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Renwick Small pox hospital roosevelt island
Photograph: Shutterstock

Eight cool abandoned places in NYC

These crumbling tunnels, factories and institutions located across the five boroughs are an urban explorer’s dream

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Written by
Shaye Weaver
&
Clayton Guse
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New York City has dozens and dozens of famous spots that draw millions of tourists a year, but it's also home to abandoned bastions of the city's past that only urban explorers visit.

Despite the city's sheer density, there are still secret spaces that lie completely abandoned and are ripe for discovering, but they're also mainly off-limits, so have fun—but don't get yourself arrested for trespassing!

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best New York attractions

Abandoned places in NYC

Renwick Smallpox Hospital
Photograph: Shutterstock

Renwick Smallpox Hospital

Opened in: 1856
Abandoned in: 1950s
Find it: On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island

In the mid–19th century, New Yorkers had a lot more to worry about than rising rent prices or long lines for brunch—like, say, smallpox. By 1856 the disease had become such a problem for the city that a secluded hospital was constructed on what is now Roosevelt Island (and was then called Blackwell’s Island). The institution had expanded its mission by the turn of the century and received a pair of new wings that gave it its current shape before closing in the 1950s, when the hospital moved its operations to Queens. In 1972 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it became an official New York City Landmark four years later. These days the place is covered in ivy, and only its skeletal structure remains—which makes it an ideal location for anyone interested in conjuring the spirits of past Gothamites.

Red Hook Grain Terminal
Photograph: Shutterstock/Felix L

Red Hook Grain Terminal

Opened in: 1922
Abandoned in: 1965
Find it: 80 Halleck St, Brooklyn

The Red Hook Grain Terminal was envisioned as a key part of Brooklyn’s waterfront, but just three years after its construction critics wrote it off as “an expensive luxury.” Underutilized until it closed in 1965, the space now sits rotting at the mouth of the Gowanus Canal. The building is made up of a series of dilapidated 120-foot-tall silos, massive grain elevators and other infrastructure that create an urban explorer’s dream. It’s an eerie backdrop, for sure (something out of a Tim Burton film, if you ask us), and a relic of New York’s industrial past. But be warned: The black-mold–covered site is dangerous, and public entry is legally prohibited. That hasn’t stopped a number of adventurous visitors from exploring it in recent years and documenting their experience on Instagram.

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The New York State Pavilion
Photograph: Shutterstock/Felix L

The New York State Pavilion

Opened in: 1964
Abandoned in: 1966
Find it: South of Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park

When the World’s Fair came to Queens in 1964, the city pulled out all the stops, cooking up an expo that introduced New Yorkers to neato ideas like computers and credit cards. But arguably the coolest installation at the exhibition was this facility, which included a glorious open-air space dubbed the “Tent of Tomorrow” and a set of three observation towers. Since then the pavilion has been neglected; its floor has faded and its ceiling has been dismantled. The towers have been out of use for decades (unless you count the ending of Men in Black), and it’s hard to believe it was the pride of the city just 50 years ago.

North Brother Island Ruins
Photograph: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/reivax

North Brother Island Ruins

Opened in: 1885
Abandoned in: 1960s
Find it: West of Rikers Island, on the East River

Like Roosevelt Island, North Brother Island was first used as a site for treating and isolating patients afflicted with smallpox. By the 1940s it had become a refuge for patients with other deadly and contagious diseases like tuberculosis. The isolated spot has seen a deadly shipwreck and has housed World War II veterans, and it was considered as a potential extension site for Rikers Island. It’s now abandoned and off-limits to the public, though New York City Council has been planning to turn the island into a park and once again open it to the public.

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The Freedom Tunnel
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons/Stuart McAlpine

The Freedom Tunnel

Opened in: 1930s
Abandoned in: 1980
Find it: Riverside Park at 125th St

Lying beneath Riverside Park, the Freedom Tunnel has long been a fixture in the city’s urban-exploration lore. Freight trains ran here until 1980, and when regular operations on the tracks ended, the stretch became a haven for the homeless. During the ’80s the passageway developed into a sort of shantytown with its own underground society. Jennifer Toth’s 1993 book, The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, documents an alternate universe that existed here, with dozens of people forming a makeshift government and their own set of laws. Although it still draws plenty of urban explorers and graffiti artists today, it’s no longer the city-beneath-a-city that it was decades ago. In the mid-’90s, the ad hoc society was bulldozed and the tunnel chained off.

City Hall Subway Station
Photograph: Shutterstock/Felix L

City Hall Subway Station

Opened in: 1904
Abandoned in: 1945
Find it: Stay on the downtown 6 train after it leaves the Brooklyn Bridge station or take a dedicated tour to walk through it.

This classy-as-hell subway station has more of a fanbase these days, but for decades after it was built, it was the least-used stop in the subway system. It was the only one that didn't have turnstiles by 1923 and was farther from connecting streetcars. To make matters worse, it has a curved platform, which made it difficult for subway cars with center doors to open there.

It seems like a travesty because it has beautiful Gustavino vaulted ceilings and skylights—something many New Yorkers would appreciate in stations nowadays. 

No train stops here even to this day, but you can see it pass by you if you stay on the 6 train past the Brooklyn Bridge stop. Tip: Sit in the 7th, 8th or 9th car for the best view, according to Atlas Obscura.

 

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The Tugboat Graveyard
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Tugboat Graveyard

Opened in: 1930
Find it: Arthur Kill in Rossville, near the Fresh Kills Landfill, on the West Shore of Staten Island

There's a place where boats go to die, or at least, there used to be. It's called the Arthur Kill boat graveyard and it's located in between Staten Island and New Jersey.

When you see it from the shore, you'll see rusted metal parts and actual tug boats sticking out of the water like stuck in mid-sink.

The graveyard is a ghostly reminder of New York's shipping industry history. The Witte Marine Equipment Company used to scrap and deconstructed old tugboats, barges and ferries and over the last century, they just accumulated on the shore.

It's not technically abandoned, however, it's not used as a scrapyard for ships anymore. Curious (and brave?) people now tour it via boats and kayaks because of its eerie atmosphere.

Dead Horse Bay
Photograph: Shutterstock

Dead Horse Bay

Opened in: 1972
Find it: Gateway National Recreation Area (but don't go looking)

Can a beach be abandoned? Maybe not, but this particular stretch of oceanfront isn't one the masses seek out and there's a very good reason for that—it's full of trash (and now radiation). Back in the 1850s, the marshland and beach were surrounded by horse rendering plants (where dead horses were made into glue and fertilizer), garbage incinerators, and oil factories. The horses' remains were just dumped into the water. As you can imagine, it wasn't a pleasant scene. Around the turn of the 20th century, when horses were being replaced with automobiles, Dead Horse Bay became a landfill. By the 1930s, the dump was capped off, but that cap broke in the 50s, leaking garbage onto the beach. The junk—bottles, shoe leather, bits of plastic and a ton of other pieces of trash—still continues to wash ashore.

Unfortunately, in August 2020, the National Parks Service closed Dead Horse Bay to the public after it found radiological contamination. NPS says the cleanup could take many years, which means it'll be abandoned in the meantime.

Looking to do more secret things in NYC?

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