This post is about how to plan a visit to the New York Public Library's main branch building in Manhattan.
We include how to get here what you will see, and guided tours.
As local tour guides, we know that the NYPL main branch building is one of Manhattan's most underrated attractions - and it's free.
We stop there daily on our walking tours, and for good reason, beautiful architecture, and treasures related to Shakespeare and Guttenberg.
In the video below, Katie, a tour guide with Free Tours by Foot, explains why you need to visit.
And don't just take our word for it. Check out what some of the roughly 200k members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group have to say.
Our group consists of locals, like our tour guides, expats, veteran visitors to NYC, as well as newbies.
You don't need to join to read the posts, comments, and suggestions. A link can be found at the bottom of the post.
- Plan Your Visit
- Tour Information
- Exhibition Tours
- Other Things to Do in NYC
- Free Tours by Foot
The Schwartzman Building was dedicated on May 23, 1911, with over 1 million books and 75 miles of shelving put into place for its opening day.
It is one of NYC's iconic Beaux-Arts-style marble buildings. Its two marble lions outside the building are recognizable to millions of people.
In addition to housing a renowned reference library, the New York Public Library is home to treasures such as a Gutenberg Bible, a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies” from 1623, and Mary Poppins’ umbrella.
One of the library's most prized possessions is an original print of the Gutenberg Bible, one of only 49 existing copies in the world!
If you want an in-depth look at the library interior, take advantage of their free guided tours (See below).
TIP: Be sure to learn more money-saving ideas with our guide to free things to do in NYC.
Where is the New York Public Library?
The New York Public Library's Schwartzman Building is located on 5th Avenue between 42nd Street and 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan.
We recommend using this Google map to get directions from anywhere in the city.
Click the image to expand it
Almost all subway lines have stations near the library.
If you are new to the NYC subway, then you may find the 2 articles below helpful.
If you are considering purchasing a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, most routes include a stop at or near the NYPL.
How Much Time Will I Spend There:
If you take one of their free tours, give yourself 1.5 to 2 hours. The free tour is one hour, but you should arrive early.
You might like to spend time looking around on your own.
For the ultimate library experience, you could take the 11 a.m. building tour and the 12:30 pm exhibition tour.
If so, then give yourself an additional hour.
Another option is to take the 11 a.m. library building tour before one of our 2 pm live-guided Midtown Manhattan Tours! (See our calendar for days/times).
Some Things to Know When Visiting the Library
- There will be security officers at all entrances and throughout the library. They may ask to look in your bag. If you have large bags with you, such as a large backpack or even luggage, you can find many places nearby to store your bags inexpensively. See our post Where to Store Luggage in NYC.
- Outside food and drinks are not allowed inside the library. There is a small café towards the back of Astor Hall if you need something to eat or drink.
- While photography is allowed, most rooms do not allow you to use a flash.
- The library is wheelchair accessible, both at the entrances and throughout the building.
We only include the exterior of the building, but we encourage you to go back and take a free library tour. (See below).
The NYPL offers free, one-hour guided tours of the Schwartzman Building.
The tours, given by volunteer docents run every day but Sundays.
- Monday-Saturday: 11 am and 2 pm (The tour is one hour in duration).
- Sunday at 2 pm
- Double-check tour times on their website New York Public Library Tours for any last-minute changes.
- Note: There are no tours on Sunday. Also, the Schwarzman Building is closed on Sundays in July and August. So you will not be able to see the interior, so try to visit the library on other days of the week.
All tours meet at the Information Desk in the Astor Hall.
Astor Hall is the main entry point to the library, and the Information Desk is off to the left, just past the left set of stairs.
Tip: Tours are limited to 25 people and are available on a first-come basis. Be sure to arrive early at the meeting spot to ensure you can be included in the tour.
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
Patience and Fortitude
These are the two great lions that greet you on the library stairs.
These marble statues were added in 1911 and at first, were both named Leo - fitting for a lion.
But they were given different last names: Astor and Lenox, the two co-founders of the Library.
During the Great Depression, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia renamed Leo Lenox and Leo Astor.
Their new names were Patience and Fortitude.
The renaming was meant to remind people of the traits they'd need to make it through the financial hardship of the era.
When you enter the library you will be in this stunning white marble entryway named for the wealthy and prominent Astor family.
Once the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor passed away in 1848 and dedicated a huge sum of money to establish the Astor Library, a free public library, the first public library in NYC.
In 1985 the Astor Library merged with the New York Public Library.
The Rose Main Reading Room
This is one of the largest interior spaces in the whole city. It is almost as long as two city blocks.
It contains 42 oak tables that can accommodate over 600 readers and 40,000 reference books line its walls. Its gilded ceiling is 52 feet high!
Besides being beautiful, lush, and vast, the room also has free Wi-Fi (and free bathrooms) making it a destination for any researchers and academics.
The room is well-known for being the location of one of the most memorable scenes in the 1984 film “Ghostbusters".
(If you are a Ghostbusters fan, see our Top Ten Ghostbusters Locations post.)
With its dark walnut paneling and vaulted ceiling, the Rotunda is a perfect locale for the sumptuous murals on its walls and ceiling.
The murals are named “The Story of the Recorded Word,” and do indeed tell this story.
The most well-known mural depicts Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, holding a page from his famous Bible, which was the first book to be printed using the printing press.
In the Rotunda, you can see a Gutenberg Bible, one of only 49 existing copies in the world!
Map Collection Room
Of course, the room is impressive, but what is more impressive is that it is one of the largest public collections of maps in the world!
For starters, there are 10,000 maps of New York City alone!
In addition to the building tours, the library offers free, one-hour, guided docent tours of their temporary exhibits (suspended indefinitely).
The exhibits are quite specialized and exciting as you will be able to see rare items not otherwise on display.
Monday-Saturday: 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm, Sunday: 2:00 pm (Note: the library is closed on Sundays in July and August).
Tours are limited to 25 people, on a first-come basis, so be sure to arrive a bit before the tour times.
Tours meet at the entrance to Gottesman Hall. To get there, enter the library at the 5th Avenue main entrance, walk straight, passing through Astor Hall and you will find Gottesman Hall.
As of August 1, 2020, there are no current exhibitions. Please check back in the future for updates.
NOTE: Special exhibits are offered at other branches of the New York Public Library system.
For example, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture always has excellent exhibitions.
The Schomberg Center is a stop in our pay-what-you-like Harlem Tours.
If you were wondering how the librarians handle requests from patrons who put in a "call slip" asking for a particular book from among the collection of over 1.5 million books.
Well, prior to 2016, the book was retrieved from the stacks of the Reading Room and the huge space beneath the Rose Main Reading Room.
After a two-year renovation, a new book retrieval system was put into place.
Here's a video of the adorable and highly efficient electric trolley system, in which books can be sent off to reading rooms upstairs in a fairly quick manner.