Must-See Midtown: Attractions

Claire Lui

For most people, the thought of New York City likely conjures up images of Midtown's many signature attractions: Times Square, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the United Nations among them. Burned into our collective memory by movies, television shows and photographs, these Midtown landmarks have always conveyed the energy and excitement of New York. It is here, in the heart of Manhattan, that so many visitors have been captivated by the ambition pulsing through the City. Gaze upon the glittering lights of Times Square, the grand architecture of the New York Public Library and the posh style of the Plaza Hotel, and then experience these icons up close.

View from Top of the Rock looking toward the Empire State Building. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

Empire State Building

350 Fifth Ave., 212-736-3100
The City's most recognizable skyscraper has entranced New Yorkers since its completion in 1931. Lit up every night (and in a variety of colors to mark holidays and special events—red, pink and white for Valentine's Day; rainbow for Pride Week; green for St. Patrick's Day), the Empire State Building is visible from much of Manhattan and its environs, acting as a landmark for tourists and locals to orient themselves. Visit the 86th- and 102nd-floor observation decks (immortalized in King Kong and An Affair to Remember) for spectacular and panoramic views of the City by day or night.

Grand Central Terminal. Photo: Alex Lopez

Grand Central Terminal

87 E. 42nd St., 212-340-2347
Meet me under the clock! The romance of New York City, the lure of arrival and departure—all this is captured in the beautiful interior and exterior of Grand Central Terminal, one of the few remaining historic train stations in the United States. A two-year restoration project that was completed in 1998 returned the station to its 1913 grandeur, including the ceiling's blue and gold-leaf zodiac mural, illuminated with thousands of lights. Visit the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar; stop by the many restaurants, pubs and shops in the terminal; and, of course, catch a train for a getaway. After taking it all in, head one block east to check out the Chrysler Building, the tallest building in the City at the time of its construction in 1930. One of the gems of the New York City skyline, the art deco skyscraper is adorned with details that reference the company's cars, including replicas of hood ornaments and radiator caps perched on the corners of higher floors. The lobby—also an art deco masterpiece—is open to the public.

Courtesy, Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden

2 Penn Plaza, 212-465-6000
The home of the Knicks and Rangers has seen more than its fair share of history—the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup triumph and Willis Reed's 1970 NBA Finals heroics, for example—and is host to an endless parade of high-profile special events in sports, music and comedy. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, regular performances by Billy Joel and stops on tour from the likes of Tina Turner and U2 mean you're certain to find something you want to see here. The venue offers tours as well.— staff

New York Public Library. Photo: Will Steacy

New York Public Library

Fifth Avenue and West 42nd Street, 917-275-6975
Patience and Fortitude, the two majestic lions outside the main branch of the New York Public Library, have been the institution's mascots for more than a century. Past the entrance, an ornate interior showcases the library's even more impressive holdings. Books are mainly requested electronically these days (rather than by the pneumatic tube system that once held sway here), and the collection is accessible to the public—if not generally available for lending, save items from the Children's Reading Room—forming a key part of the City's intellectual fabric. Norman Mailer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Bishop and E. L. Doctorow have all drawn on the resources of the library's collection for their writing. Special events at the branch include celebrity book readings, educational seminars and art exhibitions worthy of the City's finest museums. The Main Reading Room, recently restored, is magnificent. Behind the library is Bryant Park, a lovely green oasis in the heart of Midtown. Popular with office workers during lunchtime, Bryant Park offers free outdoor movies, readings, fencing and yoga classes in the summer and free ice-skating and a picturesque holiday market in winter.

The Plaza. Photo: Julienne Schaer

The Plaza Hotel

Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, 212-759-3000
For socialites, ladies who lunch and Eloises of certain generations, the Plaza was the local hangout of choice. The upper crust of the Upper East Side drank tea at the Palm Court, danced at debutante balls and flirted over cocktails in the Oak Room. Even for New York City newcomers, the hotel has always been a symbol of having arrived—it's no surprise that Truman Capote, one of the City's most socially ambitious immigrants, chose the Plaza for his Black and White Ball in 1966. Thanks to a renovation a few years back, the Plaza added some new flourishes, including the Todd English–run Food Hall and other worthy complements to its legendary restaurants and bars.

Rockefeller Center. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

Rockefeller Center

45 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-632-3975
Rockefeller Center, a 22-acre complex of stores, commercial offices and open space, is famous for its annual Christmas tree lighting and for its sunken ice-skating rink (which, during summertime, serves as the stylish watering hole Summer Garden & Bar). Take in the impressive view of NYC from 70 stories high at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, or try to get on camera behind Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker at a taping of the Today show. An NBC Studio Tour in the GE Building (also known as 30 Rock) takes visitors behind the scenes to the sets of some of their favorite shows. The Shop at NBC Studios, one of the many shopping choices in the center, sells DVDs and souvenirs from hit TV shows old and new, including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, The Office and, naturally, 30 Rock.

St. Patrick's Cathedral. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

St. Patrick's Cathedral

460 Madison Ave., 212-753-2261
This majestic church, seat of the archbishop of New York, serves as the physical and spiritual center of New York's Roman Catholic community. The awe-inspiring neo-Gothic structure, one of the country's largest cathedrals, has a grand interior and exterior, decorated with stained glass and ornate marble details. The City's archbishop, currently Timothy M. Dolan, plays a vital role beyond his religious duties—much like previous archbishops who have been influential figures in the political realm—speaking publicly and privately to mayors, governors and presidents, as well as offering comfort and wisdom in public homilies. In addition to its religious and historical significance, the church is also one of the City's most famous and stunning buildings. See our Guide to St. Patrick's Cathedral for more information about the structure's history, how to get there and tours that are available.


United Nations. Photo: Marley White

United Nations

760 United Nations Plaza, 212-963-4475
The swooping curved facade of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly building and stark green glass of the Secretariat building towering above it, set behind the inspiring row of all 192 member nation flags, form one of the City's most famous landmarks—an international style icon designed by a team of architects, including Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer. Though located in New York City, the UN is international territory, with its own security force, fire department and post office (including its own stamps). A tour of the inside includes a look at where the Security Council meets, offering a glimpse into international diplomacy right here in New York. Tours are offered Monday through Friday from 9:30am to 4:45pm (in multiple languages) and last approximately 45 minutes.

Times Square. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Times Square

West 40th to West 50th Streets (between Sixth and Eighth Avenues)
Few places capture the raw excitement of New York City better than Times Square. Surrounded by neon lights, giant billboards, Broadway theaters, electronic ticker tape and television studios, Times Square is truly the heart of Midtown. The TKTS Discount Booth (where theater tickets are sold at up to 50 percent off face value) is topped with a giant red staircase, open to visitors daily. Walk to the top of the steps and you'll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the area, including the site of the annual New Year's Eve Ball Drop. Elsewhere in Times Square, there are severval pedestrian-only zones furnished with chairs, good for people-watching.