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Midtown Manhattan Self-Guided Tour

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This post is a self-guided tour of Midtown Manhattan that you can use any time day or night. If you would like a guided experience, we offer several walking tours of Midtown Manhattan. Our tours have no cost to book and have a pay-what-you-like policy.  This tour is also available in an anytime, GPS-enabled audio tour.

 

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SELF-GUIDED TOUR OF MIDTOWN MANHATTAN

The tour starts at the Empire State Building located at 5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets.

For exact directions from your starting point use this link for Google directions

By subway: 34th Street-Herald Square (Subway lines B, D, F, N, Q, R, V, W) or 33rd Street Station by 6 train. 

By ferry: You can now take a ferry to 34th Street and walk or take the M34 bus to 5th Avenue. Read our post on the East River Ferry

TIP:  If you are taking one of the many hop-on, hop-off bus tours such as Big Bus Tours or Grayline all have stops at the Empire State Building.

This is an interactive map. Place your mouse on the map and scroll around.

 


A - EMPIRE STATE BUILDING (1931) Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets

Empire State Building

For information on how to visit the ESB and for quick fun facts, check out our Empire State Building blog post.

We also created a post comparing the observation decks from the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and One World Observatory at the 'Freedom Tower'.

The ESB is 1250 feet tall (381 meters), and has 73 elevators ridden daily by tourists and local employees alike. This New York icon was the tallest building in the world for almost 40 years until the title was taken by the Twin Towers in 1970.

Now the ESB ranks as the 3rd tallest building in New York but still one of its most beautiful. (If skyscrapers are your thing, check out our blog post 10 famous New York skyscrapers).

Although not as ornate as its rival the Chrysler Building, the ESB’s sheer bulk, occupying a full city block, is what makes it one of the most widely recognized buildings in the world.

This art deco masterpiece was designed in 1929 by the prestigious architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon. The simple design of the building was confined by New York City's 1916 zoning law (known as the “Set-back” law). The building’s five-story base is followed by a larger tower that gets skinnier as it gets taller.

It was topped by an enormous spire meant as a mast for air zeppelins to anchor at the top of the building for passengers could embark or disembark. But this idea was scrapped due to the instability of zeppelins and then the 1937 Hindenburg zeppelin disaster.

The ESB is known to so many people around the world because it has been featured in many films, most notably the classic film King Kong (1933) and the later remake, as well An Affair to Remember (1957) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

A special feature of the ESB is its ever-changing colorful tower, lit at night with colors chosen to honor a special event or holiday. You can visit the Empire State Building's observation deck on the 86th floor.


B - HERALD SQUARE area from 34th Street and 42nd Street between 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue

herald-square

Like Times Square, Herald Square transformed rapidly from a rural area to an urban one. The construction of the elevated Sixth Avenue train in 1878, which ran through the center the area, sped up that transformation and theaters and shops began to open.

When the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most successful daily newspapers in the country, moved its headquarters from Newspaper Row in Lower Manhattan to 34th Street, the area became known as Herald Square.

At around the same time that Macy’s built their flagship store on the corner of 34th Street and Broadway. This is where the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade ends.

Other department stores, like Saks 34th Street (now Saks 5th Avenue) and Gimbels also opened and Herald Square became a prime shopping destination.

Although many of the original grand department stores eventually closed down or moved to other locations, Herald Square is filled with dozens of popular brand name shops. Learn more about Herald Square at the 34th Street Partnership.


C - MACY’S  34th Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue

Macys

Perhaps no department store is as well-known as MACY’S. In 1843, Rowland Hussey Macy opened up 4 dry goods stores in Massachusetts.

The shops failed but he didn’t give up. Instead, he moved to New York in 1858 and opened R.H. Macy & Co. on 6th Avenue and 14th Street.

Macy’s was a huge success and by 1902 the store needed more space and moved uptown to its current location. Business continued to grow and Macy’s expanded into adjacent buildings.

From 1924 until 2009, Macy’s was the world’s largest department store occupying 2.2 million square feet (205,000 sq. meters).

They lost their title in 2009 to a South Korean store Shinsegae that occupies 3.16 million square feet. While Macy’s may not be the largest department store, it still sponsors the biggest fireworks display in the U.S. every 4th of July and its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.


D - THE NEW YORK TIMES BUILDING (2007) 620 Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Street new-york-times-building

The Times has moved several times over the past 150 years, first from Newspaper Row to One Times Square, then into the Times Annex, on West 43rd Street where the stayed for almost 100 years.

In 2007, the NYT building was completed, rising 1,046 feet (319 meters), equal to the Chrysler Building (included in this tour below). Its spire is lit at night in a playful array of colors.

In 2015, the NYT building was the 10th tallest building in the city (including 4 buildings under construction). In just two years, the race to the top has been so rapid that the NYT Building has dropped to the 18th tallest building in NYC (again, taking current construction into account).


E - TIMES SQUARE intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue from West 42nd to West 47th Sts. 

TIP:  Check out our posts, 22 Things to Do in Times Square and learn where you can obtain discount theater tickets.

times-squareCertainly, the most famous things to do in Midtown Manhattan is to visit the Great White Way. The heart of Times Square is the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street.

Times Square is actually triangular in shape encompassing the area between Broadway and Seventh Avenue from 42nd Street to 47th Street. The area was rural and used for horse stables and was known as Longacre Square.

In the early 1900s, the area began a rapid transformation from rural to urban when large plots of land were bought by businessman John Jacob Astor, who made millions selling the land to hotels and businesses.

In 1904, The New York Times moved its headquarters from downtown to the intersection at 42nd Street and Longacre Square was renamed Times Square.

On December 31, 1907, had its first New Year’s Ball Drop, which continues today, attracting over a million visitors to Times Square every New Year's Eve.

Times Square quickly became a cultural hub full of theaters, music halls, and upscale hotels, but the atmosphere changed when America’s Great Depression began in the 1930s.

Over the years, Times Square continued to decline and by the late 1960s it had become filled with sex shops, peep shows and pornographic theatres became an infamous symbol of the city's decline.

But in the mid-1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led an effort to "clean up" the area, increasing security, closing pornographic theatres, pressuring drug dealers to relocate, and opening more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments.

Approximately 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily and the area is visited every year by an estimated 50 million visitors.

The larger area surrounding Times Square is sometimes referred to as the Theater District due the large number of Broadway shows that play in theaters in and around Times Square.

TIP: Planning on taking in a Broadway show?  Learn where you can obtain discount theater tickets.


F - BANK OF AMERICA TOWER (2007) northwest corner of 6th Avenue and 42nd Street

Bank of America Tower Manhattan Tour

The BOA Tower is a 1,200 foot (366 m) skyscraper making it the third tallest building in New York City (after One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building).

Two other buildings to be completed in the next 5 years will surpass the BOA building in heights, however, this building has another claim to fame: it is the first skyscraper designed to attain a Platinum LEED Certification. It is claimed to be one of the most efficient and ecologically friendly buildings in the world.

Like the Times building, its spire is also lit at night with rapidly changing colors. Together with the NYT building’s colorful spire, these two spires make for a fantastic nighttime skyline, something that you could see on our Midtown Manhattan Night Tour.


G - BRYANT PARK Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets

Bryant Park Manhattan Tour

This easily accessed 9-acre park is located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and almost covers two city blocks. Its most notable feature is its “Great Lawn” where people picnic on blankets in good weather. 

In the winter, the lawn is transformed into The Pond, a free-admission ice skating rink, a game area with chess boards and a small court to play Pétanque (the French version of boules).  

Bryant Park’s history is filled with amazing moments. At the start of the Revolutionary War, George Washington's troops camped at the site during their escape from the British. After the war, the land was used as a potter's field (a cemetery for the poor).

Between 1837 and 1842 the Croton Distributing Reservoir was constructed on the site of where the New York Public Library stands today.

The Reservoir was a man-made four-acre lake, surrounded by massive, 50-foot (18 m) tall walls. Using aqueducts and 41 miles of iron pipes, fresh water was carried into the city from upstate New York.

In 1853, the Crystal Palace was erected on the land, known as Reservoir Square. This was the New York version of London’s World’s Exposition of the same name.

Thousands of visitors came from all over until the Palace burned down in 1858. During the Civil War, Reservoir Square was used as an encampment for Union army troops.

In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant who was an outspoken abolitionist. By the 1970s, during New York’s economic crisis, the park became a hub for drug dealers, addicts, and prostitutes.

It was so dangerous that the average New Yorker would never think of entering the park. In 1980, the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation was founded to renovate the park and now the park is one of the most popular spots to relax in Midtown Manhattan. Learn more at Bryant Park's website. 

TIP: The park has better than average food kiosks on the west side of 6th Avenue, as well free Wi-Fi access and relatively clean public restrooms on the east side close to the New York Public Library.


H - FORMER AMERICAN RADIATOR BUILDING (1924) 40 West 40th Street 

american-radiator-building

Commissioned by the American Radiator Company and now occupied by the Bryant Park Hotel, this landmark skyscraper is visible from Bryant Park’s southern side.

Designed in the neo-gothic Art Deco style, its unusual color scheme makes it stand out from the crowd of surrounding glass skyscrapers.

The front of the building is black brick, symbolizing coal, one of the elements used to create heat as in a radiator. Other parts of the facade are covered in gold bricks, symbolizing fire, another element of heat.

The building is so striking that 20th-century artist Georgia O'Keeffe made the building the subject of her 1927 painting Radiator Building - Night, New York.


I - NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (1911) Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street

new-york-public-library-front

 Click for more fun facts and information on how to visit the library. The library is also included in our pay-what-you-wish Midtown Manhattan Tour.

Prior to this magnificent, palatial-sized Beaux-Arts style building opening, New York’s already had two public libraries: the Astor library created with money from America’s first millionaire John Jacob Astor and the Lenox Library which contained the private collection of James Lenox, a wealthy philanthropist.

In both cases, hours were limited and books were available for reference only and could not be checked out. Then, in 1886 one-time New York State Governor Samuel J. Tilden passed away leaving most of his fortune ($2.4 million) to establish a free.

In 1895, the Astor Library, the Lenox Library and the Tilden Trust were consolidated to form New York’s current library system with a collection so large and so diverse, it is considered one of the most highly-acclaimed libraries in the world.

The building itself has many impressive features and it is worth the time to go inside to see, especially the vaulted marble lobby and the main reading room where the openings scene of Ghostbusters, the 1984 film, was filmed.

If you are a Ghostbusters fan check out our post on how to find the Ghostbusters firehouse, apartment and more.

The entrance is guarded by two majestic lions that were unnamed when the library first opened. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the city’s mayor Fiorello Laguardia officially named the duo entitled ‘Patience’ and ‘Fortitude'. The building was designated a protected landmark in 1967.


J - GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL (1913) 42nd Street between Lexington Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave.

Grand Central Terminal Midtown Manhattan Tour

Learn more with our Grand Central Terminal Guide as well as our audio tour of the terminal.

Although most everyone refers to this magnificent Beaux-Arts building as Grand Central Station, its official name is Grand Central Terminal. The current building is the third railroad structure to stand on this site, now covering 48 acres.

The first was Grand Central Depot, built in 1871 by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt to serve as a hub for several railroad lines. The number of railroad companies quickly outgrew the relatively small size of the Depot and in 1899 it was demolished and replaced with a six-story building christened Grand Central Station.

At that time, trains were powered by steam, but after a catastrophic collision in the station in 1902 that killed 17 people and injured 38, the decision was made to switch to modern electric trains and again the existing building was rebuilt to accommodate electric trains.

Another change was that Grand Central was no longer just a stop on the way along a route that continued to Lower Manhattan. Grand Central was now the final stop where trains terminated, hence the renaming to Grand Central Terminal (GCT).

The new GCT officially opened in 1913. Over the next 40 years, commuter train travel grew as many New Yorkers moved to nearby suburbs while continuing to work in the city.

On an average day, three-quarters of a million people pass through the terminal! BesiGrand Central Terminal insidedes commuter trains, GCT used to service rail companies that offered long-distance travel.

But with the advent of planes in the 1950s, train travel died down and so did the glamor and usefulness of GCT. Although the city was suffering harsh economic conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, Manhattan real estate prices were skyrocketing.

With railroad profits falling, the railroad began discussing tearing down GCT and replacing it with an office building, in fact, a complex of offices creating a business city of sorts.

But concerned citizens (including former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy) who understood the importance of preserving New York City’s greatest historical structures fought to have the building designated as a landmark which would prevent its destruction.

The battle went all the way to the Supreme Court where preservationist won. In 1967 Grand Central Terminal was designated a New York landmark and in 1976, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

In 1998, much-needed renovations took place including the extensive cleaning of the stunning ceiling - a colossal, breathtaking mural of the zodiac constellations – that had been obscured by layers of soot and even tar from the millions of cigarettes smoke in the station for decades.

Another stand-out feature is on the outside of GCT above the entrance at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Look up and you will see a 14-foot (4m) wide clock that has the largest piece of Tiffany glass in the world, surrounded by sculptures of Minerva, Mercury, and Hercules representing, respectively, Wisdom, Speed, and Strength.

Unlike Times Square, which locals try to avoid like the plague, Grand Central is so beloved and admired by all that New Yorkers, who have no reason to pass through the station, willingly pop in to walk through to gaze at the mesmerizing ceiling, the radiant chandeliers and the sheer spectacle of it all.

A visit to grand central is a must!  Its history is so detailed – and filled with secrets – that we encourage you to take advantage of our self-guided Grand Central Tour or join one of our entertaining two-hour tour of Grand Central.


K - CHANIN BUILDING (1929) East 42nd Street at the corner of Lexington Avenue

Chanin Building

Across from Grand Central Station and diagonally across from the Chrysler building is this brick and terra-cotta art deco style skyscraper that is easy to miss, but should not be. Its exterior does not jump out at you but take a moment and stand outside of it.

Above the street level stores is a beautiful bronze frieze that shows the early stages of evolution, with forms of jellyfish, fish then birds. On the 4th floor is a terra-cotta frieze with an abstract floral pattern.

Walk into the lobby which is open to the public and you will see some of the finest art deco, cubist style bronze reliefs of male figures engaged in intellectual and physical activities conveying strength and power.


L - CHRYSLER BUILDING (1930) corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street

chrysler-building

The Chrysler building is one of the most famous buildings in the world and one of the most cherished by New Yorkers.

When it was completed in 1930 it was 1,046 feet tall (319 meters), making it the world’s tallest skyscraper – that is until the Empire State Building came along less than a year later.

Now it is the 10th tallest in New York City, tied with the New York Times building. Regardless, its height isn’t what makes the building so special.

It is the delicate yet strong art-deco style design by accomplished architect William Van Alen won it a place in the top ten “America's Favorite Architecture” list from the American Institute of Architects.

The Chrysler Building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. The building was commissioned by Walter Chrysler, head of the Chrysler Corporation, the famed maker of automobiles.

References to Chrysler’s cars can be seen in the building’s design. The ‘gargoyles’ on the building are actually eagles that resemble the hood ornaments of their Plymouth automobile and the corners of the building’s 31st floor look like the hubcaps of the 1929 model Chrysler.

The lobby (accessible to the public Mon-Fri 8am to 6 pm) is magnificent with yellow Sienna marble floors and red Moroccan marble walls, rich wooden elevator doors and a splendid art deco mural called “Transport and Human Endeavor” depicting scenes of industry, accomplishment, innovation and modes of transportation.

The Chrysler Building was one of three buildings that were part of what we now call unofficially the ‘Great Skyscraper Race’, an exciting moment in New York City between 1928 and 1931 when the architects and owners of the Chrysler Building, 40 Wall Street and the Empire State Building battled each other to build the world’s tallest skyscraper.

To find out more about this incredible story read, see our blog post for more details about the Chrysler Building and how to visit it.

Or check out our Lower Manhattan tour to see 40 Wall Street, or our Midtown Manhattan Tour, Manhattan Night Tour and Grand Central Terminal Tour that takes you past the Chrysler Building.


M- UNITED NATIONS   East 42nd Street and 1st Avenue

united-nations-building

Read our post Touring the United Nations Building.

This world recognizable building is actually NOT part of New York City. In fact, it is not even part of the United States.

The land and the buildings upon it are under the sole jurisdiction of the United Nations, not the U.S. government.

The complex opened October 9, 1952. After much debate over the location, the Manhattan site was purchased for the United Nations by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a donation.

The price tag was $8.5 million (approximately $83.4 million today). The flags out front are the flags of the 193 member nations in alphabetical order.  


N - METLIFE BUILDING (1963) 200 Park Avenue and East 45th Street

metlife-building

This 59-story skyscraper is still referred to many New Yorkers by its original name, the Pan Am Building, named for the now non-existent airline.

There aren’t many fans of the MetLife building other than the building’s landlords. That’s because its architectural school called Brutalism that uses concrete and blockish forms, dwarfs the regal Helmsley Building in front of it.

The building used to have a helipad on the roof, but it was closed in 1977 after a helicopter crash that killed five people.


O - HELMSLEY BUILDING (1929) Park Avenue at 46th Street

helmsley-building

The ornate 35-story Helmsley Building was originally the New York Central Building, the headquarters for the New York Central Railroad Company (founded by Cornelius Vanderbilt). When New York Central sold the building to real estate mogul Harry Helmsley, he renamed it the New York General Building.

His wife, Leona Helmsley, infamous for her highly well-publicized tax evasion indictment in 1989, later renamed it the Helmsley Building after her deceased husband.

Though ownership of the building has passed through many hands, all owners are contractually obligated to keep Helmsley as the name of the building. In April 2015, the building was bought for $1.2 billion dollars.

Two features make the Helmsley an interesting building. On the practical side, it has a viaduct that wraps around Grand Central and then through the Helmsley Building, making it possible for cars to travel continuously from Park Avenue at 40th Street to Park Avenue at 46th Street.

On the decorative side, it has a gilded ornate art deco clock featuring two massive limestone statues representing transportation and industry, themes represented in many skyscrapers built, ironically, during the years just before the great depression.

The pyramid roof is lit at night and because the building stands in front of the bland Met Life Building, the Helmsley’s dramatic architecture stand out even more.

During the holidays or special occasions, the entire building is lit up and the colorful building dominates the taller surrounding buildings. The Helmsley Building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1987.


P - WALDORF ASTORIA (1931) Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Street

waldorf-astoria

No hotel is as much a New York icon as the Waldorf-Astoria. The hotel encompasses an entire block, spanning 49th to 50th Street from Park to Lexington Avenues.

It has 1,413 rooms of which 121 are historical such as the Presidential Suite, which has customized bulletproof glass installed when a president comes to town.

The first president to visit the Waldorf was Herbert Hoover, who gave the inaugural speech at the hotel’s opening. Since then, every president has stayed with at the Waldorf. The largest suite is the ‘Cole Porter’ named for the famed 20th Century composer who lived in that suite for 25 years.

It's a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom suite that costs as much as $10,000 a night. After Porter no longer occupied the suite, Frank Sinatra was so eager to live in it that he agreed to perform three times a week in the Waldorf’s Wedgewood Room.

The hotel lobby is accessible to the public and worth a visit. It is filled with plush sofas that you can sink into and gaze up at the ceiling’s gilded murals.

In the main lobby is the elegant intricately designed bronze clock that rests on a base made of marble and mahogany. It weighs two tons and is nine feet tall and is topped with a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.

You can also use the bathrooms, perhaps the most luxurious in the city, with its art deco murals, chairs and couches and individual stalls that have their own sink and mirror. The paper hand towels have the Waldorf’s insignia on each and make for a great souvenir.


Q - SAKS FIFTH AVENUE (1924) Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets

Saks 5th Avenue

This elegant department store was the brainchild of Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel, both of whom operated their own retail stores in Herald Square in the early 1900s.

These two entrepreneurs had a shared vision of opening a unique store that would carry only the finest quality men's and women's fashion. Saks and Gimbel combined their financial resources and purchased the land where Saks now stands.

At the time, the area was primarily a residential district. Even Rockefeller Center did not exist. The store was designed by architects Starrett & Van Vleck, known for their work on the Lord & Taylor department store in 1913 on Fifth Avenue at 39th Street and the original Bloomingdales building.

Two years after Saks opened its doors, Horace Saks suddenly died and Adam Gimbel (Bernard’s 30-year-old cousin) became President of Saks. Adam Gimbel was at the forefront of setting trends in retail merchandising and advertising.

Saks was one of the first department stores to put their windows to good use: instead of filling the windows with a jumble of clothing available in the store, Saks adopted the new idea of carefully designing window displays, something we take for granted today.

Gimbel was a retail innovator who shopped the world to find special and chic clothing and home décor for Saks, now a name synonymous with elegance and grace.

Over the years, Saks continued to be wildly successful and expanded the store into adjacent buildings, including the adjoining Swiss Bank Tower in 1989.

Its prime location, directly opposite Rockefeller Center and just south of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, has made the Saks building the most valuable retail building in the world, worth $3.7 billion.


R - ST PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL (1879) Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets

st-patricks-cathedral

See our post on free tours of St. Patrick's.

St. Pat’s, as it is commonly referred to by locals, is the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States. It was designed by James Renwick Jr. whose earlier neo-gothic churches can be found all over New York.

It was built to replace the original (and much smaller) St. Patrick’s Cathedral located in Little Italy.

When construction began, the Cathedral was located on the outskirts of town in an area of slaughterhouses and cattle yards. Construction began in 1858 and was finally completed almost 20 years later (with a break during the Civil War).

Together with its ancillary buildings, it occupies one whole city block between Fifth and Madison Avenues between 50th and 51st Streets.

Famous people who had their funerals at the cathedral but are interred elsewhere include New York Yankee greats Babe Ruth and Billy Martin, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, singer Celia Cruz, U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

In 2015, a much-needed restoration was mostly completed and decades’ worth of dirt were removed leaving a sparkling white masterpiece. It is open to the public and for visitor information click here.


S - ROCKEFELLER CENTER (construction began 1931, completed 1940)

30 Rock Rockefeller Center

This "city within a city" is perhaps New York's most emblematic cityscapes and attracts millions of visitors and native New Yorkers every year. This massive complex covers three full city blocks from 48th St. to 51st St. between 5th and 6th Avenues.

Rockefeller Center is like a city within a city, epitomizing the best of New York and a symbol of strength and success. But it didn’t start out that way. Most of Rockefeller Center was built during the Great Depression by oil magnate and billionaire John D. Rockefeller Jr.

In the late 1920s, the Metropolitan Opera Company approached Rockefeller to discuss their plan to build a new opera house and plaza on the land that is now Rockefeller Center. At the time, the area was filed mostly by shabby brownstones, bordellos and speakeasies (illegal bars that opened during the Prohibition years 1920-1933).

Rockefeller was a visionary and knew that a new opera house would transform the surrounding area and he would stand to make a fortune (to add to his current wealth!) He went ahead and purchased a lease for the land on which he envisioned an urban complex with modern skyscrapers, and a cultural and commercial center in the heart of the city's fastest growing section.

Then suddenly misfortune struck when the stock market crashed in October 1929. The Metropolitan Opera backed out of the project and Rockefeller with the burden of what to do with the land he was now locked into. Although the Rockefellers were hit by "Black Tuesday" losing half their fortune, he managed to finance the costly development through taking out loans that he personally guaranteed.

In July 1931 construction began and over the next 9 years, in the depth of the Depression, the building of Rockefeller Center would provide employment for 75,000 workers. When it was complete, it was the first development in the world to include offices, retail stores, restaurants, broadcasting studios, and entertainment venues in one complex.

The original art deco style center comprised 14 buildings but an additional 5 buildings have been incorporated into the center. Rockefeller Center's underground concourse connects all the buildings and is also connected to the 6th Avenue subway.

Rockefeller Center and its history and stories are so vast, we can only touch on highlights here, but for a fuller experience check out our self-guided tour of Rockefeller Center or our Midtown Tour.

  • NBC Television maintains studios throughout the complex and Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon are filmed at 30 Rock (as the building is fondly called) but the television show “30 Rock” actually filmed mostly in Queens! 
  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza - (formerly the RCA Building, now the GE building).NBC Today Show Midtown Tour The centerpiece of Rockefeller Center, this slender 70-story building rises from a four-foot granite base to a height of 850 feet. The building was designed to allow for as much natural light as possible and this gives the facade its dramatic effect of narrowing as it gets taller. The granite and marble lobby is lined with outstanding art deco murals.

Tip: You can attend a live taping of many shows while in New York City including Jimmy Fallon! See our post Live TV Show Tapings

  • The Today Show Studios You can be part of NBC's Today Show by getting a spot outside the glass-enclosed studio on 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza on weekdays from 7am to 10am. Get there by 6am for the best viewing. And for one of the best views of the city take a trip up to Top of the Rock, the observation deck on the 70th floor. From here you´ll be able to see the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center. 
  • radio-city-music-hall-signRadio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and corner of 50th Street. When it was completed in 1932, it was at that time the largest indoor theater in the world with 6,200 seats in its audience. Read our post on discounts for the tour of Radio City Music Hall). 
  • The Channel Gardens is a walkway leading from 5th Avenue to the lower level plaza. It is located between the La Maison Française building from the British Empire Building just as the English Channel separates the two countries. The Channel Gardens is where the Rockefeller Christmas Tree stands throughout the holiday season. See our post Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for more information. 
  • The sculpture of Atlas is on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This statue is highly recognizable around the world and is a made of bronze, 15-feet high and sits on a nine-foot granite pedestal.

T - THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART 53rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues

See our post about Free Fridays at MoMA.

museum-of-modern-art

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was the first institution anywhere in the America to devote itself exclusively to modern art. In 1928, a group of wealthy philanthropists, educators and museum curators, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller), collaborated to make their shared vision to bring some of Europe's finest modern art to American audiences.

Among the artists they felt must be experienced by artists and art fans were Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin. Soon after followed greats like Picasso, Dali and Cezanne.

Its permanent collection is widely considered the most impressive and diverse assortment of Modern art to ever exist, ranging from to works produced in the present day. Among the collection highlights are Andy Warhol's Soup Can, Van Gogh's Starry Night and Monet's Water Lilies .

On November 7, 1929, shortly after the stock market crash known as "Black Tuesday," The Museum of Modern Art opened to the public. Housed in six gallery rooms on the 12th floor in midtown Manhattan's Heckscher building, the Museum's first exhibit consisted of several paintings - all on loan - by the European Post-Impressionists van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin and Cézanne.

The Heckscher building was MoMA's home for a little over two years before moving to a rented space on West 53rd Street, the same address where the museum now stands. Admission is $25 but you can skip paying the steep price on Fridays - see our post about Free Fridays at MoMA.


U - CARNEGIE HALL (1891) 7th Avenue between West 56th and West 57th Streets

Carnegie Hall offers tours and for more information on taking one, see our post How to Visit Carnegie Hall.

carnegie-hall

Carnegie Hall has served as the venue for legendary performers ever since its opening in 1891. When the hall was built, the money came from Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America.

No expense was spared. The design of the hall called for the use of acoustics-enhancing and beautiful Guastavino vaulted arches with interlock tiles. Opening night was May 5, 1891, and the inauguration introduced a Tchaikovsky piece to an American audience for the first time.

Since its opening, some of the most famous and talented performers have played here including Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, Arthur Rubinstein, and Arturo Toscanini.

Carnegie always kept up with the changing trends in music bringing Jazz, Blues and Swing greats to the stage such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Carnegie Hall's stage and audiences were graced with Judy Garland, rocked by the Beatles, swooned by Frank Sinatra and left breathless by Luciano Pavarotti. 


V - TRUMP TOWER (1983) 737 Fifth Avenue between 56th and 55th Street

For information on how to visit Trump Tower and what to see there read our post Visiting Trump Tower in New York City or try our self-guided tour of Donald Trump Buildings in New York City.

trump-tower

This 644-foot skyscraper owned, of course, by Donald Trump, is a mixed-use building housing offices, retail shops and private residences. The building’s stylish public spaces inside employ pink white-veined marble.

Mirrors and glass are found throughout the lobby and the five-level atrium which has shops, cafés, and waterfall with a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the waterfall’s pool.

The building is best known as the headquarters of Donald Trump and the setting for NBC television show The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, including the famous boardroom where someone gets fired weekly. (It’s actually filmed in a television studio inside Trump Tower). 


W - TIFFANY & CO. (corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street)

tiffany-and-coIn 1837, Charles Tiffany and his partner John Young, opened a store called Tiffany & Young, across from City Hall that sold “fancy goods” such as costume jewelry.

Ten years later the business had become so successful that began to sell real jewelry, silverware, watches, clocks and stationary. As business thrived, the store moved uptown, to the larger 550 Broadway.

At that time Tiffany bought out his partner and the company became known as Tiffany & Co. The store at 550 Broadway was erected in 1854, a nine-foot statue of Atlas holding a big clock was placed over the entrance.

Atlas has followed the store when it moved again to Union Square and eventually settling at its current location at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street location. As the finest maker of silver instruments, Tiffany & Co. supplied the Union Army with swords during the Civil War.

Even if Tiffany’s is out of your price range, the store is welcoming of those who pop in to see the 128.54 carats Tiffany Yellow Diamond, usually on display for all to see. More famous than this massive diamond is, of course, the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), based on the novel by Truman Capote.

The main character Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn constantly refers to Tiffany as "the best place in the world, where nothing bad can take place." That’s not entirely true.

In 2013 the former Tiffany vice president Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun was arrested and charged with stealing more than $1.3 million of diamond bracelets, drop earrings, and other jewelry.

By the way, Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s while living in Brooklyn Heights. You can see his house on our Brooklyn Heights walking tour.


X - BLOOMINGDALE’S Lexington Avenue between 59th to 60th Street (entrance also on 3rd Avenue)

bloomingdales

The home of the ‘Big Brown Bag’, the first Bloomingdale’s (known fondly as Bloomie’s) opened in 1872 on East 56th Street.

TIP:  Sex and the City fans may recognize Bloomie's from various episodes -- they have a great shoe department with plenty of Manolo's! See our post about SATC tours!

Most shops were ‘specialty’ shops focusing on selling a limited array of items meaning that shoppers would have to visit many stores when going on a good old fashion shopping spree.

Like other shops, the Bloomingdale Brothers, Lyman, and Joseph specialized in sewing ‘notions’ (buttons, zippers, patterns thread, etc.) Within a month of opening their store, business was so good that they expanded their sales floor.

By 1929, Bloomingdale's had outgrown their 56th Street shop and made the move to its present location covering a city-wide block and commissioned architects Starrett and Van Vleck to create the glamorous art deco façade on Lexington Avenue. Bloomingdale’s made sure that the fashions sold inside the store were every bit as glamorous as its outside.

Unlike other department stores, Bloomie’s catered to America's love of international goods, and by the 1880s, their European selection was dazzling. In 1922, before labeled shopping bags existed, Bloomingdale's printed an anniversary message to thank its customers on the face of its small brown paper bags.

The logo, “Big Brown Bag” made its debut in 1973. The smaller “Little Brown Bag” followed shortly after. In the 1980s, designers like Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Norma Kamali, and so many more got their breakthrough moments at Bloomies. To this day, Bloomie’s is the place to see and be seen.


Y - SERENDIPITY 3  225 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues

serendipity

This fun, decadent restaurant and dessert shop is loved by locals and celebrities alike. It opened in 1954 and Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis were frequent guests.

In 2004, Serendipity celebrated its 50th anniversary by breaking a Guinness World record for the most expensive dessert, the Golden Opulence Sundae, that used the most expensive and highest quality ingredients from around the world.

Drizzled with 23 karat edible gold leaf topped with a tiny glass bowl of exclusive dessert caviar, the sundae is served in a Baccarat crystal goblet with an 18 karat gold spoon. It was only $1000!

Don’t worry--you can experience paradise at a much more affordable price by trying their signature dessert, the Frozen Hot Chocolate.

Serendipity has been the scene of several films and TV series, including, of course, the 2001 comedy Serendipity. One Fine Day (1996) has a scene that features the Frozen Hot Chocolate. An episode of the TV series Girls mentions the Frozen Hot chocolate. And how could Serendipity not make an appearance in the quintessential show about being a teen in New York City, Gossip Girl.


Z - ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAM enter at 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets

roosevelt-island-tram

Taking the tram over to Roosevelt Island could be the best 5-minute commute of your life. The ride to this slender island in the middle of the East River goes over the East River and provides a 360-degree view of the city.

The island itself is mostly residential and isn’t considered a prime tourist destination, but there are some sites worth popping over to see.  

Our post, Riding The Roosevelt Island Tram can tell you where exactly to get the tram, the cost, schedules, and other facts.  If you do go, be sure to use our self-guided tour of Roosevelt Island.

 


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About The Author

Courtney

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.
Updated: October 3rd, 2021
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