50 Overlooked But Beautiful Places to Visit in New York City
I take special pride in living in New York. I mean, which other city can boast they had Frank Sinatra, Jay-Z, Billy Joel, and my favorite, The Ramones, all sing about it? Exactly!
There are more than 1,700 songs and 1,000 movies about New York City, the most of any city by hundreds. This is the place people dream about going to and I am already here, so everyone should feel proud about living here. And it always does pain me when someone tells me they hate living here, whether it is because of the noise or because of the people. I just hope I can manage to wake some of you up to some of the not so well known places to go in the city.
1. The Freedom Tunnels
Now I’m not advising you to go commit a crime, but if you do get a chance to visit Riverside Park, there is an entrance to the Freedom Tunnels. Coined because of graffiti artist Chris “Freedom” Pape, the tunnel is a haven for the homeless of New York.
2. North Brother Island
Close by Rikers Island, the waters are patrolled by guards making sure no convicts try to escape to the island. So while the island is closed to the public, it’s not like the guards are looking for you; it’s more that they’re making sure criminals don’t escape. The island was a secluded hospital where several famous patients stayed (including Typhoid Mary) and shut down after a fire destroyed the hospital and killed numerous people.
3. The Secret Subway Exit
Located at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn, this seemingly realistic townhouse is actually a subway exit. Instantly noticeable because of its tinted windows, once you enter the building you will be confronted by carious stairs and utility boxes. But be careful since there is heightened security by the NYPD.
4. Admiral's Row
Just how pilots have crash pads to rest in when they visit a new place, naval captains had this row of houses to live in when their ships docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Filled with historic content, you should go visit soon since there are talks of demolishing it.
5. The Sphere
Fritz Koenig sculpted this sphere in 1971, where it was placed right between the Twin Towers at the Austin J. Toblin Plaza. Remarkably, the sphere survived the 9/11 attacks and was moved to Battery Park with an eternal flame to commemorate the victims of the attack.
6. Greenacre Park
Now we’ve all heard of those man-made waterfalls that really did nothing to help the community become a community, but how about an “actual waterfall” in the middle of the city? At 217 East 51st, there is an actual waterfall and tables to sit.
7. Roosevelt Island Hospital
Right on Roosevelt Island, there was a smallpox hospital that was made in order to keep the infected as far away as possible from the healthy. Although people *shouldn’t* go there, people still manage to.
8. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
It was made famous because of Die Hard: With a Vengeance, but very few people actually know that you can go see one of the largest gold deposits in the world- more than 5% of the world’s extracted gold is located in the vault.
9. Crif Dogs
During the prohibition era, speakeasies sprung up all over the city as people could not live without their precious alcohol. This is just one of the better kept and better looking working speak easies today.
At 155 Avenue C in Manhattan, squatters have taken over the building (building C, the most famous) and have used it ever since their landowners left the buildings to decay. The squatters even modified the buildings to their likings, by adding a half pipe for skaters and a stage for numerous punk rock bands to play.
11. 5 Beekman Street
5 Beekman Street was the first high-rise building in New York, built between 1881 and 1883. Although the building currently is off limits to the public, there is a project to open the building and renovate its rather beautiful architecture by 2014.
12. Broken Angel
This building was built as an illegal ramshack in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Through the years, it was a haven for the homeless until the government issued a final notice this year.
13. Vinegar Hill
As part of the Vinegar Hill Historical Society, take a walk from the East River to Vinegar Hill to live through the times of old. Named after a 1798 battle in Ireland, the Vinegar Hill area features homes built from the 1800s and some even earlier. While you’re there, take a walk across the cobblestone streets to see Commodore Matthew Perry’s house as well.
14. Brooklyn Superhero Supply
This is no joke: if you are seriously looking into a career path in do-gooding or you want to be the evil genius scientist, go to 375 5th Avenue for your superhero (or villain) needs.
15. Manhattan Bistro
No, not to eat food, but to play crime scene investigator. In 1799, Levi Weeks, who was dating Gulielma Sands, was charged with the murder of Sands after the police found her body in a well. Weeks eventually was acquitted after his lawyers, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, fought on his behalf. Although the well is blocked, you can still visit the bistro and well at 129 Spring Street.
16. Red Hook Warehouses
At 62 and 160 Imlay Street in Brooklyn sit two abandoned warehouses which give you a look back at 1913.
17. Cobble Hill Tunnel
Also known as the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, this is an abandoned tunnel in the Long Island Rail Road system that garnered the name as the oldest underground tunnel in the nation. Through the “recent years” (1861-1916), there were rumors the tunnels were used as terrorist areas well as transportation for whiskey and mushroom growing.
18. High Bridge
Connecting Manhattan and the Bronx, this beautiful bridge has been unused since 1970 and it leads to beautiful forests just on the outskirts of the city.
19. Life Underground
Tom Otterness sculpted these thought provoking sculptures at the A, C, E, L 14th Street 8th Avenue station, featuring alligators, policemen and the well known, money bag.
20. Red Hook Grain Elevator
At the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, this abandoned refinery factory features huge silos for exploring and boasts an amazing view of the city skyline.
21. Clinton Cove
The Private Passage is a wine shaped art piece that provides skylights to the public.
22. Elevator Museum
That’s right, there is an elevator museum in Long Island City that features elevators from the 1850s and beyond.
23. Strawberry Fields
Strawberry Fields Forever. A few years after John Lennon’s death, a “Imagine” plaque was put in place at Strawberry Fields. Now how many of you know about this but never actually went?
24. The Octagon
I personally like insane asylums. My school was built on the grounds of one. Many of the most historic places in the city were insane asylums. And the Octagon is one of them. Reminding movie buffs of Vertigo, the Octagon is the entrance to the Roosevelt Lunatic Asylum, another place to visit.
25. Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
Greg Wyatt built a non-working fountain in 1985 which features angels, demons, the devil and other objects. Plus the church is rather interesting as well.
26. Mount Loretto Beach
In the ignored borough of Staten Island, Mount Loretto Beach boasts wonderful views of rocks in odd formations.
27. Frick Museum
Not only should you go for the museum, but also because there is a hidden bowling alley underneath it, which, good guess, was used as a hang out to drink during the prohibition era.
28. Hart Island
Located in the Long Island Sound and right next to Rat Island (below), this island was a hospital for yellow fever in the 1870s, and before then, as a burial grounds for those who died during the Civil War.
29. Rat Island
No, not an island overrun by rats (we already have enough living in the subways), but an island totally deprived of life. Apparently, it was a place escaping convicts would swim to from Rikers Island.
30. Hall of Fame of Great Americans
This Hall of Fame celebrates Americans who had a huge impact on life.
31. Dead Horse Bay
As appetizing as the name sounds, this is a beach that was previously a landfill, then demolished and had buildings built that were later destroyed- it has history and looks amazing for a dump.
32. Shrine of Saint Francis Cabrini
Many Catholics take shrines rather seriously and this shrine is rather special since it has her actual body in the case in the Washington Heights Church.
33. Underground Home
At the 1964 World’s Fair, people were still scared of a nuclear threat, so the underground home was unveiled to help ease the paranoia. Speaking of nuclear activity...
34. Columbia University Nuclear Reactor
While you’re at Columbia University, you should pay some guy to bring you down into the tunnels of the school, which leads to the nuclear reactor. Built during the Cold War, the reactor never had any power but still remains today.
35. Collyer Brothers Park
You should only go to this park because of the history behind it. The Collyer brothers were intense hoarders who were rich white men in a poverty stricken minority community. Due to break-ins and window smashing, the brothers boarded their windows shut and set booby traps to catch anyone. Years past until one of the brothers (Homer) becomes paralyzed and there are reports to the police that he died in the house. The police search for hours through the garbage to find his body, which was on the floor. A few days later, they receive another report saying the house smells of decomposing bodies, causing the police to search the house again, only to find Homer’s brother, Langley, crushed under his own booby trap. So go visit the park! Made on the demolished grounds of the mansion.
36. Grant's Tomb
Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? Well this question has not only managed to make a mockery of people everywhere, but the government as well. Grant’s body was moved so often during his funerals that it became a joke to ask where Grant’s body was. Rest assured that his body is in that tomb, with remarkable architecture around it.
37. Steinway Piano Factory
Right in my hometown of Astoria, the Steinway Piano Factory has been the home of some of the world’s most finest pianos ever, and the factory offers tours to the public on how they make the pianos.
38. Arthur Kill Waterway
In between Staten Island and New Jersey lies this waterway which acts as a cemetery for tugboats to rest forever with the fishes.
39. Willowbrook State School
Meant to help children with mental retardation, this school failed to do anything when it was turned over to the United States Army, who never used it. The Army returned the property to the school, where children lived in terrible conditions. Robert F. Kennedy called for an immediate close of the school; Willowbrook gave Geraldo Rivera his fame after he snuck in to report on horrible treatment of the students. If he snuck in, you can too.
40. Houston Street Lenin Statue
Before we get to the statue, you should first go to the Landmark Sunshine Theater, a theater in New York which is a favorite place for advanced movies premieres and even the Soho International Fest. Anyhow, walk two blocks away from the theater and you'll see a giant clock on a building, and at first look, it looks like a person is on the roof and is waving to you. Move closer however and you'll see it's a famous Communist leader, saluting New York, standing on a pricey apartment building. Now that's bolshe-vik.
41. St. Mark's Place
I personally love this street because of it’s history, not only with the government and its anti-anything, but because it was also the cover for Led Zepplin’s Physical Graffiti and because of Pomme Frites, the best fries and dips you can ever have in the entire world.
42. Greenwood Cemetery
Besides the fact that the cemetery houses the tombs of famous people like FAO Schwartz or Boss Tweed and more, you should go see the Minerva Statue which is in direct alignment with the Statue of Liberty.
43. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
We all heard of the story of how women and children died in the fire because of the sweatshop conditions and how the boss locked the door on them. But have you ever visited the actual building? The Brown Building, located at 23-29 Washington Place, was where the horrific accident happened, and is now a National Landmark.
44. Hellsgate Bridge
Now I know the bridge is used by Amtrak and the city to transport waste, but did you know you can actually go inside the bridge? You’d have to start by the BQE where the tracks are close enough to the ground where you can walk on, and you start the long trek towards the bridge. Once there, you feel on top of the world as the smell of dead pigeon carcass fills the air.
45. Great Jones Alley
Visit an alley you say? Risk getting mugged to see something historical you say?
Well no, not at all. Many non-New Yorkers have a Taxi Driver image set in their heads and believe Manhattan is full dark alley ways where unspeakable crimes happen. Well, actual people who travel through the city understand there really isn't room for illegal activities to occur, and even fewer know that many alleys are privately owned. So go to Great Jones Alley, or to Franklin Place (check out the alley plus the cool building too) and discover how alleys actually look like.
46. American Merchant Mariners' Memorial
At Battery Park while you're waiting in line to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, you'll see a few statues of men on a boat, with an arm sticking out of the water. The moving statues were placed in memory of an actual event that occurred during World War II when Nazi u-boats destroyed an American ship and took pictures of the survivors. Leaving them for dead, the statues show the survivors calling for help, who later died on that night.
Albert Einstein once said that if he could have chosen what he would have become, he would have became a watchmaker. I'm not saying that you have the potential to invent nuclear energy, but everyone should be able to go see how a clock works, especially the clock in The Clocktower. Built in 1898, the 5000-pound bronze structure is the largest in the city and is now known as the Clocktower Gallery. So visiting is quite plausible.
48. Tunnel Number 3
Being completed in 2020, New Yorkers will have a while to wait for this project which will form a underground tunnel connecting Yonkers to Central Park, swinging across to the East River and down to my home, Astoria. While this will provide a great relief to travelers (who had to deal with a variety of bridges and cross roads), this project has killed 23 workers and cost over $6 billion.
49. Trinity Church
Right across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, the Trinity Church cemetery boasts some of the oldest tombstones in the city (the cemetery was made before people started using Queens as land to bury the dead). What to look for? A gravestone for a 5 year old boy with a poignant poem on it. Also, it was in National Treasure, so you should go search for a tunnel underground.
50. City Hall Station
Believe it or not, the MTA was not the government controlled monopoly it now is today. In 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) opened the City Hall stop which featured intricate mosaics and other beautiful architecture. After the IRT became the 4, 5, and 6 lines in the MTA, the stop was shut down. However, riders of the 6 train can still see the stop if they stay on until the Brooklyn Bridge.