12 Gorgeous Sites New Yorkers Rarely Visit (& How To Get In)

Photo: Courtesy of Matt Lambros.
We all know New York is brimming with masterpieces of architecture and design, all you have to do is take a moment to look up. It's one of the things that New Yorkers — whether native or transplants — love most about living here. Beyond more obvious landmarks like the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, and the stately museums lining upper Fifth Avenue, we're always on the hunt to seek out lesser known spots off the beaten path.

In a city that’s always reinventing itself, historic sites are constantly being reborn, and new places to explore are cropping up all the time. From a recently restored 19th-century bank to a peaceful campus modeled on Oxford University, we rounded up 12 awe-inspiring hidden gems bound to impress even the most jaded New Yorkers. Click ahead, and prep your itinerary. 
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Photo: Courtesy of James Ewing.
Park Avenue Armory
Far from a conventional museum, the Park Avenue Armory is renowned for both its cutting-edge cultural programming and its impressive architecture. The Armory has an active calendar of cultural events and offers guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The New York City Landmarks Commission has hailed the imposing edifice as “the single most important collection of 19th-century interiors to survive intact in one building,” and it is a truly awe-inspiring space. Built by the National Guard’s Seventh Regiment in 1861, it was designed by the greatest architects of the time: Stanford White and Louis Comfort Tiffany. The 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall is one of the most massive spaces in the city — and that’s just the beginning. Other rooms, including the Veterans Room, Board of Officers Room, and Colonel’s Reception Room showcase beautifully preserved historic artifacts and design.

Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue (between 66th and 67th streets); 212-616-3930.
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Photo: Courtesy of Jorge F. Pereira.
Italian Academy For Advanced Studies
Columbia University’s campus is full of gorgeous buildings open to its students and faculty, and the Italian Academy is one of the very best. Originally called the Casa Italiana, it was built in 1927 by McKim, Mead & White, the prestigious architectural firm that designed the neoclassical campus. Inspired by Italian Renaissance castles, the building features a theatre with tall windows and red velvet curtains, as well as a small — but gorgeous — library.

The Italian Academy is a research center for visiting scholars, and hosts many events that are free and open to the public including lectures, concerts, and art openings.

Italian Academy for Advanced Studies, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue (between 116th and 118th streets); 212-854-1623.
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Photo: Courtesy of Laura Itzkowitz.
Frick Art Reference Library
Chances are you’ve been to the Frick Museum on the Upper East Side, but did you know there’s an art reference library just next door?

Gilded Age steel tycoon Henry Clay Frick was an avid art collector, and he displayed his prized treasures (including Rembrandts, Titians, and Vermeers) in his Fifth Avenue mansion. His daughter, Helen, was a patron of the arts, too. Not only did she add to his collection of paintings and furniture, she also built an art reference library to further the study of the arts. Similar in style to the mansion, the library features a reading room with wooden tables and chairs, a rooftop terrace with fantastic views, and a secret bowling alley in the basement. Though the latter is closed off, the library is open to the public.

Frick Art Reference Library, 10 East 71st Street (between Madison and Fifth avenues); 212-288-8700.
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Photo: Courtesy of Laura Itzkowitz.
Spa Nalai At The Park Hyatt
Unlike in Los Angeles and Miami, it can be hard to find a nice pool in New York. But, one new spot has us dying to take a dip.

On the 25th floor of the One57 skyscraper, Spa Nalai at the Park Hyatt New York has a stunning space and amazing views. The whole Yabu Pushelberg-designed hotel exudes modern elegance, from the Living Room bar and the Back Room restaurant, to the Onyx Room for events, and, of course, the spa. The turquoise lap pool stretches out under an abstract chandelier, flanked by daybeds with enviable views of Midtown. Splurge on one of the luxurious spa treatments, and access to the pool is yours.

Spa Nalai at The Park Hyatt, 153 West 57th Street (between Sixth and Seventh avenues); 646-774-1210.
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Photo: Courtesy of Laura Itzkowitz.
TWA Flight Center
The disused TWA Terminal at JFK Airport is New York City’s most spectacular example of mid-century modernism. Eero Saarinen built the terminal in 1962 as the hub of TWA, when air travel represented the promise of the future. The pristine white building is all curves, on the inside and out. Concrete and glass blend seamlessly, complemented by the minimalist red walkways and seating areas.

Standing in the terminal feels like being on the set of Mad Men — you can just imagine Don Draper sipping an Old Fashioned as he waits to board his flight — though it actually appeared in Catch Me If You Can. Every October, Open House New York opens up the terminal to the public for one weekend — there's talk of the space becoming a hotel, though, so that arrangement might not last much longer.

TWA Flight Center, Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens.
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Photo: Courtesy of Bart Barlow.
Rainbow Room
Perched high on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center, the landmarked Rainbow Room — built by John D. Rockefeller in 1934 with the aim of making it a nightclub to surpass all others — recently unveiled a fabulous restoration.

The impressive space is famous for its rotating dance floor and glitzy crystal chandelier. Countless stars have walked its floors (Cole Porter, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson, to name a few) and legendary bartender Dale DeGroff revolutionized the way we think of cocktails, paving the way for the craft cocktail movement.

If you’re ready to splurge, make a reservation for the $95 Sunday brunch or $175 prix-fixe dinner on Monday nights (note: the restaurant is only open on these two days). Both are accompanied by live jazz, swing, or big band music, ensuring you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the Rainbow Room’s heyday.

Rainbow Room, 30 Rockefeller Plaza (between 49th and 50th streets); 212-632-5000.
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Photo: Laura Itzkowitz/Untapped Cities.
General Society Of Mechanics & Tradesmen Of The City Of New York
It’d be easy to pass by the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen without ever suspecting what a beautiful space is hiding behind its 44th street façade. Enter, and you’ll find a stately library — the second oldest in New York City — complete with marble columns, stained glass, and a coffered ceiling. A balcony with red-white-and-blue banners hanging on the balustrades frames the area.

Upstairs, there are floors with classrooms, a lounge, and even a classical art studio where students learn to sculpt in marble. Among the quirky things you’ll find inside is a collection of antique locks on display on the second floor. You can check out the building by attending one of its expert lectures with set designers, lace manufacturers, and other craftsmen.

General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, 20 West 44th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-840-1840.
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Photo: Courtesy of Chris Ford.
Weylin B. Seymour's
Built in 1875 as the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, this breathtaking building reopened as a private event space last year after a four-year restoration.

Inside, the main hall features a dome painted in vivid blue, red, and gold. The original cage elevator ferries guests to the upper floors, where rooms with Art Nouveau wallpaper and fireplaces are used for meetings and dinners. Swing an invite to a fancy soiree for a peek inside, or visit during Open House New York, when the building is opened up to the public.

Weylin B. Seymour's, 175 Broadway (between Driggs and Bedford avenues); 718-963-3639.
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
Woolworth Building
Dubbed the Cathedral of Commerce, the Woolworth Building was the world’s tallest skyscraper when it was completed in 1913. The man behind it, Frank Woolworth, had changed the way Americans shop with his "Five-and-Dime" stores, and he commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to construct the Gothic tower.

The lobby, which was closed off to the public after 9/11, is elaborately decorated with marble, Byzantine-style mosaics, and gold elements. If you look closely, you’ll see gargoyle-esque sculptures affixed to arches that actually depict Woolworth and Gilbert.

The famed landmark has many secrets, not least of which is the abandoned pool in the basement. It's also full of private offices, and the upper floors are currently being converted to condos. Though you can’t wander in on your own, you can take a guided tour with Untapped Cities.

Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway (between Barclay Street and Park Place).
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Photo: Courtesy of Matt Lambros.
Kings Theatre
Recently reopened after sitting abandoned for over 37 years, the Kings Theater is Brooklyn’s most opulent performance space. Originally opened in 1929 as a venue for films and live performances, it was named one of Loew’s five “Wonder Theaters,” famous for its Old World splendor.

The ornate building in Flatbush was extremely popular in its heyday, but declined during the Great Depression and finally shuttered in 1977. The $94-million restoration returned the Kings Theater to its original Versailles-style glory, with elaborate gold motifs, plush red seats, and vintage light fixtures. It’s a trek to get there, but with a calendar of performances by Sarah McLaughlin, Björk, and Sufjan Stevens, it’s certainly worth the trip.

Kings Theatre, 1027 Flatbush Avenue (between Tilden Avenue and Duryea Place).
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Photo: Michelle Young/Untapped Cities.
French Embassy
The stately, ivy-covered French Embassy on 79th and Fifth is even more incredible inside than it is outside. Cross the threshold, and you’ll find yourself in a marble rotunda with a classical statue in the center. Off to the side, a small antechamber is decorated in Louis XIV style furniture. Upstairs, a salon is used for swanky parties and cultural events.

The building just became a lot easier to get into thanks to the recently-opened bookstore, Albertine, which sells books in French and literature in translation. At a time when many bookstores are closing, Albertine is a little jewel box of a space with many nooks for reading undisturbed.

French Embassy, 972 Fifth Avenue (between 78th and 79th streets); 212-439-1400.
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Photo: Courtesy of Laura Itzkowitz.
General Theological Seminary
Occupying a whole square block in Chelsea, the General Theological Seminary is a hidden oasis in Manhattan. Protected by tall iron gates, the campus is full of red brick buildings and chapels that surround a peaceful inner courtyard — a design inspired by Oxford University.

The campus includes classroom buildings, a refectory, a bell tower with panoramic views, and a chapel with wooden pews, stained glass windows, and an organ. The seminary is occasionally open for special events, including the annual Chelsea Music Festival, held every June.

General Theological Seminary, 440 West 21st Street (between Ninth and 10th avenues); 212-243-5150.