Manhattan Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), New York

The skyscraper, which has shaped Manhattan's distinctive skyline, has been closely associated with New York City’s identity since the end of the 19th century. Despite the Great Depression, some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers were completed in Manhattan during the 1930s, including numerous Art Deco masterpieces that are still part of the city's skyline – most notably the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the 30 Rockefeller Plaza that forms the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center. Even now that other commercial structures have reached far greater heights, they remain icons that refuse to relinquish their special meaning.

As you will also see on this special tour, however, Manhattan’s intricate architecture is not represented only by the huge number of tall buildings. Proper handling of the large-scale planning and technical aspects allowed the Grand Central Terminal complex to be seen easily from below. And now, even with high-rise buildings around, it stands as a solid and radiating icon of innovative urban design. The station’s main facade, a Roman triumphal arch, symbolizes the gateway to the city.

Not far from the Empire State Building, Macy’s original flagship store is 9 stories above ground and covers an entire block. A department store in the GRANDEST tradition, it oozes with history from an architectural standpoint. Make sure you see the old wooden escalators on the Broadway side!

Yet another unique and majestic sight, the Flatiron Building stands at Broadway and Fifth Avenue – the two most important streets of NYC. Although you cannot visit inside, the main attraction is outside where the wedge shape captivates tourists flocking around the park opposite taking photo after photo. Besides its subtle elegance, the building has an interesting backstory, too. Due to the wind-tunnel effect at the site, in the early 20th century, men would hang out on the corner and watch the wind blowing women’s dresses up so that they could catch a little bit of ankle. This entered into popular culture and there are hundreds of postcards and illustrations of women with their dresses blowing up in front of the Flatiron Building.

Follow our self-guided walking tour to visit some of the most famous architectures in Midtown Manhattan at your own pace.
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Manhattan Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Manhattan Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » New York (See other walking tours in New York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Rockefeller Center
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Chrysler Building
  • New York Public Library
  • Empire State Building
  • Macy's in Herald Square
  • Flatiron Building
Rockefeller Center

1) Rockefeller Center (must see)

This large complex of commercial buildings between 5th and 7th Avenues in New York is often described as a city within a city because of its unique design. All the buildings of Rockefeller Center have a common plan and are linked by an underground concourse, called The Catacombs.

This network of underground passageways houses numerous retailers and stores, and as such, is an attraction in its own right – both convenient and entertaining. With more than a 100 unique stores, quick bites and fine dining options (the popular spots include Blue Bottle Coffee Co., Blue Ribbon Sushi, Jacques Torres Chocolate, Eddie's Shoe Repair, USPS and more), Rockefeller Center is a premier shopping destination in the heart of Midtown Manhattan with countless ways to wander and explore, whether you crave a pick-me-up, need an ATM, or simply want to hide from the rain. From designer apparel to NYC souvenirs, everything can be found here, just steps from Rockefeller Plaza.

The venue emerged in the 1920s when D. Rockefeller Jr. leased this site to build a new structure for the New York Metropolitan Opera. After the Great Depression, however, the Metropolitan Opera abandoned plans for relocation and Rockefeller changed the design to make it suitable for housing radio and television corporations. The first building to be completed was the headquarters of the Radio Corporation of America, RCA. It has an observation deck with spectacular views of Central Park and Empire State Building. The style was similar to that of a ship with deck chairs and ventilation pipes shaped like chimneys. It was completely remodeled in 2005 and reopened as a new art deco style deck, called the Top of the Rock. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony held here every year since 1933 marks the beginning of the festival season in New York.

Guided tours take visitors around the complex and through the many art deco interiors, frescoes and sculpture that adorn its interiors and exterior.

Why You Should Visit:
This place is full of energy with laser lights and has the biggest Xmas tree in NYC during the holidays. There's also a wonderful food court inside with a great selection of various cuisines.
The view from Top of the Rock is great with 360-degree vistas. Nice views of Central Park and many famous buildings, too.

If you're going up to the Top of the Rock, book your ticket online to avoid the lines.
Alternately, you can save the price of the observation deck and grab a cocktail at the Top of the Rock (it's on the 65th floor and has spectacular city views).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-12am
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. Patrick's Cathedral

2) St. Patrick's Cathedral (must see)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. Built of brick and clad in white marble, this is the largest Gothic style temple in the country. Centrally located – directly opposite the Rockefeller Center, it receives annually over 3 million visitors.

The current structure replaces an old St. Patrick’s Cathedral and is now used as a parish church. The Archdiocese of New York was created by Pope Pius IX in 1850. American architect James Renwick designed the building, as the seat of the Archbishop, in decorated geometric ecclesiastic Gothic style, popular in Europe between 1275 and 1400. Construction began in 1858 but stopped during the Civil War. Works resumed in 1865, seeing the cathedral completed in 1878 and dedicated in 1879. It has stained glass windows from France and England, as well as the Great Rose Window – the finest work of American stained glass artist Charles Connick, and three magnificent organs.

The cathedral holds daily masses so you can take the opportunity to go inside and admire the interior or just enjoy the peacefulness – either way you won't be disappointed. There is a gift shop selling books and religious items and visitors can check the schedule to attend one of the organ concerts frequently performed at the Cathedral.

Why You Should Visit:
Step into another world and revel in the atmosphere inside this historic building. Now that all of the renovations are complete you can get to enjoy the full beauty of the architecture.

If possible, try to attend a daily Mass with impressive organ music and solo vocalist. Also, on a Sunday afternoon, if lucky, you may happen upon a chorale concert which is nothing short of heavenly.
The armed NYPD officers outside ensure security, so you should be prepared for bag searches prior to entry.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-8:30pm
Grand Central Terminal

3) Grand Central Terminal (must see)

With 44 platforms and 67 railway tracks on two levels, the Grand Central Terminal is the largest train station in the world. It opened to the public in 1871, as part of the New York Central Railroad, when long-distance passenger trains were the most popular mode of transportation in the U.S.

The station was remodeled in 1913 upon which it got its current name, Grand Central Terminal. The ornate building features Beaux-Arts style with Corinthian columns and grand staircases. The ceiling on the top level has a beautiful blue fresco decorated with gold constellations by French artist, Paul Hellou. The lower level has a restaurant, called the Oyster Bar, which has vaulted ceilings with terracotta Gustavino tiles that form the support for the vaults.

In 1994, Grand Central Terminal was remodeled again – with lower ceilings and space for a retail mall and food court. It is now not only a transportation hub, but also an important tourist destination in New York City.

Why You Should Visit:
A great attraction to visit when the weather is wet, as it is mostly indoors. Awesome in size and lots of interesting details to look at.
Loads of eateries and quaint shops to check out between the commutes and trains.

Oyster Bar on the lower level offers a huge selection of oysters and other seafood.
Don't forget to visit the Whispering Gallery just outside the Oyster Bar. Stand in opposite corners and you can clearly hear the opponent. Quite fun!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5:30am-2am
Chrysler Building

4) Chrysler Building

For almost a year (11 months) prior to the completion of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building enjoyed the status of the world's tallest skyscraper. It was erected at an enormous rate of four floors a week, but despite the haste, no incident or accident occurred during the construction.

Commissioned by the automobile magnate Walter P. Chrysler, the skyscraper was designed by architect William Van Alen in 1928, and was meant to house the headquarters of the Chrysler company – hence the ornamentation in the lower floors, featuring steel automobile parts. Regarded by many well-known contemporary architects as the most beautiful structure in New York City, the building features art deco style with gradually decreasing steel arches studded with triangular windows. At 319 meters high and with 77 floors topped by a 38-meter spire, this is the highest steel-supported brick structure in the world. Initially, there was a viewing gallery on the 71st floor which was then closed in 1945. The marble-clad lobby has a mural in the ceiling, showing an automobile assembly line.

The Chrysler Building remains New York's best-loved skyscraper and was ranked 9th in the survey of the Favorite Architectural Memories in the US, ahead of many well-known landmarks, like the now destroyed World Trade Center. In 1976, the Chrysler Building was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Why You Should Visit:
Art-deco icon that looks good from any vantage point, but well worth a detour to take a closer look.

If time is in shortage, just walk into the lobby to see the beautiful walls and floor. The ceiling is a unique work of art.
Sight description based on wikipedia
New York Public Library

5) New York Public Library (must see)

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is the second largest public library in the United States (and third largest in the world), behind only the Library of Congress. It has nearly 53 million items, and is an independently managed, nonprofit corporation sustained with both private and public funds, with branches in Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.

The NYPL main building was designed based on a rough sketch created by its best known librarian, Dr. John Shaw Billings. His idea was a large reading room at the top with seven floors of book stacks and stairs that would make one of the swiftest book delivery systems in the world. The plan was formulated by architects Carrere and Hastings in a Beaux Arts style. The site chosen was a redundant reservoir and the workers spent two years dismantling and making it suitable for creating a library. Construction began in 1902 and the library opened its doors in 1911. At the time it was the largest marble clad building in the U.S. On the date of its dedication it had over a million books. Today, among its treasures are many first editions and important historic documents. There are two docent-led daily tours around the library; the entrance is free.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Empire State Building

6) Empire State Building (must see)

For 40 years, the Empire State Building had been the tallest building in the world until 1972 when it lost the title to the World Trade Towers. After the September 11th, 2001 attack on the WTC, it became the tallest structure in New York City once again.

The building was designed by William Frederick Lamb of the Shreve, Lamb and Harmon architectural firm. It has a simple art deco style typical of the high rise structures in pre-World War II New York. The simplicity was dictated by budget constraints, the time limit for construction and the city zoning laws. 3400 workers were involved in the project, including immigrant European workers and Mohawk metal workers from reserves in Canada. It was completed in one year and 45 days. Upon its inauguration in 1931, the building was declared one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Empire State building has 102 floors and stands 1,250 feet high. An iconic part of the New York City skyline, it has been a designated Historic Landmark since 1986.

Why You Should Visit:
The views on a clear day or evening are breathtaking. If you aren't afraid of heights, you should definitely buy a ticket to the 86th-floor observatory or the 102nd floor (for a little extra) to get a spectacular 360-degree view that is centrally located. It's an open deck, so great for pictures, and with binoculars (mounted there) you can look at places around!

Check the weather forecast before you visit. If it's not a clear day, DO NOT GO.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-2am
Macy's in Herald Square

7) Macy's in Herald Square

Since opening in 1902, the legendary Macy's flagship store in Herald Square has been a shopping paradise for visitors and an architectural icon and landmark of New York City. A store like no other, it has continued to be a trendsetter right from the inception, and was the first building to have a modern-day escalator. With 1,250,000 square feet (116,000 m2) of retail space under one roof, Macy's is one of the largest department stores in the United States. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was made a National Historic Landmark in 1978.

The store covers an entire city block with 11 levels of the latest fashions, featuring a dazzling array of designer brands, the choice and quality of which never fail to amaze. Restaurants and cafes can be found throughout the store and exciting events are held here almost every day.

The place is known for its great sales, especially compared to some other major New York City department stores. If you crave some refreshment or feel like having a bite, there are plenty of dining options to consider, from casual, fast-food eateries (such as Starbucks, Tabo Noodles, The Rooster’s Crow, etc.) to the more refined sit-down restaurants (Herald Square Cafe, Rowland's Bar & Grill, Stella 34 Trattoria), so there's no reason for you to go hungry or thirsty while at Macy's.

Weekdays before lunch are the least crowded times to visit.
The lower floors tend to be more crowded than the upper floors.
There is a package and coat check at the Visitor Information Center on the Mezzanine Level.
You can ask cashier to have your purchases shipped straight to your home.
International shoppers can get a discount card at the Visitor's Center for 10% off most purchases.
Flatiron Building

8) Flatiron Building

Perhaps the most photographed edifice in New York City, the Flatiron Building owes its popularity and name to the unique design. The isosceles triangle-shaped building may not be as high as the nearby high risers of today, but when it opened its doors for the first time in 1901, it surely was one of the tallest in New York – 307 feet, 21 floors – rising like a Greek column, contrary to the other New York skyscrapers rising from a lower base block.

The Flatiron building was designed by Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, as an office building for the Fuller Construction Company. Styled renaissance palazzo with beaux art detailing, it has the exterior of steel clad with terra cotta. Upon inauguration, the building was dubbed Burnham’s Folly by skeptics who doubted it would stand against strong winds. The design, however, has defied their misgivings and remained structurally sound till the present. Nowadays, it houses the headquarters of the McMillan Publishing Company.

The Flatiron building symbolizes New York City in picture postcards, television commercials and documentaries. It became a New York City landmark in 1966 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Why You Should Visit:
The exterior of the structure is certainly unique and well worth a photo!

At the crossroads between 5th Avenue and Broadway, this should be not the only attraction in the area. The district is trendy, and you can sit outside at one of the many local cafes or in Madison Square Park and just watch people go about their lives all day long. Alternatively, if you're more creatively inclined, the area has plenty of stores catering to those loving artistic design, as well as hip cafes and restaurants.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm

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