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Secret NYC: The 39 Top Off the Beaten Path Places You’ve Never Heard Of

New York is one of the world’s most visited states, and New York City is widely described as the modern-day centre of the world. Nearly 70 million people visit the Big Apple every year, and those who are here as tourists often visit the iconic landmarks.

Names like The Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty come to mind. But New York is much much more than this. What about those little corners, nooks and crannies that many locals know about, the New York off the beaten path treasures?

Let’s take a look at the few lesser-mentioned places to see and things to do in New York

39 New York Off the Beaten Path Attractions

New York encompasses much more than Manhattan as you’ll see below. Between the five boroughs, the islands and beyond, there’s a lot to help you avoid the biggest crowds and dearest ticket prices. Try some of these to start:

1.             The Abandoned 1964 World’s Fair

In 1964, the World’s Fair was hosted in New York, and many of the buildings erected for that event are still standing today, although they have long since been abandoned. Famously, one of those structures was used in the wildly popular movie Men in Black.  

Abandoned 1964 World’s Fair
Abandoned 1964 World’s Fair

The Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion are still standing as well. The entire site of the old World’s fair is now called the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the marina, which is still in operation, is one of the biggest working public boating facilities on the east coast.  

As a side note, the World’s fair, though conceived as a glorious showpiece of community for development, collective benefit and peace, was a failure.

2.             Berlin Wall

What? The Berlin Wall? Wasn’t that in Berlin? Yes it was, but when the wall came down, several pieces of it were shipped around the world as gestures of friendship, and to preserve as part of world history. Reports vary, but at least four or five of those segments came to New York.  

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall

The four pieces known about are at the Time Square Museum, the UN Building, Battery Park City and a Midtown office building, respectively. Rumours persist that a fifth piece also came to NY, but it is uncertain where that piece may be.

3.             BLDG 92

The BLDG 92 museum looks at the history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the Brooklyn Waterfront. Today the 300-acre yard serves as a manufacturing hub. It is still under development and plans for expansion are ongoing.  

BLDG 92 new york off the beaten path
BLDG 92.

Parts of the yard – particularly BLDG 92 can be visited. The building offers a history of the area through exhibits and displays.

4.             Brighton Beach

New York’s Russian community is strong, and a large part of that community resides in or around Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. Aside from absorbing this rich and fascinating culture of New York’s many immigrant cultures, Brighton Beach boasts a boardwalk and beachfront area that can be enjoyed in summer.  

Brighton Beach new york
Brighton Beach new york

There are an estimated 600, 000 Russian-Americans based in New York City. It’s estimated that at least 100, 000 of those are first-generation immigrants. The vast majority, along with examples of their cultural heritage, are found here.

5.             Brooklyn Bridge Park

The name says it, the park is located directly under the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the USA’s most iconic bridges. It, therefore, sits on a waterfront of sorts and offers views of the iconic Manhattan skyline.  

Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park

Visitors can enjoy a picnic along the Brooklyn side of the east river shore or simply indulge in a bit of relaxation. The park stretches from Atlantic Avenue to Jay Street, incorporating Empire–Fulton Ferry and Main Street Parks.

6.             City Hall Station

When the New York subway was originally built, City Hall Station was meant to be the centrepiece of the project, intended to be the grandest central station of them all.  

City Hall Station
City Hall Station

However, after a few years of its opening in 1904, it became apparent that it was also the least-used station. Eventually, the station would be closed in 1945 and abandoned. Today, the station can be seen either by taking a six train and keeping an eye out through the windows as you pass by, or buying a ticket to tour the New York Transit Museum

7.             City Island

A small island neighbourhood just east of Manhattan Island, forming part of northeast Bronx, City Island is only 2km long. However, it has developed a notable reputation for its many seafood restaurants.  

belden point city island
belden point city island

Make your way to the island and be sure to visit Belden Point at the southernmost tip, where an amusement park was developed here back in 1887. This isn’t at the top of most people’s lists, but it’s a special way to see a very underrated part of New York.   

8.             Cloisters

If you have a taste for medieval art and history, take a turn at the Met Cloisters, an art museum in Fort Tryon Park, in the Washington Heights district of Manhattan. It forms part of the Metropolitan Museum.  

the met cloisters
the met cloisters

The entire building feels like a throwback from the past. Tours offer a number of different experiences, all of which are fascinatingly designed for a particular point of view – builder, artist, or traveller.  

Interestingly, the museum carries an acknowledgement that the island upon which the museum is situated was once a gathering place for many Native American important acknowledgement, given this museum focuses on European history. 

9.             Dumbo

Dumbo sounds like an odd name for a place to stay or visit. But it’s actually an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  

dumbo new york

The area is known for cobblestone streets and converted warehouses. Check out St. Anne’s Warehouse, which is a theatrical and art-based attraction, or take a ride on Jane’s Carousel for a lark. This is another of Brooklyn’s gems that somehow don’t make it to the casual tourist’s list.

10.         Elevated Acre

Talk about exclusivity. To find this particular attraction, you’re going to have to be eagle-eyed. The elevated acre is a secluded park on top of a Financial District building that is only accessible by a particular elevator – it’s easy to miss.  

elevated acre
elevated acre

The view from the one-acre rooftop park is well-regarded and often described as “spectacular”, especially that of the New York Harbour.  

11.         Flushing, Queens

For a taste of the Chinese-American culture, you can’t beat Flushing, which happens to contain the state’s largest Chinatown. Chinatown is a bustling and vibrant community known for shops and colourful street culture and of course Chinese food, which is second to none here.  

Flushing Queens
Flushing Queens

Besides the Chinese influence, newcomers may be surprised to see healthy Indian, Korean and other Asian cultures influences as well. In addition, you can visit Flushing Town hall which hosts lots of music and performances year-round  

Of the 120, 000 Chinese and Chinese-Americans estimated to be living in Queens, about 60% reside in Flushing.

12.         Forest Hills

Forest Hills is officially the third-most-expensive neighbourhood in Queens, which ranks it as a sort of affluent district. That makes it interesting to visit, with clothing boutiques and a superb plaza, Station Square.  

Forest Hills Queens
Forest Hills Queens

Forest Park offers a small area in which to hike and take in some nature, while Forest Hills stadium is host to many live music days and performances. Austin Street is the main commercial hub, with restaurants and shops – try the Italian and Middle Eastern options here – they’re good.

13.         Fort Totten

This former active military base is right in the borough of Queens, oddly enough. There is still a reserve unit stationed at the fort, although it is no longer officially operated by the army, but the City of New York instead.  

fort totten park queens
fort totten park queens

You can join a tour group or adventure club to tour certain parts of the fort today. Be advised that some areas are still off-limits, though. It’s definitely an interesting visit for those intrigued by military history or what the inside of an old fort looks like.

14.         Governors Island

In New York Harbour there are a number of islands, one of them being Governor’s Island, a 172-acre piece of land just south of Manhattan. It’s also only 400 yards to Brooklyn in the east, which makes it possible to swim, but only for the very brave.  

view from governor's island
view from governor’s island

There’s a small population of under 4000 people living on the island. Amazingly, the island is open to visitors who like to ride bikes and visit the park on the south end. There, people can enjoy park sports, public art and various festivals in the summer.

governor's island new york off the beaten path
governor’s island.

15.         House of Yes

In the mood for some entertainment? The House of Yes could be on Stefon’s SNL list of things to do in New York. The performances here range from circus, dance, and music to theatre. What makes the venue special is that it used to be an ice warehouse – so you know it’s cool.  

house of yes
house of yes

House of yes has been going fabulous since 2015 and is today recognized as one of New York’s party highlights – if you’re up to party like a New Yorker, that is.

16.         Koneko Cat Cafe

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? The idea started up in Japan (where else) and has since picked up in popularity all over the world. New York has Koneko, which carries over other Japanese elements like Japanese-themed snacks and sake, alongside your favourite espresso and pastries.  

Koneko Cat Cafe
Koneko Cat Cafe

But, of course, the stars of the show are the cats, who roam around and accept cuddles and strokes from anyone. Spending time with cats is therapeutic for humans, too. There’s even a suggested dress code for cat cafes, though it’s not strictly required.

All they’re saying is that you might wanna take off your shoes to play with the kitties, so wear slip-ons. And maybe wear long sleeves, as some kitties may not know how to manage their own claws just yet. Experienced cat owners will have no problems here, though.

17.         Liberty Park

At the site of the World Trade Centre is a one-acre elevated public area named Liberty Park. It overlooks the September 11 memorial and Museum, which may suggest that it is a more sombre choice to visit on your tour of New York.  

liberty park new york city
liberty park new york city

That’s not always a bad thing, but the idea is also to pay respects and honour those who passed on that day, by appreciating their memories in this setting.

18.         New York Farm Colony

On Staten Island (which can be reached by a free ferry), there was once a poor house development that became a working farm. The farm was established across from Seaview Hospital on Brielle Avenue.  

New York Farm Colony
New York Farm Colony

Today the old site is abandoned, but intrepid visitors can look for access from the road. The site still has a few rusted implements and tools and resembles a creepy old farm. For a thrill, ask around for the best tips on how to reach it. 

19.         Panorama of the City of New York

As part of the aforementioned 1964 World’s Fair, a diorama – or rather, a panorama of a miniature New York was commissioned, which thankfully still exists to this day. It resides at the Queens Museum and shows the entire geography of new york complete with miniature buildings made to scale.  

panorama of the city of new york
panorama of the city of new york

Visiting and admiring the panorama is well worth it, and a fitting tribute to those who built it – the entire project took three years to complete at a scale of 1:1200 and is just under 95 square meters in size.

20.         Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach NY is a rocky beach on the west side of the island, offering views of the Brooklyn Bridge and remarkably pretty sunsets. Sadly, it’s inadvisable to swim here, but sitting on the rocks and beaches is good within itself – try an ice cream from one of the vendors – it seems appropriate for a beach setting.  

pebble beach new york
pebble beach new york

Be advised that you will need to pay an admission fee if you bring a car, but you can get that refunded by buying $35 worth of goods from one of the stores or stalls on the beach. Speaking of which: the Pebble Beach Market is a good place to start looking for something to take home as a souvenir.

21.         Pomander Walk

Pomander Walk is odd to describe as an attraction. It just happens to be one of those apartment building complexes that are interesting to look at. You can’t visit it (unless you know someone who lives there) and there’s nothing specific to buy. But it’s an interesting set of 27 buildings to look at.  

Pomander Walk
Pomander Walk

You’ll have to do so from a distance, mostly. The walk is closed to the public, but catch a look at the buildings and the setting through the gate on West 94th Street. You might get some idea of why this walk and collection of residences is called “The Colony”.

22.         Queens County Farm

There are plenty of historical places to see in New York. And yes, there were farms even in Queens. Queens County Farm Museum is located in the areas of Floral Parks and Glen Oaks, spreading across 47 acres. It is officially the largest remaining tract of land specially dedicated to farming.  

Queens County Farm
Queens County Farm

Amazingly, this farm has operated in one form or another for over three hundred years. There are free guided tours of the farmhouse available on weekends. Depending on the time of year, seasonal vegetables are sold through a small market, and various kids’ activities abound in the summer. This is a beautiful look into New York’s pastoral past.

23.         Red Hook Neighbourhood

Visit Red Hook for a somewhat unique seaside village feeling, despite Civil War-era buildings and the knowledge you’re in Brooklyn. The converted structure offer lots of modern treats including eateries and bars, art galleries and trendy places to enjoy various aspects of the young professional lifestyle.  

red hook brooklyn
red hook brooklyn

Adding to the idea that it’s set apart front the rest of NY, is the fact that Red Hook cannot be accessed by train or subway – you’ll have to cab or drive. Perhaps it’s just the combination of industrial warehouses, shipyard views and cobblestone streets that make it such a unique experience – try it for yourself and see. 

24.         Roosevelt Island

The thin sliver of land that forms the island of Roosevelt, lies on the East River but is technically part of Manhattan. The history here may be more intriguing to your sense of macabre. Roosevelt Island was once home to a notorious asylum. Also, it was the perfect location to place a smallpox hospital – these were the days before a vaccine when smallpox was considered life-threatening.  

roosevelt island
roosevelt island

At any rate, today the island is a calm and peaceful getaway for holidaymakers who happen to know about it. The island itself is two miles long and seems to be immune to the hustle and bustle of the two blocks of prime New Yorkon either side of it – Queen and Long island in the east and Lower Manhattan in the west.

25.         Smallpox Hospital (Roosevelt Island)

On the subject of Roosevelt island and the aforementioned Smallpox Hospital, that site itself is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, Despite being a ruin – it is the only ruin to be designated a New York City Landmark as well.  

roosevelt small pox hospital
roosevelt small pox hospital

It was also at one point known as the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School. It remains in the process of being developed as a public touring space,

26.         The Secret Gardens of Rockefeller Center

This is another place that you may not be able to actually access unless you have a connection in the building itself, or someone has rented it and you’re invited to the party. That said if you do manage to work your way in, count yourself amongst the lucky few.  

rockefeller centre
rockefeller centre

On top of Rockefeller Centre, there’s a rooftop garden (allegedly) that has been a green getaway for about 75 years. The official address is 620 Loft and Gallery. It is rumoured that you might be able to swing access if you manipulate your way into a meeting at the Tishman Speyer building – but I will neither confirm nor deny that.

And if you are visiting in December don’t forget that seeing the tree at Rockefeller Centre is one of the best things to do in NYC at Christmas.

secret gardens of rockefeller centre
secret gardens of rockefeller centre

27.         Sailors Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Another odd name for an attraction, you might think. But the collection of buildings that make up the Snug Harbour is a remarkable collection of 19th-century relics on Staten Island.  

Sailors Snug Harbor Cultural Center
Sailors Snug Harbor Cultural Center

The sailor connection relates to the original purpose of the buildings, which were intended as residences for retired sailors. Today, they stand in an area designated as a park along the island’s north shore.   Visitors can access museums, green gardens and entertainment activities in the area, which overlooks the colourfully-named Kill Van Kull waterway between Newark and New York bays.

28.         St. George and Richmond

St. George is considered the gateway to Staten Island and as a neighbourhood boasts historic homes and buildings, and its own baseball stadium featuring their Staten Island Yankees.  

st george ferry staten island
st george ferry staten island

Visitors can also try the ales from the Flagship Brewing Company, or visit the outlet mall. People report that the Italian food in the area is outstanding.   Richmond is also a historic town worth visiting on the island, as it incorporates a farm museum complex to explore.

Trivia, Staten island was originally called Richmond until as late as 1975.

29.         St. Patrick’s Catacombs

The catacombs beneath St Patrick’s were originally meant to be the final resting place for the rich and well-to-do who had supported the Catholic Diocese in New York. Today, visitors can tour the structures from the Basilica in Nolita. The catacombs are around 200 years old.  

St. Patrick’s Catacombs
St. Patrick’s Catacombs

The full tour takes around 90-minutes and will grant access to areas of the cathedral and catacombs that are otherwise inaccessible to the general public. Among those said to be resting there are Abraham Lincoln‘s advisor, Thomas Eckert and the first Bishop of New York John Connolly.

30.         Sunshine Laundromat

I’m not saying you should come here if you need to do your laundry – although come to think of it, you could totally do that. This laundromat actually has beer and pinball machines. But you have to know how to find it.  

Sunshine Laundromat
Sunshine Laundromat

There’s a particular machine-dryer at the back of the laundry that gives you access to the secret beer bar. What can be more exciting than sipping on a lager while waiting for your tighty-whities to dry?  

Other attractions in this odd place involve a bizarre vending machine, a strange toilet in the restroom, and a few rare and vintage machines to play with.

31.         The Vessel

Admittedly this is a somewhat controversial entry on this list, but only because the Vessel itself has been the site of a few unfortunate accidents over the years. Nonetheless, it remains an interesting sculpture and public work of art that is worth seeing.  

the vessel new york
the vessel new york

At the current time, visitors are only able to admire The Vessel from the outside eg it cannot be climbed.

32.         The Whispering Gallery

What is a whispering wall, you might ask, and why would it be in the Grand Central Station? It’s actually just a strange phenomenon of architecture. And it’s great fun to try.  

grand central station
grand central station

An arch in Grand Central allows one person to whisper a secret that can be heard on the other side of the arch, with everyone in between none the wiser. The gallery where the arch is found is on the lower concourse, outside the Oyster Bar.  

whispering gallery nyc
whispering gallery nyc

Your whisper can be heard by someone standing with their ear to the arched wall, up to 33 metres away.

33.         Time Out Market

Two levels of entertainment, brought to you – at least originally – by the concept that fed the iconic publication detailing the what-to-dos of your favourite city. Find it in Dumbo (see above) and explore the 2, 200 square meters of food and drink, entertainment, a rooftop area and more.  

Time Out Market dumbo
Time Out Market dumbo

The structure is multi-level and likely to have lots of locals hanging out. But it’s still a fairly new establishment, and unlikely to feature too highly on visitor’s lists, That said, the 21 food outlets are all essentially by invitation from the curators at Timeout.

34.         Water Street Rooftop

If you were told that a World War I fighter jet was parked on the roof of a New York Building, would you believe it?  Well, this is New York. Nothing should surprise you. And yes, it’s there, at the top of 77 Water Street, which also happens to have a rooftop worth visiting.  

Water Street Rooftop
Water Street Rooftop PC viewing nyc

You’ll know you’re at the right building when you happen across a penny candy shop on the ground floor.

35.         Wave Gardens

There are public gardens and a cultural centre in Wave Hills, serving as central attractions to the neighbourhood. The gardens sit on the slopes of a hill on the Hudson River, which provides The Bronx with a view of the New Jersey Palisades.

Wave Gardens wave hill
Wave Gardens wave hill

36.         ‘Adirondacks’ of Central Park

Central Park officially has three separate woodlands of which North Woods is the largest. It’s also probably the least busy in terms of traffic, covering around 90 acres of land. It seemed ideal, then to recreate a real feel of the state’s woodlands.  

north woods central park
north woods central park PC wikipedia

As part of Central park’s construction in the mid-1800s, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted created the North Woods sector to resemble the Adirondack Forest in Central New York State. If you do explore the ‘Adirondacks’, keep an eye out for the blockhouse dating back to the War of 1812.

37.         The City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization

For a museum with a unique approach, look no further than this quirky and unusual record of New York. Real-life artefacts like postcards, pieces of public property like a turnstile, bar crockery and cutlery paint a visceral but realistic picture of an old city that lived and breathed through these objects.  

The City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization
The City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization

Aside from the regular permanent exhibits, there are occasionally special-themed ones, too. Often these may focus on a specific subculture or period of time in the city.

38.         Green-Wood Cemetery

It’s hard to believe, but this cemetery was exceptionally popular as a tourist destination. Some say it was as popular as Niagara Falls at one point. But, what would make a cemetery of all things a tourist attraction?  

Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery PC Wikipedia

Nearly 500, 000 New Yorkers are buried here, among them several icons of art and popular culture. Some notable names on the stones here include Leonard Bernstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  

Aside from that, visitors can climb to the top of Battle Hill within the cemetery and imagine the sights and sounds of the battle of Brooklyn back in 1766.

39.         New York Historical Society

The oldest Museum in New York City is the New-York Historical Society. The name of the museum is not a misspelling, either. Back in the day, New York was written as New-York.  

This museum, befitting its stature, has an enormous amount of things to see – nearly 1.6 million pieces of history sit here waiting to be observed. There are three million books in the attached Patricia D. Klingenstein Library.   

New York Historical Society
New York Historical Society PC wikipedia

Of the most revered exhibits, you may find the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment and the Constitution irresistible. During the recent quarantine, a free exhibition was established in the courtyard, featuring new and modern photos and interviews of ordinary New Yorkers at the time of the pandemic. There is also a children’s museum suitable for younger ones.

Got Any More Hidden Gems to See in New York?

This list is by no means extensive, and in a city as big as NY, there are bound to be dozens more impressive jewels to uncover. Drop me a line to let me know if you have any great tips.

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I covered most of the costs associated with writing this article. However, this New York off the beaten path post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.

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