Thanks to zoning initiatives, in which the city grants buildings the rights to additional air space (i.e. taller buildings) in exchange for indoor and outdoor public areas, there are quite a few indoor public access areas in the least likely of locations. If you’re looking for a unique meeting spot, want to have a nice quiet lunch, or simply get some “me” time, stop in at one of these indoor public spaces in Manhattan.

A heat wave is here in New York City, with high temperatures forecasted to reach nearly 100 degrees. You can locate the nearest cooling centers here and take refuge in these public places that bring the outdoors in.

1. The Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation

The renovated Ford Foundation atrium is the perfect indoor lunch escape. It is like sitting inside a small, lush greenhouse. The air is filled with something that most New Yorkers don’t expect in the vicinity of 42nd Street: the scent of flowers. But keep in mind the only seating is the bench running alongside the perimeter, so during the week, come as early as possible if you want to grab a seat for lunch.

The Ford Foundation is located at 320 E 43rd St. Take any of the trains to Grand Central Terminal.

2. 180 Maiden Lane (formerly Continental Center)

Continental Center

This indoor enclosed public space in the Financial District is a spacious atrium replete with fake grass and picnic benches and also includes an outdoor public space on Water Street. Large and spacious, it features plenty of tables and chairs, a food kiosk, two restrooms, an exhibition space, a retail space, and an elevated platform for public events and performances. The outdoor space has benches and trees. This POPS, or Privately Owned Public Space, was recently the site of a memorial for the loss of another POPS location, 60 Wall Street.

Continental Plaza is located at 180 Maiden Lane (between Front and South Streets). Take the 2/3 to Wall Street; 4/5 or J/M to Fulton Street.

3. Park Avenue Plaza

Park Avenue Plaza

Huge indoor waterfalls provide a soothing background for those who want to sit or have lunch. On the side there are a few tables where you can study, surf the web or play chess with a friend. Of course, there’s a Starbucks that’s open until 6 p.m. But the best part: a hidden bookstore tucked inside the lobby. Park Avenue Plaza runs all the way through mid-block, so you can enter on both 52nd and 53rd streets.

55 East 52nd Street (Between Park and Madison Avenues) – Take the number 6 train to 51st Street.

4. The IBM Plaza

IBM Plaza

In one of the plushest atriums, there are literally birds flying around you, singing and chirping. One would be hard-pressed to remember that you’re only a few blocks away from one of the world’s busiest intersections: 57th Street in midtown Manhattan. There are sandwiches, coffee, and free Wifi available for one of the most relaxing hours you will spend! There is also an entrance from here into Trump Tower, should that strike your fancy. Another perk: this building is filled with great art, not only inside the atrium, but the entrance lobby of the building has work by Kenny Scharf, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and Jeff Koons.

The IMB Plaza is located at 590 Madison Avenue (at 57th Street). Take the 4/5/6 or N/R to 59th Street.

5. The Winter Garden at Brookfield Place

Winter Garden at Brookfield Place
Photo Courtesy of Brookfield Place

The atrium was severely damaged in the September 11th attacks, as almost all the glass panes were blown out by the dust clouds, but it was rebuilt in 2002. Overlooking New York Harbor, this space is home to several yearly events programs and regular indoor art installations. Brookfield Place is also home to a few great food courts, including Le District and Hudson Eats.

Brookfield Place is located at 220 Vesey Street (West of West Street). Take the E train to World Trade Center.

6. One Bryant Park

One Bryant Park

The public space inside One Bryant Park is always a nice stop, with its large, arched sculptural plantings and double-height ground floor. Located on the corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, the LEED Platinum-certified skyscraper also has some hidden secrets thanks to innovations from the Durst Organization: a rooftop bee farm (we’ve visited and even tried the honey!) and you can actually change the colors of the spire. Remember this spot if you find yourself near Times Square and need somewhere to cool off or seek refuge.

Take the B/D/F/M or 7 to Bryant Park.

7. 6 1/2 Avenue

6 1/2 Avenue atrium

In Midtown, 6 ½  Avenue is a series of mid-block crosswalks from 51st Street to 57th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue, connecting arcades within the dense buildings of Midtown. They are the unique children of the ongoing public-private love affair dotted around New York City called POPS, privately owned public spaces.

8. David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center

David Rubenstein Public Plaza

The David Rubenstein Public Plaza is one of our favorites, as we’ve seen this atrium go from a climbing wall with sparse activation to a true indoor public space. There are two vertical green walls, a cafe, and plenty of seating. And every Thursday, you are treated to live, world-class music.

If you go looking for this atrium, don’t head to Lincoln Center proper. Enter from either Broadway or Columbus Avenue, between 62nd and 63rd streets. The narrow entrance makes it easily missed, but there is a large overhang above the sidewalk to denote its existence.

9. 550 Madison Avenue Garden

550 Madison
Photo by Barret Doherty

Noted architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee originally designed the landmarked tower at 550 Madison, but its public garden atrium recently got a major upgrade designed by Snøhetta. This POPS is now a year-round garden where you can find many seating options among the lush plantings.

10. The New York Public Library

Astor Hall inside the New York Public Library

Admire the architecture of the New York Public Library’s 42nd Street branch as you seek respite from the heat. You can admire the marble-clad Astor Hall, stroll through the gift shop, and check out rare artifacts from the library’s collections in the Treasures Exhibit. Any New York Public Library makes for a great place to cool down.

Next, read about 10 man-made waterfalls in NYC.