New York City can be one noisy place. The urban thrum — horns blaring, dogs barking, traffic, trains, sirens, and jackhammers — is both one of the city’s dizzy charms and one of its persistent nuisances. A reporter for The Guardian not long ago informally measured a noise level of 91 decibels (one decibel above a food blender) for a popular Brooklyn restaurant, and 95 decibels (just five decibels short of a jet engine) on the platform at the Union Square subway station. And according to The New York Times, noise remains the number-one complaint to the city’s 311 non-emergency hotline, accounting for about 420,000 calls a year. And yet, even here, you can find moments of idyllic quiet, no earplugs required. Herewith, we present seven of our favorite urban sanctums, all of them accessible to the public, some of them for free, where you can escape to think or just sit in peace.
United Nations Meditation Room
Next to artist Marc Chagall’s 12-foot-high “Peace Window” at the United Nations Headquarters, you’ll find a door that leads to the Meditation Room. One of the quietest spots in the city, the compact space is sparsely decorated with an abstract mural, stone altar, and a few simple backless rush chairs for a much-needed timeout.
Aire Ancient Baths
When you’re in the mood to splurge for a bit of solitude, Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca is just the ticket. The oddly specific sum of $100.32 (Monday through Thursday) or $110.77 (Friday through Sunday), buys you 90 minutes in Aire’s subterranean pools — warm, cool, saltwater, and air-jetted — in spaces that are cavernous, moody, candlelit, and quiet. Naturally, you can up the indulgence factor (and the price) pretty significantly, adding massages, facials, and even in a private bath infused with red wine, olive oil, or cava.
The Astor Chinese Garden Court at The Met
Modeled on a Ming Dynasty scholar’s courtyard, this covered idyll with its moon gate entrance, winding walkway, and open pavilion offers the perfect opportunity to escape the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Whether or not you’re a person of faith, a church is a great place to sit and think when you need a bit of solitude. One of the most iconic sacred spaces in the city is St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is large enough to take up a city block. Here you can sit and reflect, surrounded by Neo-Gothic splendor, elegant marble and stained glass, while outside the city powers on.
NoMad Hotel Library
Sometimes you don’t just want to seek some peace and quiet, you want to do it in stylish surroundings. If so, head to the NoMad Hotel Library. Open to the public, the library serves cocktails and finger food while you work or browse the rows of books that line its walls.
When you want to get away from the city for a while, what better method than to visit space? You can take a virtual trip, via the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. This 429-seat theater features a dome-shaped screen that lets you enjoy an immersive experience of the universe from its birth to the present. At this writing, the planetarium is undergoing an upgrade to its custom-made Zeiss dome projection system; shows will resume on February 16. In the meantime, though, the AMNH — one of the world’s biggest museum campuses — has no shortage of peaceful corners. (Our favorite: any of the nine contemplative rooms in the Hall of Human Origins).
Rose Main Reading Room
Of course, no such list would be complete without the New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room. With its glowing chandeliers, high ceilings and book-lined walls, this majestic space is the perfect place to work in style—and quiet.