Manhattan’s skyscrapers are essentially concentrated in two areas, the Financial District in the south of the island and Midtown. The latter is south of Central Park and this is where this walk takes place.
The suggested walk includes well-known landmarks like MOMA, skyscrapers like the The Rockefeller Plaza, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, in addition to entering another “country”, the United Nations headquarters down on East River. Two other musts on a visit to New York are included: The Grand Central terminal and Times Square.
Admittedly we did not get inside all these places but we more or less walked this route at day-time. Times Square is best visited in the evening though, so we did that too.
The Midtown Walk (Click to expand)
Empire State Building
Empire State Building
Along with Central Park and the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers are the foremost representations of New York. For me, this building is the quintessence of all skyscrapers in the world, the mother so to speak. We had the fortune of staying at a hotel (Stanford) at the base of the Empire State Building and we were able to gaze up on it, morning, day and night. What a view!
102 storeys high, 381 metres (443 m including the antenna). Opening in 1931, a couple of years into the great Depression, it held the position of being the world’s tallest building for almost 40 years. It still ranks among the world’s top 25, a great achievement. This is the wet dream of any engineer and architect.
For the rest of us the Art Deco building is an icon. It is visible from almost anywhere in Manhattan and across the rivers to the east and west, and from the harbour to the south.
Being novices to New York, we had listened to the advice often offered to ascend the top of another skyscraper, the one on Rockefeller Plaza. I will return to that later in this article but there is no doubt that my next visit to New York will have to include a visit to the viewing platform on the Empire State Building as well. One is advised to book in advance.
New York Public Library and Bryant Park
New York Public Library front on 5th Avenue
This means that we did not enter the Empire State Building. Instead we walked up 5th Avenue running next to it. If you have ever heard about the avenues and streets of New York, this is one of the three most famous – the others being Broadway and Wall Street.
We were not into shopping, instead we looked up and we looked ahead. Soon we arrived in front of the NY Public Library. If we had more time we would have gone inside.
According to the library’s website “NYPL’s historical collections hold such treasures as Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, George Washington’s original Farewell Address, and John Coltrane’s handwritten score of “Lover Man.”” Apart from that, the reading room is a treasure in its own right.
Bryant Park is located behind the library. I returned another day and found a lovely oasis in the midst of modern office buildings. This park became my personal favourite (along with Central Park and Washington Square) during my week-long visit to New York.
For the sake of this description, I will be making a long diversion, contrary to what we actually did. We actually continued, on foot, along 5th Avenue right up to the Rockefeller Plaza for an early morning view from the top of the Rock.
Grand Central Terminal
Now, turn right on East 41st or 42nd Street and you will soon find another iconic New York building. This railway terminal is not a museum, it is still very much alive and most of all: It is a wonderful place to visit. Get inside the great hall of the main concourse and have a look around. This hall opened in 1913 but the train station dates back to 1871.
Grand Central Station
Walk up the staircases to the viewing platforms, watch people walking by the huge east side windows, and have a look at the ticket windows, the beautifully painted ceiling and all the flags lining the sides.
This train station actually holds a world record: Most platforms (44 in number).
Here is another of New York’s iconic skyscrapers. If you walk out south from the terminal to Pershing Square, you will be in a position to overstretch your neck to see the Chrysler Building from below. It opened in 1930 as the world’s tallest building, holding that position for almost a year.
77 floors, 319 m.
The Art Deco style building, or perhaps rather the top of it, has for decades been a favourite among architects. Some would say this is the finest building in New York.
We walked down East 42nd Street towards East River until we saw it, the green tall building of the United Nations. Turning left past the row of flags belonging to the 190 or so member states we were let into a sovereign territory. This is in Manhattan, New York, the United States – and yet it is not.
United Nations – General Assembly Hall
We had a look around in the park (some areas are for diplomats only) and inside the building next to the 39-storey building housing the Secretariat. There are scheduled tours and we joined one of them. The United Nations complex have five assembly halls and the tour takes you through most of them depending on the meeting activity. We were lucky and had a glance into all but the Security Council.
To all my readers: You have certainly seen the UN General Assembly hall on TV – and you do not want to miss seeing it live if you’re in New York!
Before you leave you should get down to the basement and locate the post office. Hand over your passport and get a stamp inside. Passport stamps are nice to have.
Waldorf Astoria across Park Avenue
Turn right outside the UN building and then left on East 47th Street. Continue up this street until you reach Park Avenue. The world famous facade and tower of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel will show up on your right after a couple of minutes.
You might want to have a look inside this building from 1931, but to us this was merely passing memory and something to lay our eyes on en route to the next couple of sights.
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
“Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as ‘a house of prayer for all peoples’…” according to Pope Benedict XVI. That might be the true, and in any case this is where the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York resides.
You should make a stop to admire the beautiful front facing 5th Avenue, and also go inside for a moment of prayer or admiration of this 1913 Neo-Gothic masterpiece.
From the steps of the cathedral you face the Rockefeller Plaza slightly to your left. Cross the street and enter the world of dreams, wealth and an overwhelming skyscraper.
Remember “Home Alone in New York”, the sequence where Kevin is reunited with his mother in front of a colourful Christmas tree? That’s here. The Christmas Tree has been put up in front of the Rockefeller Center every year since 1933.
Now, spend a few minutes gazing up, then down into the basement square. On our visit in late April there was an ice-rink inside. Next, walk around the square and into the tall building straight ahead.
The Rockefeller Center consists of 14 buildings put up in the 1930s and five more later. At the center number 30 Rockefeller Plaza (or simply 30 Rock) shoots 70 levels and 266 metres high into the sky. The lobby area is a shiny, luxuriously decorated piece of art. Take your time and then find your way to the ticket office of “Top of the Rock“.
With our pre-booked and printed tickets we arrived at the counter in the early morning only to be advised to change to another day. The mist was heavy in New York this day and we changed our tickets as suggested. After a visit to the Cathedral we emerged in bright sunshine and returned to the ticket office. Another change was easily accepted and we joined the line for the elevator access to the best panoramic view of Manhattan.
Rockefeller Center – GE Building – Top of the Rock
The elevator takes you to level 67 and a stunning viewing platform – actually with two more levels up. Look south on Manhattan towards the Empire State Building and the Financial Center and even to the Statue of Liberty. Turn around and look north on Central Park. The view in all directions is superb.
We had bought a combo ticket (morning and sunset) and found it to be a great idea.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Not far from the Rockefeller Center this second museum on our New York City wish list was the one we had to skip. We visited the Met prior to having a walk through Central Park, but found no time for it.
Still this museum is high on the list for most New York visitors.
St. Mary the Virgin Church
Also, this church from 1895 was on our schedule, and alas we found no time to visit it.
Instead we were lured into the mystery of Times Square, like any other first time visitor to New York. We came here in the evening, after paying our second visit to the Rock. The mystery for me is what the fuzz is all about. A lot of people gather in what is a lot more than a square. Just to see what is going on, see the crowds, the Batmen and Spidermen and not least what used to be neon lights.
The bright neon lights have been replaced by modern technology but the mission statement is the same: Advertisements. I couldn’t care less, but at least I could tick Times Square off my bucket list.
We returned in the morning looking for a bus to take us to Harlem (next chapter) and found that whatever charm Times Square has, it was entirely wiped out.
This described and mapped walk is 5 kilometres long. You can rush it in an hour or spend a full day.
This article is part of a series from a week-long visit to New York City. We planned our visit by pinpointing on a map all attractions we wanted to visit, skipped some and connected the rest with walking routes.
The result is illustrated on this map. At first sight it seems immensely overcrowded. Fortunately you may zoom in, click the markers, hide specific walks, and even expand the map into a new tab or window.
(1) Central Park
(2) Brooklyn to Manhattan
(3) Liberty Island, Ellis Island and the Financial District
(4) The High Line, Greenwich Village and Flatiron
In addition there is a special entry from New York’s own World Heritage Site, the Statue of Liberty.
Browse the enlarged images from places mentioned in this article by clicking one of the thumbnails below: