Are you just settling in or considering a move to the New York City area? There’s no better way to embrace it than to explore its boroughs through a local lens.
From secret bars with unmarked entrances to tiny neighborhood cafes that serve the best coffee and pastries outside of Paris, secluded gardens blooming right under the shadows of skyscrapers and quirky museums dedicated to the obscure and bizarre there’s so much waiting to be explored.
The best part is no crowds, no lines and — in some cases — not even a website or social media presence. Just local haunts treasured by those in the know. If you’re down to dive into the depths of NYC culture off the beaten path, join me on an adventure to uncover the city’s best hidden gems.
Explore the Secret Rooftop Garden at Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center is an iconic part of NYC, but did you know it hides a secret rooftop garden? High above the hustle and bustle of the city streets, you’ll find an urban oasis with gorgeous gardens, walking paths and seating areas spread over 6 stories.
To reach this hidden gem, head to the Rockefeller Plaza entrance. Take the elevator up to the 67th-floor observatory deck. From there, stairs lead up to the gardens. The gardens are free and open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight.
Once you emerge in the gardens, you’ll be surrounded by lush greenery, flowers and art installations at every turn. Meander along the gravel paths to spots like the Solarium, which has Italian marble floors and walls of windows overlooking the city skyline.
- Check out the “Channel Gardens” featuring flowers, plants and small trees arranged by color like an artist’s palette.
- The “Rooftop Garden” has metal archways entwined with vines and benches where you can sit and gaze at views of Central Park.
With space for contemplation, art appreciation or simple relaxation, the Rockefeller Center Rooftop Gardens offer an escape to nature high above the city that never sleeps. Making time to uncover these hidden gems amid the concrete jungle will give you a new perspective on NYC’s beauty. So next time you’re in New York City, leave the crowds behind and get lost in the secret rooftop garden at Rockefeller Center.
Discover the Whimsical Tiles at the 191st Street Subway Station
The 191st Street subway station in Manhattan hides a secret gem: its whimsical tile artwork. As you descend into the station, colorful mosaics depicting scenes of old New York greet you on the mezzanine level.
Created in 1904, these mosaics transport you back in time. You’ll see images of the early Dutch settlers, a Native American village and the old Polo Grounds baseball stadium. Delicate sea life and birds adorn the walls. Historic events like the laying of the first telegraph cable under the Atlantic Ocean in 1858 are immortalized in tiles.
The mosaics are the creation of Italian immigrant Rafael Guastavino, a master tile artisan. Each tile was handcrafted and pieced together to form these vibrant murals, a testament to the skill and passion of early 20th-century artisans.
Thousands of commuters rush by these mosaics every day without glancing up. But those in the know make a point of lingering on the mezzanine level, soaking in the history and beauty all around them. For art lovers and history buffs, it’s a chance to uncover a little-known treasure in the heart of the city that never sleeps.
So next time you’re passing through 191st Street Station, take a moment to slow down. Look up and step back in time. You’ll emerge feeling as if you’ve discovered New York’s best-kept secret.
Take in Sweeping NYC Views From High Line Park
Among the concrete jungle of skyscrapers, High Line Park offers a peaceful escape with stunning views of the city. This 1.5-mile elevated urban park was built on a historic rail line and features gardens, walking paths and art installations. As you stroll along the High Line, you’ll get a new perspective of the bustling city below.
Start at the southern end of Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. Walk through scenic gardens and groves of trees, with opportunities for people-watching at benches along the way. Stop by the Diller-Von Furstenberg Sundeck and Amphitheater, an open space great for soaking in the sun and skyline vistas.
Further north near 14th Street, you’ll find the park’s only lawn, perfect for a picnic in the warmer months. Just beyond, The Spur overhangs the street, giving you a glimpse into the lives of New Yorkers below. For art lovers, be sure to check out the changing public art installations and murals along the walkway.
As you continue uptown, the Chelsea Market Passage and the Tenth Avenue Square offer more places to rest while enjoying panoramic views of Chelsea and Midtown. The northern end at 34th Street features the Northern Spur, overlooking the NY Rail Yard and Javits Center. On a clear day, you may even spot the Statue of Liberty in the distance.
The High Line is open seven days a week, year-round. While admission is free, some areas may be closed at times for events or maintenance. For the best experience, go early on a weekday morning or later in the evening to avoid the biggest crowds. The High Line is a quintessential New York escape in the heart of the city with stunning vistas you won’t soon forget.
Wander Through the Historic Secrets of Green-Wood Cemetery
Established in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is one of New York City’s most historic landmarks. This National Historic Landmark encompasses 478 acres of rolling hills, ponds and paths in Brooklyn. While its primary purpose is as an active cemetery, Green-Wood also offers a peaceful escape from the city and a glimpse into NYC history.
As you meander along Green-Wood’s winding roads and trails, you’ll discover many notable New Yorkers interred here, like inventor Samuel Morse, pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk and dozens more. Keep an eye out for large, ornate mausoleums and tombs belonging to some of the city’s most prominent 19th-century families. The cemetery is also home to several famous memorials, including a replica of the USS Maine Mast and a statue of DeWitt Clinton, the former NY governor who built the Erie Canal.
For panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, head to Green-Wood’s highest point at Battle Hill. This strategic outlook was used by the Continental Army during the Battle of Long Island in 1776. The hilltop also offers a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. As a bird sanctuary, Green-Wood is a prime spot for bird watching, especially during the spring and fall migrations. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded within the cemetery grounds.
To uncover Green-Wood’s secrets, join one of their guided tours. Themes include famous residents, the Battle of Brooklyn and nighttime lantern tours. Or download a self-guided tour from their website to explore at your own pace. However, you choose to discover it, Green-Wood Cemetery offers a peaceful escape from the city and a fascinating window into New York City’s history.
Find Solace at the City’s Best Kept Secret: Wave Hill Public Garden
Nestled in the Bronx, Wave Hill is an oasis amid the urban jungle. This 28-acre public garden and cultural center is a hidden gem that provides a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Once a private estate, Wave Hill opened to visitors in the 1960s. It features sprawling lawns, flowering gardens, and woodland paths with scenic vistas of the Hudson River and Palisades. You’ll feel worlds away from the frenetic pace of Manhattan.
The gardens change with the seasons, from the spring blooms of the Flower Garden and Aquatic Garden to the autumn foliage of the Woodland Garden. The lush Sunken Garden and herb garden are popular spots for peaceful reflection in the summer. There are garden tours, art exhibits and family activities scheduled year-round.
For the best experience, arrive early and give yourself a few hours to meander the grounds at your leisure. Pack a picnic lunch or snack to enjoy on the great lawn. Benches and chairs throughout provide opportunities for rest. The gardens are open every day of the week from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. General admission tickets start at $10 for adults, with discounts available for students, seniors and members.
If you long for an escape to nature without leaving the city, Wave Hill is a hidden sanctuary waiting to be discovered. Lose yourself among the winding paths, breathe in the fresh air, and reconnect with a quieter pace of life in this urban oasis. Once you’ve visited, you’ll want to return again and again to this secret garden hideaway in the heart of the Bronx.
Wherever your explorations take you, leave the tourist traps behind and venture off the beaten path to find adventure around every corner. Who knows what other secrets are waiting to be discovered in the city that never sleeps? The only way to find out is by lacing up your walking shoes, grabbing your Metro card and getting out there.
Ready to make a move to NYC? It’s a great time to get a moving quote.
If you’re looking to explore other cities in the Empire State, check out our New York moving guide.