Searching for things to do near Penn Station? 34th and 8th avenue. Not quite midtown, not yet downtown. A lost oasis that is easy to get lost in. Penn Station was built in 1810 and is the busiest commuter station in the western hemisphere, serving 600,000 passengers every day.
Things to do near Penn Station
The neighborhood Penn Station anchors is not exactly the zone those who call New York home will find themselves in on a regular basis. But there you are, waiting on a connection. Or maybe your train got canceled. Whether a few hours or a few days, here’s how a New Yorker might spend their time in the commuter zone.
Shop til you drop!
One of the perks of living in New York is year round access to Macy’s Herald Square, up just a few avenues from the station. The most advantageous time of year is during the winter holidays when Macy’s is open 24 hours, so you can avoid the afternoon crowds and go bleary-eyed at three in the morning instead.
Macy’s is a huge, historically significant department store that has been featured in a million movies. You can find anything you need there plus probably a few surprise items you might not find elsewhere.
It’s a bit of a hike from the station to Chelsea Market, but if you have enough time, it’s well worth the trip. It’s located in the meatpacking district, another historically rich location with notable movie credits.
Stroll by the waterfront
Once you reach the meatpacking district, you are practically swimming in the Hudson, so why not enjoy the waterfront? There are some attractions both old and new.
Check out one of the funkiest weirdest new additions to Manhattan street art. It’s called the Vessel and if you climb all the way to the top you will be rewarded with a breathtaking skyline view over the river.
The Vessel is part of Hudson Yards,which has been retrofitted and is now a vibrant little community. It includes a performance and art venue called The Shed, plus more shopping at the supermall! The public gardens are designed to function much like an Italian piazza.
Kind of in the opposite direction is something old. On 46th Street at Pier 86 rests The Intrepid – it’s so cool! The Intrepid is a battleship that served the American Military from 1943-1973, including battles in the Pacific. Since the eighties it’s been home to a Sea, Air and Space museum. Even the Intrepid is staying modern and hip, hosting comedy shows from stellar groups such as Upright Citizens Brigade!
Watch a Broadway show at a lower price
While Hudson Yards and Chelsea Market can be sort of considered downtown, and Intrepid is solidly midtown, since you’ve gone all that way to 46th, why not find your way back on Broadway?
Locals and savvy tourists alike know that the worst kept secret on Broadway is the TKTS booth. If you find you’re going to have the time to see a show – Amtrak broke down again! – then the TKTS booth is the place to go! You can find lightly and heavily discounted tickets to hot and not so hot Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. You just have to wait in line, not online.
Enjoy a concert
The mother of all concert halls (and sports arenas) is right near Penn Station. Practically in it. In fact, in the sixties, part of the original Penn Station structure was demolished to make way for this legendary venue. If you’re anyone in music, from Billy Joel to Lady GaGa to Ed Sheeran, you play Madison Square Garden. No matter who is playing, it’s an experience!
Another retro style of music that has a strong presence in the neighborhood is jazz. A great, low energy, chill way to float away a few hours. Winnie’s Jazz Bar inside the Refinery Hotel on 38th street is warm and cozy, while Flatiron Room on 26th is vintage and classy with a wide selection of spirits, live jazz and food!
Visit Little Korea
Koreatown is a brisk stroll from the station, a few avenues up on 32nd Street. There you can discover the most authentic Korean food you’ll find outside of Korea. And the bustling hubbub of the Korean community just adds to the texture.
Korean cuisine is most associated with BBQ – start there. The tradition at Don’s Bogam is to season and cook the meat yourself at the table, a process for which servers provide assistance. Cue it up day or night, Christmas or 4th of July because this 24-hour a day, year-round establishment is always open.
If you happen to be a K-Pop fan, or are just plain fascinated with this odd imported phenomenon, there is the perfect store for you to explore the wacky world of K-Pop! A store called Koryo at 35 W. 32nd St. They have a wide selection of merch and music from K-Pop celebrities. Another authentic way to peek behind the curtain on Korean culture.
Taste the authentic NY pizza
Pizza, man! No pizza in the world is like New York Pizza. Sorry, Italy! Even if you just have 20 minutes between trains, that’s enough time for a slice, so no excuses. Among things to do near Penn Station, this is the one you shouldn’t miss!
The best most authentic joints to have a truly New York slice of life bite include:
- NY Pizza Suprema: It’s in the name! New York pizza is supreme and this classic joint has been pumping slices out to hungry commuters and famished concertgoers since 1964 and actually predates Madison Square Garden! They perfected their recipe decades ago. Take the 8th avenue station exit.
- Lazzaras: Also nearby and well-loved. No frills and delicious with options besides pizza, like soup and sandwiches.
- Upside Pizza: Fancy and whimsical, solid and tasty. An out of the ordinary take on the NY classic.
- Frankie Boys Pizza: Nothing special here. Just New York pizza like it’s sposta taste!
Stock up on books
A great way to kill time if you’re searching for things to do near Penn Station, is the lost art of reading. Don’t need an outlet for a good old fashioned book! A great place to find them and get lost in the grandeur of loftier pursuits like architecture and literature is at the main New York Public Library flagship building.
You have to venture a little into the East Side – 5th Avenue and 40th, but it’s worth it. This historical landmark was built in the Beaux Arts style at the turn of the twentieth century and also has plenty of screen credits, including Seinfeld and Ghostbusters.
But maybe you want pictures to go with the words. There are a couple fun, dusty, credibly geeky comic book stores near Penn Station. Try Jim Hanley’s Universe or Midtown Comics, both of which have current and back issues of your favorite heroes adventures as well as long form graphic novels for your browsing, time-killing pleasure.
Make some magic
They say New York City is a magical place and that’s especially true around Penn Station. And I’m not talking about the sleight of hand pickpockets who can make your wallet disappear!
Start the magical journey at the Houdini museum so you can learn a little about how the tricks are performed. Then make a day of applying what you’ve learned trying to figure out how these local magicians create their illusions:
- The Magician at NoMad Hotel: Charming Dan White invites you to a world of mystery and deception inside an intimate venue.
- Magic After Hours: Noah Levine leads you into a longstanding magic shop after closing, when the real magic starts happening!
- Chamber Magic: What sets this show apart is that it’s for millionaires! Or so it’s billed, as Steve Cohen performs classy parlor tricks in an upscale hotel. It’s required that you dress to the nines to attend the show, so hope you got something nice in your suitcase! Or from Macy’s.
Have a cocktail (or two)
We have just a little more time, and you might only have time for a cocktail or two between connections.
- Billy Marks West: This tiny little shack of a dive bar on 29th street and 9th ave has been slinging since 1956. No better spot for an old-fashioned shot-beer combo when you’re in a rush!
- Pioneers Bar: Bored with just drinkin’? Play some pinball games while you slam down a pint. The games change on a regular rotation.
- American Whiskey: For more of a slow burn, try this spirits house that has over 150 American specialties, with their glasses tipped towards bourbon.
Native New Yorker. Travel addict. Hardcore thinker. Analyst. Pop culture fanatic. I live in Queens with my wife Linda and our dog Clemenza.