Inside Rockefeller Center
by Christina Parrella , 06/26/2013 [Updated 05/22/2015]
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Rockefeller Center is known far and wide as one of New York City's most iconic attractions—it's where that famous Christmas tree is illuminated, where Saturday Night Live and the Today show are taped and where ice-skaters make the rounds on a rink surrounded by hundreds of international flags.
The complex is tremendous in both its size—stretching from Fifth to Sixth Avenues and from 48th to 51st Streets—and in the range of attractions that call it home. Put simply, Rockefeller Center is a city within a city. Below, we cover every corner of the mini-metropolis, highlighting its most famous attractions and other spots you won't want to miss.
Located in the heart of Midtown, Rockefeller Center is an Art Deco complex composed of 19 grand buildings. It's home to a network of businesses, television studios, shopping and dining choices as well as stunning artwork and architecture.
As one of the first public areas in NYC to include art throughout its design, Rockefeller Center abounds with carvings, inscriptions and gilded sculptures representing science, industry and the human spirit. There are opulent walkways, fountains, picturesque floral displays and sculptures throughout.
A View from the Top
No visit to 30 Rockefeller Center is complete without a trip up to the 70th floor, also known as Top of the Rock Observation Deck. Here, you'll get 360-degree views of the New York City skyline, including Central Park, the Empire State Building and Lower Manhattan.
Rockefeller Center's oldest and most eminent structure is the General Electric Building (located at 30 Rockefeller Center). This 70-story landmark skyscraper was once used to house the personal office space of the Rockefeller family. Today, it's the nerve center of the compound, connecting all 19 buildings through an underground network known as the Concourse. The two-mile-long Concourse space offers shops, restaurants and a subway station that connects thousands of visitors and commuters to the B, D, F and M lines.
Inside this sleek black-and-gold space, visitors have the opportunity to see some of TV's biggest stars in person. Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Meredith Vieira Show and the Today show are all filmed here (and you can snag tickets to tapings). In fact, the sitcom 30 Rock took its name from this address, which both the real SNL and the fictional TGS call home.
Art, Deco and Otherwise
Through the lower level of the Concourse, you can reach the Sixth Avenue side of Rockefeller Center (1250 Avenue of the Americas). This entrance to the GE Building features a dramatic mosaic mural by Barry Faulkner, entitled Intelligence Awakening Mankind. Next door is Radio City Music Hall, an ornate Art Deco theater that's home to the world-famous Rockettes—stars of the Christmas Spectacular—and hosts live programming all year round, including concerts by boldface names.
Inside the main lobby entrance of the GE Building is a massive mural titled American Progress. Created by José Maria Sert, the work is more than 40 feet long and 16 feet high and includes scenes that represent what Rockefeller saw as textbook societal elements: science, labor, education, travel, communication and humanitarianism, for example. President Abraham Lincoln and literary icon Ralph Waldo Emerson are immortalized in the work, which covers the ceiling and wall space behind the main information desk.
Prometheus, located in the sunken plaza, is a massive gold-plated statue set inside a waterfall flanked by hundreds of international flags that line the ground level of the plaza. The 18-foot-tall statue provides a backdrop for skaters in the winter when the ice-skating rink is open and for diners in the summer when the Summer Garden & Bar occupies the same space.
Sets of steps that surround the sunken plaza lead up to Rockefeller Plaza, where seats and benches provide a place to unwind. This is also where the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit every year and where the Today show studios are located. Passersby can smile and wave to friends and family watching at home.
Adding to the plaza's charm are its outdoor promenade fountains, granite pools, sculptures and Channel Gardens, which slant downward toward the sunken plaza and feature colorful flora that changes each season. Named after the English Channel, the Channel Gardens separate La Maison Française and the British Empire Building. Among the most famous artworks in the gardens are the Christmas Angels, which stand eight feet high and are composed of glittering white lights, wire and aluminum.
Closer to Fifth Avenue, the towering bronze Atlas statue guards the entrance to the International Building at 630 Fifth Ave. The 45-foot-tall statue, which is the largest in Rockefeller Center, features the Greek Titan Atlas—god of navigation and astronomy—holding an armillary sphere (decorated with zodiac signs) with its axis pointing toward the North Star.
Across the street is the largest neo-Gothic Catholic cathedral in the United States, St. Patrick's Cathedral. St. Patrick's showcases spectacular stained glass and classic architectural details.
After a long day of shopping, sightseeing and snapping photos, Rockefeller Center offers ample dining choices. Bill's Bar & Burger, Pulse and Lenny's offer a great selection of savory sandwiches, broiled burgers and steak, along with leaner options like salads and seared fish dishes. In the summer, of course, there's the aforementioned Summer Garden & Bar.
At 611 Fifth Ave., buyers will delight in 10 floors of chic shopping options at Saks Fifth Avenue. The giant flagship operates in-store boutiques from the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel and has just opened a Christian Louboutin shop-in-shop, the designer's first in the country and largest anywhere, at its 10022-SHOE floor, which, as its name suggests, has its own ZIP code.
Shopping options within Rockefeller Center include artisanal bath and beauty shop Rain and many others. Along the Channel Gardens walkway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gift outpost and jeweler Tous are just a couple of the retail spots you'll find.
Of course, fans of NBC can bring home some Peacock-themed goodies like T-shirts and mugs from the NBC Experience Store.
After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s visions of a Metropolitan Opera House in Midtown Manhattan were dashed. In its place, Rockefeller imagined a complex of buildings that would attract businesses from around the nation and the globe to a city whose commercial renters were fleeing.
Built between 1931 and 1940, Rockefeller Center was intended to be a symbol of prosperity and a public space where New Yorkers could appreciate art. Today the plaza, which bears the name of its financer, remains one of the most highly trafficked areas in New York City—and, as Rockefeller envisioned, a place where the private sphere intersects with public life.