Undiscovered New York: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor

Welcome to Undiscovered New York. This week we’re returning to one of New York City’s least-visited tourist spots: Staten Island. Despite its reputation as the “Forgotten Borough,” Staten Island is home to some of New York’s most delicious food, unique sites and friendly residents. Not least of these sites is Snug Harbor.

Originally founded as a residence for aging sailors, the sprawling 83 acre grounds of Snug Harbor are host to a majestic collection of 19th Century Greek Revival buildings, interesting art museums and serene botanical gardens. What’s perhaps most amazing about this fascinating site is just how easy (and cheap) it is to get here from Lower Manhattan. A scenic (free) ride on the Staten Island Ferry plus a quick 10 minute bus trip and you’re there.

Want to get lost in a hedge maze and an authentic Chinese garden? How about some panoramic views of New York Harbor and the city’s skyscrapers? Click below to go inside Staten Island’s Snug Harbor.
Snug Harbor Grounds

The centerpiece of Snug Harbor is the site’s beautiful 19th Century architecture. A complex of five buildings comprise the area’s main focal point, with the huge Randall Memorial Chapel as the anchor. Each building presents a front of soaring columns and a spacious portico in a style similar to that of the ancient Greek temples. On all sides the buildings are surrounded by other unique landmarks: an original wrought-iron fence, an 1890’s zinc water fountain and some beautifully manicured grounds.

The careful placement of each building along with the landscaping have led many visitors to describe the site as reminiscent of a college quad. The whole scene, taken together, represents a surprising oasis of calm in the typical hustle and bustle of New York City.

Staten Island Botanical Garden
Also on the site of the Snug Harbor complex are the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, one of the more interesting landmarks in the area. Kids will be easily entertained by the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, one of only a handful of European style hedge mazes in the United States, and one that is modeled on the well known children’s book, The Secret Garden. The maze winds its way to a miniature castle, complete with its own drawbridge and moat.

The gardens are also home to The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, a unique Chinese-style space modeled on the famous green spaces of the Chinese city of Suzhou. The beautifully landscaped courtyard with pond, terraced rocks and authentic Chinese pavilions was constructed by 40 artisans brought in from Suzhou to ensure accuracy and authenticity.

Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art
With all the beautifully preserved architecture and authentic gardens, one could be forgiven for thinking Snug Harbor is purely a historical sight. But in fact, Snug Harbor is also home to one of New York’s many galleries of contemporary art. The Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that is home to around 15,000 square feet of gallery space. Depending on when you pop in, you’ll be treated to exhbitions by a diverse range of artists, ranging from both the international to the local.