7 Under-the-Radar Things to Do in NYC
Already checked off the Empire State Building, Central Park, and Grand Central Terminal? Widen your horizons (and impress your friends) by adding these hidden gems to your itinerary, from midnight movies and secret subway stations to one seriously gorgeous cemetery.
You can't say you've visited New York City without making a pilgrimage to see the groundbreaking exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but far fewer tourists make the trek up to Washington Heights to see the museum's second branch, known as the The Cloisters. Skipping it would be a huge mistake. Sequestered on a tree-covered hill in Fort Tryon Park is collection of abbeys and chapels disassembled stone by stone from Spain and France and rebuilt into a cohesive structure, containing some 5,000 works of Medieval European art and architecture. Included among its many treasures are unicorn tapestries, stained-glass windows, hand-drawn manuscripts, and one gorgeous central garden. The panoramas from the tower are equally impressive: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased a swath of the New Jersey Palisades in order to preserve the view.
Some carousels aren’t just for kids. It took 10 years—and a few million dollars—to bring this addition to The Battery Conservancy, and the results are astounding. An homage to the since-closed New York Aquarium (which stood on this very site), SeaGlass is an ethereal showcase of both art and fun. The building itself features walls of LED light displays that make you feel as if you are truly underwater, where 30 fiberglass fish of varying species spin and swirl independently as though swimming through the sea (the mechanics are built beneath the floor). Speakers, built into every fish, project aquatic music that adds to the magical effect.
City Hall Station
Stay past your welcome on the Downtown 6 train (a.k.a. after Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall, the final stop), and you may catch a glimpse of one of Manhattan’s most beautiful pieces of its past. City Hall Station, when it was built in 1904, was one of the most striking of its time. Forget concrete floors and florescent lights: here, Guastavino vaulted ceilings, Art Deco glass tiling, oversize chandeliers, and ornate skylights elevated the space beyond its function. Sadly, such beauty was lost on commuters: lack of turnstiles, limited entry points, and no access to an express track meant it became the least-used station in the system, and it officially closed in 1945. Not ready to break the subway rules to see this hidden gem? The New York Transit Museum offers tours at limited times during the year.
Midnight Movies at IFC
Sick of the never-ending prequels and sequels and sold-out theaters where the only spots left are in the dizzying front row? Night owls, listen up: when the clock strikes midnight every Friday and Saturday night, the IFC Center screens the next installment of its “Late-Night Favorites” series. On the menu this summer: Taxi Driver, Princess Mononoke, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just be sure to show up by 11:55 p.m. to nab a space.
From the outside, the Tenement Museum looks just like all the other multi-level structures on the gritty Lower East Side’s Orchard Street, but inside lies one of America’s most important stories about immigration during the turn of the 21st century. Between its two tenement-style apartment buildings, over 15,000 immigrants from some 20 nations lived with their families throughout the 1800s up to the 1930s—in the pursuit of citizenship and the elusive American Dream. Interact with “residents,” witness their living quarters first-hand, and explore what has become one of America’s iconic immigrant neighborhoods.
Morbid though it may sound, walking between gravestones counts as one of the most underrated—and fascinating—things you can do in this city. We’re talking, of course, about Green-Wood Cemetery, a historic landmark that was (especially during the 19th and 20th centuries) the place to be buried. Its 478 acres in deep Brooklyn are the final resting place for over 600,000 souls, including some pretty famous ones (inventor Samuel Morse, composer Leonard Bernstein, toy founder F.A.O. Schwartz, piano manufacturer Henry Steinway, and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name just a few). A guided tour can point out these sites as you stroll past the park’s ponds, gardens, and statues—a landscape that eventually inspired Central Park.
The Explorers Club
Toto, we’re not on the Upper East Side anymore. Hidden inside a Jacobean manor house on 70th Street is one of Manhattan’s most unique treasures: a nonprofit society for the world’s greatest scientists and explorers. Inside, you’ll feel like you’re in some kind of secret natural history museum: wood-paneled walls, stained-glass windows, a colonnaded terrace from a French monastery, and, in every corner, an eclectic donation from past members (a double elephant tusk, a table from the USS Explorer, and Flag 161, which has been to the depths of the Mariana Trench and the peak of Mount Everest, are just a few standouts). Membership is difficult to acquire: beyond one’s achievements, you must come highly recommended from multiple current members for consideration. Entry is much easier. Simply register to attend a lecture or film screening, or request a tour with the curator, to get a chance to peek inside this exclusive world.
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