Here at AllTheRooms we love getting off the beaten track, especially in well-trodden cities. New York is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and if you’re keen to avoid tourist hotspots, we’ve rounded up some of the best hidden gems in NYC. From exploring the uber cool Harlem neighborhood, through to seeing chunks of the Berlin Wall and unwinding in a speakeasy bar, here are our top picks:
1. Explore Harlem
Not many tourists make it to Harlem in Upper Manhattan, and it really isn’t somewhere to miss out. Harlem is known for its African-American heritage, its jazz clubs that ooze cool, and its hip bars and restaurants. The streets of Harlem are made-up of classic 19th-century brownstone buildings and is a great spot for an afternoon walking around the streets, cafe-hopping along the way. If you’re a music fan, this is the neighborhood for you. Be sure to check out one of the neighborhood’s top jazz clubs, such as Minton’s or the Cotton Club. Harlem is also packed with tons of cultural institutions, such as El Museo del Barrio, which features a stunning selection of Latin American and Caribbean art, or the Studio Museum of Harlem, which features modern and historic works by African-American artists.
2. Secret Sunset
Despite its name as the City That Never Sleeps, one of the top things to do in the Big Apple is to see the sunset, and most people go to the usual suspects, such as the Empire State building or the Rockefeller Center, to catch a glimpse of sundown. One of the best, hidden gems in NYC is to watch the sunset from the aptly-named Sunset Park in southern Brooklyn, where you can catch an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline as the light fades.
3. See the Berlin Wall
Many people walk past this segment of wall thinking it’s just another public mural on NYC streets. It is, however, part of the historic Berlin Wall, which was built in Berlin in 1961 to divide Germany’s capital city and remained in place for several decades. Five parts of the wall were imported and installed in New York and were painted by artists in the 1990s. It can be found at 520 Madison Avenue.
4. Relax in the Garden at the Rockefeller Center
If you want a change of scenery from the beautiful but well-trodden Central Park, head to the garden at the Rockefeller Center. Most tourists visit the Rockefeller Center to see the view from the top, and many don’t realize there are pretty gardens dotted around the rooftop of the Rockefeller building. Go to the 620 Loft and Gallery to see the open space, which has a well-manicured garden.
5. Explore the Morgan Library
The Morgan Library, which began as the private library of financiers Pierpont Morgan and J.P Morgan, is now open to the public. It’s a stunning library that looks like something out of a Harry Potter movie, with traditional decor and shelves stacked with old books and manuscripts. The library often features temporary art and literary exhibitions. Check out what’s on at the Morgan Library.
6. Visit a Speakeasy
During the Prohibition era, drinking and partying was pushed underground and hidden bars popped up all over New York and the United States. Today, hidden bars or speakeasies are a hot trend. They are often hard to find, and our favorite pick is Please Don’t Tell, or PDT, which can be found in East Village between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. The entrance of the bar isn’t obvious. To enter you need to step into the phone box in Crif Dogs hot dog joint and buzz once. They will tell you if they have space, and when they are ready for you, a door in the wall will open and you can enjoy intimate drinks, prohibition-era style. Other top speakeasy picks include Bathtub Gin on 9th Avenue in Chelsea and Chumley’s in West Village.
7. See the Smallpox Hospital
If you’re up for doing something a little strange and different, it’s worth paying a visit to the Smallpox Hospital. The hospital, which dates back to the 1850s, was built to treat an outbreak of deadly smallpox. Unlike other deadly diseases, such as the plague, or HIV, which historically come in bursts, smallpox has been consistently killing people for thousands of years. The hospital is located on Roosevelt Island, where it was strategically placed to keep the infected away from the main population. From the 1850s through to the 1870s the hospital treated around 7,000 patients a year and it closed in the 1950s. It features impressive Gothic revival architecture and is one of the best hidden gems in NYC.
8. Visit the Museum of Ice Cream
New York is packed with museums and one of the city’s most unique is the Museum of Ice Cream, which offers an interactive, ‘lickable’ experience for its visitors. The museum features chocolate rooms, sprinkle rooms and giant sundaes, most of which you can sample. The museum doesn’t have a fixed location, it moves to a new spot every year and is open during the summer months.
9. See Tulips Galore
The Tulip Garden at Brookfield Place, Lower Manhattan, is an incredible destination to visit in the spring. A beautiful array of tulips come into bloom in March and April and it’s relatively off-the-beaten-track, meaning that it’s a rare calm spot in busy Manhattan.
10. Grab a Slice
No trip to New York would be complete without grabbing a slice of pizza. The city’s large, Italian heritage can be obviously seen through its obsession with pizza and it’s easy to just sample some throughout the boroughs. However, we say head to the Bronx for the best slice of pizza in the city. Brother’s pizzeria has occupied the same spot for half a century and is a great place to tuck into some dough. Equally, you could head to Ivana’s Pizzeria, which is also located in the Bronx’s Little Italy neighborhood. It retains its decade-old charm with worn decor and a traditional atmosphere. Opt for a simple slice of Margarita pizza, you won’t regret it.