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New York attractions: Top ten lesser-known NYC attractions

Check out ten of our favorite lesser-known New York attractions, and learn about the history of these quirky, fascinating landmarks.

Photograph: Tom Olcott

In 2011, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation opened this visitors’ center at the former shipbuilding complex, offering information on the facility and its connection to the surrounding neighborhoods. Plan an afternoon trip to check out its inaugural exhibits: “Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future” examines the historical significance and future plans for the space, while “War Photojournalists” showcases the work of photographers such as João Silva, Lynsey Addario and the late Tim Hetherington. Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Ave between Adelphi St and Carlton Ave, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (bldg92.org). Wed–Sun noon–6pm; free.

Photograph: Alex Strada

City Reliquary Museum
This tiny Brooklyn storefront is devoted to New York history, with a collection that includes trinkets from the 1964 World’s Fair, a scale model of the USS Monitor (the Civil War steamship was built in Greenpoint) and other odd ephemera. What distinguishes it from other city-focused museums is its devotion to esoterica; where else could you find hand-drawn illustrations of city landmarks alongside an exhibit on one of NYC’s largest suppliers of umbrellas? (The latter, an upcoming show devoted to the Embee Sunshade Company, opens in early August.) 370 Metropolitan Ave at Havemeyer St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-782-4842, cityreliquary.org). Thu–Sun noon–6pm.

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

Green-Wood Cemetery
This Brooklyn burial ground has long been one of the city’s more celebrated offbeat attractions: In the 1860s, it competed with Niagara Falls as the most popular tourist spot in the state. Nowadays, the crowds flock to nearby Prospect Park, but there’s still plenty to see at this space: The cemetery is the final resting place for a plethora of notable New Yorkers, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and William “Boss” Tweed. It’s also home to one of the highest points in the borough, Battle Hill—from its peak, you can see far-off parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. 500 25th St at Fifth Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-768-7300, green-wood.com). Daily 8am–5pm.


Hall of Fame for Great Americans
Founded in 1900, this is the country’s original hall of fame. Its main architectural feature, a 630-foot-high, open-air colonnade with panoramic views of the Cloisters across the Harlem River, is home to 98 bronze busts, including those of Alexander Graham Bell, Eli Whitney and George Westinghouse. (The final bust, which was added in 1992, depicts President Franklin Roosevelt.) 2155 University Ave at 181st St, Bronx (718-289-5910, www.bcc.cuny.edu/halloffame)

Photograph: Jook Leung

Merchant’s House Museum
If it’s an encounter with the paranormal you’re after, your best bet is this preserved 19th-century townhouse where the Treadwell family once lived. Reportedly, the ghost of Gertrude Treadwell, one of the clan’s daughters, haunts the building (as the story goes, she was forbidden to marry her true love, and died alone in 1933 at the age of 93). The home embraces its spooky past during Halloween, when rooms are decked out in the traditional trappings of a 19th-century funeral. 29 E 4th St between Bowery and Lafayette St (212-777-1089, merchantshouse.org). Mon, Thu–Sun noon–5pm; $10, students and seniors $5.

Photograph: Courtesy the Paley Center for Media

The Paley Center for Media
Other institutions in the city may hold great works of art and precious artifacts, but we’re quite fond of this museum, which is devoted to pop culture. Formerly the Museum of Television and Radio (it was renamed for founder William Paley in 2007), the center’s collection features nearly 150,000 clips from TV shows, radio programs, podcasts and more. Plus, you can mingle with other TV addicts during its public programs: Upcoming events include a discussion between Homicide cocreators Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (Aug 16) and a talk with journalist Christiane Amanpour (Sept 28). 25 W 52nd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-621-6600, paleycenter.org). Wed, Fri–Sun noon–6pm, Thu noon–8pm. $10, seniors and students $8, children under 14 $5.

Photograph: Courtesy the Queens Museum of Art

The Panorama of the City of New York
Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, this scale model of the five boroughs features more than 800,000 of the city’s buildings (including every single one constructed before 1992) and many of its bridges, all rendered in painstaking detail. Since the last overhaul, recent additions include Citi Field in 2009, and  Brooklyn Bridge Park in March 2012. It’s awe-inspiring to look at, but you can also put your name on a piece of the work, thanks to the Queens Museum’s Adopt-a-Building program—a $50 donation lets you “own” a structure, from your apartment building to a restaurant or shop. (Iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building cost more.) Queens Museum of Art, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, near 111th St and 49th Ave entrance, Flushing, Queens (718-592-9700, queensmuseum.org). Wed–Sun noon–6pm; suggested donation $5, seniors and children $2.50, members and children under 5 free.


Roosevelt Island
It’s unlikely that this small East River isle will stay under the radar for long: Cornell will open a campus there in the coming years, and the fancy new Four Freedoms Park (so named for the principles outlined in FDR’s 1941 State of the Union address) is slated for completion in October. The mostly residential space (which is technically part of Manhattan) is full of quirks, notably the fact that the easiest method of getting there involves a four-minute trip on the city’s only commuter tram. A Gothic-style lighthouse stands at the island’s northern tip, and the creepy ruins of the Smallpox Hospital (which operated from the mid-19th century until the 1950s) at the southern end are a part of Southpoint Park, which opened in 2011.

Photograph: Steven L. Cohen

Socrates Sculpture Park
In 1986, artists and activists created this 4.5-acre city park over a landfill. Now it hosts large-scale sculpture exhibits year-round, along with free community programming. Neighborhood residents can pick up fresh food at a Greenmarket on the park’s grounds, and free yoga, tai chi and capoeira classes are offered throughout the week. 32-01 Vernon Blvd at Broadway, Long Island City, Queens (718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org). Mon–Fri 10am–6pm; free.

Photograph: Wendy Connett

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden
It’s worth hopping on the ferry to visit this multidisciplinary art center. Once a 19th-century seamen’s retirement home, Snug Harbor now has a second life at the center of Staten Island’s cultural scene, set amid 83 parklike acres of waterfront space, Greek Revival architecture and internationally themed gardens, including the Chinese Scholar’s and Tuscan landscapes. 1000 Richmond Terr between Snug Harbor Rd and Tysen St, Staten Island (718-448-2500, snug-harbor.org)

We love the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building as much as the next tourist, but the city is full of equally impressive—and less well-known—things to do. Read on for our top 10 lesser-known New York attractions, including the country's first Hall of Fame, a museum devoted to quirky NYC artifacts, and a tiny scale model of the city.

RECOMMENDED: 50 best New York attractions


John W
John W

There's an excellent bike tour company in Brooklyn called Get Up and Ride (http://www.getupandride.com) that makes a stop at Building 92 in the Navy Yard AND takes you up to the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm. My wife and I did a tour this past week, it was fantastic.


location on #2 totally wrong. it is at grand & Havemeyer



Steve Streicher
Steve Streicher

One very fun and easy thing to do in NYC that I would absolutely add to this list is volunteering with New York Cares. You can just go to newyorkcares.org, click 'Search Projects' and find all sorts of projects that meet your schedule and your interests. The few I've been on have been very worthwhile and I felt like I made a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers in need.

CArol Sheinkopf
CArol Sheinkopf

CAn you please tell me how I can get a copy of your issue in April, 2012: 27 Ways to Find an Apartment in NYC. Thanks, Carol Sheinkopf csheinkopf@gmail.com


Great places to know for a NY fanatic who gets bored with T Square and Emp. State Bdg. and wants to reach avery tinny corner of this city, planning my nexttrip from Argentina this will help for sure!! Thanks


Attractions around nyc


Although the last slide in the set, Snug Harbor Cultural Center is definitely worth a visit. Plan to stay for several hours to enjoy the gardens, gallery, museums and historical buildings. If arriving by ferry, use the #40 bus awaiting you at ramp D. Upon returning to the ferry, stop off at the Staten Island Museum on Stuyevsant Place.


The Hall of Fame of Great Americans IS in the Bronx.... read the article before you complain (or know your borough better...)


Surprise! Nothing from the Bronx, the Borough-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

Nomi W
Nomi W

@meep Bronx Botanical Gardens are an oasis in a chuck full of energy city. Especially interesting is current exhibiti "Celebrate Great American Gardens of the Early 20th Century and the Extraordinary Women Who Designed Them". 

Then Arthur Ave is  not too far away - for a non touristy Italian treat.