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This post tells you how you can the old City Hall subway station on your own or on a guided tour through the New York Transit Museum.
NOTE: THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. FREE TOURS BY FOOT DOES NOT OFFER GUIDED TOURS OF OLD CITY HALL STATION. PLEASE REFER QUESTIONS ABOUT TOURS TO THE NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM.
The station was the very first subway station in NYC, opening in 1904 and closing in 1945.
For many decades it wasn’t possible to visit the abandoned station, which remained pristine and stunning over the years despite its disuse.
Below, we detail how you can visit on your own. We also list how you can take a tour through the New York Transit Museum.
How to ride through the abandoned City Hall Station on Your Own
The station is at the end of the 6 train line which terminates at the “Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station” in Lower Manhattan. We recommend using this Google Maps link for directions to the station.
It is located beneath the magnificent Municipal Building at the intersection of Centre Street and Chambers Street.
Because the downtown-bound 6 train must make a U-turn to head back uptown, the train makes a loop through this secret station.
Here’s how to see it:
NOTE: The 6 train is a local train. Depending on the distance you would be traveling, you might consider taking the 4 or 5 express trains to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station and jumping on the 6 train there.
TIP: The station is located at the end of our pay-what-you-like Lower Manhattan walking tours as well as our GPS-enabled Lower Manhattan audio tour. Free Tours by Foot does not offer tours of this station.
It is also at the Manhattan end of a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge so it makes for a great add-on to a walk over the Bridge.
Be sure to look at our guide about Walking the Brooklyn Bridge.
When to go
It’s best to go on a bright sunny day so that the station will be naturally illuminated by the skylights in the ceiling.
For the best possible view, try to go on a day when the New York Transit Museum is giving one of their members-only tours.
On those days the station’s chandeliers will be turned on for the ‘paying’ guests who will be riding in the first car of the train, so be sure to ride in a car further back!
These are the 2018 dates when the lights will be on:
If you have any questions about the tours, please visit the New York Transit Museum. We at Free Tours by Foot do not offer tours of the station.
TIP: The New York Transit Museum is a popular attraction for adults and kids alike. Find out more about it from our post Top 10 Things to Do with Kids in New York City.
The Transit Museum is included for free in the NY Pass tourist discount pass. If you aren’t sure about getting a pass, see our post, Which New York City tourist pass is right for you?
Good to know
Keep in mind that staying on the train isn’t officially legal. But it appears that MTA no longer strictly enforces the announcement that passengers leave the train at the Brooklyn Bridge station.
Secretly visiting the station is somewhere in the ‘grey’ area of legality.
The train conductors know what a splendid sight the old City Hall station is and seem to turn a blind eye to those who stay on the 6 train to catch a glimpse.
If you are the adventurous type, you can approach your train conductor and ask politely, and with a big smile, if he or she will open the doors to let you have a quick peek at the station.
On October 27, 1904, New York City’s first subway route started operating. The train began at City Hall and traveled north to Grand Central Terminal, through Times Square and up to 145th Street. The fare to ride the subway was a mere five cents!
The architects of the station were George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge who also designed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
The station has many unique design elements, most notably its lack of straight lines – with curved entryways and vaulted ceilings, the station has a delicacy like no other. This intimate station has electric brass chandeliers, intricate skylights, oak furnishings, white terra cotta, and decorative plaques.
The arched ceilings were designed by the Gustavino family who revolutionized architecture with their patented ‘vaulted tile ceiling technique’ and whose works can be seen in over 1,000 spaces across America including 300 right here in New York City such as the Whispering Gallery in Grand Central Terminal.
By the 1940s, quantity became more important than quality and the larger, adjacent Brooklyn Bridge subway station had become the more popular station with ‘straphangers’. Unlike City Hall’s smaller charming station, Brooklyn Bridge’s station and platform could hold more commuters and accommodate longer trains.
City Hall Station passenger numbers dwindled and the station was closed it to the public on December 31, 1945. Recognizing its beauty and its significance to New York City’s history, the station was granted interior landmark status in 1979.
Tip: Anytime you are riding the subway be on the look-out for great musicians, buskers, and performers. Our post about Where to find New York City Street Performers and Subway Music will lead you right to them!
Written by Courtney Shapiro