There is nothing like that first view of the Manhattan skyline. Nothing can prepare you for it. Not even the dozens of times you have witnessed it in movies. And each time we visit New York, we can’t get enough of seeing it with our own eyes. Be it from Brooklyn Bridge Park or the Top of the Rock, Manhattan is a feast for the eyes.
You know as well as we do that this small city (twice as small as London) boasts more groundbreaking and historic events than some entire countries. Many avid travelers like us might think that there is nothing new to uncover in New York City. But that’s not the case at all.
New York is still an ever-changing city with many layers. And these fun facts about New York will make you realize there is even more to this city than you think!
Fun Facts About New York City
1. The City’s Original Name Was New Amsterdam
Yes, these New York facts are starting right at the beginning! Did you know that New York was, at first, not New York at all? The original name was New Amsterdam as Dutch settlers were the first to arrive in the area around 1624. But in 1664, the English took over and renamed the city in the Duke of York’s honor.
Not only that, some of the most iconic New York places had original Dutch names. Wall Street was Waal Straat, Harlem was Haarlem, and Brooklyn was Breukelen.
2. ‘The Big Apple’ Has an Unusual Story
The city’s actual name has an interesting story behind it and one of its nicknames does too. A ‘Big Apple’ referred to prizes awarded at horse racing events in the 1920s. Since the term meant “the ultimate” prize or “the best”, many musicians and journalists started referring to New York with this name.
In an attempt to boost tourism after some bad press, New York’s tourism board adopted The Big Apple as an official nickname in 1971.
Want to know some of New York’s other nicknames? The main ones are Empire City, City of Dreams, and The City That Never Sleeps.
3. New York Is the Birthplace of LGBTQ+ Rights in the USA
In 1969, the police raided a bar called Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. It was a safe haven for people in the LGBT community and instead of submitting, they fought back.
The event spurred riots and a worldwide movement that makes New York one of the friendliest queer cities to this day. In fact (yes, we are giving you more NYC facts for free!), more people identify as LGBTQ+ in New York than in any other American city. Though, is anyone surprised that New York is so welcoming to people of all backgrounds?
4. The First Pizzeria in the USA Opened in New York City
One of our favorite fun facts about New York has to be about food. The first pizzeria in the US opened in New York City in 1905, as certified by the Pizza Hall of Fame.
Lombardi’s Pizza on 32 Spring Street is still going strong and it is now one of around 1,600 pizzerias in the city. New Yorkers have noted that when the price of subway tickets goes up, pizza does too. They call it “the pizza principle.”
Now, if someone could convince Lombardi’s to revert back to their 1905 pricing of 5 cents a slice, there would be some very happy subway riders.
5. New Yorkers Speak More Than 800 Languages
No list of interesting facts about New York is complete without mentioning the city’s diverse population. As a collective, the city’s citizens speak around 800 languages. Almost half of New York households speak more than one language and one-third are born overseas. And because New York has the biggest population of any US city, 1 in 38 people in the United States are New Yorkers.
We’re spoiling you with all these extra facts about New York City. But we know you will agree, New York would not be New York without its plethora of cultural influences.
6. Grand Central Terminal Has a Whispering Gallery
We’ve been there and it’s true! In the domed walkways of New York’s famous Grand Central Terminal, there is an unbelievable architectural marvel at play. If one person stands in one corner of the tiled wall and another stands on the opposite side, they can whisper to each other. And the other person will be able to hear!
It is a result of the perfect arches and there are many examples of other whispering galleries around the world. St Paul’s Cathedral in London is another. This is without a doubt one of the most fun facts about New York. You have to try it the next time you are in town.
7. Honking Your Horn Is Illegal
We promise these facts about New York are 100% true, but we understand why this one sounds made up. Because if you have ever sat in the back of a yellow taxi cab in traffic, you know New Yorkers honk their horns.
But unless it is an emergency situation, drivers are not allowed to make excessive noise. That law also includes car alarms and the NYPD can issue fines of up to $350 for offenders.
8. But Going Topless Is Not
Though you might not see many locals strolling around the city in only their pants and shoes, they could if they wanted to. And that goes for people of all genders. You might be wondering what the laws on toplessness are like elsewhere in the US. They are a little fuzzy. In many states, women’s breasts fall under the umbrella term “private parts” so men can be topless in certain places that women cannot.
And in some states, there are particular cities where it is illegal. But top freedom is legal in the City of Dreams. So in New York, the old shop window sign should say, “no shirt? No problem!”
9. New York Is a Top Bird Watching City
Yes, there are more than pigeons in the city of New York. Experts have noted that there are around 275 species of birds in the five boroughs. There are only 800 different bird species in America so that is quite a significant percentage!
If you are a keen birder, you will find most of New York City’s birds in Central Park. Depending on the time of year, you can spot Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Eastern Screech Owls, and plenty of herons.
10. Central Park Has a “Wealth” Catwalk
Speaking of Central Park, not only will you find lots of birds there but it was once a place for New York’s elite to show off. Central Park’s Mall has the only straight path in the entire park leading up to Bethesda Terrace. But at the end of the 19th-century, New Yorkers would know it as the Promenade.
Many parks had one with the specific intention of allowing wealthy people to strut along in their finery. This was so other people (also strutting in fine clothes) could see them and admire each other’s wealth.
We do not know what New York’s elite would make of us in our practical travel gear. Lucky for us, there is plenty more to do in New York these days than walk up and down a path.
11. The Statue of Liberty Was a Gift From the French
It is somewhat ironic that Lady Liberty is an iconic symbol of freedom and the American Dream when she started her life in Paris. French sculptors Bartholdi and Eiffel built her to celebrate the friendship between the US and France. You likely recognize the latter sculptor’s name from another famous French structure!
In 1885, they sent Lady Liberty in 350 pieces packed into 214 crates. Though her flame-holding right arm arrived much earlier in 1876. So, the Americans displayed it in Philadelphia until the rest caught up with her.
12. Lightning Strikes the Empire State Building a Lot
Lightning strikes seem like an uncommon occurrence. But one of the fun facts about New York is that lightning hits the Empire State Building around 25 times per year! We are very thankful that modern engineers know how to absorb and deflect such a massive amount of energy from tall buildings.
13. Times Square Was Not Always Times Square
New York and its streets and landmarks are always evolving. So, before Times Square named itself after the New York Times newspaper, it was Long Acre Square.
Not very exciting, right? Nope, the name originated in a London district and was a simple residential neighborhood. But the introduction of street lights and billboards transformed it into the chaotic place it is today.
14. New York Invented Some Curious Culinary Delights
Nowadays, monster freak shakes and cronut concoctions are everywhere in the city. But thanks to New York’s colorful heritage, it also invented dishes you would assume aren’t American.
For example, did you know the English muffin is from New York? How about Spaghetti and meatballs, or pasta primavera, or eggs benedict? Yes, even ice cream cones are from New York City.
15. New York Public Library Houses Much More Than Books
The last of the fun facts about New York City is that the New York Public Library has many weird and wonderful collections. Aside from the 50 million books, it also stores locks of hair.
Yes, NYPL owns locks from the heads of Wild Bill Hickok, Walt Whitman, and Mary Shelley amongst many others. Stay weird, New York!
Did You Know Any of These Fun Facts About New York?
We hope our fascinating fun facts about New York City have convinced you there is much more to this city than you thought. Even landmarks like Times Square and the Statue of Liberty offer more when you dig a little deeper.
New York City is and has always been one of the world’s cultural capitals and offers something for everyone. So now that you are armed with these New York facts, start planning your trip to New York and impress your friends and family with everything you know about NYC.
Never visited New York City before? Check out our New York guide for first-time visitors.