10 Hidden Gems In New York City

By Kamilla Khasanova, curious lover of all things arty and New York City dweller, shares her top tips for zig-zag-ing through the modern metropolis.
Edited by Holly Stark

New York is a colourful city of outdoor activities, off-the-wall breweries and impressive eateries, as well as dynamic art and music spaces. New York off the beaten path is something that most locals would say they love, so there are many alternative things to do in New York to experience it at its best. I love that there is something for everybody; the city embodies a mix of different cultures and histories and it’s this diversity which attracted me it. The city brings many business activities and people from all over the world can be found in busy bars, with music and dancing, or at any of the tiny hole in the wall places for people who like to go out alone or in small groups. From undiscovered artsy museums to cosy bars that turn into poetry and spoken word venues and labrinth green spaces, looking for gems in New York City won’t leave you disappointed. As of now, in its state of transition, some of NYC’s best kept secrets are still undiscovered while the city is in a growing and shifting state. Here are my top hidden gems in NYC to ensure you’ll never get bored, which can be enjoyed by solo travellers, families and groups alike.

Brooklyn Heights

This is a neighbourhood in Brooklyn which I love, and there are a couple of spots you should check out. One is the small shopping street: Montague Street. If you're hungry, pick up a snack in Sahadi's - they have a delicious array of Middle Eastern spices and gourmet foods. Or head to the neighboring Damascus Bakery for warm spinach pies and other home-baked treats like falafel sandwiches, which are inexpensive and great for a picnic at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Wander the Promenade, a walkway with classic NYC skyline views. The area was built by bankers, shipping magnates, and industrialists in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so you can really soak up the vibe and get a sense of how Brooklyn used to be. Families can enjoy the New York Transit Museum which is underground in a former subway station. It’s good fun, interactive, and houses old trains and mass transit memorabilia. Seeking unusual things to do in New York? The museum also offers tours around the city, including one of a defunct train station and others including rides on vintage trains.

The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange

Founded in 1854, the Brooklyn Women's Exchange was formed as a way for women to earn an income by selling their handmade crafts and needlework; a much safer alternative to factory work at the time. A not-for-profit, volunteer-run craft and gift shop, the Brooklyn Women's Exchange continues to be a place to sell, browse and buy unique, hand-made curiosities from craftspeople both locally in Brooklyn and around the country. The location is a tad remote, so you have to really delve into New York City off the beaten path to find this hidden NYC attraction, but it's great to combine with a trip to Brooklyn heights or Promenade. The shop is located at 55 Pierrepont Street and is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Hudson Riverside

The High Line may be popular with tourists, but just one block away from that famous elevated park stretches a lesser known five mile long recreational space known as Hudson River Park, which has transformed the city over the past ten years. Covering 550 acres (400 of which are on the water) and running from Battery Park at Manhattan's southern edge to 59th St in Midtown, Hudson River Park is Manhattan's playful, leafy back garden. Welcome yourself to New York on the riverside path which presents a great spot for cycling, running, strolling, stopping for a picnic or sitting and soaking up the best of the city views.

The Moth StorySLAM At Housing Works

Story lovers can enjoy a word-filled, wine-fuelled night at the Housing Works; a New York City based non-profit fighting HIV/AIDS and homelessness. With multiple locations dotted around the city dedicated to healing and creating community, Housing Works have thrift stores selling pre-loved items, and have a bookshop come cafe with open mic nights, literary readings and trivia. Some of my favourite nights here are the Moth StorySLAM stroytelling events, with 100% of venue proceeds benefiting the homeless living with HIV/AIDS. The Soho Bookstore Cafe resembles an Ivy League library with its spiral staircases, mahogany balconies, and rows of books. Seeking unique things to do in New York at night? At the Bookstore Cafe, you can expect a fun night of fascinating histories, curious imaginations, books, hot drinks, snacks and booze. All are welcome.

Trinity Place Vault Bar

A fascinating New York hidden bar, buried deep underground in the heart of New York City’s financial district is an old bank vault built in 1904. Ingeniously transformed into a Swiss bar and restaurant, Trinity Place Vault Bar is both rustic and elegant. Sip on a cocktail or two in a fascinating place of history. Once, the vault was so large and heavy that it had to be sailed down the Hudson River and then transported on special railway tracks from Battery Park to where it currently sits. If you’re seeking a secure place for a drink in the city, you can’t go wrong here as each steel door weighs a colossal 35 tons and is five inches thick. Interestingly, 115 Broadway, the building in which the bank vault sits under, is one of the original twin towers of New York City. Decorated in gothic style with gargoyles, dragons, eagles, stained glasses and ribbed ceilings in the lobby, the experience is not to be missed for anyone looking for NYC’s best kept secrets.

Burrow

If food experiences are your thing, don’t miss trying these classic French breads, artful cakes and cookies from a bakery hidden behind a generic office-building façade. The adaptive-space charm of Burrow sees a petite glass-fronted patisserie in the back of the lobby of a 20th-century tea factory, now home to digital-media companies and the Brooklyn Bridge Fencing Club. Looking for on the go brunch? Try any of the take-out breakfast items and eat like a New Yorker: quiche, blueberry muffins, blue cheese pecan or orange chocolate scones, almond croissants, salmon cake or granola. If you’re passing by in the afternoon, pick up one of 12 kinds of freshly baked cookies, a slice of Gateau Basque or the yummy hazelnut cake.

Cure Thrift Shop In Greenwich Village

Head to Greenwich Village; epicenter of the city's 1960s counterculture movement. Walk along the tree-lined streets, by the rainbow flags (this is known as one of the LGBTQ+ friendly neighbourhoods), past popular cafes, bars, restaurants, hidden jazz clubs and off-Broadway theaters. Then check out NYC hidden gem Cure Thrift Shop; a lovely thrift store with finds for clothing, shoes, furniture, books and more. It's fun just to go inside and have a look around. The store has a good mix of costume pieces and more wearable styles; exactly what you’d want from a good East Village thrift shop.

Gulliver’s Gate

Leave the land of large and experience an interactive world of miniatures as you travel through a tiny land of some of the globe's most famous landmarks in one place. Travel bugs can easily satisfy their wanderlust here in Manhattan with the indoor 49,000-square-foot, $40 million display. Home to scale models of structures, cities and landscapes from the Brooklyn Bridge and the Eiffel Tower to the pyramids of Egypt and China's Forbidden City, along with the Taj Mahal, Abbey Road, Mecca, Niagara Falls and Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue, Gulliver's Gate is a unique and playful interpretation of the real world in miniature, inspired by the places we live, work, play, and dream about. Watch professional model-makers and engineers build and expand the exhibit. Enjoy a weird and wonderful NYC museum.

Honorable William Wall

Like something from a preppy dream, the Honorable William Wall is a two-story barge moored just north of Ellis Island, which operates as a floating bar from May through October, and is a great spot to buy a drink, have a picnic and enjoy the views. Head off the beaten path to Manhattan Yacht Club's floating clubhouse in the harbor; the“Willy Wall” as it’s affectionately known. Aside from the unbeatable, scenic views of the famous Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, you can enjoy watching sailboat races up close.

The Smallpox Hospital On Roosevelt Island

Resting on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island in the center of the East River are the ruins of an ivy-covered Gothic Revival building, also known as the Renwick Hospital. Once known as the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital, the architectural hidden gem was the top center for smallpox treatment in NYC until the 1950s when the building was forced to close. In 1975, the Landmarks Preservation Commission took interest in the decrepit structure and declared it a city landmark. Now, reinforced walls are being constructed to prevent it from totally crumbling and falling apart, although some of the outer walls and the foundation still stand today. While restoration of the hospital is underway, get off the beaten path and on an unusual adventure to catch the beautiful structure in its naturally-aged state before transformation begins again.

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