Off the Beaten Track | 10 Hidden Gems in NYC

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Kristen Vergine

While many travel to the Big Apple to get a taste of New York City‘s top sights and monuments, travelers are missing out on the true excitement of secret treasures that take a bit of digging to find. With an endless amount of mystery and surprises waiting to be discovered, here are seven must-see hidden gems in NYC that will have you in awe.

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1. The Whispering Gallery

Architectural Landmark

Blur of people in Grand Central Terminal, New York.
Kit Suman / Unsplash

While considered one of the most popular hidden gems, the Whispering Gallery is also on the list as one of the most romantic secret treasures NYC has to offer. Within Grand Central’s magnificent architecture lays an acoustic sensation. The secretive walls allow sounds to travel across the domed ceiling. Therefore, when two people stand at diagonal arches, they can hear each other’s whispers. According to experts, this occurs because the whisperer’s voice trails the curve of the domed ceiling. Located in the terminal’s dining concourse, in front of the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant, travelers can witness the elaborate beauty of Grand Central’s murals while trying out the whisper gallery. Book a spot on the Secrets of Grand Central Walking Tour to have a go for yourself.

2. The catacombs of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Church, Cathedral

St. Patricks Cathedral, New York City, New York, United States
Burgess Milner / Unsplash

Built over 200 years ago to cater for the ever-growing Catholic population in the early 19th century, Old St. Patrick’s is an underrated icon of NYC and one of the most historic buildings in Manhattan. The church itself was once a place of lavish weddings and grand funerals, but today it’s a more humble place of worship, serving a diverse community in Nolita, Lower Manhattan. To really tread off the beaten path here, though, is to head below ground to the church’s spooky candlelit catacombs. These tunnels were long closed off to the general public, but now you can book tours with the folks at Catacombs by Candlelight, who will guide you along the historic underground cemetery that acts as the final resting place of some of the oldest and most significant figures in New York history.

3. Hip-hop heritage in Midtown, Harlem and the Bronx

Sports Center

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Constitution Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
Mike Von / Unsplash

It was the pulsating energy and underground counter cultures of New York City that gave birth to hip-hop back in the ’70s. It fast became a cultural phenomena, then a commercial beast, and continues to influence modern pop music to this day. While there are still plenty of great hip-hop artists working in NYC today, any music fan worth their salt should venture off the beaten track, just like the OGs did. From the Bronx, where hip-hop was literally born at a Sedgwick Avenue party, to the breakdance parks of Harlem and the street art adorning unassuming Manhattan streets, you can still trace the origins of hip-hop today. It’s best done on a guided tour, like the one ran by Hush Hip Hop Tours and Grandmaster Caz, a pioneer of the genre himself.

4. The tastiest bites of Chinatown and Little Italy

Architectural Landmark

Little Italy, NYC, USA
Alex Haney / Unsplash

Everyone knows about Chinatown and Little Italy – two neighborhoods symbolic of the city’s rich history of immigration as well as its continued modern diversity. However, while plenty of tourists pound the streets of these Manhattan icons, very few of them truly know where to look or, more importantly, where to chow down. From Mochi donut holes and handmade fried dumplings to the best pizza, deli meat, cheesecake and bagels in town, the only way to truly discover the hidden gems of Chinatown and Little Italy is on a guided tour with Secret Food Tours. Just make sure you skip breakfast before joining this one.

5. Secret gardens of the Rockefeller Center

Architectural Landmark

Rockefeller Center is a hotspot for travelers coming to NYC. When individuals arrive to the plaza, they see the ice skating rink, the Christmas tree and Jeff Koon’s massive flowering sculpture. But what people don’t see is the little green gem hidden high above the streets of NYC. Scattered about the rooftops of this art deco building, you will encounter 620 Loft and Gallery. This open space offers a gorgeous private garden that boasts perfectly-shaped greenery and incredible views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Rockefeller Center maintains five spectacular roof gardens originally designed by English landscaper Ralph Hancock between 1933 and 1936. The gardens have been closed since 1938, but three can be spied from the Top of the Rock observation deck. You can also check out the scenic view in the original Spiderman movie. Learn more about these hidden spots of paradise on a Rockefeller Center guided walking tour.

6. The Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island

Architectural Landmark

Roosevelt Island, New York, NY, USA
Jeffrey Betts / Unsplash

On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in the center of the East River rests the ruins of an ivy-clad Gothic Revival building, also known as the Renwick Hospital. Once housed the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital, the architectural gem was the top center for smallpox treatment in NYC until the 1950s when the building was forced to close. In 1975, the Landmarks Preservation Commission took interest in the decrepit structure and declared it a city landmark. They reinforced the walls to prevent it from entirely falling apart but have not renovated it or opened it for tours. Only some of the outer walls and the foundation stand today. While restoration of the hospital is definitely underway, there’s still time to catch this beautiful organization in its naturally-aged state before another chapter in the history of the famous smallpox hospital begins.

7. The Elevated Acre

Architectural Landmark

Escape the chaos of the busy city streets with a trip to the Elevated Acre, a park in the sky. Between two skyscrapers you will encounter a grassy space resting above the busy streets of the Financial District. Situated on Water Street, this small park features astonishing views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Hudson River as well as a 50-foot light sculpture. This urban oasis has many unique features and world-class landscaping. Recently, this spacious acre added a full Beer Garden, now open for the public’s enjoyment with several craft beers on tap to enjoy while taking in the best view in the city.

8. Water Street rooftop

Architectural Landmark

High about the streets of the Financial District rests a hidden airplane runway along with an old rusty World War I fighter plane. Although the runway is not functional, the rooftop turns the light switches on for night time viewers. 77 Water Street was built in 1970 and unveiled as a bold concept that redefined the traditional image of an office building as a sterile environment. This inviting, exciting, warm and friendly plaza will make you forget number 77 is just a regular old office building.

9. A piece of the Berlin Wall

Architectural Landmark

While many mistake this historic 12 x 20 foot remains for just another NYC street mural, this dazzling masterpiece by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny is made up of five concrete slabs of the original Berlin Wall. You can find this secret treasure nestled in a small Midtown plaza at 520 Madison Avenue. The piece was donated in November 2004 by the city of Berlin to Manhattan’s Battery Park City, according to a plastic information guide affixed to the metal fence enclosing the slab.

10. The Old City Hall Subway Stop

Architectural Landmark

While once an energetic station, the long-standing city hall subway stop located along the 6 line shut down in 1945 due to its failure to be restructured and the low amount of traffic it received. The subway’s architects, George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge, were the men responsible for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Aside from tiled signs with station names and directions, there is minimal architectural about the network’s contemporary trappings. During the ‘City Beautiful’ movement around the turn of the last century, during which Grand Central Terminal and Washington Square Park’s arch were both completed, New York City’s first subway station opened to the public. It had a single platform and is now part of the loop that 6 trains make going from the Brooklyn Bridge downtown local platform back around to the uptown local platform. Although this beautiful station is not open to the public, guided tours are provided periodically, or you can get a sneak peek if you stay on the 6 train after its final stop. Fascinated by the rumbling tunnels sprawling across the city? Join the NYC Underground Subway Walking Tour for a truly enlightening experience.

Still looking got some time to burn in New York? Read our guide to the best things to do in New York.

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