21 New York City secrets you didn’t know existed

Published On 07/27/2014 Published On 07/27/2014

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.

Secret train tracks underneath the Waldorf Astoria

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.

Flickr/Phil Hollenback

77 Water Street Rooftop

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 Creek

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.


Frank Lloyd Wright House

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".

Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Berlin Wall

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's Manicured Garden

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?

Flickr/Rian Castillo

Secret Gardens of Rockefeller Center

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.

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 of 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.

Flickr/Jonathan Haeber

North Brother Island

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.

Flickr/Seth Werkheiser

Kissena Velodrome

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.

Flickr/Scott Beale

Orchard Beach & Boardwalk

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.

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.

Flickr/Inhabitat Blog

Mott Haven Substation

“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. 

Flickr/Matt Green

Schwartz Athletic Center

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.

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.

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.

Flickr/United Nations Information Centres

United Nations Delegates Dining Room

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.

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. 

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1. 77 Water Street Rooftop 77 Water Street, New York, NY 10005 (Financial District)

This Downtown, 26-story office building in Wall Street has one of the best-kept secrets in New York: a World War I fighter plane. This aircraft, perched on 77 Water Street's rooftop, is and artistic re-imagining of 1916 British Sopwith Camel, and, sadly does not fly. This somewhat mysterious biplane, which was laid to rest on Wall Street in 1969, can be viewed from neighboring rooftops and high rises.

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2. Morbid Anatomy Museum 424 3rd Ave, Gowanus, NY 11215 (Gowanus)

You don't have to be a necrophiliac to appreciate this Brooklyn nonprofit's objets d'art. Exhibitions change, but the one thing that's certain about the items in this Gowanus death-tination is that they'll be exactly what the name promises: morbid. And if you want to collect your own specimen-in-a-jar, rest assured that yes, even a museum of anatomy comes with a gift shop.

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3. Coney Island Creek Coney Island Creek, Brooklyn, NY 11224

This Southern-tip-of-Brooklyn waterway features one of the little-known attractions of the area, a sunken submarine sticking out of the top of the water.

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4. Frank Lloyd Wright House 48 Manor Court, Staten Island, NY 10306 (Staten Island)

Also known as the Crimson Beech, this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed beauty from 1959 is still looking good, however it is a private residence so approaching it might not be the best idea.

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5. Rockefeller Center 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112 (Midtown)

Completed in 1933, RC was John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s gift to NYC residents and tourists alike -- a place where they could live, socialize, and embrace views of everyone's favorite city. Today, Rockefeller is home to NBC Studios, displays a giant Christmas tree and skating rink every Winter, shows off views from Top of the Rock, and more.

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6. Kissena Velodrome , Queens, NY 11355 (Queens)

Who needs the scenic French countryside to experience the thrill of bike racing when you can get the same (sorta) experience in Queens?

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7. Mott Haven Substation 415 Bruckner Blvd, Bronx, NY 10454 (Bronx)

This is a Con Ed substation that was constructed in 2007 in the Bronx. It looks like a street of fancy row-houses you might find in a Florida subdivision, but it turns out that it's just a front for what keeps the neighborhood’s lights on.

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8. Schwartz Athletic Center DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217 (Fort Greene)

The Long Island University basketball team use to play under the roof of the historic Brooklyn Paramount Theatre. Although the team now plays their games in a new facility, the gym still hosts the odd event now and again.

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9. Paley Park East 53rd & 6th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (Midtown)

Paley Park and its cascading waterfall, which drowns out Midtown's hustle and noise, is a beloved secret gem in Manhattan. Hidden away on East 53rd St & 6th Ave, this tranquil pocket park features ivy walls, granite pavers, and marble tables nestled beneath a canopy of honey locust trees. Enter through an ornamental gate at 3 East 53rd and snag a table for a quiet escape.

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10. UN Delegates Dining Room United Nations Plaza, New York, NY

If you want to eat like a delegate but don't have the cash, there’s the UN Delegates Dining Room. For $35 you get a global lunch buffet -- assuming you can escape the office for a couple of hours on a weekday.

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11. Waldorf Astoria New York 301 Park Ave, New York, NY 10022 (Midtown East)

Declared an NYC landmark in the early '90s, the Waldorf-Astoria on Park Ave has long hosted eminent guests. But more important than the five-star, art-deco hotel's A-list clientele is its incredible all-you-can-eat brunch at its Peacock Alley Restaurant, which, though a bit pricey, is an experience in and of itself. The Waldorf is also home to La Chine and Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse.

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12. Berlin Wall 520 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10079 (Midtown)

Now covered in murals and serving as public art in a corporate Midtown public plaza are these sections of the actual Berlin wall.

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13. Wave Hill Garden 675 W 252nd St, Bronx, NY 10471 (Bronx)

Despite the fact that Wave Hill Garden is situated in New York City, this somewhat unknown paradise supplies 28 acres of greenery and stunning views overlooking the Hudson River. The Wave Hill estate consists of public horticultural gardens and cultural center, along with shops, a small cafe, a number of flora-themed events and tours.

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14. Tabernacle of prayer 16511 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica, NY 11432 (Queens)

This grand palace was actually once a movie theater -- and it's kind of a bummer that you can't come here to see movies anymore, but it's worth dropping by just to see the beautiful interior alone.

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15. North Brother Island North Brother Island, Bronx, NY 10454 (Bronx)

You're not technically allowed to visit this island (and by technically, we mean you are not allowed to visit the island at all), which is just as well -- the creepy bird sanctuary in the East River used to be inhabited by small pox- and other scary disease-laden patients.

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16. Forest Hills Gardens, NY Forest Hills Gardens, Forest Hills, NY 11375 (Queens)

You can walk or drive through this area, but the exclusive neighborhood is not a place you want to park -- without a permit, that is.



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