Hidden Gems in New York City – Secrets the Locals Know

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Dusk view of the NYC skyline

If you’re visiting New York City with kids for the first time, you’ll want to see Times Square and other famous landmarks. But be sure to look for the hidden gems in NYC. The Big Apple has many secret spots you must see on a family vacation.

From playgrounds to museums, there are many hidden gems in NYC found within or near famous landmarks.  You’ll find them throughout New York City’s five boroughs. Start in Midtown to see the iconic sights and venture out to Central Park, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Even the public transportation can be enjoyable. For example, the Staten Island Ferry and Roosevelt Island Tramway offer scenic views and are fun ways to get around.

Here’s our list of hidden gems in NYC.

Interior view of Grand Central Terminal, one of the hidden gems in NYC
Grand Central Terminal holds a few secret places. Photo courtesy: Pixbay

Grand Central Underground Passageway

Grand Central Terminal is not only a major transit hub in Midtown Manhattan, it has hidden passageways and unique architecture. First of all, according to a local SheBuysTravel, if you want to sound like a New Yorker, just call it Grand Central.

Kids who love exploring secret places will delight in Grand Central’s passageway. You can walk underground to 48th Street and Park Avenue or 47th and Madison Avenue, from Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Learn all about The Secrets of Grand Central Terminal with this guided tour

Whispering Gallery

While at Grand Central, check out the “secret walls.” Try this: when two people stand at diagonal arches, they can hear each other’s whispers. This acoustic oddity is caused by the domed ceiling and perfect arches that compose the gallery. Located near the Oyster Bar & Restaurant on the lower level of the Terminal.

Sky view at The Battery, one of the hidden gems in NYC
The Battery is an urban park with green space and many activities. Photo courtesy: Pixabay

The Battery 

Formerly known as Battery Park, the 25-acre public park is located at the southern tip of Manhattan Island and faces New York Harbor. The urban park offers green space, playgrounds, and activities along with transportation hubs.

Explore the area on foot or on a bike. There’s a walkway that features 20 significant monuments commemorating communities and key historical figures. Or peddle along the Battery Bikeway, which connects the Hudson River Park to the East River Esplanade.

Learn About Smallpox Hospital

If you like eerie, historic places, visit the Smallpox Hospital ruins on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Some say the place is haunted. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising. In the late 1800s, smallpox sufferers were separated from the rest of the population and housed  in the Renwick Smallpox Hospital. The hospital operated for 19 years before relocating to North Brother Island.

But the ruins of the original hospital remain on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, and serve as a memorial. Smallpox Hospital is not only a historic site but an architectural gem for its Gothic Revival style. It was declared a city landmark in 1975.

Roosevelt Island Tramway car, one of the hidden gems in NYC
The Roosevelt Island Tramway is one of several ways to reach Roosevelt Island. Photo credit: Pixabay

Take the Roosevelt Island Tram

The aerial Roosevelt Island Tramway travels every seven to 15 minutes from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan to Tramway Plaza. You can also walk down to the FDR Four Freedoms State Park at the tip of the island. It is spectacular during cherry blossom season.

Stage and seats at the Delacorte Theatre in NYC's Central Park, one of the hidden gems in NYC
New Yorkers flock to the Delacorte Theatre for the the Shakespeare in the Park summer performances. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

See a Show at the Delacorte Theatre

Central Park’s Delacorte Theater is a treasure. The Public Theater stages free shows during the summer. Among the urban park’s gems are 21 playgrounds. Check out the Ancient Playground next to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The design of the playground is inspired by the museum’s Egyptian art.

While in Central Park, find the bronze Alice in Wonderland Statue. Kids can climb this statue, located near Conservatory Water in Central Park. The statue features Alice, the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit. The statue was a gift from the philanthropist and publisher George Delacorte.

Times Square at night, one of the hidden gems in NYC
Times Square at night has a cool vibe. Photo courtesy: StockSnap

Times Square at Night

While some New Yorkers dislike touristy Times Square, a visit to New York City isn’t complete without a stop at this landmark. But make it special and visit at night. Enjoy the street performers, art installations, shopping and dining.

Times Square is located at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue. It’s always open and free.

Staten Island Ferry with NYC skyline in the background, one of the hidden gems in NYC
See New York City landmarks from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo courtesy: Pixabay

Cruise by the Statue of Liberty

See the Statue of Liberty and city views from the comfort of the Staten Island Ferry. Just be sure to avoid rush hour when the ferry is packed with commuters. Open seven days a week and 24-hours a day.

Top of the Rock viewing platform
Top of the Rock Observation Deck offers expansive views of NYC. Photo courtesy: Pixabay

Discover Secret Gardens of Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center Plaza is famous for its ice skating rink, and Christmas tree. But high above the streets of New York City are five hidden rooftop gardens. They’re situated on the seventh floor of Rockefeller Center. They’re primarily available for special events, and visible to those who live and work in surrounding buildings. But you might get a peek of three gardens from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.

Top of the Rock has three observation decks, two of them outdoors. The elevator ride up is part of the fun: be sure to look up.

Hudson River Park

Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex is the hub for many activities. But it’s also home to Hudson River Park, an urban treasure. The 550-acre riverfront park and estuarine sanctuary spans four miles along the west side of Manhattan. Bring a picnic, and enjoy a sunset.

Tenement Museum

Take a tour through a preserved tenement building to learn about the American immigrant experience in New York City. The Tenement Museum offers a number of tours through the building and the surrounding neighborhood.

Tours are for ages 12 and up.

A Piece of the Berlin Wall

See an actual piece of the original Berlin Wall. The historic 12 x 8 foot wall was donated in 2004 by the German Consulate. You can find this hidden gem in NYC nestled in Kowsky Plaza in Battery Park City. In addition, there are three other pieces of the Berlin Wall in various locations in NYC.

Water Street Rooftop

Aviation fans will find one of the best hidden gems in NYC high above the streets of the Financial District. A rusty World War I fighter plane is poised as though for takeoff on the rooftop of a 26-story office building. Although the plane is actually a replica modeled after a 1916 British Sopwith Camel, it’s still a cool feature. It was placed there by a crane in 1969 and can be viewed from neighboring buildings.

Miniature train at the New York Transit Museum, one of the hidden gems in NYC
During the holidays, see a free miniature train show at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store. Photo courtesy: New York Transit Museum.

New York Transit Museum, Downtown Brooklyn

Situated in a decommissioned 1936 subway station, the New York Transit Museum houses a rotating collection of 20 vintage subway cars. Many of the elevated cars date back to 1907. You can board the vintage cars, and sit at the wheel of a city bus. Changing exhibits depict the the past, present, and future of the MTA, Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City.

Old City Hall Subway Station

In 1904, New York City’s first subway ride left from the City Hall station in 1904. The station featured vaulted tile ceilings, elegant chandeliers, and leaded skylights. However, the subway stop was shut down in 1945. Though its track is still active as a turnaround for the 6 line, trains no longer stop at Old City Hall station.

Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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