The Hidden Gems of New York

Tips and Guides, New York,

From obscure museums to spectacular art installations, from quirky shops to beautiful gardens, New York City is an absolute treasure trove of wonderful and unique locations to visit. Considering all of the fantastic lesser-known locations available, we have put together this guide to introduce you to the hidden gems of New York, highlighting the city’s best-kept secrets.

Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins

Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins

There’s a wealth of history to uncover in New York and one of the area’s best lesser-known locations to visit during your New York holiday has to be the Smallpox Hospital Ruins on Roosevelt Island. Smallpox was one of Earth’s most deadly diseases and in New York during the 19th century, the infected were kept in a hospital on what is now known as Roosevelt Island. Today the hospital is but a ruin, abandoned in the 1950s, but the architecture found here is quite something and a living reminder of a dark period in human history.

A self-guided tour of Roosevelt Island, such as the one described by Free Tours by Foot, might be the best way to see the ruins for yourself while also enjoying the island’s other attractions. We were very pleased to hear from Courtney Shapiro of Free Tours by Foot, who told us all about visiting this mysterious attraction and why visiting the site is so highly recommended:

“Many New Yorkers - and travellers alike - enjoy learning NYC’s history by visiting actual historic locations instead of just reading about places in a book. The Smallpox Hospital is fascinating to many New Yorkers because it is an old crumbling building on an island right smack in the middle of the river flanked on both sides by the modern world of glass and steel buildings. It stands out like a sore thumb. It is intriguing because it is somewhat eerie. For many years it was utterly abandoned and fenced off. People liked to go late at night to see it and enjoy getting spooked out. Who doesn't like haunted houses? (We actually have several haunted house tours!)

“There are also legends about the building. Many uninformed people like to think it is an abandoned insane asylum. Although smallpox is not as mysterious as an 'insane asylum', it is deadly and in NYC in the 1800s the disease was so contagious and deadly that this hospital was built for smallpox sufferers only, and specifically built on an island to keep the sick away from the general population.”

Roosevelt Island statue

Courtney also spoke to us about the self-guided tours from Free Tours by Foot and why they suggest visiting Roosevelt Island:

“The number one reason is for the views. First, taking the tram to and from the island is one of the best views you can get of ALL of New York City. It's a short ride but an incredible one. Once on the island, you have views all around. It is spectacular! Secondly, it is very relaxing to stroll around the island which is like a small town in a way. There are nice green lawns for picnicking with the best views all around. You see a different side of the Big Apple. And lastly, for those who like hidden urban gems, this is certainly one. Very few visitors know about Roosevelt Island. For urban explorers, it is a real treat. (You might also want to look at our City Hall Subway Station post - now THAT is a great gem! Also, our post on the Chrysler Building which has an incredible lobby from the art deco era. Most people don't know you can walk in and look around – and they should!)

“As for using our self-guided tour as opposed to just going without some guidance, it is a very helpful guide. Not only is there a map, but also one gets much more from their visit because of the information and history we share, as well as practical information about getting there.”

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

When visiting New York, especially during the hot summer months, a delicious ice cream will certainly go down a treat, and for one of the best such experiences in the city, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is an absolute must. A family-run operation, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been delighting customers in the heart of New York with their homemade ice cream for decades.

Open every day between 11am and 10pm at their 65 Bayard St location, this unofficial NYC landmark told us: “People can expect to enjoy delicious homemade ice cream and friendly service.  In rapidly changing NYC, CICF has stayed a familiar neighbourhood staple. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (CICF) is celebrating its 40th year in business. CICF has been an NYC favourite for locals, tourists, and celebrities.” They also reveal that they are “innovators of flavours like lychee, green tea, sesame and almond cookie. We carry around 40 flavours at a time and our ice cream is made fresh daily.”

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory offers a host of spectacular flavours such as pumpkin pie, black sesame, mocha chip, and even newly created flavours like ‘maple bacon’ and ‘NYC cupcake’. And for those with a larger appetite, don’t forget to try their signature Chinese ice cream cakes with three layers of goodness!

New York Academy of Medicine Library

New York Academy of Medicine Library

Image Credit: The New York Academy of Medicine Library

Offering occasional public tours in the day, as well as the odd lecture and event during the evening, the New York Academy of Medicine Library on Fifth Avenue has a true aura about it, with its open-by-appointment-only nature further adding to its mystique. This hidden rare book library is home to a plethora of knowledge regarding the human anatomy, containing texts of endless fascination and historical worth.

The staff at the New York Academy of Medicine Library revealed to us a few of this fascinating location’s secrets: “The New York Academy of Medicine’s Drs. Barry and Bobbi Rare Book Reading Room looks much as it did when it first opened in 1933, with its period cork floors, Caldwell light fixtures with ornamental printer’s devices, and wooden bookshelves.

“The real showstoppers, however, are the library’s astonishing collections in the history of science, the history of medicine, and the culinary arts. Among the highlights is the oldest cookbook in the West, Apicius’ de re culinaria, early works on surgery including a 15th-century manuscript by Guy de Chauliac, and first editions of Vesalius’ watershed anatomy and William Harvey’s influential 1628 text on the circulation of the blood.

“The library is open by appointment Tuesday to Friday to researchers (the only medial rare book library of its kind in New York open to the public). The library hosts public tours of the rare book room and collection highlights on the first Monday of every month at noon (excluding holidays), and the Academy also opens its doors during Open House New York in October for architectural tours of its historic 1962 building, including the library.”

Lexington Candy Shop

Lexington Candy Shop

Image Credit: Lexington Candy Shop

A long-time feature of the New York food scene, Lexington Candy Shop is a family-run luncheonette (for three generations) that excels in serving up great food and drinks with an old-fashioned sensibility, to both locals and visitors alike. If you are looking to simultaneously enjoy some wonderful grub and sample a little NYC history in the process, this charming establishment should of course be on your radar.

Lexington Candy Shop explained to us what visitors can look forward to when walking through their doors: “With our spinning stools, Terrazzo floors, Formica lunch counters, comfy green booths and classic American food since 1925, no trip to the Upper East Side would be complete without a visit to the oldest original New York City Luncheonette for our delicious Milkshake (Voted #1 in New York), our New York Egg Cream, or our famous Butter Burger! We’re on the corner of 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue, just three blocks from Museum Mile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and a short walk from the Frick Collection, Met Breuer and Guggenheim Museums. So, come take a step back in time, and enjoy fountain drinks made the old fashioned way! And breakfast is available all day!!”

Holographic Studios

Holographic Studios

Ever been to a hologram gallery? Well, New York happens to be home to the oldest in the world – a hidden gem that deserves seeking out while visiting the city. Expert holographer Jason Sapan has been creating holographic images from his laser lab for decades and his Holographic Studios are able to offer classes, tours, gifts and hologram portraits to those that come by – they have even been featured by the Smithsonian for a recent article.

To find out more regarding what happens at Holographic Studios, we spoke to Jason Sapan himself, who told us why those looking for NYC hidden gems should seek out his studio: “In a city as unique as New York, Holographic Studios may well be the most unique place to visit. Located in a former blacksmith's forge, our gallery of three-dimensional images consistently receives top ratings on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, and Google. We have been at the same location since the 1970s, making us the world's oldest gallery of this amazing technology. We offer tours and classes. You can even sit for your own holographic portrait. 

“A visit to the Holographic Studios is unlike any big box attraction,” Jason explains, “it is a one of a kind local experience that is both amazing and fun for the whole family. On display in our gallery are holographic portraits of celebrities including Andy Warhol, Prime Minister Edward Heath, President Bill Clinton, among others. We have a variety of types of holograms from around the world on exhibit. 

And describing the art form for those unfamiliar, Jason says: “If you decide to take one of our tours you will get to visit our subterranean laser laboratory that is right out of Back to the Future. Imagine seeing pictures where the images literally jump right out of the wall. Some of our holograms are like what you have seen in films like Star Wars but real. You'll see things that you have never seen before. Images that seem so real that you will think they are there, but they are actually holographic images recorded with lasers on film.”

If you’re interested in finding out more, head on over to Holographic’s Facebook page and find them on Instagram @doc_laser.

Mysterious Bookshop

Mysterious Bookshop

Avid reader and book connoisseur? Well, a trip to the illustrious Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street will be a treat to savour. The world’s oldest bookstore that purely specialises in the genres of mystery, crime fiction, espionage, and thrillers, Mysterious Bookshop isn’t just home to countless hidden gems on its shelves but is itself one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

Pulling back the curtain for us, we spoke to Mike Durell of Mysterious Bookshop (pictured above), who revealed the pleasures on offer for those visiting: “The Mysterious Bookshop is a traditional brick and mortar store, complete with ladders to reach the tall bookshelves and a sofa for browsers to relax on as they peruse prospective purchases. About the only thing we lack is a fireplace and a store cat/dog! The atmosphere and ambience are among the things that people either expect or are pleasantly surprised by along with a crackerjack staff, brimming with knowledge of crime fiction past and present.

“We carry books in all mystery genres and for all budgets, so if you are a veteran of crime fiction, we are able to show you a title or an author that you may not have considered; if you are new to us, we can help you get started on your journey! For example, if you've been reading traditionalists like Agatha or John Dickson Carr, perhaps you'd like to try a thriller, perhaps you just saw Goldfinger and would like to read the original novel, or perhaps you have a plane/train ride coming up and would like a page turner to pass the time--we can assist you with all this and more!

“Most of our current titles are signed first editions,” Mike explains, “which is a boon to collectors and a pleasant surprise to newer customers and collectors-to-be. Many of the top ranked authors are personal friends of the shop and come in to sign stock when they have a new release. Visitors to the shop may well run into an author they've been dying to meet! ‘Dying to meet?' See what I did there? We also have frequent author events which are open to the public.

“For the visitor to NYC, we are located very near several attractions, such as the World Trade Center, Battery Park, the Staten Island Ferry (which is free, don't let anyone sell you a ticket!), The Woolworth Building, City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge, and lots more! Easy to get to, as several subway lines are within easy walking distance, as are numerous eateries.”

Mike wraps up his introduction to this incredible NYC location by telling us: “There's no doubt that mystery readers are the most loyal and enthusiastic of bibliophiles, and it's no mystery why it's the Mysterious Bookshop for the very best in crime fiction! Oh, and did I mention our True Crime section?”



Image Credit: Mmuseumm

Have you ever been to a museum inside a freight elevator? Well, that’s just what is on offer at Mmuseumm on Cortlandt Alley between Franklin St & White St. Not exactly an experience to while away the afternoon, but Mmuseumm is nonetheless a fascinating hidden gem and not to mention unique.

Housing a curated display of artefacts that specialises in overlooked and ignored items, this fascinating location has included exhibits like ‘personal possessions found in the Pacific’, a collection of religious tokens (such as gluten-free Holy Water), and the infamous shoe allegedly thrown at George W. Bush. Mmuseumm was created by a trio of filmmakers and for those interested in taking a peek, you can even book a guided tour to really discover its secrets.

Bronx Little Italy

Bronx Little Italy

Image Credit: Belmont BID

It’s not just individual shops, museums, and attractions that are worthy of praise during your New York stay, as the city is full of whole neighbourhoods that demand a visit. Once such place is Little Italy in the Bronx, known by many New Yorkers as a premium destination for bread, pasta, meat and the best Italian sausage in the city. Some, however, even NY residents, are unwise to its delights, but for those visiting, we can assure you this is a hidden gem to treasure.

We spoke to Bronx Little Italy, the official website for the area, to uncover a little of what’s in store for visitors: “Walking through the Belmont section of the Bronx, often referred to as Bronx Little Italy, is truly a unique experience. Throughout our vibrant community is a thriving business district that not only includes world-class restaurants but also high-quality artisanal food shops and speciality stores carrying superb handmade local and imported items.

“To this day, a majority of the businesses are still owned and operated by the same families that started them over a century ago. Visitors love the experience of feeling like they’re a part of the close-knit community. There are wonderful attractions to experience here as well, as we are home to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and the Enrico Fermi Italian Cultural Institute, and just steps away from the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden.”

And regarding the atmosphere to be found in this fascinating area of New York, Bronx Little Italy told us: “There is a strong sense of authentic Italian culture that comes from the generations of Italian families who have given the area a special small-town character unique for an urban setting. There are impressions of family and community everywhere you turn. Most of all, however, it’s probably the consumable goods that visitors enjoy the most when visiting.

“The neighbourhood is bustling with an eclectic mix of fine artisanal shops that carry the richest coffee, carefully selected produce, handmade mozzarella, sweetest pastries, heavenly pasta, freshest fish, high-quality meats, and fine wine. Visitors can also enjoy a delightful dining experience that offers a wealth and breadth of fine Italian cuisine all within a short walk of Bronx Little Italy. Visitors leave with the stomachs full, their hands stocked with goods, and a smile on their face!”

Keens Steakhouse

Keens Steakhouse

One of the most attractive aspects of New York is its great food and rich history, so why not head on over to Keens Steakhouse and enjoy both to a tremendous degree? Keens Steakhouse not only has a delicious traditional menu but is also notable for its world-renowned collection of clay pipes on display, many of which were held for presidents, writers, and other notable celebrities (Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain being two prominent inclusions).

We were delighted to hear from Keens Steakhouse, who divulged to us just what sets them apart from other fine eating establishments: “Keens is a wonderful place to visit because it is an authentic historical restaurant that was flourishing in the early 1900s and continues to flourish today. The outside of the restaurant gives the illusion that it is smaller than it is. It is unique in many ways, pipe club and such but above all convivial and warm. Plus the food is delicious.”

And regarding their impressive menu, as well as what else visitors can expect to enjoy, Keens told us: “Many of the menu items have been on the menus for years, such as mutton chop, Dover sole, kings cut, prime rib of beef, filet mignon and porterhouse. Our meats are hand-selected and then dry-aged on premise. Our lunch menu has steaks but also lunch salads and lighter dishes. 

“We also have a Pub Menu which is available in the Pub and Main Bar (we'll actually offer it anywhere when requested). It has sandwiches, burgers and more casual fare if you are looking for a lighter dish day or night. Many guests try the mutton chop (saddle cut of lamb) as it is synonymous with Keens. When I have friends and family, we usually share the mutton and a porterhouse for two with traditional sides such as creamed spinach and baked potato. Still, many guests prefer a filet and the Dover sole is authentic and delicious.”

The Evolution Store

The Evolution Store

Image Credit: The Evolution Store

As already demonstrated, there are a true plethora of fascinating locations to discover when visiting New York on a cruise holiday deal, and a trip to The Evolution Store should certainly be high on the agenda. Located on 687 Broadway, Evolution is incredibly distinctive, kitted out with a spectacular collection of natural history artefacts and collectables.

We spoke to The Evolution Store to find out more about what visitors can expect to discover: “The Evolution Store is such a wonderful place to visit when in New York because we offer a museum-quality atmosphere where everything is totally accessible. Our sales associates are extremely knowledgeable and patient and love to talk to customers about the amazing variety of items we have available.

“People can expect to see framed insects, fossils, minerals, taxidermy, bones, jewellery and home decor inspired by those items when they visit. They can enjoy our wide variety of gifts starting at just $1 and take in one-of-a-kind specimens, such as our fossil cave bear and our giant meteorite.”

This landmark of the SoHo art district is the place to be for science and natural history goodies, perfect for gits, and as you will find out upon visiting, The Evolution Store is easily one of NYC’s best-kept secrets.

The Museum of the American Gangster

The Museum of the American Gangster

Tucked away in a theatre that once specialised in showcasing classic films, The Museum of the American Gangster contains a bevy of fascinating items regarding a notorious era of American history. The museum spoke to us about what’s inside and about the fascinating buildings itself, which all make for a must-visit New York attraction:

“The Museum of the American Gangster has been praised in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian Magazine, but, most importantly, people who visit find the New York they came to see and which is becoming lost. It has wonderful and unique objects, from the bullets from the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, or a fully automatic 12 gauge machine gun shotgun, to an intact nightclub speakeasy from Prohibition, complete with underground tunnels, once frequented by Al Capone.

“A lucky few can book to stay in the townhouse, home of the curator (connected to the museum) and hear first-hand, how, as a child, he and his father found two million dollars in Prohibition cash, and how his father gave it to the ‘wrong gangster.’

“It is a one-stop New York day for those who love history and theatre. The former speakeasy-nightclub is now the site of the famous mid-sized theatre, Theatre 80 Saint Marks, and the William Barnacle Tavern, both considered must-see stops in New York by travel magazines and tour guides.”

National Museum of Mathematics

National Museum of Mathematics

Image Credit: The National Museum of Mathematics

New York is well known for its museums, but one you might not be aware of is the illuminating and thoroughly educational National Museum of Mathematics. With its dynamic exhibits and vibrant galleries, the museum looks to highlight the vital role of mathematics in allowing us to discover the patterns and structures all around us.

“The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath),” the team told us, “makes math cool and fun for folks from five to 105. The only math museum in North America, MoMath's mission is to change perceptions about mathematics. The Museum strives to enhance public understanding and appreciation of mathematics, offering a space where the math-challenged, as well as math enthusiasts of all backgrounds and levels, can enjoy the infinite beauty of mathematics. Currently celebrating its fifth anniversary, MoMath has reached more than 1.5 million people from around the world.”

The museum, which can be found on 11 East 26th Street and is open seven days a week, also explained: “MoMath has more than three dozen unique, state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits that make math fun and accessible for everyone. Its dynamic exhibits and engaging programs are designed to stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of mathematics.

“At MoMath, sometimes the seemingly impossible becomes possible, such as tricycles that roll smoothly on square wheels and a twisted race car track that has just one single side. And the Museum’s broad range of programs reach visitors of every age and background. Most recently, MoMath debuted a new math/art exhibition, “Reflections: Geometries of the Reflected World," that explores the intriguing geometries of the reflected world through more than 20 interactive experiences and objects revealing profound mathematical truths about the nature of space.”

Houdini Museum of New York

Houdini Museum of New York

Harry Houdini is a name known around the world, a master escape artist that thrilled and amazed throughout his magical career before his death in 1926. Houdini Museum of New York is a great testament to his life and work, looking to inspire individuals of all ages to achieve their goals. The museum presents hundreds of rare pieces that were used by and belonged to Houdini, including such items as rare publicity posters, escape restraints, magic props, and items from his movies. The museum’s archives are so large that there are many pieces that have never even been on display to the public – It’s without question an NYC attraction to mark down. Houdini Museum of New York is situated at Fantasma Magic and has free admission seven days a week.

Obscura Antiques and Oddities

For a truly unique and unusual attraction to visit during your time in New York, Obscura Antiques and Oddities in Manhattan’s East Village is a hidden gem that demands inclusion on your itinerary. Known as NYC’s oldest oddities emporium, Obscura greets visitors with a plethora of odd bits and bobs from the world of medical, scientific, and natural history. This charming store is full to the brim with bizarre gifts, containing the likes of prosthetic limbs, medical art prints, and Victorian mourning jewellery. Quite unlike any shop you will have ever visited before, Obscura Antiques and Oddities will surprise and intrigue all that enter. If you’re looking for a truly unique gift to bring back home, this is the place to get it.

The Explorers Club

The Explorers Club was founded in 1904 by leading polar explorers and has fostered scientific exploration ever since. Located in a Jacobean revival mansion which operates as the club’s international headquarters, the building is a gold mine of exploration related treasures and polar artefacts. From a sled used in the 1909 North Pole expedition to a truly impressive collection of books, maps and films that number in the thousands. The Explorers Club HQ has become a valuable tool for researchers, enthusiasts, and journalists, and it’s not hard to see why. If you fancy taking a look yourself, make sure to visit their website for a full schedule of events open to the public.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

New York is also home to many impressive outdoor attractions that are perfect for visiting during your time in the city. One location you might not have heard of is Brooklyn Botanic Garden, an urban oasis that achieves great success in connecting people with the natural world. Founded in 1910, Brooklyn Botanic Garden today represents urban gardening and horticultural display at its finest. Plant lovers and gardeners will be fascinated by the delights living in its immaculately cultivated environments, with plants such as the starfish-lily, Chinese witch hazel, and Higan cherry bonsai all present. And with a garden shop of plants and gifts, along with the Yellow Magnolia Café, a trip to this New York treasure easily becomes a perfect day out. 

Trinity Place Bar & Restaurant

NYC is replete with terrific dining experiences but none perhaps are quite as unique as Trinity Place Bar & Restaurant. A truly impressive environment for great food and drink, this bar and restaurant is located in an old bank vault beneath a Manhattan skyscraper – talk about a hidden gem! With its impressive vault door still in position, Trinity Place operates as a premier fine dining destination in the heat of the financial district. With a menu that serves both lunch and dinner, guests can look forward to sumptuous dishes like filet mignon and pan-roasted day boat scallops. There’s even a bar menu to indulge in, offering up mouth-watering delights such as mini Kobe cheeseburgers and pulled pork sliders. If this all takes your fancy, make sure you reserve a table for a meal to remember.

Tannen’s Magic Store

Hidden gems and tucked away establishments are quite common in New York but if Tannen’s Magic Store isn’t on your to-do list you are doing yourself a big disservice. Tannen’s, New York’s oldest magic shop, has been providing tricks and secrets to magicians since 1925 and has been patronised by any magician worth his salt during its time. Found in Midtown, Tannen’s Magic Store has untold magical items for sale and will surely delight families young and old during their visit. Invisible paint, rabbit producing hats, magic canes, and multiplying billiard balls are all available at Tannen’s. And if you didn’t manage to pick up all that you desired during your trip, the shop even has an online store to fulfil your needs.

NYC skyline

If you’ve been inspired by the above hidden gems and best kept secrets, and want to head to the Big Apple to discover what’s on offer for yourself, make sure to take a look at our page of cruises to New York.


Image Credit: Edsel Little, Ed, NPS Photo, Dan