Undiscovered New York: Going underground

Welcome back to Undiscovered New York. If New York was a human body, with Times Square as the heart and Central Park as its lungs, the city’s subway system would certainly be its veins and arteries – unnoticed yet vitally important.

No public transportation system could possibly encompass as many hyperboles. The smelliest. The slowest. The dirtiest. The most confusing. The hottest in the summer and coldest in the winter. The most entertaining characters and crafty schemers. The greatest human spectacle in the entire world. The most beloved.

To experience the New York City subway is literally to experience New York itself. It is at once a microcosm of the city’s dense, layered history and wildly diverse cultures, full of interesting stories, entertaining and annoying performers and people-watching at its finest. Since it first opened in 1904, the subway system has expanded to include over 460 stations, carry around 5 million riders per weekday and become the only metro system to run 24 hours a day 365 days per year.

But aside from being wildly confusing for first time visitors (express lines and construction anyone?), the New York City subway is more than simply a way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s an unsung tourist attraction in its own right. Among the hundreds of stations are world-class works of art, amazing hidden stations and a fascinating history that dates back over a hundred years. Want to learn more? Click below as Undiscovered New York digs into the secrets of the New York City subway system…
Underground Art

New York is one of the world’s great cities for art, with institutions like the MoMA, Guggenheim and The Met. But did you know some of New York’s best artwork is underground? New York’s MTA “Arts for Transit” program is dedicated to beautifying the city’s many subterranean spaces, adding bright tile mosaics and wild installations straight out of your imagination. Make sure to check out a couple of our favorites:

  • 81st Street Museum of Natural History – a favorite of both locals and tourists alike, the 81st Street Stop on the B and C trains features amazing artwork suited to the collections at the American Museum of Natural History directly above. You’ll find the stations walls covered with life-size dinosaur bones, coral reefs and unique wildlife.
  • Atlantic/Pacific stop, Brooklyn – in February 2009, New York’s MoMA launched a new project in this Brooklyn hub, installing around 50 reproductions of masterpieces from the museum’s collection including works by Picasso, Warhol and van Gogh. A great way to absorb some culture while you wait!
  • Houston Street Stop, Manhattan – though not necessarily the most famous, the 1 train stop for Manhattan’s Houston street certainly boasts one of the more interesting themes. The station is decorated with a surreal tableau of “subway under water” mosaics, including an octopus and some turtles that have taken over the station.

Underground Secrets
With a system of underground lines that stretches back more than a century, the New York City subway holds its fair share of secrets, myths and hidden history. Brooklyn is a particularly rich area for New York subway lore, including a hidden underground tunnel that runs along the Borough’s Atlantic Avenue. The man who rediscovered the hidden space, Bob Diamond, now leads regular tours sponsored by the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association. Sign up to get a unique look at some of the city’s fascinating history.

One of the most interesting aspects of the subway is that many stations are abandoned. Just below New York City Hall is the beautifully preserved City Hall station, a beautiful remnant last open to the public in 1945. The New York Transit Museum offers occasional tours – check the website and you may get lucky.

Anyone looking to get a further taste of the New York subway system’s rich history should stop by the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn, which in addition to many exhibits on the evolution of the city’s mass transit system includes vintage subway and elevated train cars.