The seven best-kept secrets of New York City
In a city as well-known as NYC, it’s easy to think “off the beaten path” trips no longer exist. After all, the city is crammed with well-known sights, and even those who have never been there will recognise NYC’s icons from decades of film and TV including everything from The Godfather to Friends.
Dig a bit deeper, though, and a whole range of alternatives to the Empire State-Statue of Liberty-Central Park merry-go-round present themselves. So grab cheap flights to New York, and go under the skin of the Big Apple!
1. Stroll in the sky
Boating lakes and ice cream stands are usually about as exciting as parks get, but NYC’s High Line takes things in loftier directions. An elevated former freight railway running along Manhattan’s western flank, this unlikely new green space lets you see Chelsea and the Meatpacking District from 30ft up.
Stroll the full length from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street in lower Manhattan and check out grassland, wildflowers and woodland stretches poking up through the tracks (in fine contrast to the industrial surroundings). Along the way you can enjoy public art at Chelsea market, lounge at 10th Avenue Square or see the fountain at the Diane Von Furstenberg-sponsored sundeck by West 14th Street. _Picture by Joel Sternfeld_
2. Hit the beach
There’s more to New York than skyscrapers and suspension bridges. The urban sprawl gives way to a surprising number of beaches, with Brooklyn’s Coney Island taking the top spot for day-trippers with its carnival rides, freak shows and hefty helpings of tongue-in-cheek seaside seediness.
Stick to Brooklyn but delve a little further, though, and you’ll discover the Russian and Ukrainian eateries on Brighton Beach’s boardwalk (which earned it the nickname “Little Odessa”), as well as Manhattan Beach’s family-friendly playgrounds and sports courts. Choppy waters at Rockaway Beach make it Queens’ own surfer’s paradise, while over in the Bronx, the mile-long Orchard Beach heaves with barbeque-cooking, handball-playing groups come summertime.
3. Visit rooftop sculptures
Even born-and-bred New Yorkers still get a little giddy at the sight of bird’s eye views of Manhattan – so when the sun’s shining, follow the locals to NYC’s patchwork of sky-high gardens, bars and restaurants.
Artsy types will love the Cantor Roof Garden on top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a different big-name sculpture exhibition every summer; this year it’s British artist Anthony Caro. Turn up to see super-sized sculptural works with Central Park rolling north and Midtown spread out south as a backdrop.
Looking for more spaces with high-altitude views? The vine-covered Gramercy Terrace at the Gramercy Park Hotel can’t be beat for cocktails and beautiful people, while Hotel Gansevoort in the Meatpacking district’s 45ft rooftop pool is great for a panoramic dip.
4. Go market-shopping
Swap dreams of shopping on 5th Avenue for New York City’s artisan markets: stocked with stuff from local, independent suppliers, you’ll find plenty of one-offs here and get a look at neighbourhood life off the tourist trail. Hester Street Fair on the Lower East Side opens up next to Seward Park every Saturday, selling nibbles from foodie-favourites An Choi Thai and Luke’s Lobster as well as vintage jewellery and accessories from up-and-coming NYC designers. ~
On Sundays, cross the Hudson to the Brooklyn Flea on Williamsburg’s East River Waterfront between North 6th and North 7th Streets. Vendors sell a mix of handmade and vintage clothes, antique furniture and artisan food with views of Lower Manhattan across the water.
5. Going Underground
A huge hit with both kids and grown-ups, the New York City Transit Museum remains off the beaten track for some only by virtue of being in Brooklyn Heights – and with the neighbourhood’s continuing regeneration, this might not be true for much longer.
Set in a disused subway station, you’re able to explore a fleet of MTA cars from every era of the system since 1900, charting every change in period detail from lighting to wall advertisements. Occasionally, tour groups can take nostalgia rides on vintage trains to places like Coney Island and the Bronx. It’s a real gem for finding out about the history of New York and its people through how they travelled.
6. Drink tea
Think all New Yorkers fit the ‘quawfee-drinkin’ cliché? Well, true to NYC’s spirit of embracing the alternative, the city’s had a full set of tea rooms spring up in recent years: no milky hot water with a teabag on the side here!
Tea & Sympathy in Greenwich Village is the most ‘English’ of the bunch (cans of Heinz Baked Beans are up for purchase alongside traditional cream teas), and is a hit with expats Rupert Everett and Tina Brown.
Podunk in the East Village mixes things up a bit more with shabby-chic mismatched furniture, homemade cake and hundreds of home-blended infusions to choose from, while Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon near Gramercy Park serves five-course afternoon teas in a Victorian-style drawing room.
7. Find an Open House
If you’re in New York City in October, you’ve got the chance to discover bits of the city that most locals, let alone visitors, never see. New York’s Open House weekend (this year: 15-16 October) lets you tour architecturally-interesting spaces across the five boroughs that are normally closed to the public, as well as attend a range of talks and family-friendly workshops.
Previously, the Art Deco Woolworth Building in Tribeca, New York’s Grand Masonic Lodge, a historic aqueduct on the Harlem River, a sculptor’s studio in Brooklyn and an underground power station in Midtown have thrown open their doors. The best bit? It’s all free, baby.
Isabel Clift is a travel blogger living in London who absolutely loves NYC. She writes for budget travel site AnyTrip.com, which has a whole range of cheap New York hotels for your next trip.