While Broadway and the Statue of Liberty are big draws in The Big Apple, there are many New York City architectural landmarks that are “must see” sites. From iconic exterior silhouettes to spectacular interiors, the city has a wealth of architectural masterpieces that should be on your travel agenda. Some are well known while other might be a little under the radar, but all are worth the time and effort to see. Tourists and locals alike can tour these landmarks, enjoying the shapes, details and constructions innovations that make the buildings and structures famous.
Probably the most iconic building in New York City — often used as a symbol of the city — is the Flatiron Building. Originally known as the Fuller Building, the triangular construction sits at 175 Fifth Avenue. Actually, it takes up a triangular piece of real estate bounded by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and East 22nd Street. Its construction was possible thanks to a change in building codes that eliminated the required use of masonry, allowing builders to use a steel skeleton. The 22-story wedge-shaped building was said to be named after the cast-iron clothes iron of that era. Over time, the neighborhood around the building took on the same name, now known as the Flatiron District.
Empire State Building
Another instantly recognizable profile in New York City is the Empire State Building. The Art Deco tower spent 40 years as the city’s tallest building until late 1970, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center was completed. After the towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, it was again the tallest until 2012, when the new One World Trade Center was constructed. The popular landmark was the first building to have more than 100 floors. Every year since it opened, about 4 million people visit the observatories, which are on the 86th and 102nd floors, for a bird’s eye view of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.
North of heavily visited Midtown, on the Upper West Side of the city, sits a Beaux Arts building with grand architecture — as well as a scandalous and bohemian reputation. Initially built to be “the grandest hotel in Manhattan,” the Ansonia is now comprised of condominiums. The original residential hotel had had 1,400 rooms and 320 suites and is named after the industrialist who owned the Ansonia Clock Company. Among the building’s oddities was the farm on the roof, which in its heyday had hundreds of chickens and other livestock, until it was shut down in 1907. From the rigging of the 1919 World Series to sex clubs and famous residents like opera singer Enrique Caruso, what went on inside under the Parisian mansard roof was as complex and exciting as the building’s exterior design.
A striking neo-Gothic building on New York’s skyline, the Woolworth Building was originally meant to be a 20-story building but was ultimately constructed with 60 stories. When completed in 1912, it became the world’s tallest building, and also home to the tallest chimney in the world. It reigned as the tallest structure until the Chrysler building took the spotlight. The lobby is considered one of the most spectacular of its time, sporting walls of marble, a grand stained glass ceiling light and amazing mosaics on its vaulted ceiling. It was designed by American architect who eventually went on to design the building that houses the United States Supreme Court.
Trinity Church, which sits at Wall Street and Broadway in lower Manhattan, may be surrounded by skyscrapers but it was once the tallest building in the city. The current church is actually the third one built on the same site, completed in 1846, and it is considered “the first and finest example of Gothic Revival architecture.” Once a beacon for those arriving in New York Harbor, Trinity Church spire is 25 stories tall, topped with a gilded cross. The church sanctuary is comprised of soaring wooden arches and the stained glass windows are some of the oldest in the United States.
New York Public Library
Even those who are not bibliophiles will want to put the New York City Public Library on the of places to visit. Beaux-Art architecture styles the building’s massive and imposing exterior, famously guarded by the marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. The city’s main library branch was built opened in 1911 and, at the time, was the country’s largest marble building with more than a million books and 75 miles of shelves. Venture inside to take in the Rose Main Reading Room, which was recently restored to grandeur, with its intricate coffered ceiling and rows of reading tables.
Grand Central Terminal
Far more than just a commuter train station, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal draws more than 750,000 people per day who visit the landmark to shop and dine. The crowds here are second only to Times Square. Located at 42nd Street and Park Avenue, it was built in 1891 during the heyday of train travel. The 48-acre facility has more platforms than any other rail station — anywhere. In addition to the stunning vast expanse of the main concourse, the clock on the 42nd Street facade is very special because it has the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass. The surrounding sculptures of Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury were designed in France and carved in the United States.
One World Trade Center
Part memorial, part symbol of the nation’s optimism and resilience, One World Trade Center (WTC) now stands where the twin towers of the original World Trade Center stood before 9/11. Currently the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, it hits a height of 1,776 feet, a direct reference to the year the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. The building’s observatory opened in 2015. The design, by Daniel Libeskind and David Childs, has a 185-foot tall windowless concrete base for security and is clad in angled glass fins. Starting from the 20th floor, the square edges of the tower’s cubic base morph into eight tall isosceles triangles. The complex is intended to include five high-rise office buildings built along Greenwich Street. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located just south of One World Trade Center where the original Twin Towers stood.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
While there are countless reasons to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York (known as The Met) some of them have nothing to do with the exhibits. The Beaux-Arts facade on Fifth Avenue, the soaring halls and staircases inside and the massive size of the structure draw architectural buffs as well. In 2016, the Met welcomed 7.06 million visitors making it the world’s third busiest art museum. While it started as a more modestly sized facility, the more than 20 buildings and additions that comprise the museum total more than 2 million feet and nearly a quarter-mile in length. Oh yes, and all that space holds spectacular collections of many kinds.
With an international reputation for luxury and celebrity, the Waldorf Astoria New York is an Art Deco building that was built on Park Avenue when the Empire State Building displaced the original Waldorf and Astoria Hotels. From 1931 until 1963, the Waldorf Astoria was the world’s tallest hotel. Its public spaces are legendary for their opulence and classic grandeur, and over the years, many famous people resided there like Marilyn Monroe, Cole Porter, Herbert Hoover and Frank Sinatra along with countless more. Alas, the hotel is currently closed for three years of renovation, during which time many of the areas are expected to be converted into condominiums.
VIA 57 West
Standing out on the waterside because of its unusual silhouette and bright white facade, VIA 57 West is a residential building designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, an architecture firm from Denmark. The building has an intriguing tetrahedron shape that soars 35 stories on West 57th Street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. This structure, which is meant to be the fusion of a tower and a courtyard apartment building, was the firm’s first project in the city. It is named for the downslope of the West Side Highway that serves as an informal entrance into Manhattan. The unique appearance of the building is enhanced by the balconies that are set at a 45-degree angle, forming an unexpected pattern.
Among the 21 bridges that connect Manhattan to other boroughs, there are several that are iconic, and this list includes the Queensboro Bridge. This span is also known as the 59th Street Bridge. Crossing the East River, the cantilever bridge connects the Long Island City in the borough of Queens with the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It also passes over Roosevelt Island. The two levels of traffic are often packed with cars and pedestrian and bike lanes are well traveled.
Since the day it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has been an iconic landmark in New York City. Crossing the East River to connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, it is among the oldest road bridges in the country. Called a suspension bridge, it actually uses a hybrid design that is a cable-stayed/suspension bridge system. The massive towers are made of limestone, granite and cement. A very unique feature is the vaults and compartments built into the anchorage that were rented out to help raise money for its construction. Some were used to store wine because of the constant 60°F temperature inside.
No visit to New York City is complete without at least a short stroll in Central Park, an urban oasis covering 843 acres that divides the Upper West Side from Upper East Side. Designed by well-known landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s first area was opened in 1858. The park has withstood several declines in its history, each time being revived. The most recent occurrence led to the creation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, which now manages the park in a public-private partnership. The park has a quite number of attractions, including the carousel, a skating rink, and a zoo.
Washington Square Park
Second only to Central Park as one of the city’s best known, Washington Square Park is more than just a typical park. It is a meeting place for cultural activity and has always had a tradition of nonconformity and perhaps rebelliousness. Its proximity to New York University and location in Greenwich Village keep it lively and popular. The Washington Square Arch serves as the northern entrance to the park and a fountain area is always popular with residents as well as tourists. The arch, made of Tuckahoe marble, was initially made of wood to commemorate George Washington’s inauguration, but because it was so popular, a permanent one was constructed in the park.
World Trade Center Transportation Hub
When the new One World Trade Center (WTC), the area also needed a new transit station, which gave rise to the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The station and large retail complex opened March 3, 2016, and features a large mezzanine under the National September 11 Memorial plaza. The aboveground portion of the hub is called the Oculus and leads to all the transportation platforms as well as provides an underground link to the Westfield World Trade Center mall, which opened in 2016. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is made of glass and steel and was intended to resemble a dove in flight.