Visitors flock to New York – and famous landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge – in their masses. Art galleries, history museums and world-class shows on Broadway keep culture-vultures happy, immense department stores tease shopaholics, and the restaurants satisfy globe-trotting foodies. But life in the Big Apple runs far deeper than the tourist attractions and famous sights. Get to know the real New York with our handy guide to finding ten of the city’s hidden gems – recommended by locals in the know.
1. Museum of Ice Cream
In a city full of famous museums, there’s one that is still hidden from the tourist trail – and it’s the city’s tastiest. The Museum of Ice Cream – also known as ‘heaven’ for visitors with a sweet tooth – provides an interactive and lick-able experience. Spend the afternoon bathing in a river of sprinkles, wandering through the chocolate room and sampling the massive ice cream sundae. The museum opens in a different location, pop-up-style, each summer and their newsletter makes sure you’re the first to know where.
2. Hidden Tropical Rainforest
From Central Park to the New York Botanical Garden and all the little public parks in between, it’s easy enough to find a patch of the great outdoors when you’re bored of the concrete jungle. Finding a private slice is more tricky, but hidden inside a Midtown Manhattan office block is a tiny tropical rainforest. Large glass windows act like a greenhouse, working with a system that creates steam condensation from rainwater to create a humid mini-ecosystem, keeping the resident tropical plants lush and green.
3. Bubby’s for pancakes or pie
In Lower Manhattan, the menu at Bubby’s friendly eatery celebrates almost everything classically American. Tribecca locals swear the James Beard pancakes (topped with caramelized bananas and toasted walnuts) or the sourdough and blueberry pancakes, but brunch, lunch and dinner are catered for as well. Stop by at any hour for a burger, a hot slice of the fresh-baked pie or even a cocktail, and leave with a commemorative pic from the photobooth in the basement.
4. Explorers Club Headquarters
Indulge your inner globetrotter at the intimate and lesser-known Explorer’s Club Headquarters on the Upper East Side. Established in 1904, the club was a place for explorers and global adventurers to share their expedition tales and resulting scientific discoveries. The four floors of the headquarters (an ornate townhouse) are stuffed with treasures and artifacts from wayfaring voyages to all four corners of the globe. Warning: this epic hidden gem causes serious wanderlust.
5. Please Don’t Tell Secret Bar
Hidden bars came into their own during the Prohibition era and, though there’s no longer any need to hide, secret bars are making their way back into the mainstream. Between 1st Ave and Avenue A, the entrance to Please Don’t Tell is completely unnoticed by passers by; only those ‘in the know’ step into a phone box, pick up the phone and buzz once. If permitted to enter, a door in the wall opens and you are ushered into an intimate bar for a night of classy cocktails, great eats and, best of all, very cool secrecy.
6. Burger Joint in Parker Meridian Hotel
Burgers, burgers everywhere. While it’s not not unusual to stuff your face with a juicy beef patty in New York City, finding a quiet, or at least tourist-free spot to do so in is rare. So how about a burger shop hidden (literally a hidden gem) behind a curtain in an unsuspecting hotel lobby? Follow your nose to Le Parker Meridian Hotel in Midtown for a menu that almost exclusively features hamburgers and cheeseburgers before too many other people find out about Burger Joint.
7. Shop the Brooklyn Night Bazaar
Insider advice suggests that when it comes to getting your shopping fix, you should dodge the crowds and experience authentic New York by trading 5th Avenue for the Brooklyn Night Bazaar. Independently-made goods are on sale in a swish warehouse building on Friday and Saturday nights – but that’s not all. Combine souvenir market shopping with karaoke, ping pong, live music and delicious nosh from local merchants.
8. Visit the Berlin Wall
No, really! When the Berlin Wall was demolished in 1989, sections decorated with artwork were preserved and five of these are now hidden around New York. One stands in an office block lobby on Madison Avenue, one at the Kowsky Plaza in Battery Park, one in the gardens of the United Nations Building, one in the grounds of Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum and one in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum on Times Square. Combine modern history with an unusual city tour and explore New York by visiting them all in a day.
9. Cilantro for Mexican food
Arguably one of the best places in the city for a fresh fajita (or four), Cilantro is a small and authentic Mexican cantina on the Upper West Side, known and loved by those in the know for its friendly atmosphere and mouth-watering grilled chicken fajitas. Leave the busy street at the door to find a tourist-free oasis in the cozy interior, complete with wooden chairs and tables, a wood beam ceiling and even a heap of complimentary chips and salsa.
10. A secret spot for sunset
Every evening hundreds of tourists race up the Empire State Building for their token photos with an unmistakable, impressive panorama of New York from above. But when it comes to finding Instagram photo spots, it’s worth listening to the locals to find the best view of the city. At sunset, head to the aptly named Sunset Park in South Brooklyn for a fantastic vista of the spectacular Manhattan skyline from afar – not a sight you can appreciate whilst in Manhattan itself!