Visiting New York City and living in New York City are two completely different things. I had visited many times before I moved there, but once living there, I realized I’d barely scratched the surface of the best city in the world. Once you move beyond the tourist attractions (which are wonderful in their own right, and shouldn’t be missed), you see an entirely different side of New York that only makes it more charming. Here are some of my favorite spots that you might miss as a visitor, but you should really make a point to see next time you go.
It’s not as popular as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but therein lies the charm of this hidden gem on Staten Island. It’s a truly beautiful, sprawling green space with ponds, a variety of trees and flowers, zen gardens, and cultural artifacts amid the mini-museums scattered throughout the grounds. When you’re there, it’s easy to forget you’re on Staten Island or even in New York City. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a concert at the amphitheater. Bonus: you get to enjoy one of the best views in NYC from the Staten Island Ferry.
The Cloisters museum and gardens, located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, is a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to art and architecture of medieval Europe. Situated on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, with a its nearby gorgeous park and spectacular views of the George Washington Bridge, the various buildings within The Cloisters – beautiful medieval looking fortresses and chapels disassembled in Europe and brought to the United States – house over 4,000 works of art. Hop on the train and explore this little piece of European history in NYC.
Asian Food in Flushing, Queens:
Maybe one of NYC’s best kept secrets from tourists, Flushing boasts the best Chinatown in all of NYC – far superior to its Manhattan counterpart. You can find any Asian food your heart and stomach desires here. So hop on the 7 train, get off at Flushing/Main Street, and prepare yourself for the deliciousness you’re about to consume. To sample a lot of different foods, hit up the Food Court at the New World Mall, which has a variety of authentic Chinese food, from noodles to hot pots. It gets crowded with locals and you have to stalk tables like you’re a Hawk looking for a mouse, but it’s worth it. Then try the Golden Shopping Mall – specifically the dumplings from corner stall Tianjin Dumpling House. This place alone is worth the trip to Flushing.
Not really a “secret” from New Yorkers, but a lot of tourists don’t bother with this spot because they’re busy checking out Central and Riverside Parks. Abandoned train tracks were turned into a winding city park with beautiful green spaces and a backdrop of street art, sculptures, and of course the enchanting NYC skyline. Hop on anywhere along its many entrances off 10th Avenue and take a stroll, have a seat, eat a snack, and enjoy the scenery. It truly embodies the idea of the concrete jungle.
Again, not a secret to most New Yorkers, but this old lighthouse/sailboat-turned-restaurant and bar next to the West Side Highway is a unique place to grab food or a beer while getting stunning views of Jersey City, Hoboken, and Manhattan, and most visitors don’t even know it’s there. Grab your beers and climb up to the top for the best seats in the house.
This small (as in, only a few square blocks) area in Brooklyn is like stepping back in time. Nestled between landmarks of urbanization – a Con Edison plant, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, cobblestone streets and old-fashioned looking storefronts give you a sense of the magic of the New York of Old. John Jackson, a ship builder, had a shipyard at the foot of Hudson Avenue and built houses nearby for his workers, and these historic districts – between Plymouth and Front Streets – are some of Brooklyn’s oldest residential neighborhoods. People refer to Vinegar Hill as a “jewel” of Brooklyn, and I tend to agree.