Nowhere Like New York - 8 Tourist Areas of Midtown
"New York is Always a Good Idea"
I've been to New York 15 times and still long to go back! There's so much to cover that I couldn't fit it all within one post, so I'm creating a series of NYC posts. This post will focus on the Midtown area (see below for the list of areas covered in this post).
Union Square / Gramercy
Close to Fifth Avenue
The Garment District
The High Line
For an overall introduction on visiting New York (tips on getting around the city, tours, museums to check out, etc.), read my Overview of NYC post. Click here for the full NYC series to date (Uptown, Downtown, places to eat, etc.).
1. TIMES SQUARE
The name 'Times Square' originated from The New York Times paper, whose building can be found a few blocks from the main square. Although most New Yorkers complain about the tackiness and how busy Times Square is, it's still a must-see for first-time tourists! As someone visiting from Ireland, who had never been to a large city before, I found it breathtaking the first time I was here. The large flashing Broadway billboards, the tall skyscrapers, the noise, energy, crowds, and the red steps of Duffy Square; it was exactly like how I imagined it would be!
You can buy discounted tickets for Broadway Shows (on the date of the show) at the Tkts Booth located at Duffy Square. There are more Tkts booths at other locations in the city, and they are likely to have less of a queue than the Times Square location - click here for locations and opening hours. I've been to several Broadway shows, all of which were amazing! Plus, you never know what famous actor may be performing when you visit so, keep an eye on the schedule before you go!
Times Square Stores
The Port Authority bus terminal is located just off Times Square. For those who wish to designer shop, the Port Authority is where you can buy a ticket and catch a bus to Woodbury Common Outlet. (NB You will likely find a better ticket deal with a city Pass Card / Groupon than buying directly at the Port Authority).
Revolving Rooftop restaurant
The popular Revolving Rooftop restaurant, The View, is located in Times Square. I've planned to go here a few times but still have not made it there yet! Let me know your thoughts if you have been here!
Other Times Square Attractions
Ripleys Believe It or Not and Madame Tussauds are popular tourist spots also found in Times Square. I visited Madame Tussauds, and though I didn't think I would enjoy it, I was pleasantly surprised and found many of the pieces very impressive! Be sure to check out ordering tickets online instead of directly at the door because there can be some great deals (that include the chance to skip the queue) online for many of these tourist attractions. Check out my Overview of New York post for details on some of the deals you can get when visiting the city.
2. FIFTH AVENUE
Fifth Avenue stretches from Harlem (above Central Park, Uptown) down to Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village, Downtown). The busiest section is that of Midtown, and so I will focus on this part.
One of the most popular spots of Fifth Avenue is The Plaza Hotel (opposite Central Park). As you walk south along Fifth Avenue from here, you will start to see some very famous designer stores (Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, to name a few). A mere two blocks from Central Park is where you will find the soaring Trump Tower. Tiffany & Co sits beside Trump Tower; it recently started to serve breakfast, and so you can now enjoy breakfast at Tiffany's! Saks, Henri Bendel, Harry Winston, Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger, Cartier, American Girl, and Versace are all located on these blocks of Fifth Avenue too.
Over the festive season, Fifth Avenue is a must-see! The Saks Light Show is like nothing I have seen before and is guaranteed to get you into the festive spirit! Check out my Instagram page for video clips of this.
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MoMA)
MoMA is located just off Fifth (along 53rd Street). It offers free entry on a Friday (4 - 8 pm). However, I have visited during these hours and must warn you that the Museum can get very busy during this time slot!
MoMA is one of my favorite Art Museums to visit in the city; I prefer it rather than, for example, the MET. The reason being that I am more a lover of modern and contemporary art than the work of the old masters. Vincent Van Goghs 'The Starry Night' is one of the many famous artworks found here.
The Rockefeller Center is a national historic landmark comprising of over 8,000,000 square feet on 22 acres. Inside the building, you will find a shopping center (Lego store, FAO Schwarz, Kate Spade, Godiva, Mulberry, etc.), dining, office space, The Today Show, and the NBC studios, to name a few. The building consists of impressive artistry. You can take a tour of Rockefeller to learn more about its design, history, and gardens. Two popular artworks at Rockefeller are the famous Statue of Atlas and the stainless steel bas-relief 'News'.
The Observation Deck
Top of the Rock observation deck, found on the 70th floor, is well worth a visit! It holds a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of NYC. It possesses a 20-foot wide viewing area (with a coin-operated telescope). Many argue that it is better than The Empire State Building view (though it now also has competition from The Edge!). I would agree with this statement! One reason being the fact that the Rockefeller view includes the iconic Empire State Building as part of the skyline - which you don't get when you go up The Empire State Building! Also, Rockefeller is comprised of more levels and space to walk around than The Empire State. Rockefeller is also located closer to Central Park, thus providing some beautiful views of the Park. I advise you to visit on a bright clear day and watch the sunset so that you gain both day and night views.
The Today Show and NBC studios (where Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon's filmed) are found in Rockefeller. Tours of the NBC Studios are available and start from the NBC Experience Store - click here for more details.
Christmas Tree & Ice Skating
During the holiday season, the lower plaza of Rockefeller is where you will find the ice skating rink and Rockefeller Christmas tree. Sculptor Paul Manship created Prometheus. It is the central piece that sits under the spectacular Christmas Tree. This area can get VERY crowded over the holiday season (especially at the weekend)! However, it is worth the trip to see this extravagant festive area. There is also a great view of Saks Light Show from here over the Holiday season. If anything can get you in the festive spirit, this light show is it!
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Hall is part of Rockefeller Center (with access found from 51st Street and 6th Avenue). Radio City has hosted an impressive list of talent with many famous musicians having had performed here. The Grammy and Tony awards have been held here too. There is a stage door tour available of the Hall - click here for more details.
The venue is famously known for being the home to the Rockettes. The Rockettes perform their popular Christmas Spectacular show in the Music Hall each year. I went to see this show one year and, while the dancing was spectacular, I was not overly impressed by the storyline of the show. However, the show is a staple of the NYC holiday season and, I was glad to have gone to see it.
ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL
Another landmark of NYC is the statuesque Saint Patrick's Cathedral. This beautiful cathedral is opposite Rockefeller Center. You can walk in for free to have a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle located outside. With seating of 2,400, it is the largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the country. Tours of the Cathedral are available - click here for more details.
Bryant Park is found just off Fifth (42nd Street) and, it is one of my favorite places in Midtown. This pretty park is just a 10-minute walk from Times Square. It is one of the most popular parks in the city. It has nice seating areas, a fountain, greenery, a cute French classical style 'le carrousel', an art cart, an outdoor reading room, ping pong, pétanque, chess boards, backgammon, and several eateries (such as the Grill and coffee kiosk). The park also hosts, for example, yoga, poetry, and an outdoor cinema and theater at certain times during the year. Check out the park's website for festivities that may be happening during your visit.
During the Holiday season, you will find a Holiday Market, an ice-skating rink, and an impressive Christmas tree in the park. The park is one of my favorite spots to visit over the Holiday season - though it can get quite crowded at this time of year! It is hard not to get into the festive spirit while wandering around this market with a hot chocolate or apple cider in hand!
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (NYPL)
The beautiful NYPL is also along Fifth (inside the grounds of Bryant Park). Two iconic statuesque marble lions, 'Patience' and 'Fortitude', stand at the library entrance. Free tours of the library leave from the Astor Hall information desk each day - click here for more information on the building tour.
This building tour remains on my NYC to-do list. We previously arrived at the library to participate but stumbled upon an exhibition tour instead. Our tour guide was lovely, however, the exhibition (which was about NYC Food) was quite long and not to my taste (pun intended 😂). This was due to personal choice and lack of planning, and so, I can't fault the library for this! The type of exhibitions held in the library can vary immensely. Click here for more information on exhibitions.
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
Further down Fifth (34th Street) is where you will find the Empire State Building. As mentioned, many argue that Top of the Rock offers better views (I am one of the people who would agree with this statement!). However, it is understandable that people may still wish to visit here first because it is such an iconic building. As of 2017, it was the fifth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States. It stood as the world's tallest building for nearly 40 years - until the completion of the World Trade Center's North Tower in Lower Manhattan (late 1970). The Empire State illuminates different colors to mark occasions and events (for example, green on St. Patrick's day!).
I would again suggest visiting just before sunset so that you get to see amazing views both during daylight and also the pretty lights at night. Again, be mindful of the weather and if it's foggy out. It was very windy when I visited - with sections even being closed off due to wind.
You can purchase tickets from the Empire State website. However, you may want to keep an eye out for the city passes/deals before you go - especially if you intend to do a few attractions during your trip because these deals may work out cheaper. You can purchase deals that will allow you to skip the queue to the Observation Floor (the line on the day that I visited was VERY long but moved quickly).
NOMAD / FLATIRON
If you keep walking south along Fifth, you will make it to the Flatiron District. It is c. 40-minute walk from where we started at Central Park/Plaza hotel! But only a 15-minute walk from the Empire State.
Here, opposite Madison Square Park, you will find the beautiful Flatiron building. This iconical triangle-shaped skyscraper is a designated New York Landmark. Though it's not open to the public, it's a cool building to see if you like architecture or want a photo outside of it.
There are some fab eateries in this area, such as Eataly, Marta, and Sarabeth's. I ate at ilili and was very impressed by the food here! Also, a lovely boutique hotel that I had cocktails in was the ACE hotel. Its large lobby and bar would be a great place to grab a coffee while working on your laptop during the day too. I caught an awesome jazz show at the award-winning Flatiron Room in this area too. Worth checking out if you are a jazz fan!
3. UNION SQUARE / GRAMERCY
C. 10-minute walk from Madison Square Park is where you will find Union Square Park. This bustling park is a popular spot for markets. It holds the Greenmarket, farmer market, which started in 1976, and the Holiday Market. Union Square is bordering Midtown and Downtown. I visited it during the festive season and was impressed by the local artist goods. Not as packed as Bryant Holiday Market (though smaller), it made for a nice change as I usually visit Bryant Park.
4. CLOSE TO 5TH AVENUE
MORGAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM
The Morgan Library & Museum is at Murray Hill, Midtown (a block from Fifth).
I had wanted to visit this library for quite a while and finally made it on my 2019 trip. I was not disappointed! Though a small library, it is breathtaking and looks like something you would see in a whimsical film like Harry Potter! The colors, artwork, and interior design of the library is beautiful. What excited me more when I got there was the original musical manuscript from Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, and Verdi (which I wasn't expecting to see). As a pianist, the music manuscript very much excited me! For book lovers, there was an autographed manuscript of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens!
Mr. Morgan's study room, opposite the library, is another beautiful space to see. The museum has gallery rooms and includes rotating exhibits. The museum also has over 10,000 digital drawings online! Jane Austen's letters and manuscripts and work by Ruben, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Renoir, and Rembrandt have all been shown here.
Located two avenues from Bryant Park / NYPL (42nd Street and Park Avenue) is Grand Central Station. It is the largest such station facility in the world by its number of platforms. Architecturally, the station is beautiful! Its interior luster of the Main Concourse is elaborately decorated with an astronomical ceiling (though some of the constellations are inaccurate). Grand Central is thought of as somewhat of a romantic location due to how its iconical four-faced clock, located by the information booth, is frequently used as a meeting place in films and t.v.
A four-meter clock, which is the world's largest example of Tiffany glass, stands on top of the station. The sculptures Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury surround the clock. Also, a statue of an eagle prominently perches on top of the station.
In the 1960s, there was a plan to demolish a significant part of Grand Central because, at that time, it was falling apart. However, preservationists–aided by none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis took the fight to the Supreme Court. This eventually led to the station being saved in 1978! A dark rectangular patch of dirt remains on the ceiling following its restoration in 1998. This patch starkly contrasts with the cleanliness of the restoration work surrounding it. The grimy patch acts as a reminder of the gloomy/dark past of the station. It is quite symbolic of how something can be saved from near ruins.
The station contains a large food court, newsstands, food market, bakeries, shopping, and a holiday market (I found this small the year I visited it) is held here over the festive season. Located near the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, at the dining hall, you will find the whispering wall. Whispering here is known to sound like a shout due to the acoustics of the low ceramic arches!
Just an avenue from Grand Central Station (42nd Street and Lexington), you will see another iconic landmark; the beautiful Chrysler Building. This is one of my favorite buildings! Its Art Deco–style architecture and how the spire beautifully lights up is breathtaking. The public is not permitted to visit the top of the Chrysler Building. It is used as office space. However, you can enter the lobby during work hours to view the art deco on display in the lobby area (click here for more details). The Chrysler briefly stood as the tallest structure in the world until the Empire State eclipsed it.
For Gossip Girl fans or those visiting over the Holiday season and wish to see a picturesque Christmas tree, Lotte Palace is the place to go! It is located just off Fifth (behind Saint Patrick's Cathedral).
5. THE GARMENT DISTRICT
The Garment District is close to Times Square. This area is the home to many major fashion labels who operate showrooms and do their fashion design and production here. The Fashion Walk of Fame, which honors significant designers, is located here too. Also, Madison Square Garden is a few minute's walk from here (click here for info. on their venue tour).
Several walking tours are available around the Fashion District. Two tours that I have read great reviews on are Style Room and Shop Gotham. Check out another free walking tour, as well as a list of other Garment District tours, here!
Herald Square is in The Garment District (34th Street). Here you will find Macy's, Manhattan Mall, and many other high street stores (Victoria's Secret, Target, Sephora, etc.). I find Macy's and Manhattan Mall are great places to visit on a rainy day as Macy's is a full block in size, and so, you can spend a lot of time exploring here away from the rain!
For those into gadgets and photography, a large and extremely popular electrics and camera store, B&H Photo, Video - Electronics and Camera store, is located a short few minutes walk from Macy's.
6. HUDSON YARDS
Hudson Yards is quickly becoming quite a popular area following its redevelopment in recent years.
The Vessel opened in 2019, and it's quickly become a staple of NYC tourist locations. I dropped by it on my last trip, however, I did not climb to the top due to the poor visibility on the day. I decided to wait until my Summer 2020 trip - which did not happen due to COVID-19! The Vessel's unusual honeycomb shape makes for an interesting piece of art and design. The climb up to the top of the structure is almost 2,500 individual steps and 80 landings!
The Edge is another new attraction (opened 2019) in Hudson Yards too. It now owns the name as the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere!! Not for the faint-hearted, it is suspended mid-air at 100 floors in height! It provides 360-degree views over the city. I can't wait to visit it though I'm not sure my nerves will be able for the glass floor!
7. THE HIGH LINE
If the weather is nice, I recommend grabbing a coffee and taking a walk along The High Line. It is an old railway track redeveloped and opened in 2009 as a walkway/park area. It starts at West 34th Street (though there are several other entry points along the way). The track's elevated above street level and, you will find different works of contemporary art and design along the walkway. It passes through Chelsea and finishes off Downtown at The Meatpacking District / Greenwich Village. These are areas that are lovely to stop off at for a wander around too.
Chelsea is south of The Garment District - some would consider this area Downtown. However, anything above 14th street is usually still Midtown. As mentioned, while walking the High Line you could stop off in Chelsea along your way. Chelsea is well known for its art galleries. You will also start to notice some prettier architecture and more of a neighborhood feel as you move further away from the main Midtown area. There are more townhouses and low-rise buildings in Chelsea than in the Times Square area. The Flower District is also located in Chelsea and, though not necessarily a place to specifically go to visit as a tourist, it is nice to walk down this street if you are in the area.
The Fashion Institute (FIT) is for true lovers of fashion! It will appeal to those who are genuinely interested in the history and process of fashion design, textiles, aesthetics, fabrics, and, the evolvement of garments throughout the years. I don't recommend visiting here if you are only interested in viewing modern-day high-end fashion. Anything from periodical fashion, such as 18th-century costume wear (Victorian trends, petticoats, and crinolines), to current day trends, may be on display. Of course, recent fashion designers, such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, and Manolo Blahnik have had work featured here too. I advise you to take a look through previous exhibitions on the FIT website to decide if this is something that you would enjoy!
I did not particularly enjoy the exhibition on the day that I visited. However, I just wandered in without researching what was showing that day. Also, I regret that I did not take the guided tour to better appreciate the exhibition when I visited.
McKittrick Hotel is well known for its award-winning Sleep No More. This play consistently receives rave reviews for its interactive theatre. I attended c. 6 years ago and, it is still showing in the hotel. Sleep No More is loosely based on Shakespeare's Macbeth. I didn't particularly follow the storyline; I felt that the play's main strength was its immersive theatre. The audience covers their face in a mask and they are free to follow whichever actor they choose. There is a chance that you may be separated from your friends when entering the show too. Sets are located over different floors of the building. The actors perform without words and, the play culminates in a scene with all actors and audience members present. The show was like no other play that I had ever been to before and I would strongly recommend it for a one of a kind experience! It's very interactive whereby you are free to walk around the set on your own. We were led to the bar area after the play finished. Here, we enjoyed cocktails and a brilliant live band!
I also attended a Fashion Week party at the McKittrick Hotel. It was pretty eclectic and exciting too!
Chelsea Piers is not exactly a tourist location; it's a Sports Entertainment Complex. However, check it out if you are after a real American experience such as bowling, ice-skating, visiting a golf driving range (overlooking the Hudson River), etc.
For those of you who are art lovers, Chelsea boasts of over 200 galleries! I haven't yet taken the Small-Group Art Gallery Walking Tour, but this sounds like a great thing to do in Chelsea if you like art! Even though I've visited several art galleries in NYC, my visit to a smaller one here in Chelsea is still one of my highlights so far. This art gallery was the David Zwirner gallery. Here, I queued for over an hour to see an installation by one of my favorite artists - Yayoi Kusama. It was well worth it! Though a smaller gallery, David Zwirner achieves exhibitions from artists of a very high caliber! That is another upside of NYC being such a large hub for creatives; you are sure to find a very high standard of talent all over the city - even in smaller event spaces.
Another famous art museum is that of the Rubin Museum. I haven't yet visited here, so I would love to hear your thoughts if you have been!
Another great place to call into while walking the high line is Chelsea Market. It has a large food concourse which food lovers are sure to like. Also, there are quirky stalls to browse through with a variety of artwork, books, handmade crafts, jewelry, etc.
UN Headquarters 44th Street & 1st Avenue
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Pier 86, West 46th Street & 12th Avenue (Hells Kitchen)
Spyscape (Spy Museum) 54th Street & Eight Avenue
Hudson River Park Enjoy a waterfront walk (preferably at sunset!), overlooking the Hudson River. This park walk runs from the top of Midtown (57th street) to Downtown (Tribeca).
For information on tours that take you all over Manhattan then check out my 'Overview' post. The hop on hop off tour is a good option to see different areas of the city.
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