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.
The neighborhood Penn Station anchors is not precisely the zone those who call New York home will find themselves in regularly. But there you are, waiting for a connection. Or maybe your train got canceled, whether for a few hours or a few days. Here’s how a New Yorker might spend their time in the commuter zone.
Shopping Around Penn Station
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, featured in a million movies and celebrated for its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. As you wander its vast floors, you’re met with various goods ranging from the latest fashion to home essentials. Macy’s is more than a shopping destination; it’s a place where you can stumble upon the unique and unexpected, from rare designer collaborations to exotic culinary delights tucked away in its gourmet section. It’s a place where the thrill of discovery is around every corner, ensuring that your visit is an experience in itself.
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 in the Meatpacking District, another historically rich location with notable movie credits. That’s right, the Meatpacking District, has long served as a backdrop for various films, drawing on its unique blend of grit and glamour. It featured prominently in the “Sex and the City” series, where the upscale modern Asian cuisine restaurant, Buddakan, set the scene for memorable moments, and Samantha Jones took up residence in a chic loft. This area was also showcased in “The Sopranos,” reinforcing its status as a fashionable and trendy locale. Moreover, the Triangle Building, a pre-Civil War structure, has appeared in films like “Single White Female” and “Cruising,” adding a historical layer to its cinematic resume. These appearances in popular movies and TV shows contribute to the Meatpacking District’s mystique and allure, blending its cinematic fiction with the very real and palpable energy of the streets.
Stroll By The Hudson River
Once you reach the Meatpacking District, you are practically swimming in the Hudson, so why not enjoy the waterfront? Strolling by the Hudson River, especially near Penn Station, offers an unexpected respite from the ceaseless energy of midtown Manhattan. For those looking to escape the urban rush, a leisurely walk along the Hudson River Park provides a serene counterpart to the city’s bustle. This linear oasis stretches along the West Side and is easily accessible from Penn Station, inviting you to unwind along its scenic pathways.
Check out one of the funkiest, weirdest additions to Manhattan street art. It’s called the Vessel, and if you climb 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.
For those looking to catch a Broadway show without breaking the bank, New York City offers several ways to get discounted tickets. Here are some strategies:
- TKTS Booths: The classic approach is to visit TKTS booths for up to 50% off same-day tickets. They are located in Duffy Square and at Lincoln Center, with the latter being less crowded. Download the TKTS app or check their website to see available shows.
- Online and Mobile Apps: Websites like TodayTix and New York Show Tickets, along with BroadwayBox, TheaterMania, Playbill, and GoldStar, offer discounted tickets that can be purchased in advance. Be mindful of service fees which could offset the discounts.
- Rush and Lottery: Rush tickets can be purchased at the box office on the day of the show, often at significant discounts. Digital lotteries for shows like “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” offer the chance for steeply discounted tickets, available through TodayTix or the shows’ official websites.
- Direct at the Box Office: Going directly to the theater’s box office can save service fees and may provide access to good seats released last-minute. For popular shows, consider checking resale sites just before the show starts, as prices can drop significantly.
Using these methods, theater-goers can experience the magic of Broadway at a fraction of the usual cost.
Enjoy A Show
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 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. New York City’s pizza is in a league of its own, a slice of the city’s soul served up hot and melty. Penn Station, amidst its hustle and bustle, is a treasure trove for pizza aficionados. Whether you’ve got a New York minute or an hour to spare, these pizza parlors promise an authentic taste of the city.
- NY Pizza Suprema Established in 1964, this venerable pizza institution is a slice of New York history. Just steps away from Penn Station, NY Pizza Suprema serves up time-honored recipes that have delighted locals and travelers alike for decades. Their secret? A sauce that sings with flavor and a perfectly crisped crust. Take the 8th avenue exit, and follow the aroma of freshly baked pizza.
- Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe & Restaurant If you’re seeking tradition with a side of cozy, Lazzara’s is your destination. This family-run gem offers thin-crust square pizzas that have garnered a devoted following. Beyond their renowned pizza, their menu expands to comforting Italian fare, from hearty sandwiches to warming soups—a perfect pitstop for those chilly New York days.
- Upside Pizza For a contemporary twist on the classic slice, Upside Pizza brings new energy to the scene. They combine top-quality, locally sourced ingredients with a playful approach to their pies. Expect a crust with character and a sauce that packs a punch. This spot is for the modern pizza lover looking to experience New York’s innovative culinary spirit.
Dive into the heart of New York’s pizza culture without straying far from Penn Station. Each spot offers a unique slice of the city, ensuring your pizza pitstop is as memorable as it is delicious. Whether you’re in for the nostalgia at NY Pizza Suprema, the homestyle embrace of Lazzara’s, or the inventive zest of Upside Pizza, you’re in for a treat that’s quintessentially New York.
Find Inspiration In The New York Public Library
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 Couple Of Cocktails
We have just a little more time, and you might only have time for a cocktail or two between connections. For those seeking a spirited evening near Penn Station, the cocktail scene offers a range of options:
- Houndstooth Pub: A lively spot for groups, offering a happy hour with $8 cocktails and bar snacks until 7pm, not far from Penn Station.
- Refinery Rooftop: Set atop the Refinery Hotel, this venue combines casual vibes with a nice view, perfect for outdoor drinks.
- Magic Hour: On the roof of the Moxy Hotel, this “urban amusement park” features a carousel and mini-golf, with a playful atmosphere for celebratory occasions.
- Castell Rooftop Lounge: An upscale cocktail lounge atop the AC Hotel, boasting big windows, comfortable seating, and a lesser-known status for a more intimate experience.
- Monarch Rooftop & Indoor Lounge: A vast terrace for big groups to enjoy drinks with a view of the Empire State Building.
- Bo Peep: A speakeasy-style bar beneath The Rag Trader, where velvet chairs, live piano music, and a 1920s ambiance provide a backdrop for strong cocktails and quiet conversations.
- Winnie’s Lobby Bar: Located in the Refinery Hotel, this cozy spot is ideal for a relaxed drink in a comfortable setting with live music.
- Skylawn: A playful rooftop bar on top of the Embassy Suites featuring games and a summer rooftop movie series, catering to both day drinkers and those looking for a light bite.
These establishments each offer a unique cocktail experience, ensuring visitors can find the perfect spot to suit their mood and company.
In conclusion, the area surrounding Penn Station is not just a transit hub but a gateway to some of New York City’s finest cultural, culinary, and cocktail experiences. From historic landmarks and lush parks to Broadway theaters and vibrant sports venues, there’s a rich tapestry of activities to suit every taste.
Whether it’s grabbing an authentic slice of New York pizza, exploring off-the-beaten-path comic book stores, or unwinding at a rooftop bar with panoramic views, the neighborhood invites you to create memorable moments. Venture just steps away from the station’s flurry, and immerse yourself in the endless possibilities that await.
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.