13 Abandoned Places in New York City You Can Still Visit
It's hard to believe that New York City, with its 8.4 million people, could even have abandoned places—but it does, and you can visit them.
World’s Fair Grounds
Both the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs were held in Flushing Meadows in Queens. Though most of the structures were intended to be temporary, plenty remains for you to explore. Best of all, they’re located in a public park, so anyone can visit. NYC Parks has gone one step further and mapped out the various spots associated with both fairs. The most striking features include the Unisphere (the giant metal globe that dominates Flushing Meadows Corona Park) and the New York State Pavilion (the futuristic towers and circular building below them)—both left over after the 1964 World’s Fair. As the structures are still visited by park goers today, they don’t have the eerie feel these photos of abandoned places around the world have—even looking at those places will give you chills.
Roosevelt Island—located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens—once housed people who had been shunned by the rest of society, including criminals, debtors, and those with mental illness. It was also home to a smallpox hospital, which later served as a nursing school. Built in 1854, the hospital was designed by James Renwick, Jr., the architect behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution Building, aka “The Castle” in Washington, D.C. Though you can’t climb inside these ruins, you are able to view the building at all angles as you stroll along the public sidewalks.
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Ellis Island Hospital Complex
There is a lot more to Ellis Island than the Main Building, which houses the museum and the iconic Registry Room. But because the preservation and renovation of these structures is so costly, much of the rest of the island has been sitting in ruins for decades. Now, thanks to the National Park Service, you can take a 90-minute guided hard-hat tour through the abandoned Ellis Island Hospital Complex. The hospital, which opened in 1902, was in operation through 1930. Highlights include a look inside the infectious and contagious disease ward, autopsy room, staff housing, and kitchen, including some “ghostly” original art by French photographer/street artist JR scattered throughout the property that give the rooms a haunting ambiance.
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Located in the Bay Terrace neighbourhood of Queens, Fort Totten is a favourite spot for urban explorers. The focal point is the Civil War fortress with striking views of the waterfront, but there are other sites to see, including officers’ housing and a 19th-century artillery battery. The whole fort is located in a NYC Park, making it easy to visit. It’s also a popular spot for filming movies and TV shows—including Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, and White Collar—so you may spot a camera crew during your visit.
Even though Central Park is the third most-visited tourist attraction in the world, it still has plenty of history—including some ruins. Most of these are on the northern side of the park, including the Blockhouse. Built in 1814, the Blockhouse is the oldest building in Central Park and the only remaining part of a fort used to defend against the British. Originally, the structure had a sunken wooden roof and a movable cannon, but today it sits roofless and empty. Though the building is locked, you’re still able to get up close and visit the exterior in the park, near 109th Street and Central Park West.
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Old City Hall Subway Station
When the New York City subway opened in 1904, the very first train out departed from the old City Hall station. Not only was the station historically significant, it was also architecturally stunning, with vaulted tile ceilings, a skylight of leaded stained glass, and chandeliers. Unfortunately, the station was shut down in 1945, as it was too small to accommodate new larger modern trains, and it has remained closed—and preserved underground—ever since. Even though it’s no longer in use, there are two ways to visit the abandoned station: You can sign up for a guided tour with the New York Transit Museum or, alternatively, you can stay on the downtown 6 train as it reaches the end of the line at Brooklyn Bridge station. As your train passes through the old City Hall station to turn around, you’ll get a glimpse of its glory.
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This seaside fort in Breezy Point, Queens, was established in 1917 to protect the city against naval attacks and is now part of the National Park Service. Today, Fort Tilden is also home to a popular beach. On your way to the shore, you can walk through the ruins of the former military base, including abandoned bunkers, batteries, and missile sites.
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Brooklyn Navy Yard
From the time it opened in 1801 through the 1960s, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was America’s premier naval shipbuilding facility. After the 60s, it was decommissioned and sold to the city and it sat mostly empty for years, falling into a state of decay. Today, the 300-acre site is being redeveloped, though many parts still lay abandoned. You can visit different parts of the Navy Yard today on your own, or take a behind-the-scenes tour to see even more of the complex.
Floyd Bennett Field
Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport. It opened in 1931 and saw many aviation firsts before being turned over to the Navy in 1941. The military no longer had a use for the airport after 1970, so in 1974 it was reopened as a park. It still operates as a park today, and you can visit the ruins of many of the original art deco airport buildings. Take ranger-guided tours of some of the abandoned hangars, or even camp on the complex (from May through October).
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New York City today is such a centre for commerce and culture that it’s easy to forget that it was once a strategic military location. Fort Wadsworth, founded by the British in 1779 in Staten Island, is one of the oldest forts in the country. It operated as an American fort in the War of 1812 and in the Civil War. Like the other forts on this list, it operates as a park today. Visitors can explore the former military stronghold, or take a guided tour with a ranger.
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Creedmoor Psychiatric Centre
Located on the outskirts of Queens, Creedmoor Psychiatric Centre opened in 1912 as a farm colony for people with mental illness. It was thought the healing surroundings of fresh air and proximity to nature would be good for patients. By 1960, the population swelled from 150 at its inception to more than 7,000. Like other similar institutions across the country, as Creedmoor became understaffed and overcrowded, conditions deteriorated until in 1984, after a murder of a patient by a staff member, it was shut down. Parts of Creedmoor still operate today as a psychiatric hospital, so it’s possible to drive through the grounds and have a look at buildings in the complex that have sat abandoned for decades.
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Located off the southern tip of Manhattan, Governors Island began as a military fortress in 1741. It was decommissioned and became a Coast Guard base in 1965. The Coast Guard vacated the island in 1996, then it sat empty for a few years while public officials tried to figure out what to do with the land and the abandoned buildings. Eventually, it opened as a park in 2005, and though it has been developed significantly since then, there are still plenty of historic military buildings to explore.
Old Croton Aqueduct Weir
Technically located just beyond New York City’s borders in the town of Ossining, the Old Croton Aqueduct was an engineering marvel, constructed to bring fresh, clean water to the city. Some of the most striking features are the weirs, which date back to 1842 and are maintenance chambers that allowed operators to access the water. This section of the aqueduct closed in 1965 and now is part of a park. You can take a guided tour of the weirs for an inside look into how New York City gained access to its water supply.
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