The High Line
Intertwined between the buildings of Manhattan’s West side, the High Line is a truly unique public park built on a 1.45 mile-long freight rail structure. The elevated park, complete with wildflower meadows, beautiful park seating areas and gardens, was originally a train line built in 1934 as part of a huge infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement.
The freight trains carried food and agricultural goods to the upper stories of factories and warehouses. However when train traffic decreased in the 1950s due to the rise of interstate trucking, the line was forced to close in 1980.
The High Line design, inspired by the landscape that grew on the tracks in the years after the trains stopped, was a collaboration between James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfo, and planting designer Piet Oudolf. Friends of the High Line, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the structure, was formed in 1999 by two neighbourhood residents, Joshua David and Robert Hammond. The organisation now manages the park and hosts more than 400 public programs and activities to support the diverse communities surrounding the High Line.
“The more than 300 species of grasses, perennials, trees and bushes were all chosen for their hardiness, sustainability and textural and colour variation with a focus on native species,” said Cub Barrett, communications director at Friends of the High Line. “In many places, the High Line’s railroad tracks were returned to their original locations and integrated into the planting beds. Seating elements include the park’s signature ‘peel-up’ benches and river view sundeck chaise lounges.”
Lexington Candy Shop
Unchanged since 1925, Lexington Candy Shop is a reminder of New York City’s bygone era when soda fountains and luncheonettes were at the heart of every neighbourhood. The shop, found in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has been in the same family for three generations. Don’t miss the Coca Cola display, described by the shop as American ‘pop’ history, the 1940s vintage Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer and a collection of the shop’s memorabilia. Tuck into a hamburger, soda and an ice cream float as you dine back in time.
John Philis, owner of Lexington Candy Shop, said: “Established in 1925, last renovated in 1948, the shop has often been described as a living time capsule and as a step back in time. We feature the best milkshakes in NYC, breakfast all day with amazing pancakes and French toast, terrific burgers, fresh squeezed lemonade and the amazing Bassets ice cream.
“The shop has been featured in Hollywood movies, TV shows and countless commercials, catalogues and magazine advertisements. Not only are we a place to have a great meal but we are a true NYC visitor destination as well. We are a living part of NYC history and Americana.”
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Dubbed an unofficial NYC landmark, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been serving Asian-inspired ice cream for over 30 years. Forget strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, this not-so-hidden gem offers almond cookie, black sesame and lychee flavoured ice cream. If you’re ready to leave conventional desserts behind, this place is definitely for you.
Roosevelt Island Tramway
When you’re trying to fit in all the attractions in New York City, it’s easy to miss amazing landmarks such as Roosevelt Island Tramway. Using the same MetroCard as you need to travel on other forms of public transport, this spectacular journey over the East River will only set you back $4 for a round trip.
The route, which connects Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has been open since 1909. Back then, trolleys to and from Queens stopped in the middle of Queensboro Bridge to meet an elevator, which then took passengers down to the island. Since the tramway opened in 1976, it has carried over 26 million passengers.
The SeaGlass Carousel
Built by WXY architecture + urban design and The Battery Conservancy, the SeaGlass Carousel is one of the city’s more spectacular secret attractions. Thirty beautiful fiberglass fish spin and swirl around each other with spectacular lighting making visitors feel as though they’re underwater. Each of the fish are modelled on a real species, including angelfish and clown triggerfish.
The carousel is an homage to the New York Aquarium, which opened at this location in 1896, welcoming 2.5 million visitors a year until it closed in 1941. When The Battery Conservancy was designing the park, they realised the southern end of the park needed more light. Thus the idea for the SeaGlass Carousel was born.
“Rather than riding on a fish, visitors become a fish when they ride SeaGlass,” said The Battery Conservancy. “The fish glow from within to represent bioluminescence found deep in the ocean.
“SeaGlass is a carousel like nothing you’ve ever seen. It is set within the magnificent gardens of The Battery, the largest perennial gardens in North America that are free and open to the public 365 days a year.
“Visit SeaGlass during the day to experience these incredible gardens and waterfront views. Visit SeaGlass at night to experience the glow of the fish as they truly shine after dark.”
While you’re dining on some of New York’s finest steaks or mutton chops, feast your eyes on a remarkable collection of Church Warden pipes. Smoking enthusiasts used to keep their pipes at the tavern for their own private use when stopping by. Keens Steakhouse now houses a grand collection of pipes, including those once belonging to Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth and Theodore Roosevelt. Dating back to 1885, this restaurant is somewhat of a time warp. Prior to its life as an iconic steakhouse, the establishment was part of the Lambs Club, a famous theatre and literary group founded in London.
Trinity Place Bank Vault Bar
Dine in a bank vault at this remarkable bar and restaurant. Tucked away in the historic Trinity Building, guests can wine and dine behind the 35 ton bank vault doors dating back to 1904. A grand mahogany bar, spectacular brass chandelier and an exquisite menu all await you at the bank vault bar.
Grand Central Terminal whispering gallery
Grand Central Station is an architectural marvel, not just because of its spectacular tiles dating back to 1841. In Grand Central Terminal, secrets whispered in the domed intersection of the lower floor will be reflected back into the crowds. Even the softest of whispers can be heard due to the unusually perfect arches formed in the gallery. The distinctive tile work is known as ‘Gustavino’, named after the Spanish tile worker Rafael Guastavino. Although fairly uncommon, whispering galleries can be found throughout the world, including in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Look up and you’ll miss it!
NYC’s smallest piece of private property
Take a look at New York City’s smallest piece of private property on the corner of Christopher and 7th Avenue. At just over the size of a large pizza slice, this unique New York attraction is easily missed. So the story goes, in 1910, nearly 300 buildings were condemned and demolished by the city to widen the streets and build new subway lines. One man, David Hess, fought the city to keep his apartment building but was forced to give it up. By 1914, the triangle was all that remained of his property. The city asked him to donate the tiny slab of concrete to use as part of the sidewalk, but Hess refused. Instead, he had the triangle covered in mosaic tiles to say: “Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes.”
NYC’s oldest manhole cover
The oldest manhole cover in New York City can be found on Jersey Street. It used to provide access to the Croton Aqueduct which was built in the 1840s. The aqueduct was drained to create Central Park’s Great Lawn, however this little manhole in SoHo is considered a tribute to the infrastructure that once supported a growing city.
Marilyn Monroe’s subway grate
Everyone has seen the famous shot of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate. But for super fans actually interested in visiting the grate itself, you can find it on Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street. The iconic photo was taken while filming The Seven Year Itch, however it was actually a publicity stunt orchestrated by 20th Century Fox’s marketing department.
Barthman’s sidewalk clock
The sidewalk attractions continue with this unusual clock. In 1896, the owner of William Barthman Jeweler and his associate, Frank Homm, decided to install a working clock into the sidewalk outside their store. The original clock was a mechanical jump hour clock with numbered tablets that flipped over on the hour and a light bulb illuminating it at night.
Due to the clock’s unique design, only Barthman and Homm were able to repair it. So, over the years, the clock began to malfunction, and the owners of the store became ashamed of it. After Homm sadly passed away, it was decided that the clock should be replaced. Today, the clock still sits outside the store on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane in lower Manhattan. Approximately 50,000 walk over the timepiece every day.
Please Don’t Tell
Having successfully maintained its secretive feel, Please Don’t Tell is a must for anyone seeking a unique dining experience. Most unusually, the hidden speakeasy actually shares a space with iconic hot dog joint, Crif Dogs. In order to enter the restaurant, you’ll need to step inside the phone booth.
Valerie Wilson of Trusted Travel Girl shared her tips for getting into the secret restaurant: “Call at 3pm when the reservation line opens, if you are with a group have everyone try until the line isn’t busy and you can book a spot. Also, don’t be late! Once inside the phone booth, dial ‘1’ and a secret door will open! The space is very intimate with only a few tables and about 15 seats at the bar”
Valerie enjoyed cocktails including The Shark, Cherry Bomb and Hiccup, along with an assortment of hotdogs which were served through a trap door from next door.
The Evolution Store
Framed butterflies, fossils and skeletons can be found in abundance at The Evolution Store in SoHo. Now considered somewhat of a landmark in Manhattan’s art district, this unique store is devoted to science and natural history collectibles. With so many remarkable displays to admire, and no doubt a lot of questions to be answered, the store is staffed by talented experts to talk you through the artifacts.
“The Evolution Store was founded by my father Bill Stevens in 1993,” said Julianna. “He used to be a commercial artist but decided to pursue his passion for natural history instead. Since we opened our doors 24 years ago, we’ve worked with many artists, designers and collectors.
“When people visit the store, they always come away having seen something they’ve never seen before. We have everything from a two-headed calf to genuine fossil dinosaur bones, to cases filled with butterflies and insects from all over the world.”
Follow the story of Central Park’s benches
In 1986 the Adopt-A-Bench program was established to protect Central Park’s 9,000 benches and their surrounding landscapes. Founding Chairman of the Central Park Conservancy’s Women’s Committee, Phyllis Cerf Wagner, established the program which served to create a permanent fund to maintain and endow the care of the benches.
To date, more than 4,200 benches have been adopted. Benches may be endowed, or adopted, for $10,000 and in recognition of the contribution, the Central Park Conservancy installs a personalised plaque on a park bench of the donor’s choosing.
As a result, thousands of benches in Central Park have beautiful, personalised messages. Wandering through the park’s 843 acres, you’re likely to come across one of these sentimental plaques which contain messages of remembrance for loved ones, marriage proposals and lines of poetry.
Famous for hosting George Washington when he bid farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War, Fraunces Tavern is one of the oldest buildings in New York City. Today, the bar mainly serves Wall Street workers, however in 1762, when the watering hole was purchased by Samuel Fraunces, its patrons were mostly revolutionaries plotting against British forces.
According to an article by Atlas Obscura, a number of groups such as the Sons of Liberty, who were responsible for the Boston Tea Party, met at what is now Fraunces Tavern to plot. However the pub is most famous for being the location of George Washington’s farewell speech.
“Fraunces Tavern is a museum, restaurant and bar housed inside five historic buildings in Lower Manhattan,” said Amy Kennard, marketing co-ordinator at the museum. “The museum has nine galleries, a historic artefact collection of nearly 8,000 pieces, and family friendly pricing.
“Visitors can see artefacts like Martha Washington’s shoe, personal effects of Revolutionary War spies, and visit the Long Room where George Washington bade farewell to his officers in 1783 after the end of the American Revolution.
“Fraunces Tavern is the only NYC museum dedicated to preserving the history of America’s fight for independence. It was also a favourite watering hole for founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and George Washington. Come and walk the rooms that inspired America’s founding.”
World’s oldest holographic gallery
Curious about holographic imagery? Pay a visit to Holographic Studios. Jason Sapan, holographic artist, has been making holographic images using a subterranean laser laboratory in his gallery for nearly 40 years. Take a tour of the mystifying three dimensional holograms, learn about the process and even take home a unique souvenir!
The gallery said: “Holographic Studios opened in the 1970s in its current location on the site of a blacksmith’s forge in the heart of Midtown East Manhattan. It was founded by Jason Arthur Sapan, one of the pioneers of the field as a working laser laboratory. Over the years Holographic Studios has created images for The American Museum of Natural History, Mitsubishi, IBM, annual reports, comic book covers and more.
“Holographic Studios is a true hidden gem unlike any of the big box attractions in New York. It is the world’s oldest gallery of this 3D laser art. On display are portrait holograms of celebrities including Andy Warhol and Bill Clinton, cylindrical hologram movies, holographic stickers, sunglasses, jewellery and much more.
“The images have to be seen to be believed. We offer tours that take you on a journey down to our subterranean laser laboratory where you get to see how we make the holograms as well as learn our story. On the tour you will see special holograms that we do not show to the public. We also offer classes where you get to make your own hologram.
“A visit to Holographic Studios is a journey into the realm of science fiction where the impossible is possible and illusions become reality. Come in and learn how it all works from friendly staff eager to reveal the wizard behind the curtain of this unique laser science. It’s fascinating fun for the whole family.”
Manhattan’s oldest house
Take a peek inside Manhattan’s oldest house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Built in 1765 by British Army Colonel, Roger Morris, the mansion served as headquarters to General George Washington during the 1776 battle of New York. For 50 years, the mansion was home to Eliza Jumel, one of America’s richest women and second wife to Vice President Aaron Burr.
Today, the mansion is open to the public as a museum. According to event manager Vincent Carbone, the Morris-Jumel Mansion welcomes more than 30,000 international and local visitors each year. “When visiting the mansion, guests can expect to see period appropriate interpretations of each room as well as the furniture once owned by Eliza Jumel,” said Vincent. “Guests are also welcomed to attend any number of our public programs such as concerts, lectures, historic demonstrations or theatrical productions!
“For those seeking a truly unique experience, the mansion hosts bi-monthly paranormal investigations open to the public wanting to possibly communicate with some former inhabitants. The mansion has even been featured on the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures, season 9 episode 3, ‘George Washington’s Ghost’!”
Surrounding the mansion, the neighbourhood of Jumel Terrace Historic District is also significant. Vincent added: “This important area has been the home to many illustrious individuals. The hill that Roger Morris once called ‘Mount Morris’ in the 18th century became better known as ‘Sugar Hill’ during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
“Prominent African-Americans and great artists including Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall to name a few, lived in this area. The buildings in this district are protected by the New York Landmarks Commission and must be maintained by their owners to look as they did when they were new. Because of this, the appearance of the neighbourhood has changed very little since the late 1800s.
Arthur Avenue – The Bronx’s Little Italy
For authentic Italian food, head to Arthur Avenue, the Bronx’s Little Italy. Arthur Avenue is considered by many to be the real Little Italy of New York and is home to numerous restaurants, delis and cafes. Generations of Italian families keep traditions alive in their establishments, serving deliciously authentic pizza, pasta, meats and pastries.
During a wave of immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Italians headed to the Bronx and Belmont to seek employment at the newly opened Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Gardens. By the start of the 20th century, Belmont was established as a ‘little Italy’. Arthur Avenue Retail Market opened in 1941 in a ceremony led by Mayor LaGuardia, to bring all street vendors together.
Alyssa Tucker, assistant director at Belmont Business Improvement District, said: “Generations of Italian families have given the area a special small-town character for an urban setting, while at the same time establishing traditions that permeate the neighbourhood like the sweet smell of sausage and peppers.
“A trip wouldn’t be complete without strolling through the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, home to a variety of merchants including an Italian deli, beer hall, cigar rollers and an Italian seed and plant stand among others, and the beautiful Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, currently being renovated to include marble straight from Italy.”
As you’re strolling through Arthur Avenue, as well as being able to buy fresh mozzarella, pasta, soppressata and bread, it’s difficult not to stop for a bite to eat. “Most of all, it’s probably the dining experience that every year delights Arthur Avenue’s many visitors,” said Alyssa. “Where else can you find such a wealth and breadth of fine Italian cuisine within a short walk through the neighbourhood?”
Dominick’s Restaurant is one of the most popular eateries in Arthur Avenue, serving tasty Italian food in a cosy setting. For a gourmet pizza, head to Zero Otto Nove. Their pies feature delicious flavour combinations including butternut squash puree and spicy pancetta. For a truly traditional Italian meal, sit down at Emilia’s Restaurant. Homemade pastas and desserts win everyone over and are best enjoyed on the patio on a sunny day.
National Museum of Math
Revealing the wonders of mathematics, the National Museum of Math is certainly one of New York’s more specialised attractions. According to its website, MoMath “strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics”. But if you’re the type of person who loves curious museums, it’s a truly unique experience.
The museum said: “The National Museum of Mathematics was started in response to the closing of a small museum of mathematics on Long Island, the Goudreau Museum. A group of interested parties met in August 2008 to explore the creation of a new museum of mathematics – one that would go well beyond the Goudreau in both its scope and methodology. The group quickly discovered that there was no museum of the mathematics in the United States, and yet there was incredible demand for hands-on math programming.”
According to the museum, there are more than 36 engaging, interactive exhibitions at MoMath, along with a variety of programs for every age and ability level. The museum added: “At MoMath, math is on display in a creative, aesthetic pursuit, something to be explored and enjoyed. And sometimes, the seemingly impossible becomes possible, such as working tricycles with square wheels and seemingly two-sided race car track that is actually a single surface.
One of the latest exhibitions to open at MoMath is Hoop Curves, which has a cutting-edge robotic ball shooter and a camera tracking system allowing you to take your best shot with math. So, why visit on a trip to New York? MoMath is the only math museum in all of North America and the only hands-on science centre in Manhattan.
Abandoned train stations
The first ever New York City subway opened in October 1904. City Hall Station was decorated beautifully with glass tiles, chandeliers, Gustavino vaulted ceilings and skylights. However the intricate details went relatively unnoticed by passengers, and sadly, the station was one of the least-used in the new subway system. Its curved platform posted problems and, among other issues, City Hall Station closed in 1945.
Luckily, you can still visit and admire NYC’s first subway station. Take an Old City Hall tour with the New York Transit Museum to see it for yourself and find out more about this remarkable piece of history. Tickets sell out quickly though, so be sure to check the website in advance to book your place.
If you’re eager to see more of the city’s lost subway system, there are a few more fascinating sites. Track 61, an abandoned station beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, is said to still be in use as a secret escape train for presidents. Although part of the New York Central Railroad rather than the subway, it’s still an interesting site. The Waldorf-Astoria isn’t the only hotel with a secret. The New Yorker hotel hides an art-deco railway line which used to run from the hotel lobby to Penn Station, which is hidden under 34th street.
See the largest accumulation of gold in history
The largest collection of gold in human history can be found at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Tucked away in Manhattan’s financial district, this underground vault holds 7,000 tonnes of gold bars. According to New York Federal Reserve, much of the gold arrived during and after World War II as many countries wanted to store their gold in a safe place. At its peak, the vault held over 12,000 tonnes of monetary gold. If you want to feast your eyes on these shiny gold bars for yourself, you can take a guided tour.
However you choose to spend your holiday in New York City, we’re sure you’ll love discovering some of the city’s secret places and activities.
Image credits: LWYang, David Hsu, Edsel Little, InSapphoWeTrust, Eden, Janine and Jim, Jason Eppink, Masayuki Kawagishi, Allison Meier, David Berkowitz, Tanenhaus, Edwardhblake, The High Line images – Iwan Baan, Lexington Candy Shop, Ryan Somma, Alexander Baxevanis, Morris-Jumel Mansion images – Trish Mayo, The Evolution Store, The National Museum of Mathematics, Fraunces Tavern, Sonja Stark, Central Park Conservancy, Julian Dunn, Federal Reserve, SeaGlass image - Gentl and Hyers, Holographic Studios, Bronx Little Italy images - Belmont BID, Dennis Crowley