Undiscovered New York: 10 unique NYC sights

It’s been exactly 10 months since our very first feature here at Undiscovered New York. Given the occasion, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of our “greatest hits.” When we first started the Undiscovered New York series, our intention was to provide an insider’s look at the hidden places, history and overlooked spots in this huge city, the very spots many visitors don’t have a chance to visit.

Along the way we’ve taken you through all five boroughs of the city, from the far reaches of The Bronx, to the the rich cultural tapestry of Queens, to the quiet waterways of Staten Island. We’ve revisited some familiar sights with a fresh look and discovered hidden gems begging for exploration.

If you ever wanted a chance to check out the “undiscovered” side of New York, this week you’re in luck. We’re counting down the top 10 unique New York City sights, reviewing our favorite unexplored and lesser-known Big Apple experiences. You may find spots you know and love and a plenty more you’ve never heard of. Ready to go exploring? Let’s take a look.

  • Number 10: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor – New York visitors need not go far from Manhattan to get a unexpected look at this huge city. In fact, just a 25 minute ferry ride away is Staten Island, home to Snug Harbor, a former complex for elderly sailors. In addition to some wildly beautiful harbor views this quirky compound has modern art and a botanic garden complete with its own hedge maze.
  • Number 9: Secret Eating + Drinking – A city the size of New York is bound to have some hidden spaces. In fact, as we discovered, it’s filled with Prohibition-style speakeasies, secret burger joints and unassuming taco spots ready for some clandestine enjoyment. Places secret enough, in fact, that we got a few people angry for giving away their hidden favorites. See what we uncovered.
  • Number 8: East Village + Japan – New York’s East Village is a neighborhood best known for St. Mark’s Place and the youthful rebellion of Punk. But in 2009, the East Village is less the home of mohawked-rockers than ground zero for some first rate Japanese food, shopping and culture. Find out how to experience Tokyo without ever leaving the Big Apple.
  • Number 7: Best NYC Pizza – New York is a pizza-lover’s dream. Nothing better embodies the city’s frantic energy and high culinary standards than the simple New York slice. We investigated some of the best slices from here to Brooklyn and Staten Island (and back again) to crown New York’s pizza champions. See who came out on top.
  • Number 6: Graffiti Culture & 5 Pointz – the 1970’s and 80’s presented New York with a unique confluence of events: as the city fell apart due to massive budget problems, a golden era of hip-hop and street art came of age. We investigated New York’s wild graffiti history, even pointing a spot in Queens where you can see some awesome street art on a massive scale.
  • Number 5: Bronx Little Italy – many New York City visitors know about Manhattan’s Little Italy. But not very many are familiar with Arthur Avenue, a second Little Italy in The Bronx, site for some of the city’s most authentic Italian meats, cheeses and pastries. Italian food lovers will want to check this little-known spot out.
  • Number 4: Staten Island Graveyards – Staten Island is frequently regarded as New York’s “forgotten” Borough, an island that provides a shocking variety of unexpected attractions and great food. We investigated the ghostly boat graveyards just off Staten Island’s coast and then stopped off to visit another more human burial ground dating back to the Revolutionary War.
  • Number 3: Hudson River Valley – there’s a lot more to New York than its bustling metropolis. In fact, just north of the city that never sleeps lies one of the United States’ hidden treasures: the Hudson River Valley. Along the shores of this majestic waterway lie stunning views, contemporary art and regal Presidential mansions.
  • Number 2: Corona Park, Queens – Corona Park, located just South of Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport is quite possibly New York’s most outrageous hidden attraction, albeit one hidden in plain sight. Site of not one but two World’s Fair, Corona Park boast huge deserted stadiums, a 140-foot-tall globe, the temporary home of the United Nations and some of the best Lemon Ice ever.
  • Number 1: 7 Train to Latin America – New York is home to a huge range of immigrants, representing every corner of the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in Queens, a Borough home to a wildly diverse range of cultures, foods and attractions. Along Roosevelt Avenue you’ll find a rich mixture of authentic culture from around South and Central America boasting Mexican taco stands, Cuban food, Ecuadorean street carts and Argentine bakeries. It’s the equivalent of backpacking south of the border for 3 months, all less than an hour from Manhattan by subway.

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.

Gadling Take FIVE: Week of September 20-26

In the ever changing scene of world travel, this week Gadling pointed to some of the highlights of change.

  • If you want to see Angkor Wat before it goes totally upscale, you’d better hurry. It might be too late. Josh wrote about how high end development is going on all around the complex.
  • In the world of gadgets that make travel easier, Scott posted about the new T-Mobile G1 which should make several aspects of staying in touch while on the road easier and cheaper.
  • In Jerry’s Talking Travel conversation with Snake Charmer author Jamie James, part of the talk was about how James’s interest in China changed after he wrote about Shanghai in 2001. As he points out, one’s interest in a particular can changed based on exposure. For James, China has lost his attention.
  • Jeremy’s latest addition to his New York series is a lush piece on the changes in Staten Island’s landscape over the years–more specifically, the section of Staten Island where old boats and ships are put to rest.
  • When it comes to politics, Grant has his attention on the changing of the communist guard due to the absence of Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro. He imagines them sitting on a beach somewhere chatting it up while drinking out of coconuts. Grant is a little weird that way.

What I hope isn’t changing is people’s ability to have a grand experience, even if it’s one they find in their own neighborhoods.

Undiscovered New York: Life and death in the graveyards of Staten Island

Staten Island. It’s a name many New Yorkers invoke with disdain. And tourists? The city is lucky if they venture beyond Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn. But despite this poor reputation, there are plenty of reasons to visit New York City’s fifth borough.

True, it’s never going to offer the glitzy shopping and haute cuisine of its ritzy neighbor Manhattan to the north. But urban explorers, history buffs and adventurers take note: what the borough lacks in picturesque vistas, it more than makes up for with “edgy” character and quirky sites of interest. My favorite? The Staten Island boat graveyard.

For those that do not know, Staten Island is home to what used to be the world’s largest trash heap at Fresh Kills. For years, the city of New York dumped thousands (if not millions) of tons of garbage on this site, creating one of Staten Island’s more imposing geographical landmarks. Gross, right? While even an adventurous traveler like myself might skip a site filled with old diapers and decaying chicken bones, all that trash has provided an interesting side-attraction in the form of huge fleet of half-sunken abandoned boats. Want to know more? Click on through the link to continue.Rather than sink the vessels elsewhere, the city of New York has chosen this sliver of water between the island of Staten and the coast of New Jersey as the final resting place for dozens of ships. The many boats sit half beneath the surface, silent sentinels to formerly productive seafaring lives.

As these old relics of wood and steel are ravaged by the salt and air, their decay leaves behind some strangely beautiful works of art. As wood rots away, rusty metal skeletons emerge and decks lie at odd angles, half submerged and half afloat above the murky water’s surface. Just beyond lies the hulking mass of the former landfill, gently sloping off in the distance. Needless to say the atmospheric surroundings make for an awesome setting for photography buffs.

Perhaps even more intriguing is that this isn’t the only graveyard in the area. Yet another forgotten Staten Island graveyard lies within easy view, but a graveyard of a very different sort. At the edge of the salty marshland leading to the boats is a small cemetery called the Blazing Star Burial Ground. The cemetery houses the final remains of Staten Island residents dating back to the 1750’s when the area was the site of a popular ferry crossing and roadhouse. As you stroll among the small plot of ancient gravestones it’s hard not to wonder about the inhabitants who made this once-pristine vista their final resting place. Could anyone have imagined how drastically their view would change?

So how does one find this hidden gem? Well, first you need to find a way out to Staten Island. Although it’s not impossible to use a combination of mass transit with ferries, trains and buses, a car is much preferred in this case. The site is located near the town of Rossville, on Arthur Kill Road. Not to be a tease, but that’s all we’re giving away. That’s what Google Maps is for, right? This is supposed to be an adventure after all, and any good adventure is not without its intrinsic risks and uncertainties. Happy exploring!