During my summer in New York City, I finally got around to seeing parts of the city that I never had time for on previous, shorter visits. With all the tourist attractions checked off the list, this time I wanted to uncover spots that tourists, and even some locals, usually don’t visit.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t – and here’s why: each one of these stops offers a completely authentic view of New York City, whether it’s insight into the way the city really runs and what makes it tick or actually providing unique views of the Manhattan skyline.
1. Take the ferry to Governors Island
Governors Island is a small 172-acre (70 ha) island, about half a mile from the southern tip of Manhattan. The island used to be a fort and military outpost for centuries, and has only been open to the public since 2006. Now, visitors can take the short ferry ride from Brooklyn or Manhattan during the summer months and enjoy an artificial beach, giant green spaces and a cycle path around the island when they feel they need to get away from Big City life. You can still see historic buildings there, like Castle Williams and Fort Jay, both built in the 18th century, or just enjoy the gorgeous views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. You can rent bikes there (or bring your bike on the ferry), bring a picnic or enjoy a meal from the food trucks on the island, or explore the island on foot. Currently, only the northeastern half of the island is open to the public, but the southwestern half is being redeveloped and will be opened as a park and picnic area soon. Noteworthy events include Figment, an annual participatory art festival, photography exhibitions, the skate truck and several art fairs.
How to get there: Free ferries run on weekends from Brooklyn’s Pier 6 and Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building (about every thirty minutes, see the full ferry schedule here). East River Ferries also docks at Governors Island, connecting it with Williamsburg and offering further stops (Wall Street in Manhattan, DUMBO and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and 34th Street in Manhattan) – here, East River Ferry ticket prices apply ($4 one-way, an additional $1 for bikes).
2. Get out to Red Hook
Red Hook in Brooklyn is one of the ‘up-and-coming’ neighborhoods in the city, expected to grow in a way similar to trendy Williamsburg, which has become the area with the highest hipster population in New York. Red Hook is not quite there, but well on its way with independent stores, restaurants and art galleries arriving over the last few years and rejuvenating the formerly decaying waterfront community. Red Hook’s biggest challenge is its location – way out on a peninsula southwest of Carroll Gardens, bordering on the Hudson River. Strangely enough, IKEA is helping them overcome that hurdle, having opened there recently and bringing in an upswing of visitors with their free water taxi available from Manhattan each weekend.
While it was formerly a mainly industrial area, you’ll now find cute restaurants that take pride in using local ingredients, creative shops and galleries, a large community garden, seafood pubs and bars with views over the water, and more businesses opening on a monthly basis. There is even an artisan chocolate factory and a distillery where you can take free tours. The 20-minute ferry ride from Manhattan’s Pier 11 alone is worth the trip, offering the same spectacular views that the ferry to Governors Island has, but going way beyond that. There are several walkways along the waterfront, piers that are featuring art projects now, and at the Louis Valentino Jr park right at the Hudson River you can rent kayaks during the summer months or just enjoy the views of the Statue of Liberty across the bay. Most of the restaurants and shops are located on Van Brunt Street and the surrounding roads.
How to get there: The cheapest way to get here is via the free IKEA ferry that runs for free on weekends (every 20 minutes from 11am). There is an additional stop at Van Brunt Street so you can get out there instead of going all the way to IKEA and then walk back. The ferry also runs on weekdays, but charges $5 one way. The closest subway stops are Carroll Street or Smith-Ninth Street on the F and G train. The B61 bus goes all the way to Downtown Brooklyn and stops at the Smith-Ninth Street Subway Station. The B57 bus also goes to Downtown Brooklyn.
3. Discover the Elevated Acre
The Elevated Acre is, as the name indicates, an acre of green space on an elevated level between Lower Manhattan’s massive skyscrapers. We were surprised to find out how few New Yorkers actually knew about this space, even though it is just around the corner from Pier 11 and from Wall Street. Tourists haven’t found out about this lovely spot either, even though hotel booking websites offer many hotels within in walking distance from this rooftop park.
While it is packed with office workers during the weekday lunch hours, this is a great little hidden spot with superb views over the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island. Get here early, bring a book and a coffee and while away for an hour or so. The Elevated Acre also has a seven-tiered amphitheater and movies are shown here at night during the summer.
4. Take the aerial tramway to Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island is another little island in the East River that is worth a visit. Tucked in between Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Queens, this long, but narrow island stretches over two miles (3 km) from Manhattan’s East 46th to East 85th Streets, but only has a maximum width of 800 feet (240 m). Even though the island itself doesn’t have much on it other than residential apartment blocks, there is a lovely waterfront park on the island’s south side, Southpoint Park, that makes for a great spot to take your date on and watch the sunset from. You can also walk up to the Northpoint Lighthouse, which dates back to 1872. The views over Manhattan’s East Side are lovely, and the best way to see them is actually from the areal Roosevelt Island Tramway (which you might recognize from the last Spiderman movie), the best way to arrive on the island. Plan an hour or two to walk around the park or bring a picnic for a relaxed afternoon.
How to get here: The most scenic way to arrive is via the Roosevelt Island Tramway which leaves from 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th Street and takes you high up above the roofs of Manhattan. You can use the tramway with your MTA metro pass. Make sure to get a spot near the front window and don’t worry about all the locals on there rolling their eyes as you vie for the best spot to take pictures. They could have easily taken the F Train, which also stops on Roosevelt Island, so they’re doing this for the views, too!
5. MoMa PS1 (and 5 Pointz)
5 Pointz and MoMa PS1 are not to be missed by art and street art fans alike. Located on Long Island City just across the street from each other, both locations can be visited in a couple of hours. MoMa PS1 belong’s to the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art), but focuses on cooler, edgier exhibitions. It’s located in a former school and the exhibits you find here are more cutting-edge and thought-provoking than the pieces that you find at its famous sister in Manhattan. There is also an ever-changing architectural garden. If you want to party like a New Yorker, check out the free weekly dance parties during the summer months.
*UPDATE MAY 2014*
I just returned from a visit to 5Pointz, where I wanted to check out the latest pieces on the warehouse. I was shocked to find the warehouse painted over with white paint, with all the graffiti gone. Apparently, the warehouse will be torn down and be replaced with a condo building later this year. With the horrible paint job they did, I think it would have been better to leave the graffiti on there until the building is torn down. A shame that this street art mecca is gone now.
5 Pointz, right across the street from MoMa PS1, has traditionally been considered New York’s street art mecca, a former warehouse transformed into a huge canvas that attracts street artists from around the world. Have a look around and inside the building to see some fantastic graffiti pieces.
MoMa PS1 is of course still well worth a visit!
How to get there: MoMA PS1 is located on 22-25 Jackson Ave; 5 Pointz sits between Davis and Crane Streets. MoMa PS1 is open Thursday through Monday from 12pm to 6pm, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Suggested admission is $10, or $5 for students. The closest subway stations are Long Island City – Court Square (G) or 21st St (G), 45 Rd – Court House Square (7), 23rd St – Ely Ave (E, M). Court Square Diner, a classic American diner across the street, is also worth a visit, as is Ms Wells Dinette, which belongs to the MoMa PS1 and pays homage to the building’s former identity as a schoolhouse with communal tables and a perpetually changing menu.
For five more awesome things to do in New York off the beaten tourist trails, check out Five things to discover in New York that most tourists (and locals) never do – Part II
Still looking for a hotel in New York City but not sure where to stay? Check out Booking.com for the best priced hotels in New York City – I’ve been using Booking.com since 2009 and it’s still my favorite hotel booking website.