Local culture to explore when you’re studying abroad in NYC
From famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Central Park to hidden gems like prohibition-era speakeasies and cool jazz clubs, New York has it all. When you’re an SAF Scholar in New York studying at Columbia University, you can get to know the Big Apple beyond the tourist spots and explore cool neighborhoods, quirky museums, and local haunts most don’t see on a weekend visit.
This is your guide to some of New York’s unique cultural highlights.
New York can feel like stepping inside your favorite movie, with recognizable sites in every direction. There’s the famous view from the top of the Empire State Building, yellow taxis whizzing down Fifth Avenue, and billboards flashing in Times Square. When you arrive in New York to study, these famous sights mean you’ve arrived in the Big Apple and make for a great set of photos to send home! So, grab a selfie on Brooklyn Bridge, buy a hot dog from a street stall, and ride the subway with the locals for that “Empire State of Mind.”
Parks and Garden
Yes, there are plenty of skyscrapers, but what makes New York a great place to be a student is its green spaces where you can escape the busy streets and study in beautiful surroundings. Central Park is the most famous, in the heart of Manhattan and is within walking distance of Columbia University campus. But Morningside Park is just around the corner, with a beautiful waterfall and a farmer’s market on Saturdays.
Visit nearby Riverside Park for spectacular skyline views by the Hudson River. The High Line is a unique park on top of an abandoned railway track that’s well worth a visit, too. If you’re looking for a secret garden away from tourists, head to Elizabeth Street Garden, a pretty sculptural community garden in SoHo.
Speakeasy Cocktail Bars
The speakeasy is having a moment again in New York City. Last time, in the 1920s, this was because Prohibition forced bars to go underground, often hiding behind a legitimate business front and letting in select patrons to indulge in some sneaky alcohol drinking.
Today, alcohol is legal, but the fun of hidden cocktail bars is bringing to light the old speakeasy history of New York. The Back Room is one of the few speakeasy bars that operated in the city during Prohibition, and you even use the same entrance. Drinks are served in teacups and beer in paper bags. Please Don’t Tell is a fashionable cocktail lounge behind a phone booth inside an East Village hot dog joint.
New York has an abundance of museums, from world famous ones like The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) to quirky ones like the Museum of Ice Cream. Get a flavor of New York culture through inspiring, cool, and fun museums across the city.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is an unmissable museum with masterpieces like Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and Columbia University students can visit for free with college ID.
The Guggenheim Museum is an architectural masterpiece, and the Tenement Museum takes you on a tour of what homes in the city were like in the 1880s. And if you fancy yourself as someone who’d make a great spy, visit Spyscape for an interactive museum to test your code-breaking and surveillance skills.