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 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.
New Yorkers are experts at making space where there is none, but Mmuseum takes utilizing small space to the extreme. Located at 4 Cortlandt Alley in Manhattan, this freight elevator turned museum showcases rotating mini exhibits featuring everyday objects like cornflakes to more obscure items like fake Iranian fast food packaging. Be prepared to wait your turn, as this museum accommodates about 3 people at a time.
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.
10. Green Acre Park
Located on E.51st Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues is a pocket sized park oasis. Built in 1970, this green space has plenty of seating, foliage covered trellises, and includes an impressive 25-foot waterfall. It’s like eating lunch in a rainforest and is the perfect place to escape the crunch of city life.
11. 58 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn Heights
The townhome at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn may blend in with neighboring homes, but all row houses are not created equal. This home is not a home at all. Rather it’s a lovely Greek revival style facade for a secret subway exit and ventilator. While you can’t venture inside or peer through it’s blacked out windows, this faux home makes a great “look at my NYC expertise” talking point when hosting guests.
12. Brooklyn Banks
This iconic skating spot is actually located on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. The storied skate mecca of the 90s was officially designated as a skate park in 2005, but later closed in 2010 for bridge reconstruction work. The project was supposed to be completed in 2014, but that date has come and gone. Earlier this year a hole was discovered in the fence and skaters quickly put the out of use space to work. While the park is still closed, skaters have been taking chances entering the park which sits across from a police station.