We all know the main sights of New York – they are world famous, but for the visitor who wants to see the real city, the iconic landmarks just don’t cut it. Going off the beaten path in New York is getting to see the city’s underbelly. You also get to experience the city as natives do when you go off the beaten track in New York. Discover surprising works of art, wonderful buildings, tiny coffee shops and corner bakeries and hidden gardens. Here are 20 Off the Beaten Path Attractions of New York:
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1 The Graffiti Wall of Fame
Whether you agree with graffiti or not, there’s no denying it is urban art. In Harlem, at 106th Street and Park Avenue, you’ll find a wall of some of the best and most colorful images in the city. The wall is one of the boundaries of the Jackie Robinson Education Complex and is a brilliant show of what can be achieved with cans of spray paint.
2 Museum of Sex
If you’ve already done the Met, Guggenheim and MOMA, it’s definitely time to head off the beaten track in New York for a museum with a difference. At 233 5th Avenue, you’ll find the Museum of Sex. Opened in 2002, it is only open to over 18s who can learn about human sex, animal sex, rubbers and even robotic sex.
3 The Alamo
Not the fort where gallant Texans fought the Mexican army, but a giant cube sculpture. Standing since 1967, the Alamo was created by Tony Rosenthal. You can find it at Astor Place (Lafayette and 8th Street), and if you’ve got the strength, you can try and make it spin.
4 Fort Tryon Park
Can you imagine going off the beaten track in New York and finding a patch of English countryside with a cloistered chapel? Fort Tryon Park is a reassembled chapel with thick stone walls, stained glass windows set in gardens brimming with colorful flora and exotic wildlife. Fort Tryon was designed by the same man who helped create Yosemite National Park and you can find it at 190th Street.
5 Alice Austen House
Alice Austen was one of the first professional female photographers and her former beautiful home has been turned into an exhibition of her works. The house on Staten Island is set in a gorgeous park with stunning views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan as well as Brooklyn and Coney Island.
I did say that when going off the beaten path in New York you would find some surprises. If you are squeamish, the Museum of Bodies is best avoided. If however, you are fascinated by the human body this is your chance to see things really up close and personal. The exhibition at 11 Fulton Street contains more than 200 real bodies and dissected bits of bodies.
Venturing off the beaten path in New York doesn’t mean missing out on great shopping. You don’t need 5th Avenue or Macys, head to Nolita, north of Little Italy. Here the boutiques are delightful, and the jewelry shops little gems (groan). Of course, you have to leave enough balance on your credit card for a delicious Italian meal while you’re here.
8 Greenacre Park
A city’s secret gardens are a terrific place to escape the noise and busyness of a major city. The lesser known attractions of New York include some magical little pockets of green. Once such is the Greenacre Park on 51st Street. It is a little midtown oasis that even features a 25 foot waterfall.
9 Upright Citizens Brigade Theater
If you like comedy, one of the best theaters off the beaten track in New York is the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan. At 307 W. 26th Street you get to see break out comedy stars at very cheap ticket prices.
I’m sure you all know that NYC has Little Italy, Chinatown and Harlem, but one of the lesser known attractions of New York is Little Seoul. On 32nd Street, you can enjoy everything Korean. Browse the shops, soak up the atmosphere and try some of the food and taste the subtle nuances between this and other Asian cuisines.
11 Fraunces Tavern
You don’t have to go to a museum to be immersed in history. The Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street is where George Washington ended his revolutionary campaign. Today it is a museum, brewery and restaurant in the heart of the financial district.
12 Brooklyn Flea Market
It’s fun to go off the beaten path in New York to find wonderful places to shop or simply browse. The Brooklyn Flea Market is outdoors in summer and moves indoors for the winter, so where you’ll find it depends when you are intending to visit. There’s tons of stalls to peruse – antiques, objets d’art, vintage clothing, handicrafts and not to mention some of the best food vendors in the city sell here.
13 The High Line
Not all of New York’s parks are green spaces. The High Line Park is actually on an elevated disused freight rail line in Manhattan’s West Side. It’s a great place to view the city, chow down on a picnic or just relax. Open daily, between 7am and 10pm, there are various access points.
14 Stone Street
Go off the beaten path in New York to the heart of the city’s financial district, turn into Stone Street and you will probably do a double-take. This narrow cobbled street is more redolent of Europe than downtown NYC. It is crowded with restaurants whose owners fight for pavement space on fair days for their chairs and tables. Grab a pew and eat Swedish meatballs, Greek kebabs, Italian pizza or Mexican enchiladas.
15 Richmond Town
Take a trip back in time to experience life on Staten Island in the 17th century at Richmond Town. Gorgeous farmland stretches for a hundred acres and is dotted with original historic buildings you find anywhere else within miles of New York. Candlelight tours are available.
16 Greenwood Cemetery
Not as macabre as it sounds. Think of a visit to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn as going off the beaten track in NYC for some celebrity spotting. Greenwood is New York’s version of Paris's Pere Lachaise. As well as being an immaculately tended graveyard, Greenwood is the last resting place of many notable luminaries – maps are available.
17 The Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Although not one of the lesser known attractions of NYC, the Federal Reserve Bank has some surprising treats inside. Admire the magnificent exterior but then venture on in to enjoy their money themed exhibitions. In the past there have been a collection of a million types of currency, displays of ‘funny’ money and even an exhibition on inflation. The program changes so you never know what’s in store (unless you check before going of course).
18 Red Hook Piers
Sometimes going off the beaten track in New York means a bit of a labored trek to reach a little gem. This is so with the Red Hook Piers in Brooklyn. It means tramping cobbled streets to get to the piers but once there, you are rewarded with stunning views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the East River (particularly special at sunset). The once run down dock area is becoming a charming arts community so there’s plenty to see on your way there and back.
19 Abandoned Subway Stations
New York’s subway is one of the oldest and busiest in the world and there are a few abandoned stations. Not many are accessible and you need to check before you venture into trying to visit one. A particularly special one is the City Hall stop. The station’s interior has been beautifully preserved and can be visited on a guided tour.
20 Spa Castle
I have already introduced you to one slice of Korea off the beaten path in New York, and here’s another. The Spa Castle in Queens is simply and brilliantly OTT. Set up by some intrepid and insightful Koreans, the Spa Castle spreads over 5 floors and 100,000 square feet, and offers every Asian and European spa treatment and therapy you can think of. There’s also a bar and grill and food court.
Well that’s it. My pick of just 20 of the wonderful things to see, do and enjoy when you go off the beaten track in New York – a very eclectic mix, I’m sure you will agree?
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