Cat cafes, taxidermied animals, secret parks, and a museum dedicated to the NY Fire Department are just a few of our top picks
Sure, everyone’s heard of Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, and Times Square. But New York City hides many facets just under the surface. If you look beyond the popular attractions and tourist traps, you’ll find everything from perfectly preserved historic houses to quaint fishing villages. Read on to uncover hidden gems NYC has to offer to families who look beyond the obvious—places that even some local New Yorkers might not know about! These largely unknown spots might not get all the tourists and attention, but they’re well worth a visit for families with children who are looking to see another side of NYC.
Hidden Gems in Manhattan
Escape into a Fairy Tale Garden: The Conservatory Garden
Central Park has many popular attractions you’ve probably heard of. The Conservatory Garden, tucked into the side of the park across the street from El Museo del Barrio, is one of the park’s hidden treasures. The Conservatory Garden is Central Park’s formal garden (shoutout to the more informal Shakespeare Garden by Belvedere Castle, another gem) and consists of six acres of tulips, lilacs, crabapple trees, chrysanthemums, and more. The garden is gorgeous year-round—which makes it a popular choice for wedding photo shoots—but is especially delightful in the spring when the beautiful flowers are in bloom and it’s visited by many different kinds of butterflies.
1233 5th Ave.
Visit a Hidden Indoor Park: Ford Foundation Atrium
Step inside the Ford Foundation building in the middle of the bustling city and find yourself in a lush tropical jungle. No, you’re not imagining things—you’ve just stumbled into one of the city’s hidden parks. And the Ford Foundation Atrium is one of the most magical, consisting of over 40 species of trees, vines, and shrubs, as well as a reflecting pool.
This garden is open to the public and also strives to be accessible to as many people as possible: a sensory section encourages people to touch, smell, and interact with the plants (and includes signage in braille) while a wheelchair path winds around most of the garden.
320 E 43rd St.
Peek into a Cabinet of Curiosities: Mmuseumm
Mmuseumm—no, that’s not a typo—is a tiny museum housed in an elevator shaft that takes inspiration from old-style cabinets of curiosities. The museum displays found and made objects of modern origin on floor-to-ceiling displays along three walls. What’s on display varies by season but you can expect to find objects that define the current times.
The Mmuseumm is closed in winter and keeps sporadic hours, but you can stop by any time during its open season to take a peek at the displays—literally, through peepholes made exactly for this purpose.
4 Cortlandt Alley
Shop for Books Under the Stars: Albertine
Located just south of Museum Mile, Albertine is a one-of-a-kind bookshop. The space, which is part of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, boasts the largest collection of French-language and translated-from-French books in the United States. This is cause enough to visit if you’re interested in or speak French, but the other real draw is the absolutely gorgeous interior. Head up the stairs to the second floor to find a celestial painting on the ceiling, with deep blues for backdrop and shining gold stars. History buffs, here’s another reason to visit:
The bookstore is located inside the historic Payne Whitney House. Albertine frequently hosts events, talks, and workshops, making it a popular destination among the locals, but often overlooked due to being just outside of the more well-traveled path of the museum mile.
972 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
Check out Vintage FDNY Artifacts: NYC Fire Museum
New York City is well known for its many excellent museums, and the NYC Fire Museum is one of the lesser-known gems. Head over to see artifacts from the history of the FDNY from the late 18th century through today. In addition to these displays, the museum has a mock household that walks visitors through fire safety in an interactive way.
278 Spring St.
Discover the Whimsical Sculptures of Tom Otterness: Real World Sculptures Park
You may have seen Tom Otterness’ sculptures in the 14th St., 8th Ave. train station. These little round-headed bronze creatures add a touch of whimsy to the space and are a delight to discover around the station. But few people know that you can find even more of Otterness’ sculptures in this little hidden gem of a park. Part of the larger Rockefeller Park, the Real World Sculptures Park is chock-full of more whimsical sculptures, in displays that seem to paint a picture of a whole different world. It’s a wonderful place for kids to explore and parents to relax in a park in the shade.
River Terrace and Chambers St.
Battery Park City
Hidden Gems in Brooklyn
Play in a Super Sweet Playground: Domino Park
Domino Park’s name hints at its history: The park stands on the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery. The style is also a nod to its history, featuring one of the most unique playgrounds in NYC with an industrial feel and huge slides. The whole family can enjoy the space, too, thanks to an elevated walkway that offers waterfront views and a peek across the river at Manhattan. In the summer, the park has two water features to help keep cool, while ongoing development has more fun planned for the future of the site.
15 River St.
Fight Crime in Style: Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.
This superhero supply store is a must for any crime fighters, both aspiring and current. You’ll find everything a hero might need here, from costumes and cool shirts to superpowers and gadgets! This store provides a fun treasure hunt for any superhero-loving kid or kid-at-heart. And by shopping here, you’re actually contributing to a good cause: The store is run by 826NYC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids ages 6-18 boost their writing skills and empower them to utilize their creativity.
372 5th Ave.
Marvel at Taxidermied Animals and Jewish History: Torah Animal World
The Living Torah Museum is an appointment-only museum that serves up a unique experience, to say the least. Inside this small residence, you’ll find artifacts from Jewish history and the Torah. It contains a wealth of information and history and is definitely a must-visit if you want to learn more about the culture and history of Jewish religious texts.
But it’s also a chance to step into Torah Animal World, a collection of taxidermied animals that were mentioned in the Torah. The experience includes an explanation of where these animals can be found in the religious texts, and a chance to see lions, zebras, snakes, and other real animals up close and personal.
1601 41st St.
Eat Insta-worthy Toast Art: Davelle
Davelle’s name and location don’t give away its true nature: a Japanese-style kissaten (cafe). At Davelle, the presentation is part of the meal. From a beautifully hand-drawn menu to Instagram-worthy gorgeous toasts and meals, this is one of those rare times that the dish you get will look exactly like the pictures on the menu! This makes eating here a feast for both the stomach and eyes.
The space isn’t widely known but it’s beloved by locals so you may need to show up early to snag a seat.
102 Suffolk St.
Lower East Side
Hidden Gems in the Bronx
Eat Authentic Italian Dishes: Arthur Avenue Market
When you hear the name “Little Italy,” you might not immediately think of the Bronx. But the Arthur Avenue Market is one of the best places in NYC to find authentic Italian meals and goods. Dubbed “the Real Little Italy,” Arthur Avenue is the place to go for Italian baked goods, fish and meats, pasta, mozzarella, and so much more. Plus, head into the Arthur Avenue Market for a real treat: an indoor market full of vendors selling fresh and baked goods.
2396 Arthur Ave. and the surrounding area
Explore a Fishing Village: City Island
This one might not be a hidden gem, per se—you may have at least heard of it. But it’s certainly not at the top of people’s lists to visit when heading to NYC, and many New Yorkers have never actually been to the island. This little fishing island is a stone’s throw away from Pelham, but it has a completely different atmosphere. Head there for fresh seafood—fished up and cleaned right in front of you! Explore boat and yacht clubs, eat at a delectable seafood restaurant, or just settle down on a bench and enjoy the calm atmosphere and water views.
Island in the Long Island Sound
Accessible by bridge at City Island Rd
Hidden Gems in Queens
Enjoy Authentic Vegetarian South Indian Foods: Temple Canteen
The Temple Canteen is housed inside a Hindu temple, which is worth a visit simply to bask in its absolute beauty. Head downstairs to find this informal food hall, whose menu consists of authentic vegetarian and vegan South Indian meals and treats at ridiculously affordable prices. While you’re there, stop by the gift shop, or order some food to go and bring the goodness home with you!
45-57 Bowne St.
Hidden Gems in Staten Island
Sample Grandmother’s Cooking from Around the World: Enoteca Maria
Have a hankering for some of grandmother’s cooking? Enoteca Maria can fill that hole in your heart with real at-home cooking. Every weekend, they bring in a different grandmother from around the world to present their culture’s cooking. (During the week, they have their own resident Nonna cooking up down-home Italian meals). This means that every time you stop by, you’ll have a chance to sample a different culture’s authentic meals, with a frequently rotating and changing menu.
You can even bring some of this wholesome goodness to your own kitchen thanks to the Nonnas of the World project, which is a virtual cookbook of grandma’s cooking, put together by the community.
27 Hyatt St.
All Around the City!
Visit New York’s Historic Houses Through the Historic House Trust
From Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage in the Bronx to the last remaining lighthouse in Manhattan, the houses and landmarks under the protective umbrella of the Historic House Trust are maintained in their original historic states. While some are more interesting for hardcore history buffs, others hold special family days and children’s events that introduce kids to history in approachable ways.
For instance, the King Manor in Brooklyn holds a free family program on the first and third Saturdays of each month. This program, called Hands-on History, uses historic-themed arts, crafts, and storytelling to see current events and holidays from a historic lens.
Snuggle up with Some (Adoptable!) Kitties: NYC’s Cat Cafes
Did you know that NYC has cat cafes? Yep—three of them! These provide a purrfect family getaway whether you can’t have pets in your building, you want the benefits of petting a warm purring creature without the stress of caring for them full time, or you just feel like a change from your own cat (don’t worry, we won’t tell him!).
Plus, all the cafes work in collaboration with animal shelters, which means that if you find yourself bonding with a particularly friendly feline, you can apply to adopt her!
NYC currently has three operating cat cafes:
46 Hester St.
Lower East Side
26 Clinton St.
Lower East Side
The Brooklyn Cat Cafe
76 Montague St.
Seek Out All the Space Invaders
If you are a fan of street art, you may know about the French artist who goes by the name Invader. He’s responsible for dropping tile mosaic Space Invaders throughout the world and there are quite a few in New York. These often get removed so you can’t totally guarantee where you’ll find them but there’s a good list here and you can even sign up for a custom walking tour to check them out! Download the FlashInvaders app and get points for finding these around the city.