Make the Most of Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide to Exploring New York City During the Apocalypse
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Coronavirus has hit New York City hard - as people who makes their living in tourism and education, Paige and I are keenly aware that pandemics generally aren’t the best time for exploration. But for some, the prospect of an indefinite future indoors under lock and key is one of the most haunting parts of the entire epidemic. Especially with the ban on non-essential businesses now in effect, the city feels like an especially barren wasteland right now. Not to worry - we are here for you with a comprehensive guide to staying safe without going crazy. This guide will be split into two sections and updated regularly:
1. Our personal suggestions for 50 unique adventures if you’re looking to explore while maintaining social distancing.
2. Resources that allow you to explore New York City without even getting out of bed.
Part 1: 50 Unique Adventures that Don't Involve Touching Anything
50. Bloody Angle
Today's Doyers Street is dotted with odd storefronts and restaurants. However, the area used to be the battleground for gang warfare during the Tong war. This was a gang war between the Tong and Leong gangs, started by legendary Chinese gangster Mock Duck. You can still walk around and relish in the frightening history to this day.
49. Hallett Nature Sanctuary
While Central Park may be a tourist trap, especially when it’s one of the only things open that tourists can see, Hallett Nature Sanctuary is “a sanctuary within a sanctuary”. A once undisturbed, un-manicured bird sanctuary is now a secluded green space, nestled away in the southeastern corner of Central Park. Here you will find flower-lined wood chip paths, secluded benches for reflecting, and views of all the buildings you can’t get into because of the quarantine.
48. Ulysses S. Grant Tomb
Another NYC sight where you’re unlikely to see anyone (except maybe a disgruntled security guard) is Ulysses S. Grant’s Tomb. It’s the second largest mausoleum in the Western Hemisphere and dons the quote attributed to Grant: “Let us have peace”, which I think we can all relate to right now. Here, you can try to solve the famous riddle: “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”
47. Hidden Holocaust Memorial
Hidden in one of the city’s busiest public spaces is a miniature memorial to the Holocaust. Usually this memorial is easily passed unnoticed as people flock into the park, but with most people hunkering down in their homes, this is the perfect time to search and appreciate this small but impactful site.
46. Giant Needle and Button
The Giant Needle and Button marking the fashion district is not news for New York locals. However, it is really easy to walk by these iconic NYC symbols without ever stopping to appreciate their history. Now is the perfect time to gawk like a tourist without being told off for it.
45. Remnants of 13th Avenue
You might be thinking that 2020 is turning out to be trash, but you’ll be happy to rejoice in the fact that 1837 was trash too! Well more like New York was ( and is) trash. In 1830’s New York City was eager to expand and sell underwater plots of land that were filled with trash, dirt, and pavement. This noxious concoction gave rise to the short-lived thirteenth avenue. You can still see one block of this failed project!
44. Spotlight on Broadway Map
Although Broadway is closed indefinitely, they never leave a theater stage completely dark. While there might be a shortage of lightbulbs with all the ghost lights going up, there's another “Spotlight on Broadway” we want to highlight. The “Spotlight on Broadway” Map is 28 feet long and plots the locations of the 40 Broadway theaters that were in operation at the time the map was created in 2013.
43. Pomander Walk
While many people are facing travel cancellations, you don’t have to go far to feel like you’ve just hopped off a plane onto the streets of London. The Pomander Walk is a neighborhood in the Upper West Side that was modeled after the set of a London play called Pomander Walk. This neighborhood has had famous residents such as Humphrey Bogart and Woody Allen.
42. Graffiti Hall of Fame
The Jackie Robinson Educational Complex’s schoolyard is home to the “Graffiti Hall of Fame”. Originally an unauthorized canvas, the Harlem community leader Ray Rodriguez dubbed this concrete wall to be a safe space for artists to express themselves. With school indefinitely dismissed, you won’t have to worry about looking like a huge creep while trying to appreciate the schoolyard art.
41. Rat Rock
In NYC, property is valuable and you don’t always get to pick your neighbors. For two apartment buildings on West 114th Street in Morningside Heights, this neighbor takes the form of a giant rock dubbed “Rat Rock” for the frequent rats nesting and congregating nearby. This boulder is 30 feet by 100 feet long and looks absolutely ridiculous. Rats and geology buffs rejoice!
40. Bartham’s Sidewalk Clock
If your vision is crisp enough to read it through the smudgy glass, this sidewalk clock has been telling time underfoot for over a century. Of course after a century of accumulated footprints, it’s starting to seem like maybe it would have been advisable to just hang it on a wall instead.
39. High Bridge
A bridge built extra tall at tremendous cost so that it wouldn’t impede boat traffic, the High Bridge connects Manhattan and the Bronx. It’s also the oldest surviving bridge in New York City and it’s recently reopened to pedestrians.
38. Conservatory Garden
Billed as “an oasis within an oasis”, the Conservatory Garden is a strikingly formal landscape on the side of the park. One of the few parts of the park that feels truly landscaped, the Conservatory will make you feel like you’ve snuck into the backyard at Versailles.
*Update: As of 04/06/20 the Conservatory Garden is closed
37. Long Lines Building
We know that you’ve probably had your fill of long lines if you’ve tried to visit a Costco this week, but this building has nothing to do with actual queues. This menacing windowless fortress in Manhattan instead serves as a telecommunications hub and (much more sinisterly) a major center for NSA wiretapping and spying. Not exactly subtle, guys...
36. Survivor Tree
The broken and burnt remnants of a Callery Pear tree pulled from the rubble of 9/11 made an impossible recovery. It now stands nearby as a much-needed symbol of hope and resilience in dark times.
35. Hess Triangle
The smallest piece of real estate in New York City is a dedicated triangle of land little larger than a slice of pizza. As I’m now searching for an apartment in Manhattan to move into, Hess’ Triangle is actually starting to seem pretty roomy.
34. Marilyn Monroe Subway Grate
One of entertainment’s most iconic moments occured over a totally unremarkable subway grate. Of course, as the grate is still unmarked to this day, it still is pretty much unremarkable. If you’re looking to relive an iconic cinematic moment however, it is indeed the grate on the southwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd street.
33. Roosevelt Island Cat Sanctuary
On the little residential strip of land between Manhattan and Queens, you can find an odd community of feral cats that have taken over a small corner. They don’t have many ways off the island and they don’t seem to mind. When they’re not roaming the local abandoned hospital, you can find them basking lazily at the nearby shelter - well-fed and content.
32. Houdini’s Grave
Houdini could escape from a lot of things, but he hasn’t made it out of the grave just yet. While he’s still figuring it out, be sure to visit the Queens memorial and drop off a few playing cards to keep him busy.
31. Commercial Street Cat Village
We may be infected by a new plague now, but let us never forget that the rats were here terrorizing us first. Thankfully, this menace is at least being kept at bay by a community of feral cats in Brooklyn. Take a look at their waterfront village and thank them for their service.
30. Sidewalk Subway Map
While the subway itself should be avoided at all costs, there’s no harm in looking at a map of all the places you shouldn’t be traveling right now. This subway map is carved directly into the sidewalk and is every bit as confusing as any other subway map. Take some time to muse and think about how lucky we are for Google Maps.
29. Seinfeld Diner
Among many classic rom-com filming locations, the Upper West Side is also home to Seinfeld and his crew. Despite the show not actively being filmed in New York, a number of recognizable exteriors are present to explore. This includes the outside of Monk’s Cafe which is filmed in front of the iconic neon of Tom’s Restaurant.
28. 9/11 Sphere and Memorial Fountain
Two beautiful tributes to the attacks on 9/11 can be actively seen displayed outdoors at the memorial site. The first is the sphere, a cast bronze sculpture on site at the World Trade Centers that survived the collapse and the second is the memorial fountains which stunningly pour water into the footprints of the original Twin Towers.
27. Alice in Wonderland Statue
Central Park has a number of statues with interesting history behind them, but few carry the whimsy of the Alice in Wonderland statues. These statues are a favorite of kids to climb on however, so with social distancing in mind it might be worth sticking to looking at them for the time being.
26. Septuagesimo Uno
Manhattan’s smallest park will feel much more appropriately scaled for anyone who lives in the city and has become accustomed to everything being sized like a shoebox. The park is blink-and-you-miss it - even if you’re already inside.
25. High Line
One of the more well-known outdoor explorations in New York, this converted above-ground railroad is nevertheless a welcome escape above the city. The elevated train tracks have been converted into a gorgeous landscaped walkway that allows some delightful city views and plenty of places to sit and, for a moment, be thankful that you’re not indoors.
24. Central Park Scavenger Hunt
Looking for the thrill of a scavenger hunt minus the interaction with others? One of our favorite adventures was using the mobile app Big City Hunt as it directed us on a fun, historical romp through Central Park - you can pick you pace and stop when you want to. There’s multiple competitors with deals available on Groupon, but the one we used is now renamed scavengerhunt.com.
23. Strawberry Fields Memorial
Perhaps the most visited part of Central Park, the memorial is a must for Beatles fans and explorers alike. It sits across from John Lennon’s former home (The Dakota) and features the beautiful tiled ‘Imagine’ centerpiece.
22. Jeffrey Hook Light House
One of the last remaining lighthouses in Manhattan, this little red beacon was spared because of overwhelming support from fans of the book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. It still sits cheerfully under the “Great Gray Bridge” - the George Washington Bridge - awaiting your visit.
21. Toynbee Tiles
These mysterious, cryptic and possibly meaningless tiles feature all across New York and many other cities as well. Although their origin and purpose are disputed, they certainly offer ample mystery and confusion. Any inside scoop on what “TOYNBEE IDEA - IN Kubrick’s 2001 - RESURRECT DEAD - ON PLANET JUPITER” means?
A full map of the tiles can be found here: http://www.toynbeeidea.com/
20. Private Passage
A unique bit of waterfront art, this 30 foot long bottle sculpture holds a surprise inside. When you look through the windows, you can see an interior stateroom of the Queen Mary intricately recreated inside - about as close as you’ll want to get to a cruise ship nowadays.
19. Dead Horse Bay
A fascinating bay with a grotesque history - used first as a dumping ground for horse caracsses when they were being turned into glue and later as a landfill, today the bay doesn’t fare much better. A notorious sight for post-apocalyptic trash, you can explore the bay and all the interesting garbage (including occasional horse bones) that still wash there to this day.
18. Times Square Hum
With only 20 hopeless tourists and a lost-looking Elmo wandering around the all-but-deserted Times Square, the age of coronavirus may be your best chance to hear this oft-overlooked art installation. Buried deep below the surface vents is a sound installation that has been letting off a continuous and almost entirely unnoticed hum. This purposeful installation was intended in part as a social experiment - would people notice the disembodied hum and take pause? Well, now that there’s nothing else to do: take that pause!
Read more about our adventure here!
17. Preserved Remnants of 17th Century NYC
Sometimes it’s nice to harken back to the good ol’ days, but it can be difficult to know just how far to harken. If you’re looking to take it way back to where it all began, look no further than the pedestrian plaza of 85 Broad Street. Mysteriously marked “Portal Down to Old New York” on Google Maps, this area is not a wormhole through time (as far as we know), but instead a showcase of preserved 1600’s Manhattan under glass.
16. Union Square Metronome
One of the most prominent clocks in New York City is also one of the most famously unhelpful. No, you’re not watching the stock market plummeting - this baffling digital giant starts as a regular clock narrowing down to fractions of a second and then reverses backwards into a reverse clock counting down from 24 hours.
15. Ghostbusters Firehouse
TriBeCa, an area known for wealthy people who live in ugly buildings, is also home to one of cinema’s most recognizable locations. Grab your gear and head to Hook and Ladder 8, the iconic firehouse exterior for the Ghostbusters crew. They love visitors there: a couple of murals out front make for a great snapshot!
14. Calvert Vaux Cove
In the picturesque inlet of Calvert Vaux Cove you can see a relatively standard waterfront framing an eerie abandoned boat. For fans of the creepy and macabre, it’s the scariest ship on the seas besides the Diamond Princess.
13. Coney Art Walls
While Coney Island’s ample thrill rides and attractions are closed (both because it’s cold and because it’s the end of the world), one of the loveliest hidden gems remains available to view. The outdoors graffiti art of the Coney Art Walls displays artwork in a variety of styles: from breathtaking to baffling.
12. Midtown Waterfall
A beautiful, random slice of escapism in Midtown Manhattan, Greenacre Park offers a 25-foot waterfall to relax in front of. It’s the biggest waterfall you’ll see in Manhattan that isn’t caused by ineffective storm drainage!
11. Sisyphus Stones
If your life feels unbalanced and chaotic right now, then perhaps the remedy is this impossibly balanced collection of riverside stones. Near the George Washington Bridge are dozens of stacks of rocks that seem to defy physics and purpose.
10. Audobon Bird Statue Scavenger Hunt/Audubon Mural Project
If you’re feeling in the mood for a long walk, the Audubon Society has steadily colonized much of the Upper West Side with public artwork. This includes striking murals and wooden bird sculptures plopped periodically along Broadway.
9. Friends Apartment Building
While most fans of the show are heartbroken to learn how aggressively the filmmakers avoided coming to New York City to film (the majority of sets were in California), true fans are thrilled by the few iconic exteriors you can visit in the show’s supposed hometown. This includes the Friends Apartment Building itself, where Rachel, Monica, Joey and Chandler all live in an impossibly decadent apartment we can only dream of being quarantined in.
8. Coney Island Creek
The creek occupies a sizable area of 10 acres, but would be relatively unremarkable if it weren’t for the debris littered along the waterway. Discarded ship parts line the creek including, most famously and photogenically of all, a yellow submarine left abandoned in the water.
7. Elevated Acre
In a city of steel and concrete, it’s a rare treat to find a lush oasis that isn’t already common knowledge. If you want to peel back your mask and enjoy more than six feet of breathing room, there are few parks that offer the seclusion of the Elevated Acre in the bustling Financial District. Built atop a parking deck and hidden by surrounding construction, it’s one of the last vestiges of peace on this crazy island.
6. Abandoned Smallpox Hospital
Although perhaps a tasteless addition to this list, if you can stomach the unfortunate relevance of this site then it becomes a treat to witness. The historical smallpox hospital sits in ruins on the south end of Roosevelt Island, one of the prettiest residential neighborhoods to walk. As the name implies, it is indeed an island so you do need to get there; as an added bonus therefore we recommend taking a flight on the Roosevelt Island Tramway. It’s only the price of a Metrocard swipe and you get stunning aerial views of the city as you cross to the island.
5. Fort Totten
Not many ruins encourage adventuring, but this structure (originally built in 1862 to fend off Confederate ships) is a part of a city park and you’re welcome to explore the ruins at your leisure. Former officer’s quarters, a movie theatre, laboratories and a hospital all lay abandoned across the grounds. If New York City isn’t feeling abandoned enough for you as is, here’s the place to up your apocalypse game.
4. Blockhouse No. 1
Another fortification and one of our favorite hidden secrets of Central Park, Blockhouse No. 1 is the second oldest surviving structure in the park, having been built in a bout of nervous overplanning for the War of 1812. Despite its history, the structure is almost always overlooked because it is hidden in the thickly wooded north side of Central Park. A devoted explorer will be treated to this bizarre time capsule and the beautiful hilltop views surrounding it.
3. Remnants of The World’s Fair
Flushing Meadows is a huge public park established for the 1939 World’s Fair. The park was again used for the 1964 fair and was packed with cutting edge structures (including rides like It’s a Small World which is now irritating regularly in Disney World). Some of the structures never made it down however and these iconic towering colossuses can be explored any time.
2. Abandoned Redbird
Arguably the most sanitary Subway car in New York, this retired relic from MTA history sits dormant in a Queens field. Nearly 1,300 other retired Redbird cars have found new life as artificial reefs, but you can easily visit this one without packing your scuba gear or touching a germy subway pole.
1. Ramble Cave
One of our personal favorite hidden secrets in all of New York and it’s still wide open - if you know where to look. Hidden in the thick brambles of a Central Park area called The Ramble, is an often overlooked cave with a dark history of murders and runaways. While the cave itself is filled in because of its disturbingly irresponsible usage, you can still hop a fence and climb the stairs down to it if you’re feeling brave.
Part 2: Explore New York without Lifting Your Head from Your Pillow
NYC Art Museums with Collections Online
American Museum of Natural History
American Numismatic Society
American Theatre Wing
Bronx Museum of the Arts
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn Botanic Garden