Hack the Hidden City: Get to know the real New York

Travel hacks

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July 26, 2021

By | July 26, 2021

New York is much more than the city that never sleeps, it’s an attitude towards life that sooner or later will cast a spell over those who have big dreams

You not only feel its vibrant energy when you take in the city’s bright neon lights and dazzling skyscrapers but also when you stop for a minute to look at all the people around you.

The people of New York

Crowds of people walking through a busy crosswalk at the intersection of 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York City NYCNYC is a city like no other with its busy and vibrant energy— Shutterstock

New York City is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, successes, and dreams. It’s home to over eight million people. In its five boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island — live unbelievably diverse communities. Around 37% of the city’s residents are first or second-generation foreigners. NYC is also one of the world’s most linguistically diverse cities, with over 800 languages actively spoken there. It shows especially in neighborhoods with a high concentration of foreign communities, such as K-Town (Korea Town) in Manhattan.

The city is proud of its diversity and furthers it by preserving history. The most famous museum for learning more about New York immigration is the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn documents, preserves, and interprets the history of free African-American communities in Weeksville, Brooklyn and other parts of the city. The Jewish Museum in Manhattan regularly showcases the history of the NYC Jewish community and celebrates Jewish artists around the world.

The reasons for moving to the city that never sleeps, haven’t changed much over the centuries. “Everybody here wanted somethin’ more”, as singer-songwriter Taylor Swift eloquently puts it. Historically speaking, the city meant a fresh start away from political or religious oppression, persecution, and poverty. Nowadays, it’s still all of that and more. Especially young people venture to the city to pursue their dreams and careers.

To further the performing arts, for instance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) created an Arts & Design program called Music Under New York (MUNY). Every year thousands of artists audition at the MTA program to get the chance to perform in one of the big subway stations and transit hubs. The artists making your subway journeys musically pleasing have fought hard to stand there. 

But NYC is not just a place for dreaming. It’s also a place where dreams in the form of dollar notes might just come true. In 2021, the city was ranked number one on Long Finance’s annual list of the world’s top global financial centers. It’s no surprise that Manhattan is billionaire central with almost a million millionaires. 

The literary side

Photo of Girl in Front of New York City Public LibraryThe New York Public Library is 125 years old. It has seen every major political and social event and is a refuge to New Yorkers — Shutterstock

Known for being an inspiration in literature and pop culture, New York oozes literary hotspots of past and present. The most famous one, New York Public Library, is considered Instagram-famous on the outside for lending itself as a chic backdrop to countless photos. On the inside, however, it’s a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city for locals and a great place to get lost in old books.

 

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For those with a stronger literary pallet, Chumbley’s in Greenwich Village might be the more obvious choice. This old blacksmith’s shop was turned into a refuge for poets and writers of the 20th century. Can you imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, or Orson Welles sitting at those tables sipping their whiskeys?

New York’s Kettle of Fish in West Village is for those with a less classic and more rebellious literary taste. Although this bar has moved a few times in the past, it stayed true to its roots — a dive bar with an intellectual vibe. Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson all have sat at the bar at some point since the bar’s opening in 1950.

The artsy hangouts

Garden of the Cloisters Museum in New YorkThe Met Garden Cloisters are three gardens that were laid out to represent gardens from the Middle Ages — Shutterstock

Life in New York City will never grow dull — not even on rainy days. You can go to one of New York’s many museums or art galleries, for instance. What many people don’t know is that some museums only give price suggestions for entry tickets, but you can pay as much or little as you wish. In addition, many museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art, for example, offer free entry on certain days of the week and at certain times. The best thing to do is to look at the website of the museum of your choice.

The more classic MoMA in Manhattan has a rebellious little sister in Brooklyn. The MoMA PS1 not only showcases “experimental, thought-provoking art” but also hip and fashionable art students that like to hang out there.

 

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While the MET stairs might be a popular hangout for the Highschool kids on the show Gossip Girl and celebs on red carpet of the MET Gala, the museum itself is so big and impressive, it’s impossible to walk it all in one day.

The Whitney Museum, although less known to tourists, is quite unique. It exhibits purely American art. The space is so welcoming that after gallivanting through the rooms, true locals like to linger in the adjoining restaurant for a nice lunch.

The bizarre highlights

Grace Court Alley in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. It was a lane that originally held stables serving buildings on paralleling streets.Grace Court Alley in Brooklyn Heights was originally a horse stable used by churchgoers of Grace Church. It was converted into homes, but it still gives passersby a glimpse of past times — Shutterstock

Do you know the hidden New York subway station? A lost and forgotten place in the middle of Manhattan is hard to imagine but the discontinued and abandoned station under the Old City Hall was the very first underground station in the city in 1904 and has not been in operation since 1945. Thanks to the partially glazed vaulted ceiling and the chandelier, you don’t feel like you’re in the subway, but like in an old underground mansion or museum. Guided tours of the Old City Hall station are only offered a few times a year to members of the New York Transit Museum.

However, with a sneaky little trick you can take a look at the historical platform for free: to do this, take the subway line 6 from Central Park Downtown to the terminus Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall Station. Instead of getting off, stay seated and wait for the train to turn around. To get back uptown, it will drive a loop that runs through the Old City Hall Station.

 

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Another bizarre highlight is the piece of the Berlin Wall casually placed in the lobby of 520 Madison Avenue. What looks like a random piece of street art on concrete, is actually one of the largest fragments of the Berlin Wall still intact today. A small piece of it can be seen near Paley Park and the rest is kept inside the lobby for preservation.

Coolest places to relax

Highline Park is a 2.5 km long park on old railway tracks Highline Park is a 2.5 km long park on old railway tracks — Shutterstock

The big apple can be quite overwhelming for newcomers. If you need a short break, you’ll be surprised to find a park in every corner of the city. Most of these parks are ordinary green spaces with a few benches and maybe even a pond. But there is one park — apart from Central Park — that is unique to New York: the Highline Park! Located around nine meters over the city streets on a 2.5 kilometer-long old railway road, the park is an oasis in the middle of the noise. And the extra perk? You’ll have an amazing sunset view of the surrounding cityscape, including the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

 

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With the success of Highline Park, New York needs a creative opposite. Lowline Park is supposed to be the first underground park in the world. Only a few blocks from the old Trolley Terminal under the Williamsburg Bridge — where the park is supposed to be built — is the Lowline Lab, a pop-up to showcase what the park would look like and how plants can survive in the closed space. The pop-up is a success, the park however not quite yet. Scheduled to open its doors in 2021, the construction of the Lowline Park was put on hold due to lack of funds.

View of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park View of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park — Unsplash

Right across Brooklyn Bridge, is the Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s located on the waterfront and the view of Manhattan is breathtaking. Another great park to relax in is Tompkins Square Park. Have a picnic there and listen to some local band playing.

The tastiest foodie attractions

pretzels from street vendor in new york cityThe food scene in New York is incredible. Make sure to get a hotdog or pretzel from a street vendor. The license to position their cart in a busy area can cost them up to 200,000 Dollars — Shutterstock

In a melting pot of cultures such as New York, you will find any cuisine you can think of and more. The crux is to find the appetite to try it all while you’re there. 

The Lower East Side and Brooklyn have a high concentration of Jewish restaurants. Russ & Daughters, for example, is a Lower East Side institution. The place has been around since 1905 and sells one of the best bagels with lox and schmear (salmon and cream cheese) in New York.

Rumor has it, Ash Shaltout, owner of Brooklyn Bagel in Midtown Miami, ships in New York City tap water by the truckload to Florida to make his bagels. Something in the composition of the water makes all the difference.

Although the famous Little Italy is in Manhattan, there’s another lesser-known Little Italy in the Bronx. Head over to Full Moon Pizza or Antonio’s Trattoria for a crispy slice of Italian Pizza.

Chinatown is a good place to find real Chinese treats. But it’s not so secret anymore. Although pretty random, Flushing in Queens is actually a very diverse and exciting place. It also has the best Chinese food you can find in New York City. Try Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao’s dim sums and White Bear’s wontons with hot sauce.

Brighton Beach promenade in Brooklyn Brighton Beach promenade in Brooklyn — Shutterstock

For more hearty Euroasian food, head over to Brighton Beach, home to a large Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian community. This neighborhood is so different from the rest of New York City. Street signs are in both Russian and English. And while you sit at Varenichnaya, a small Russian eatery, waiting for your vareniki, potato and cabbage filled dumplings, you will hear seagulls.

And if you would rather have a taste of all, head over to the Smorgasburg Food Market in Williamsburg. Every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm you’ll be able to taste the entire world cuisine in over 100 food stands. Give the Thai fish poffertjes a go when you’re there.

The typical Sunday outing

Jones Beach State Park on Long Island Jones Beach State Park on Long Island — Shutterstock

When it comes to Sunday outings, New Yorkers like a quick seaside escape. Forget Coney Island. This is where tourists go. New Yorkers go to Long Island — miles and miles of sandy beaches only a little over an hour away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

The best skyline view

Manhatten cityscape at sunset Manhattan cityscape at sunset — Shutterstock

Were you thinking of visiting the observation deck at the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, One World Observatory, and Edge Observation Platform at Hudson Yards? Forget about it.

How about the other side of Manhattan on the East River. Go to Roosevelt Island on the Roosevelt Island Tram. As you ride over the East River, you will be able to enjoy the entire NYC skyline.

Other places for skyline gazing are the Gantry Plaza State Park, Long Island City, and the Northside Piers, North Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The ultimate urban natural phenomenon

Rays of sunlight shining down on the people and traffic at the intersections along 42nd Street through Midtown Manhattan in New York CityManhattanhenge is a urban natural phenomenon where the sun rises and sets exactly between the skyscrapers. This only happens 2–4 times per year between the end of May and mid-July — Shutterstock

Have you ever heard of Manhattanhenge? On about two to four days a year, between the end of May and mid-July, the sun rises and sets between NYC’s skyscrapers at a perfect angle to the city’s street grid, bathing them in a bright orange-red light. It is precisely this very rare spectacle that brings the city that never sleeps to an absolute standstill.

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