There are a lot of things to love about this rambunctious city, including the many secret spectacles hidden in plain sight.
New York is infamous for its underground oddities, sequestered speakeasies, and tucked-away treasures. Unfortunately, not all of them are public, and some no longer exist (RIP 5 Pointz).
In an attempt to consolidate the laundry lists out there and filter the public from the private and the secret from the not-so-secret (yes, everyone already knows about the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central), we’ve put together this shortlist of 9 secret spots you can most certainly visit on your next day off.
1. City Hall Station, 6 Train
On December 31, 1945, the subway station at City Hall was closed for good. And what a shame – the vaulting ceiling of the platform could put just about any of the MTA’s active stations to shame! It’s a gorgeous, preserved piece of the city’s past, and it’s open to the public during the New York City Transit Museum’s tours. If you don’t want to wait for a specific date, however, there’s another way to get a sneak peek. Hop on the 6 train heading towards Brooklyn and stay on the train after the last stop. The train will turn around the City Hall station loop on its way back uptown.
2. Rooftop Gardens, Rockefeller Center [CORRECTION: No longer public.]
Most New Yorkers have either stopped by or been inside of Rockefeller Center, but how many of us know about the rooftop gardens? They’re no hanging gardens of Babylon, but they’re just as majestic in their unexpected tranquility. If you’ve never taken a stroll on a rooftop before, it’s the perfect place to give it a try. When you’re that high up, all that greenery is a sight for sore eyes.
3. The Blockhouse, Central Park North
Central Park is another universal Manhattan destination, but few people have seen the real gems that dot the green. Much farther north from the better-known Cleopatra’s Needle lies a squat old stone fort called the Blockhouse, which was once used by American soldiers to defend against possible British invasions onto the isle. It’s near the Cliff; you can find it by following the paths north.
4. UN Meditation Room, 777 44th St.
Looking for an alternative reading space? The United Nation’s Meditation Room is open to anyone (although getting into the UN itself will take some patience). Ironically, the non-denominational place of worship has long been a subject of hot debate among conspiracy theorists.
5. The Earth Room, SoHo
New York floor space is so valuable these days that just about anything can be bought for the right price…but not this particular room. Imagine 3,600 square feet of primetime Manhattan real estate covered in nothing but 280,000 pounds of dirt. Now imagine that it’s been like that since 1980.
The New York Earth Room is just such a room. The brainchild of groundbreaking minimalist Walter De Maria, formerly of the Velvet Underground, this room, along with The Broken Kilometer, are two permanent installations in Manhattan that are open to the public.
6. Cemetery, Bowery Hotel
Cemeteries in Manhattan are something of rarity. They certainly exist, but they’re usually tucked away and hidden from touristy eyes. The Cemetery behind the Bowery Hotel, ensconced between a bunch of apartments, is no different – except it’s even more clandestine. From the windows of the Bowery lobby it looks like a simple backyard lawn, but if you actually bother finding the gated entrance at the end of a narrow alleyway on Second Avenue in the Bowery neighborhood, you’d find that there are plaques on the grass marking the underground marble vaults in which the dead are interred.
7. Pomander Walk, Upper West Side
Remember that opening scene in Up, where Carl watches as the city around his small changes to become a bustling metropolis? Well, if you took a whole row of Carl’s houses and planted them smack-dab into Manhattan, you’d have Pomander Walk.
A relic of the past, the Tudor-style homes modeled after a London stage play were originally meant to be torn down to make way for a hotel…except it never happened. Instead, the gated gem is surrounded by highrises and hidden from major streets and thoroughfares. You have to walk by foot to find it.
8. Berlin Wall Remnants, Paley Park
Talk about a secret hidden in plain sight. Five fragments of the Berlin Wall have taken up permanent residence in Paley Park on 520 Madison Avenue, but unless you bothered reading the fine print you’d just think it was a public mural. The 12 feet high slabs have been on display at the park since 1990. The colorful side facing the public is the western side; the eastern side is facing the wall and is just blank concrete (a reminder of East Germany’s oppressive regime).
9. Boat Graveyard, Staten Island
About as creepy as Simba’s elephant graveyard, Staten Island’s very own boat graveyard has been slowly rusting away since the turn of the last century. It’s located off of Rossville, near the intersection of Arthur Kill Road (gulp) and Rossville Avenue.
There’s no longer a public path to the wrecks, but the shallows are certainly fair game in a pair of sturdy rubber boots. That is, assuming you can get over the padlocked fence. Sometimes, you just have to snap pictures from a distance.