New York City has a population of over eight million people and receives 65 million tourists a year, so to say New York City is crowded is more than an understatement. If you are visiting New York, it’s great fun to experience the pulse and energy of the city in places such as Times Square, Broadway, Macy’s Herald Square, and Soho, but if you want to get away from the crowds and find some pockets to have some quieter moments, where do you go? I am a native New Yorker and lived there all my life until I moved to Paris in 2005, but I still remember the secret spots I used to visit to escape the crowds, and I share my favorite places with you below.
1. The Cloisters
At the northern tip of Manhattan in Fort Tryon Park, which is part of the Washington Heights neighborhood, is the Met Cloisters, a museum that is an extension of the Metropolitan Museum. The Cloisters has an extensive collection of medieval art and architecture primarily from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Although the Cloisters was built in 1930, the architecture reflects more of a European gothic design from the medieval era, which is rare in New York City. The most significant structures are the four authentic cloisters that were imported from monasteries in France and date back between the early 800s to the 16th century.
The Cloisters sits on a high hill with panoramic views of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge and is surrounded by three medieval gardens with over 250 plant, tree, and flower varieties.
Other highlights at the Cloisters include the collection of rare tapestries, a gothic chapel from France along with stained glass windows and ancient sculptures, a Romanesque hall with three church doorways, and a library with over 15,000 books and historical records.
2. The Staten Island Ferry
There’s no better tourist bargain in New York than the Staten Island Ferry, which is free. The Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan, close to Wall Street and conveniently reached by bus or subway, is the entrance point. Once you board the ferry, the 5.2-mile ride, which takes about 25 minutes, features views of the lower Manhattan skyline, the Jersey City skyline, the mighty Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, where immigrants entered New York in the early 1900s, Governors Island, and the spectacular Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.
The Staten Island Ferry runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and ferries leave every 15 to 20 minutes. There’s a drink and food kiosk aboard the boat.
Pro Tip: Avoid the commuter rush hour by traveling between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., or after 7 p.m. weekdays. Beware of people trying to sell you tickets.
3. Tenement Immigration Museum
There are 83 museums in New York City with a diverse selection from the humongous Metropolitan Museum to the Wyckoff, a tiny saltbox house in Canarsie, Brooklyn.
One of the more unique museums is the Tenement Immigration Museum, which honors the immigrants who struggled to come to America from Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s to find freedom and a better way of life. Located on the lower east side of Manhattan, where most of the immigrants first lived, the museum consists of two apartment buildings from 1863 that, over the years, housed over 15,000 immigrants from over 20 nations.
The exhibitions consist of restored apartments and shops that illustrate the way immigrants lived in these buildings between 1869 and 1935, and from the 1950s to the 1980s.
A documentary film is shown, and people dressed in authentic period clothes interpret the immigrant’s way of living by cooking typical food of the time. The museum also offers neighborhood history tours, a vast collection of historical archives and records, and various educational programs.
4. New York Botanical Garden
Located in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden covers a vast swath of land of 250 acres in the Bronx Park, with over a million plants. Founded in 1891, it contains 50 gardens, which include a cascading waterfall, acres of wetlands, and an untouched forest with trees that are over 200 years old. The Metz Library is one of the foremost and largest botanical libraries in the Western hemisphere with over 11,000,000 articles. Other outstanding attractions include the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, the native plant garden, and a Victorian-style greenhouse.
Pro Tip: The famous Bronx Zoo with over 6,000 species of animals is next door to the Botanical Garden, so you can make a full day out of your trip.
5. The Museum Of The City Of New York
Across from Central Park on exclusive upper Fifth Ave. is The Museum of the City of New York, where you can learn about the intriguing and fascinating history of the Big Apple. The handsome Neo-Georgian style building, erected in 1930, has long white pillars and a brick facade. Inside the museum is a prolific collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, drawings, and sketches along with original Currier and Ives prints, all dedicated to New York City. There’s also a decorative arts section with furniture and home accessories, an extensive photography portfolio of New York City with works by photographers Percy Byron, director Stanley Kubrick, and Berenice Abbot, costumes and artifacts from Broadway shows, and a vintage toy collection.
New York at Its Core is a new permanent installation, the first show to tell the full history of New York City.
Pro Tip: Walk further down Fifth Ave. and you will arrive at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Frick Collection.
6. Extraordinary New York Tours
Join savvy New Yorker Joseph Cohen, the creator of Extraordinary New York Tours, for a private tour of his favorite neighborhoods of the city. Cohen knows the city inside out and where to find the best of everything from the best bagel to the off-beat shops to hidden treasures at the Metropolitan Museum.
Specialty tours include the charm of Greenwich Village, the extraordinary history and sites of Central Park, a Broadway Musical tour, and a stroll on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to visit the elegant Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.
Pro Tip: Extraordinary New York Tours can also customize a tour to fit your needs.
7. MoMA PS1
A former school building in Long Island City, Queens, has been converted into one of the largest spaces in the U.S. dedicated to contemporary art. MoMA PS1 was started in 1971 by Alanna Heiss, who formed an organization that supports the remodeling of abandoned or underutilized buildings in New York City and turning them into artists’ spaces. In 2000, PS1 merged with MoMA, and today it is a multi-disciplinary space that sponsors painting and art exhibits, art installations, poetry readings, musical performances, and artists’ talks. Warm Up is an annual summer event that showcases emerging musical talents in a series of performances and concerts.
8. City Island
Although City Island in the Pelham section of the Bronx is part of New York City, it has the atmosphere of a New England fishing village. Just 60 minutes by subway or 45 minutes by car from Manhattan, City Island is a haven for seafood restaurants and bars, such as The Lobster Box, Johnny’s Reef, and Sammy’s Shrimp Box, which serve fresh lobster, clams, crab, shrimp, and other seafood straight off the boat. Walk through the quaint village which has authentic Victorian houses from the 1800s. City Island Ave. is filled with local art galleries, small shops and cafes, and restaurants. You can charter a small fishing boat at Jack’s Bait and Tackle to check out the fishing waters of the Long Island Sound. If you are feeling more adventurous, sailing lessons are offered at the New York Sailing School with classes ranging in price from $395 to $795.
9. New York City Panorama
The highlight of the Queens Museum is the New York City Panorama, which is one of the few surviving attractions from the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The vast 9,335 square foot model includes all five boroughs of Manhattan in miniature, including 895,000 buildings. Tours and workshops are available to fully explore the geography, landmarks, bridges, city planning, and history of the greatest city in the world.
Pro Tip: The New York City Panorama was recently featured in the Netflix series Pretend It’s A City with Fran Lebowitz.
More Pro Tips
All the sites listed above are reachable by subway or bus, but travel time by subway is shorter. We highly recommend you visit these places during the week and not on weekends or holidays because they tend to get busy with New Yorkers. For additional tips, consider
- New Yorkers Reveal What Travelers Need To Know About Transportation In The City
- 25 Things To Expect When Visiting New York City For The First Time
- 8 Excellent New York City Hidden Gems
- 9 Fantastic New York City Hidden Gems Outside Of Manhattan
- 14 Fantastic Hidden Gem Restaurants In New York City
- Hotel Vs. Airbnb: Where To Stay In New York City
- How To Get Cheap Broadway Tickets, And What To Expect At Your First Show