Magical Places in Manhattan
A curated list of underrated or unheard of places that spark a sense of wonder.
This Upper East Side bookstore holds a collection of French & English literature containing more than 14,000 books from thirty countries. Its second level features children's books and a rare book section beneath a ceiling of constellations, stars, and planets. A hand-painted mural, the ceiling is designed after the music room inside Villa Stuck in Munich, Germany. Albertine hosts book club events, signings, talks, and more in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. It's located within the historic Payne Whitney mansion, where a well-preserved Venetian Room in the lobby is open for viewing. The nearest subway station is 77th St on the 6 train.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters is an honor society for the country’s leading artists and writers, selecting 300 members for life. Early members included Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Wharton, and Mark Twain. Visit their galleries, which hold rotating exhibitions of paintings and other works of art, as well as a recreation of Charles Ives's study. The galleries are open to the public between Friday and Sunday from noon to 6PM. The exterior of the building is just as beautiful with its Audubon Terrace connecting to the Hispanic Society Museum & Library (opening Jan 2023). The serene Trinity Cemetery can be seen across the street through a gallery window. To find the gallery, just walk two blocks south of the 157th St Station on the 1 line.
A co-op apartment complex in Washington Heights sits above a large, castle-like stone wall and hides a green park with an up-close view of the George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River. A field for picnicking is sprawled across the complex along with benches and an ivy-covered pergola. Beneath the Village is a pedestrian bridge that leads to Inspiration Point. Unfortunately, the park is marked as private property and open only to residents of Castle Village, so enter at your own risk unless you can afford to pay $4k a month in rent. But to a handful of tenants, the view is well-worth the price. The nearest subway station is 181st St on the A train.
Ring the doorbell of an unassuming, maze-like building in Harlem and enter a treasure trove that sells architectural ornaments and artifacts. There are countless rooms, each one hiding behind either a gray door or an unmarked black curtain. Vintage chandeliers, mirrors, windows, art, and other pieces of furniture and décor are tagged with a number that you can show an employee to inquire about pricing. It’s an eerily haunting yet beautiful space to browse. Their website says the showroom is by appointment only, but if you happen to be in the area, don’t be afraid to walk in. The nearest subway station is Harlem-125th St on the 4/5/6 trains just around the block.
This indoor green space is complete with three terraces and a still-water pool — an oasis in Tudor City. Twelve stories of offices and glass panels enclose a subtropical garden with 39 species of plants. Named a New York City landmark, the atrium is open to the public on weekdays from 11 am to 6 pm. Note: Google Maps says it opens at 8 am but the website says 11 am. You can also visit the Ford Foundation Gallery if they're currently showing an exhibition. The Gallery, in hand with the Foundation's mission, features artwork relating to social justice and human rights. The nearest subway station is Grand Central-42nd St on the 4/5/6/7 trains.
Beneath the arches of the Hell Gate Bridge is a pedestrian walkway and bike lane on Randall's Island. The pathway runs beneath arches reaching up to 100 feet high while the Amtrak runs on the railroad tracks above. It begins near the bottom of the Island at Fields 62 and ends at the northern tip at Fields 46, which is about 1.3 miles long. Along the way, you’ll see surrounding athletic fields, Icahn Stadium, joggers, and picnickers. At the end of the pathway, it becomes the Randall’s Island Connector (#8 on the Bronx page) and crosses over to the Bronx. This is one of the most magical pathways to take a walk. To get here, you can drive to the Island or take a walk over the RFK Bridge (#3 on the Queens page) and descend at the first exit.
Find inspiration at this neoclassical landmark along the Hudson River Greenway. Designed to be a resting place for pedestrians and bikers, the Point features views of the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey Palisades. To reach it requires a lengthy walk up and down the sloped streets of Washington Heights, then crossing over the 181st St footbridge (the only way to reach the Point, found beneath the walls of Castle Village), and walking one mile from there, but the journey is worth it. Note: Inspiration Point is blocked off the highway and not accessible to drivers, so you unfortunately can't cheat and take an Uber here. The nearest subway station is 190th St on the A train.
This National Historic Landmark is one of the most wondrous places of worship in the city featuring golden chandeliers, a ceiling dome, and gorgeous stained glass windows. Built by Jewish immigrants in 1887, the museum honors their migration to the city by holding exhibits and cultural events as well as displaying historical Jewish artifacts. The museum, however, is a non-sectarian organization and embraces people of all faiths and cultures; all are welcome to visit and explore this breathtaking synagogue. Tip: visit near opening and closing times to sit in the pews with the whole synagogue to yourself. The nearest subway station is Grand St on the B/D train and East Broadway on the F train.
Explore this Tribeca gallery also known as The Poster Museum (not to be confused with the The Poster House). It contains one of the largest private vintage poster collections in the world. The posters date back from 1870 to the present and totaling to over 100,000. In addition, the collection includes artifacts such as poster books, paintings, and sculptures. This under-the-radar spot holds a wide variety of posters ranging from classic film prints, food and drink ads, war-related signs, humorous designs, and more. Works by popular artists like Andy Warhol and Leonetto Cappiello can also be admired here. The nearest subway station is just around the block at Chambers St 1/2/3 station and the A/C/E station.
Along Manhattanville's 12th Avenue is a seven-block viaduct running north of Riverside Park. There are twenty-six arches total built out of open hearth medium steel. It services the highway atop it and offers a pathway overlooking the Hudson River and surrounding neighborhood. It's a beautiful place to photograph or to walk atop and enjoy the scenic views. To reach the stairs headed up, enter Riverside Park at Tiemann Pl. You can also enter at 135th St and 12th Ave, but I recommend starting from Tiemann so you can follow the viaduct to the end and explore Riverbank State Park. Fun Fact: The viaduct appears in the background during a brief scene from The Amazing Spider-Man. The nearest subway station is just around the corner at 125th St on the 1 train.
This New York City Landmark sits on the edge of an island once home to a smallpox hospital and asylum. The 50 ft. lighthouse was designed by the architect credited for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, James Renwick Jr, and built by inmates of a penitentiary. Despite its dark past, the lighthouse is a triumphant reward for those who reach it — it’s about a mile walk from the only train station in the area. The lighthouse sits inside a park facing upper Manhattan, Randall’s Island, and part of Astoria. I recommend taking the walk at nighttime when the island is most peaceful. Start on the left coast and then circle back along the right coast to explore one of Manhattan’s most underrated neighborhoods. The nearest subway station is Roosevelt Island on the F train.
12. The Roxy Hotel
This Tribeca hotel welcomes guests with retro marquee letters that say “ROXY,” a tall pedestal clock, and a cobblestone plaza for seasonal outdoor dining beneath black Venice umbrellas. The lobby doubles as the Roxy Bar, a jazz venue serving American fare and craft cocktails. There’s also a small coffee shop, an oyster bar, the exclusive Paul’s Cocktail Lounge, and an underground cinema running independent films. Beside the cinema is the entrance to The Django, a cave-like jazz venue modeled after Paris nightclubs. It’s a great date night spot worth multiple visits. The nearest subway station is Canal St on the A/C/E trains and Franklin St on the 1 train.
Right outside the 72nd St station is a luxury residential building that looks stunningly out of place in the Upper West Side. Built in 1902, this breathtaking building is known for its Beaux-Arts design with a limestone and brick exterior and balustrade balconies. It features 13 stories and 57 units with most apartments being priced at several million dollars. The building is unfortunately not open to the public, but you can take a look at the historic landmark plaque by the gated entrance. After you visit, walk just a block uptown to the Ansonia, a similarly designed residential building with a rich history.
14. Washington Mews
This private street of carriage houses in Greenwich Village is a charming place to explore with its cobblestone ground and homes covered in wisteria and ivy. Mews meaning row of stables, it's a historic preservation of 18th century farmland owned by Captain Robert Richard Randall. It's now leased by New York University to serve as housing and offices, a place frequented by its students and visitors of Washington Square Park. It's located between Washington Square N and E 8th St along 5th Ave or University Pl. The nearest subway station is 8th St-NYU on the N/R/W and West 4th St on the A/C/E/B/D/F?M.
This outdoor oasis features a stunning view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades from a medieval museum. The river runs beneath the George Washington Bridge (visible on the left-hand side) while the Palisades rise above the shore at over 500 feet. One of the Met's distinguished branches, the Cloisters is the nation's only museum devoted entirely to the medieval arts. For more information, click here for my full article on Atlas Obscura. The nearest subway station is Dyckman St on the A train.
These two subway stations are only a 5 minute walk away from each other in Washington Heights. 191st St is the deepest station in the city at 140 feet deep while the 190st St station is the second deepest at 180 feet deep. The 190th St entrance is through a large, mossy rock face within the southern portion of Fort Tryon Park, which looks especially enchanting in spring and summer. The 191st St station is known for its 1000 ft. long pedestrian tunnel covered in five murals sanctioned by the NYCDOT. It was featured in the movie In the Heights during the song “Paciencia y Fe.” Both stations are some of the most intriguing in the city.
Named after its location on 6th Street between Avenue B and C with "B" standing for botanical and "C" for community, this garden is a treasure of the Lower East Side. There are hundreds of plants within this lush greenery, ranging from lilies of the valley to winter aconites. The garden features an overlooking ivy-draped building, a wooden pergola, a brick-paved walkway, a koi pond, and a treehouse you can climb up! It hosts events such as weddings, photo shoots, and concerts, blossoming through the care of dedicated volunteers. Check out their calendar for live jazz events or just swing by for a moment of peace. The garden is open between April and October 31. The nearest subway station is 2nd Av on the F train.
2. Amster Yard
Developed by James Amster, a renowned interior designer in the 1960s, this courtyard is one of Turtle Bay's best-kept secrets. It's tucked behind the Instituto Cervantes, the world's largest international organization dedicated to teaching the Spanish language and culture. Enter through the gated passageway and into a quiet garden of artwork and greenery. Discover the arched mirror (reminiscent of the looking glass in Alice in Wonderland), several iron tables and chairs, and draped ivy — an enchanting addition to the city's pocket parks and gardens. There are no hours posted online but the yard is likely open during business hours. The nearest subway station is 51st St on the 6 train and Lexington Av-53rd St on the E/M train.
If you’ve ever taken a walk over the Queensboro Bridge, you may have noticed this peculiar park facing Roosevelt Island. What looks like a red roller coaster is actually the East River Roundabout Sculpture, a massive aluminum helix inspired by Fred Astaire’s dancing, the spiral form, and the visual environment of FDR Drive and the river. There are benches and a green lawn underneath the sculpture where you can sightsee and enjoy the view. This park is along a section of the East River Esplanade that extends all the way to E 120th St where pedestrians can walk along the water. The nearest subway station is Lexington Av-59th St on the N/Q/R/W/4/5/6 train.
Stretching along the edge of Lower Manhattan is this riverside walkway named after a firefighter who lost his life in the 9/11 attacks. Part of the East River Greenway and found south of Stuyvesant Cove Park, this three-block walkway has a unique view of the skyline without having to set foot outside the city. Locals and StuyTown residents can be found fishing or biking along the walkway. Lined with benches and lampposts, it's a beautiful place to watch golden hour fall upon the city. The nearest subway station is 1st Av on the L train.
Tucked away in the upper corner of Central Park is this French-inspired garden serving as a place of solace. Enter through the wrought-iron gate and discover a jet fountain, the wisteria pergola, crabapple trees, and a spectacular landscape of flowers that charm each visitor. It's located within the park's more elevated areas, making it the perfect place for an afternoon stroll or a picnic on a romantic date. While you're here, pay a visit to the Graffiti Hall of Fame. The nearest subway station is Central Park North St (110th St) on the 2/3 train.
This one-acre sculpture garden in Nolita is arguably one of the most magical places in the city. It’s filled with sculptures, statues, gazebos, benches, wrought iron chairs, and overflowing greenery. It’s open every day to the public and is run by volunteers within the community who are working to block the garden's destruction and redevelopment. Bring a book, coffee, journal, or listen to music and relax at a place that remains picturesque through every season. The nearest subway station is Spring St on the 6 train and Bowery on the J/Z train.
Accessible by an escalator in the Financial District, this elevated park is hidden between corporate offices. Panoramic views of the East River, boats along the Harbor, helicopters taking flight, and traffic along FDR Drive can be seen from the deck. Along the right side of the park is a step street leading to the highway and the neighboring Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park. Complete with an amphitheater and lawn, outdoor seating, greenery, and a color-changing light installation, this park is a truly peaceful place in the city and rarely crowded. The nearest subway station is Broad St on the J/Z train.
A beautifully designed memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech is Roosevelt Island's main attraction. This four-acre triangular park is lined with two rows of trees and has a large green lawn in the middle. A sculpture of Roosevelt is at the southernmost point, where the clean, white architecture and East River sights can be enjoyed. Visitors can also picnic on the lawn or walk along the perimeter with views of Long Island City on one side and the Manhattan skyline on the other. While you're here, check out the Smallpox Hospital ruins and the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse. The nearest subway station is Roosevelt Ave on the F train.
This tribute to the Great Irish Famine portrays a 19th century Irish landscape using stones from Ireland's 32 counties and more than 60 types of flora. Enter through the illuminated tunnel, inscribed with the famine's history and connections to present-day world hunger, and ascend to find one of the most spectacular views of the World Trade Center and the Hudson River. Visit during the nighttime for a more magical experience filled with city lights, when you'll likely be one of few visitors there. The nearest subway station is World Trade Center on the 1 train.
You might recognize this park as a filming location for In the Heights during Benny & Nina’s duet. There’s a great view of the George Washington Bridge (and legal, if you choose to opt out of the rewarding but illegal option at Castle Village). Directly beneath the observation part of the park is a step street leading to Fort Washington Park. To get to the step street, you’ll need to exit the park and walk down Haven Ave. Across the street are the step street and a footbridge. Follow the path as directed by Apple or Google Maps to get to Fort Washington Park and the Little Red Lighthouse. It’s about a one-mile walk from there. The nearest subway station is 175th St on the A train.
Concealed by large residential complexes within Midtown East, Peter Detmold Park's unique feature is a light blue pedestrian walkway crossing over FDR Drive, which leads you to waterside views of the East River. The park was named after the former president of the Turtle Bay Association and features gazebos, walkway lamps, and views of the Queensboro Bridge, Long Island City, and Roosevelt Island. Below the walkway is the park's dog run and benches in a quiet space. The nearest subway station is Lexington Av-53rd St on the E/M trains and 51st St on the 6 train.
12. The Bridge at Highbridge Park
Beneath a 200 foot water tower, this magical stone-arch bridge stretches over the Harlem River and connects Upper Manhattan to Highbridge, Bronx. It's the oldest standing bridge in New York City and once served as part of the Croton Aqueduct. It stretches to about a third of a mile and rises 140 feet above the water. Along its brick-paved walkway are lampposts and views of the surrounding city and boats passing below. It reopened in 2015 as an increasingly popular pedestrian walkway and bike path. Occasionally, the water tower is open for tours hosted by the the city Parks Department and Open House New York. The park surrounding the bridge has many facilities, including a skate park and an outdoor pool featured in In the Heights. The nearest subway station is 181st St on the 1 train.
Among many activities Governors Island has to offer, The Hills are one of the most beautiful spots to visit. There are winding trails, grassy overlooks, and scenic views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor. It's also home to Slide Hill, the city's longest slide. The Hills are composed of Grassy Hill, Discovery Hill, and Outlook Hill, where the highest point is at 70 feet. Follow the path to reach the peak at Outlook Hill or climb the stone stairs up (which is lowkey kind of a hike). To reach the island, you only need to take a five minute ferry, which you can buy tickets for here. While you're on the island, explore its historic buildings, suntan on the hammocks, bike along the paths, visit the spa, or dine at the trendy Island Oyster.