From the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building, New York shouts its greatness in glitzy, larger-than-life flair.
But beyond the bright lights of Broadway and behind the beautiful buildings lurk some of the city’s greatest treasures, just waiting for someone to stumble upon and enjoy them.
Here, seven hidden NYC spots you can enjoy without spending a cent.
214 E 2nd StreetEast Village
The unassuming Alphabet City building dates back to 1908 and is unmarked, save for the words “Henington Hall,” etched into the stone facade. Enter the plain doubles doors, and you’ll find a fascinating gallery and beautiful sculpture garden. True to its name, which refers to a West African plant that is said to possess spiritual powers, Kenkeleba features mostly African-American art. The owners, Joe Overstreet and his wife Corinne Jennings, have amassed more than 30,000 works over the years, and their exhibitions often explore the history, as well as emerging artists and experimental works.
220 E 42nd StreetMidtown East
Even in a city full of stunning architecture, the facade of 220 E 42nd stands out, and it is of no small consequence that its magnificent Art Deco carving has a larger-than-life feel: The title “THE NEWS” emblazoned above the bustling urban scene, refer to newspaper giant the Daily News, formerly headquartered here. But the facade is only the beginning of this building’s glory. Enter through the revolving doors to be amazed but the lobby to beat all lobbies. A massive, glowing globe floats in the center, slowly revolving underneath a gleaming black glass dome, with a compass of inlaid tiles shooting from its base, its bronze lines indicating the distance from New York to various international locations. (Movie fan bonus: In the 1978 Superman this was the headquarters of the Daily Planet).
Know that castle in the West Village? You can enter it! Photo: wallyg
425 Avenue of the AmericasWest Village
From its “island” perch this red-brick, Victorian Gothic structure holds court as a beacon of the West Village, its arches, turrets and elaborate adornments lending a sort of fairy-tale quality to the neighborhood. Just as fantastical is the building’s interior, with its spiral staircase and brick-arched basement on the shelves of which fairy tales themselves now reside. The sun-drenched adult reading room is a pleasant place to pass a peaceful hour (or catch up on email using free Wi-Fi), and one mustn’t miss the idyllic garden.
A former courthouse and women’s prison, both library and garden hold much historical appeal as well: It was here that the murderer of famed architect Stanford White faced trial, as did Mae West when her Broadway play “Sex” was brought up on obscenity charges.
In one of the coveted buildings in chic Soho is a room filled with earth. True story. Photo: trevor.patt
141 Wooster StreetSoho
No matter what you feel about modern art, 280,000 pounds of earth 22 inches thick in a small room is truly a unique sight to behold—especially when that room resides in New York real estate space. Installed by artist Walter De Maria in 1977, this is the only one of the artist’s three Earth Room exhibits still in existence. Curators maintain it by regularly watering and raking the dirt , which results in a peaceful, forest smell (and sometimes the occasional mushroom). A few blocks up, you’ll find another unique De Maria installation: Broken Kilometer, an empty expanse of space marked by five rows of brass rods that play with your sense of perspective.
Bring a friend along to try out the whispering gallery in Grand Central Terminal. Photo: Je roen
Grand Central TerminalMidtown East
One of the city’s most important landmarks, Grand Central Station houses a number of secrets but one its most fun attractions is hidden in plain sight. After gaping at the stately main terminal, make your way to the lower-level ramp. The archways in front of the Oyster Bar house an acoustic anomaly that allows you to speak into one corner, and a buddy in the corner opposite to hear you loud and clear.
1745 BroadwayMidtown West
Yet another office building you aren’t ordinarily likely to enter, the headquarters of publishing giant Random House holds a major treat for book lovers. The ground-floor entryway is lined floor to ceiling with illuminated shelves housing the the publishing house’s acclaimed history—first editions of Random House books from Ulysses on up to Gone Girl.
Along Madison Avenue, you can see a piece of the Berlin Wall. Photo: Tais M
520 Madison AvenueMidtown East
No, you have not read that wrong. Five sections (roughly 20 feet long) of the Berlin Wall stand in an otherwise ordinary plaza between some Midtown office buildings. The Western side, which faces the plaza, is covered with a vibrant mural painted by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy in 1985.