sidewalk, chances are good that you won't be far from a museum, so take the opportunity to duck inside and wander. One place worth seeking out is the Hall des Lumières, a miracle of light as the name suggests, where the vibrant colors will be a welcome contrast to the gray skies outside.

Show up

Broadway is one of the star attractions of a visit to the city, and thankfully, shows aren't disrupted by the rain. In fact, when the sky is crying, there are few better places in the city to escape the conditions outside — a show really is a consummate way to shut out whatever else is going on. While evening shows comprise the vast bulk of performances on the Great White Way, matinee shows also take place on certain days of the week, typically Wednesdays and Sundays (Mondays are usually days off). 

While Broadway is popular for musical theater, a visitor doesn't have to be a die-hard fan of the genre to appreciate a show here. It also produces comedies, dramas, and recreations of fantasy books and movies. If that wasn't enough, smaller shows also run throughout the city, known as Off-Broadway, sometimes offering a more cutting-edge or experimental theatrical experience. While buying a ticket for a specific show — especially the more popular ones like "The Book of Mormon" or "The Lion King" — might require advance planning, last-minute, discounted tickets are available for a variety of shows at the TKTS booth at Father Duffy Square. That way, when the clouds roll in, you can snap up cheap seats to some unexpected escapism.

High tail to retail

New York has long been revered for its range of shopping, from globally recognized brand names to hip, independent boutiques that have gained a cult following among A-listers and influencers. In addition to renowned stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales, the Big Apple actually has shopping malls — the kinds of places more typically found in the suburbs. Step into one of these malls, and even if you're only window shopping, passing a couple of hours while you wait for the weather to clear is a breeze. Westfield World Trade Center, located in Downtown Manhattan and a short distance from the stunning Oculus, has a good selection of stores. 

You'll find the latest sleek phones and laptops at the Apple store, get the chance to test out a bed at Casper, slip into a pair of warm, comfortable boots at Ugg, and transport yourself to the south of France with the heady scents at L'Occitane. Of course, a visit to the city wouldn't be complete without a stop at Macy's, located just one block from the Empire State Building. It's a huge department store, standing here since the early 1900s, and was, at one point, the biggest shop in the country. It's also the driving force behind the giant balloons and floats for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Hoop dreams

Only two cities have two NBA teams and one WNBA team — Los Angeles and New York — so catching a game should be easy if you are visiting during the season. In Manhattan, Madison Square Garden is the home court of the New York Knicks and also regularly hosts kinetic concerts by international acts. While the team might not have won an NBA Championship since 1973, watching a game in "The Garden," as it's locally known, is always an exciting prospect. 

Over in Brooklyn and close to the Atlantic Avenue subway station, the Barclays Center is a newer complex, debuting at a bustling intersection in late 2012. It also hosts regular concerts, but for basketball fans, it might be more notable as the home of the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty, the WNBA team that made it to the finals in 2023. Just across from the arena is the Atlantic Terminal, a large shopping mall with enough retail to keep visitors forced inside by the rain occupied before tip-off.

Get musical

Some of the live music venues here are legendary, like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, both of which tend to attract artists that already have a healthy following. But they certainly aren't the only option for lovers of beats and lyrics. Terminal 5 — on the western fringes of Manhattan near a Department of Sanitation depot, and not far from the cruise terminal — welcomes plenty of alternative bands to its space, and since the venue isn't large, with only a few thousand capacity, a show here can feel intimate. 

Another smaller space is the Beacon Theatre, a city landmark with gorgeous interiors that showcase architectural flourishes of Greek, Roman, and Rococo vernaculars. It's a popular haunt for fans of live music and stand-up comedy. There is a similar vibe over in Brooklyn at the Kings Theatre, while Brooklyn Steel, a former steel warehouse (hence the name), is industrial chic and a springboard for many an upcoming independent band.

Take a tour

For worshippers of network TV, the NBC Studio tour is seen as the Holy Grail, a chance to visit the place where shows like "Saturday Night Live" are filmed and learn more about the extended process of making a TV program. That tour, as of press time, is on hold, but it isn't the only way for visitors to get a behind-the-scenes peek at a spot imbued with performing pedigree.

A 60-minute tour of Radio City Music Hall, which sits a stone's throw from the NBC studios, winds around the venue's beautiful interiors — including the foyer that reaches up 60 feet — and the vast stage. The tour, always guided, delves into the history of the venue and the shows there, and it even offers participants the chance to meet a Rockette — one of the high-kicking, toe-tapping performers that are instrumental in the venue's annual Christmas Spectacular. Sitcom fans should drop by the Friends Experience store in Midtown, which is much more than a retail outlet selling memorabilia from the beloved show. Visitors will also find recreations of sets, like the iconic orange couch in Central Perk, that make for great photo opportunities.

Finesse your food skills

One of the greatest joys on a rainy day is to head indoors and cook up a storm — ideally, making something warming and comforting that will help to dispel the gloom outdoors. There are numerous cooking classes available throughout the year in New York, and while they are a great way to spend a few hours, they also might just teach you a skill you never knew you needed. At Taste Buds Kitchen, classes are held on most days of the week, usually in the late afternoon or the evening, and are designed with newbies in mind.

The variety — classes include Asian street food, handmade pasta, Mediterranean specialties, and more — ensures that there is something for everyone, and visitors can even bring their own beer or wine. For travelers with a sweet tooth, the classes at NY Cake Academy dive into topics like cupcake decorating and how to create a three-tiered wedding cake.

Worm into a book store

Book lovers will be all too familiar with The Strand, an independent store where the sheer volume of titles on the shelves is overwhelming. While it has both fans and detractors — some love its dizzying choices; others decry its cramped layout — the shop is a reminder of the presence of independent booksellers in the city, and it is just one of many worth checking out, especially when it's rainy outside. McNally Jackson has a number of outlets in the city, from Downtown Manhattan to trendy Williamsburg, and a fine selection of tomes, with helpful staff to boot. 

Step into the Rizzoli Bookstore, and you might feel that you've entered an academic library, where patterned floors, bold columns, and sturdy bookshelves set a very studious tone. But the books are very much for sale, and the browsing is delightful. In Greenwich Village, on the west side of Manhattan, Three Lives & Company is cozy, welcoming, and a cornerstone of the neighborhood.

Tea for two

An indulgent treat that is sure to send younger kids whooping in joy, afternoon tea is available at many hotels across New York. A veritable orgy of drinks, small bites, and sweet delights, it's usually a meal reserved for a special occasion — in your case, a rainy day. Perhaps the most famous of them all is the one at The Plaza, an iconic hotel at the bottom end of Central Park that has been featured in numerous movies. Held in the Palm Court restaurant under a hypnotic stained-glass dome roof, and surrounded by plenty of greenery, the refined afternoon tea is held from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day, and visitors are expected to dress for the occasion. 

There is even an Eloise version of the menu with plenty of pink crockery as part of the experience, inspired by the book written by Kay Thompson. Away from hotels, Brooklyn High Low, which has two locations, offers an affordable afternoon tea with classic British fare, with cucumber-and-dill sandwiches and scones among the nibbles accompanying a pot of black tea.

Laugh out loud

New York City has a long tradition of churning out funny people, or — more appropriately — people who have a talent for making us laugh. This is the place that brought the world Eddie Murphy, Amy Schumer, Larry David, George Carlin, and the inimitable (yet often imitated) Groucho Marx. Stand-up comedy has a deep history here, and at clubs around the city, fledgling comics vie to become the next big thing while established performers hone their craft. Gotham Comedy Club is a good place to start — and a great place to get in some laughs while avoiding the rainy conditions outside.

Some comedians perform at the club regularly under the rubric of the Gotham All Stars, while the venue also consistently holds nights where new talent takes the stage. The Comedy Cellar, which comprises a number of different spaces, is another stalwart for stand-up in the city. It also offers classes for anyone interested in discovering how to make an audience chortle.

Tour de force

Even in the rain, a bus tour can be an enjoyable way to see the city's sights, especially as the buses have sheltered lower decks where passengers can stay dry. Big Bus Tours is one of the leading companies that offer this kind of sightseeing experience, and while the open-top deck is a highly desirable vantage point from which to spy the city, visitors can get an equally solid handle from the main deck. 

The operator plies two routes, both in Manhattan — one that explores the lower part of the island, the other concentrating on bits nearer Central Park. Another outfit, Topview, has multi-day tour passes and buses that go to Brooklyn. This company also offers a separate night tour that weaves around different parts of the city as the sunlight wanes and the lights flicker on, a time that makes the Big Apple look undeniably appealing.

Make some noise

New York is an engine for the film and television industry, and city streets are frequently closed off for movie or streaming shoots. There are also many studios around the city, such as those that broadcast morning news segments, as well as tapings of TV shows that are open to audiences. While tickets aren't always easy to snag — and for the most popular shows, like "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" or "Saturday Night Live," they are almost impossible to get a hold of — attending a taping is a fun way to pass a few hours of the day.

It's also exciting to be a member of a live audience in an era when so much content is repeatedly re-shot and painstakingly edited. Tickets for these recordings are typically handled by event companies like 1iota, which details what shows are available on any particular date. Note that programs that air in the daytime are generally easier to get tickets for than those that hit the screens late at night.

Icons of class

Some of the city's most distinguished buildings are also free to enter, which means that when the rain starts, you can just step inside, marvel at their grandness, and drink in their sense of deep history. The main branch of the New York Public Library, which should certainly be seen even if you only have one day in the city, is a gorgeous Beaux-Arts landmark constructed on a plot that was once a reservoir. The two lions out front, unofficially named Patience and Fortitude, are popular subjects for a social media pic, while the Rose Main Reading room is a fine spot to catch up on some reading, or just enjoy a bit of quiet time. 

A few blocks away, Grand Central Terminal is first and foremost a train station, but it's also an amazing piece of urban artistry, with striking carvings, a ceiling that recreates the constellations in outer space, and a fabulous range of dining options.

Feast with your eyes

Speaking of eating, foodies can pore over the goods at emporiums like Eataly or Chelsea Market — the perfect places to while away some time while waiting for the weather to clear. It's hard to believe that just a generation ago, Chelsea Market stood in an area that was teeming with wholesale meat traders, which would explain why its neighborhood is known as the Meatpacking District. A solid brick building, once a factory for a biscuit company, it is now the place to find artisanal foods, a vibrant hub with fish, meat, cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of places to get something to eat on the spot. 

There's plenty more tasty stuff on offer at Eataly, which has two locations — one by the distinctive Flatiron Building in Midtown, and the other in Westfield World Trade Center. As the name playfully suggests, the market and restaurant complex celebrates the flavors of Italy, and visitors will find a rich trove of Italian products and tastes proudly on display.

Diplomatic tie

While the United Nations might be a globally known organization, there is only one United Nations headquarters, and it's in New York City. Located right by the East River and rising like an angular block of cards, it's yet another place where curious visitors can take a tour. There are a number of themed tours of the U.N., including one focusing on the art in the building, another taking a deeper look at the architecture, and even one specially designed for children. 

The standard tour is the one that hits most of the highlights, though, taking about one hour in total and stopping by such revered spaces as the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council Chamber. During the excursion, travelers will learn about the history of the U.N., its mission, and some of the work that it does. They will also get to see fine views, even in the rain, of the East River and the borough of Queens across the water.

Sport a new look

The appearance of rain often signifies the end of enjoyable sporting activity, but in NYC, the opposite can just as easily be true. From rock climbing to indoor golf, the active options available even in the rain are mind-boggling. Maybe the most famous indoor sporting complex in the city is Chelsea Piers, built over a series of piers in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood (it also has a satellite location in Brooklyn). Visitors can find soccer pitches, gymnastic equipment, basketball courts, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing walls, and even a golf-driving range. 

There's more climbing at Cliffs Climbing in Brooklyn, where visitors can enroll in a class and enjoy the facilities for the rest of the day. And if a rainy day interrupts your plans for golf, Swingers offers a mini-golf course indoors, which can be enjoyed whatever the weather (as can drinks at the bar). For kids itching to blow off some steam, Launch is a trampoline park close to JFK airport, where youngsters can bounce and flip until they've depleted their batteries. In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo, Area 53 provides paintball and laser tag fun, while Beat the Bomb is an escape room that ends in an explosion of paint (don't worry; participants are covered in overalls).