How To Experience NYC Like a Local

When I first moved to New York City, I looked forward to living near all of the landmarks I’d seen on TV growing up. I could go visit the Statue of Liberty! And Central Park! And the Empire State Building! I was so excited, and I must’ve looked like such a tourist in those first few months, traipsing around the city gawking at the famous places that were now practically in my backyard. But the longer I lived here, the more I realized that some of the coolest places are the ones that aren’t on TV. There’s a lot more to the Big Apple once you look closer, and here are a few of my favorite lesser-known spots that are more appreciated by the locals than tourists:

  • The Old City Hall Subway Stop: The subway isn’t exactly known for being a destination unto itself; it’s usually just a way to get from one place to the next, and the stations aren’t particularly visually appealing. But that wasn’t always the case. Back when the subway system was first put in, the city was going through a period of placing value on beautiful architecture, a time that gave us beautiful structures like Grand Central Station and the original Penn Station. This is also when the city’s first subway station was built, at City Hall, and it’s certainly a far cry from the stations of today! Today, the New York Transit Museum offers tours of the facility, so the public can come and admire the graceful arches, the light streaming in through the beautiful skylights, and the chandeliers set into the ceiling. Tickets sell out fast for the tours, though … but there is another way to see this fascinating piece of city history. Subway trains still go past the platform as they loop around from the Brooklyn Bridge downtown local platform to the uptown local platform. If you get on a downtown 6 train at Brooklyn Bridge and sweet-talk the conductor into letting you stay on the train as it turns around, you can catch a glimpse of the old City Hall station.
  • The Hidden Waterfall at Greenacre Park: One doesn’t usually think of natural beauty when thinking about New York City, aside from Central Park, but there are other pockets of pastoral beauty to be found. Greenacre Park is a tiny little green space on 51st Street, and it’s a nice place to relax. There are chairs and tables here, so you can settle in and enjoy your lunch while you listen to the susurrus of the 25-foot-tall waterfall found here. It’s a great place to go for a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
  • The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Station: Here’s a neat trick to try next time you’re going through Grand Central. Go to the lower level, outside of the Oyster Bar, and stand in one of the corners, facing the wall. Get a friend or your significant other to stand in the opposite corner the same way. Now, whisper into the wall. Thanks to a neat acoustical trick of the ceiling’s design, your companion will be able to hear you loud and clear! Not only is this a fun little thing to try, but it’s a popular way to surprise that special someone with a marriage proposal. How romantic!
  • Photo by Phil Hollenback (Flickr) The Secret Airplane Runway Above 77 Water St.: This one’s pretty cool, but it’s a lot harder to experience than the rest. Basically, you need to get yourself on a high floor of a building that neighbors 77 Water St., then look out the window to see this building’s roof. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with a view of a World War I-era British plane sitting on a rooftop runway, looking like it’s about to take off. Is this the property of some high-powered executive with too much money and time on his hands? Not at all. Actually, the plane’s just an art piece, not a real flying machine, and the whole setup was created by the owners of the building simply to give people in neighboring buildings something interesting to look at, instead of the usual assortment of air conditioning equipment and such.

There are plenty of other interesting spots around the city such as these, but this list ought to get you started. Take it with you on your next free weekend day and go exploring! You never know what you might find when you look a little more closely at your surroundings. And spots such as these are much less likely to be crowded with tourists, too.