This Saturday and Sunday in New York City, the halls of a secret society reveal all, ancient burial grounds welcome the living, and the gates blocking an abandoned hospital fall ajar.
It’s all part of Open House New York, an annual weekend where hundreds of places that are typically sealed off from the public allow access and offer tours. And with a city as caked in history as this one, there are centuries of sites to pick from.
In Manhattan, a guide leads visitors through Greenwich Village and the New York University campus. A scavenger hunt leads players through Revolutionary War-era downtown, with stops at Federal Hall and Fraunces Tavern. The Freemasons society relaxes its rules, allowing non-members to tour its Grand Lodge. The Church of the Transfiguration, beamed down to 29th Street from some fairytale countryside, shows off its 14th-century stained glass.
In the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden is dropping its grounds fees, allowing guests to stroll among more than 70,000 different plant species, including an international collection of azaleas and rhododendrons growing among native oaks and tulip trees. St. Paul’s Church, which dates from 1763 and was later used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War, is allowing walks through its cemetery and staging a reenactment of the Battle of Pell’s Point.
Historic houses across Queens are opening for the weekend, including the Voelker Orth Museum house, which has a Victorian-era bird sanctuary and garden still maintained using period techniques. The borough’s only working farm, on the grounds of the Queens County Farm Museum, is also open for touring its greenhouse, barns and orchards.
The growing continues in Brooklyn, where the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm cultivates 6,000 square-feet of organic vegetables beneath sweeping views of the skyscrapers across the East River. Locally produced bourbon is the star crop during a tour of a whiskey distillery still in operation since before Prohibition. A historian-led walk through the Flatbush neighborhood includes stops at stately Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Greek Revival houses.
Sprawling across Staten Island, what was once one of the world’s largest landfills at Fresh Kills has been converted to a serene park and nature preserve. Trundle across it on a bus trip led by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.
For those who can’t make it to New York this weekend, there are now Open House weekends hosted in cities across the world, from Jerusalem to Barcelona to Chicago and Rome.