21 New York City secrets you didn’t know existed

There are always a billion cool things to see in New York City, and as a sophisticated reader of Thrillist, you know about 900 million of them. Still, there are a few city secrets that even the most seasoned Thrillist-reading New Yorker might not know about. These are the 21 most secret.

Midtown East
Before private jets became the badge of honor for celebrities everywhere, private train stations were the most sought-after rich-guy amenity. Case in point: this rail corridor underneath the historic Waldorf Astoria that famous folks like FDR and Batman would use to arrive in secret to the hotel.

Plane on rooftop nyc
Flickr/Phil Hollenback

Financial District
While most Wall Streeters might be hoping to take off on a Gulfstream, this Downtown address takes a different approach to executive perks, with a World War I fighter plane perched on its rooftop, you know, just in case.

Morbid Anatomy Museum

Highlighting death artifacts like skeletons, memorials, and specimens preserved in jars, this isn’t your typical cultural institution. Also: there’s a gift shop in case you want to fulfill every pre-girlfriend dude's dream of displaying a taxidermy squirrel on your mantlepiece.

Submarine in Coney Island

Coney Island
“We all live in a yellow submarine... stuck in the middle of Coney Island Creek, Coney Island Creek, Coney Island Creek”. Okay, so maybe The Beatles didn’t write that version, but they probably would have if they came across this eerie, apocalyptic scene instead of doing a bunch of acid in England.


Staten Island
Why go all the way to the Upper East Side (you know, to the Guggenheim) to see a real-life Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, when you can just hop a ferry to Staten Island? Also known as The Crimson Beech, this beauty from 1959 is still looking good. Just don’t get too close, because Staten Island is still America, and has something called "private property rules".

Berlin Wall NYC
Flickr/Wally Gobetz

What was once a symbol of all that was wrong with the world in the Cold War era is now serving as public art (of which Berlin still has a lot) in a corporate Midtown public plaza, for people on their lunch break -- pretty much the circle of life stuff here. Historical side note: Berlin is celebrating the 25th anniversary this November. No word yet whether this tiny section or clubbing until 9am will be part of the ceremonies.

Wave Hill

What sounds like a best-selling, new age music album is actually a 28-acre oasis overlooking the Hudson River in the Bronx. It costs a few bucks to get in, but isn’t an afternoon of a little peace and quiet priceless in New York City?

Secret Gardens Rockefeller Center
Flickr/Rian Castillo

Next time you're dragging your out-of-town relatives to 30 Rock to see the rink or the Tree or The LEGO Store or whatever, look up. High above you is a series of secret outdoor roof gardens that we guarantee won't hurt like Mothers when you step on them.

Hidden Movie Theater NYC
Flickr/Eden, Janine and Jim

Hidden Movie Theater

Lower East Side
Behind this façade was once a glorious movie theater. Today, the interior isn’t looking so good, but here’s the perfect date night -- grab some dumplings in nearby Chinatown, do a walk-by to show off your historic knowledge of the neighborhood, and then head North to Landmark Cinema on Houston that still shows films on the big screen.

Tabernacle Prayer Church

Jamaica, Queens
No matter what God you do (or don’t) believe in, one minute inside this stunning movie theater-turned-church in Queens will leave you feeling some sort of higher power. Forget the gigantic screen at your local multiplex -- imagine what it was like seeing a film in the grand splendor of a movie palace like this.

North Brother Island
Flickr/Jonathan Haeber

East River
This bird sanctuary in the East River was once a hospital for patients with small pox and other scary diseases. The ruins and island are completely closed to the public, but just note that if you do try to swim here, make sure you go in the right direction... or you might end up on another infamous island (Rikers. We're talking about Rikers.).

Forest Hills Gardens

Forest Hills
One of the first planned communities in the country, this handsome neighborhood boasts privately owned streets -- a rarity in New York City. You can still walk and drive through the area, but don’t even think about parking without a permit.

Kissena Velodrome
Flickr/Seth Werkheiser

Who needs the scenic French countryside to experience the thrill of bike racing, when you only need to hop a 7 train to Queens? Or even better, leave your MetroCard at home, and hop on a bike to take a spin around this outdoor racing track.

Orchard Beach & Boardwalk
Flickr/Scott Beale

Welcome to the "Riviera of NYC". And sorry, we're not talking about the shiny, new Williamsburg waterfront -- this one-mile-long beachfront property is up in the Bronx. If you find yourself getting a little sun here, don’t thank Mother Nature. This manmade sand bar is courtesy of infamous urban planner Robert Moses.

Secrets of NYC
Flickr/*Bitch Cakes*

The Women’s Room Sitting Lounge in Radio City Music Hall

Midtown West
When you hear your Grandma proclaim, “They just don’t make bathrooms like they used to”, you now know what she’s talking about. And also, why are you talking to your Grandma about bathrooms? After using the facilities, women can relax in style in this art deco sanctuary. And guys, don’t worry, there’s a men’s lounge too... although you can’t light up a cigar like your Grandpa did.

Mott Haven Substation
Flickr/Inhabitat Blog

“Putting on a façade” takes on a whole new meaning at this Con Edison substation, constructed in 2007 in the Bronx. What looks like a street of fancy row-houses you might find in a Florida subdivision, turns out to just be a front for what keeps the neighborhood’s lights on. 

Schwartz Athletic Center
Flickr/Matt Green

Fort Greene
The Long Island University basketball team might not garner the attention of a St. John’s Red Storm, but the old gym housed under the roof of the historic Brooklyn Paramount Theatre just might be the most original spot to catch a sporting event in the city. Although the team now plays their games in a new facility, the gym still hosts the odd event now and again.

Waterfalls NYC
Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Who needs Upstate New York when we have bucolic Midtown Manhattan? Okay, so maybe it’s not Niagara Falls, but for a few brief minutes, you can feel the water spraying on your skin at several water features located in public plazas. At the very least, it will drown out a little bit of the constant urban noise. Check out the one located at East 53rd St & 6th Ave.

Subway Mural
Flickr/Jeffrey Putman

Masstransiscope Subway Mural

In Transit
This public art piece is hard to catch, mostly because you need to be on a Manhattan-bound B or Q train leaving from Dekalb Avenue with your eyes peeled, or you’ll completely miss it. The ride takes just a few seconds, but with a recent restoration in 2013, it’s a good time to see it before it gets tagged again.

United Nations dining room
Flickr/United Nations Information Centres

Tudor City
Eating like a diplomat is easy for those New Yorkers with fat wallets. Or for actual diplomats. For the rest of us, there’s the UN Delegates Dining Room. $35 gets you a global lunch buffet -- assuming you can escape the office for a couple of hours on a weekday.

Marble Cemetery
Flickr/Eden, Janine and Jim

Marble Cemetery Tours

East Village
Move over Mr. Speakeasy Cocktail Bar, and say hello to the speakeasy cemetery. If you want to check it out, it's open once a month for tours, but you can also rent out the space for events. Creepy Summer cocktail party, anyone?

Craig Nelson is a writer who enjoys pizza and the tropical vibes on that famously laid-back island of Manhattan -- the place he calls home. Follow along on Twitter and his blog Across 106th Street.