An Off-The-Beaten-Path Guide to New York City’s Midtown

Midtown Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan | © Ahmed El Hussiny / Flickr
Julia Goicochea

Midtown, Manhattan: business epicenter, tourist trap, and site of your next New York adventure? Amidst the area’s office buildings and packs of professionals hide some of the city’s best-kept secrets. From an NSFW museum to a literal urban jungle, here is our guide to Midtown’s other side.

1. Paley Park


Paley Park, New York, 2010. Photograph
© Charles A. Birnbaum / Courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Amidst the Midtown madness hides New York City’s original urban oasis. Opened in 1967, Paley Park is Manhattan’s first (and one of its best) “vest pocket” parks. The privately owned public space features a 20-foot-high (six meters) waterfall, vertical lawns of English ivy, and 17 honey locust trees, all hidden between three unremarkable Midtown buildings.

2. National Museum of Mathematics

Museum, School

Cloister Arcades, French, early 14th Century
© Ted/Flickr
New Yorkers from ages five to 105 are encouraged to let their geek flags fly at the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath). The museum, which aims to “change perceptions of mathematics,” does so through exhibits showcasing mathematics’ pivotal role in art, technology, nature, and beyond. Particularly beneficial to 4th through 8th graders, MoMath caters to all who live curiously.

3. Museum of Sex

Museum, Shop

Museum of Sex
© nathanmac87 / Flickr
Since opening in 2002, the Museum of Sex has been the local’s pick for alternative entertainment. This under-the-radar museum, which approaches the subject of sex from a scholarly angle, offers exciting exhibits such as The Sex Lives of Animals, Universe of Desire: Why We Like What We Like, and the breasts-themed bounce house Jump for Joy. Tip: this is one museum gift shop, complete with finds for the bedroom, bookshelf, and even the refrigerator (really), that you won’t want to miss.

4. Hidden Tropical Forest

Building, Forest

Ford Foundation headquarters, New York, USA.
© Francisco Dominguez / Alamy Stock Photo

With its soaring skyscrapers and “lunch break” bustle, New York City’s Midtown is about as urban as it gets. However, a taste of the tropics is closer than one might think. Situated inside one Midtown office building, the Ford Foundation Building, is a hidden tropical forest, complete with giant trees, water pools, magnolias, and more. In great news for Manhattanites seeking a staycation that feels like a getaway, this literal urban jungle is open to the public year-round.

5. Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal

Building, Museum

The best spot to have an intimate conversation in New York City is one of its most populated places. At Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, which welcomes roughly 750,000 people each day, a unique acoustic arch allows in-the-know New Yorkers to share secrets from across a crowd with only a whisper. To experience this phenomenon firsthand, find your way to the intersection on the Terminal’s main floor and press your ear to one of its arches—you’ll hear even the softest whisper over the clamor of the crowds at this corner-to-corner “whispering gallery.”

6. Tannen's Magic Store

Shop, Store

For a magical Midtown experience, head to Tannen’s Magic Shop, New York City’s oldest magic store. Since 1925, this cabinet of curiosities has attracted illusionists from around the globe, and with good reason: tricks are taken seriously at this shop. The staff divides products by type of magic; they have surprises up their sleeves and offer magic camp and classes to aspiring artists.

7. Berlin Wall piece

Art Gallery, Building

Berlin Wall piece
© Trish Mayo / Flickr
When artist Thierry Noir began painting the Berlin Wall in the early 1980s, the world could not have imagined the events which would follow. By the time the wall was dismantled in 1991, the contributions of several artists had covered many pieces, some of which were sold off. Visitors can see one such piece of world history up-close in the lobby of 520 Madison Avenue, where a well-preserved part of the past (literally) is open to the public seven days a week.

8. Frying Pan

Bar, Restaurant, American

Frying Pan
© G. Scott Segler / WikiCommons
Say “ahoy” to a piece of history at the Frying Pan. This historic vessel, built in 1929, has been a Midtown mainstay since permanently docking at Pier 66 Maritime several decades ago. Today, the lightship—named a historic site in 1991 and included on the National Register of Historic Places—is yours to explore. Tip: you won’t want to miss Pier 66 Maritime Bar & Grill, the Frying Pan’s onboard restaurant serving up fresh-caught seafood, beer buckets, and waterfront views.

9. Studio 54

Nightclub, Pub Grub

Any longtime local can tell you about the heyday of New York nightlife, or more specifically, its host, Studio 54. While you can’t party alongside the likes of Cher, Michael Jackson, and more today, you can still set foot in the city’s most legendary entertainment venue. Today, Studio 54 plays host to a nonprofit theater company, whose programming featuring Tony and Emmy winners is sure to get you on your feet.

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