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Secret New York City: An Insider’s Guide

You’ve seen Times Square. You’ve viewed the city from the top of the Empire State Building. You’ve walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s no shortage of must-see sights in New York City. But are you eager to find some lesser-known spots that are worth a visit? Here are five of New York City's best-kept secrets that you’ll want to check out.

The Shops at Columbus Circle

Stunning View From the Interior of The Shops at Columbus Circle
View from Balcony at The Shops at Columbus Circle
Shoppers at The Shops at Columbus Circle

You might think you know The Shops at Columbus Circle, but there’s more — a lot more — to know about this luxury destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment set in the center of Manhattan. One secret that might surprise you? The Shops at Columbus Circle has some of the best views of Central Park, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Manhattanhenge. (Manhattanhenge is a New York phenomenon that takes place four times a year when the setting or rising sun aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan.) And did you know that there’s a very good reason for the two iconic towers that jut into the sky above The Shops at Columbus Circle? It’s because Jackie Kennedy wanted to make sure the building never cast a shadow on Central Park. Want to learn more insider info? Book a behind-the-scenes tour customized to your area of interest with the Guest Services Desk.

The Little Red Lighthouse

The Little Red Lighthouse
The Little Red Lighthouse and Bridge

In the children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, a lighthouse located underneath the George Washington Bridge captures the imaginations of children and adults alike. But many people don't realize that this is an actual lighthouse that still exists. In the early 20th century, the Little Red Lighthouse used to be an important guide for Hudson River sailors who were guided to safety thanks to its battery-powered lamp and fog bell. Although no longer functioning, this 40-foot-high, bright-red structure is still a beacon, attracting curious visitors to its location in northern Manhattan. It's also one of the few surviving lighthouses in New York City.

Roosevelt Island Tram

Roosevelt Tramway
View of the Roosevelt Tramway on a Sunny Day

So you think the view of Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry is good? Wait until you see the jaw-dropping panoramas of New York City from the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which connects Manhattan with Roosevelt Island. This aerial tramway with glassed-in gondolas runs high above the East River, providing access to the little island community. It's also a Hollywood icon — you might recognize it from movies such as Spider-Man (2002), Nighthawks, or Dark Water — and yet it's still relatively unknown. A tip: The sunset and nighttime skyline views are pretty spectacular.

The Cloisters

Metropolitan Museum of Art in Upper Manhattan
Medieval Courtyard
Medieval Stained Glass Windows

The idea of seeing medieval architecture in Manhattan might sound like a stretch, considering New York City wasn’t even settled until the 17th century. But the Met Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Upper Manhattan, is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. In fact, the building itself is constructed from actual European cloisters and there are authentically reproduced medieval gardens. Plus, you'll find approximately 2,000 relics — manuscripts, stained glass, tapestries, and more — exhibited in this unique context. No visit to the Cloisters is complete without a stroll through Fort Tryon Park, which overlooks the dramatic Hudson River fjords.

Old City Hall Subway Station

Interior of Old City Hall Subway Station
Dimly Lit Old City Hall Subway Station

In 1904, New York City’s very first subway ride left from City Hall station, a dazzling space in downtown Manhattan that featured vaulted tile ceilings, gilded chandeliers, and lead skylights. Though its track is still active as a turnaround for the 6 line, trains no longer stop here. New York Transit Museum members can explore this New York landmark through exclusive guided tours. Not a member? You can catch a glimpse by riding a downtown 6 train. Just stay on the train past Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and keep an eye out for the old station as you pass through the loop. It's definitely worth the ride.

Photo credits:
Header, Lighthouse, Tram, Cloisters: iStock
The Shops at Columbus Circle, all: Courtesy of The Shops at Columbus Circle
Old City Hall Subway, all: Julian Dunn/Flickr

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