New York City – Midtown Manhattan

When I think about New York City, I picture the skyline filled with towering skyscrapers, Wall Street, cultural diversity, busy streets with the endless hammering of taxi horns, and the New Year’s Eve ball drop at Times Square. All of this is in a specific part of New York City called Manhattan. Manhattan is one of five boroughs (county-like areas within New York’s city limits) that collectively form New York City. The others boroughs are The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island which I have marked on the image below.

Manhattan itself has multiple sections within it (e.g., Lower, Midtown, and Upper). Let’s zoom in and take a look at Midtown Manhattan – the focus of this post. I’ve marked the map below with a few points of interest you may enjoy visiting on a trip to New York and will share a bit about these locations.

Seeing the Empire State Building was high on my list. It was completed in 1931 and built on the original site of the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel. 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 in late-1970. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, it was again the tallest building in New York City. It has since been surpassed by the new One World Trade Center located in lower Manhattan. Currently, the Empire State building is the sixth-tallest skyscraper in the United States, and the 45th-tallest in the world.

Empire State Building (licensed image)

Another landmark skyscraper is the Chrysler building. The Chrysler Building. At the time of its completion in 1930, it was the tallest building in the world. A year later, the Empire State building would take that title. Currently, the building is ranked as the 94th tallest building in the world and #7 in the United States.

The Chrysler Building

Not far from the Chrysler building is another New York landmark – Grand Central Terminal. Opened in 1913, Grand Central is a world-famous landmark and transportation hub in Midtown Manhattan. It is filled with shops, restaurants, art, and…commuters. With 750,000 visitors every day, Grand Central Terminal is one of the most-visited destinations in New York City, second only to Times Square. 

Speaking of Time Square, what a spectacle! Times Square is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions and draws an estimated 50 million visitors annually. The area was originally known as Longacre Square and renamed Times Square in 1904 after the New York Times (a large U.S. media company) moved its headquarters to the site. It is now home the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop (began in 1907). This event alone draws over one million visitors each year. The area is surrounded by high-end and one-of-a-kind retail stores, corporate headquarters, huge flashing neon lights, and is packed with wide-eyed visitors. Even if you don’t like crowds, this a place you have to wade into at least once.

Just off Times Square is the theater district where you can take in a play or musical one evening.

I’m sure shopping (at least window shopping) will be high on the to-do list for many. You’ll want to at least take a stroll down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and check these flagship, high-end stores.

Sak’s Fifth Avenue

Rockefeller Center is another landmark attraction. NBC (a popular US TV network) has studios here. You can watch the Today show through the window and occasionally the hosts will come out and mingle…and even put you on TV. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, ice skating, and art around this massive complex to enjoy. Be sure to visit Top of the Rock for a breathtaking view of the city.

View from Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center (image licensed)
Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center

At the northern tip of Midtown Manhattan is Central Park. It is amazing that city planners had the foresight to protect this natural oasis from development. Central Park was opened to the public as a park in 1858. There have been periods of decline in its history but today it operates under a healthy budget and is surrounded by upscale communities on the upper east and upper west sides as the park as it extends northward from Midtown. I have been in the park several times and it is clear that New Yorkers are enjoying it for both exercise and more leisurely pursuits. I would encourage you to visit the park especially in late spring and summer. It is surreal to be standing in Central Park with skyscrapers rising above the large trees.

Heading back into Midtown, and landmark luxury hotel worth being on the lookout for is the Waldorf Astoria. Up until 1963, it was the tallest hotel in the world. Its early years were renowned for lavish dinner parties and galas and the hotel was often at the center of political and business conferences involving the rich and famous. The Waldorf Astoria and Towers has over 1400 rooms and suites. The suites are named after famous residents of a bygone era such as President Hoover (who lived there for 30 years), Cole Porter, Royal Suites (named after the Duke and Duchess of York), the MacArthur Suite (famous World War II General), the Churchill Suite, and the Frank Sinatra Suite.

If you enjoy military history, you might consider heading west to the Hudson River to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The USS Intrepid (centerpiece of the museum) was launched in 1943 and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. She survived five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike. The ship later served in the Cold War, Vietnam War, and as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s. NASA recovery support included the Mercury and Gemini space missions. Decommissioned in 1974, the USS Intrepid is berthed on the Hudson River.

Heading south from the USS Intrepid, make your way towards Hudson Yards. The skyscrapers below are striking with the sky reflecting off of them. If you look a little lower, you’ll notice a curious looking structure known as the The Vessel (which you can enter) along with portions of the Hudson rail yard. This area is in the midst of an urban revival with significant investment in restaurants, shops, parks, office, and residential development. I took the photo on the left from the High Line which is a former railroad track that has been converted into a beautiful 1.5 mile walkway with flowers and art. It is a gorgeous place to walk or go for a run.

So much still to explore in Lower Manhattan but it is time to go. One last look from my hotel room before checkout…

View from hotel in Midtown

New York – Lower Manhattan

If you are seasoned visitor or former resident of New York city, my upcoming series on New York probably isn’t for you (though I welcome your insights). My goal is to help map out the city for first-time travelers and/or peel back the layers a bit for those who just want to know a little more about the city.

Growing up in the southern United States, I was of course aware of New York City but it always seemed a bit abstract. It seemed to be a world away and as foreign as Rome. Paris, or London. To make things even more confusing, there were so many other references to the city that confused me: Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Uptown, Harlem, Queens, Chinatown, etc. I wasn’t quite sure what they were referencing.

Well, one of life’s great pleasures is learning and growing. I’ve been to New York a few times now as an adult and slowly beginning appreciate the distinct parts of the city. I will share some them in my series on New York.

  • New York City – Manhattan (Lower)
  • New York City – Manhattan (Midtown)
  • New York City – Manhattan (Upper East Side and Upper West Side)
  • New York City – The Bronx
  • New York City – Brooklyn
  • New York City – Queens
  • New York City – Staten Island

Any visit to New York City should include a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum which is located in lower Manhattan. Reflecting Absence, by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, features two water areas – each covering spaces where the twin towers once stood. They symbolize the loss of life and the physical void left by the attacks. The waterfalls mute the sounds of the city and offer a reflective sanctuary. They have done very honorable work with this memorial. Standing there, you couldn’t help but feeling quiet and emotionally overwhelmed. I teared up big time.

One World Trade Center, opened in 2014, dominates the lower Manhattan skyline and is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It is the same height as the tallest of the fallen twin towers. After you have visited the 9/11 Memorial, take some time to explore other distinctive areas and sights of lower Manhattan.

Little Italy – Little more than a nostalgic tourist attraction now as most Italians have left the area.
Bowery Savings Bank – Capitale

The Bowery Savings Bank was designed by Stanford White and completed in 1895. White’s choice of a Roman classical style for the building set a trend for bank buildings in New York and throughout the United States. The building – now called Capitale – serves as a restaurant, night club, and upscale events center.  White’s other notable designs include the Washington Square Arch, the New York Tiffany & Co. building and several branches of the New York Public Library.

If you or someone you are with enjoys shopping and art, the trendy SoHo district is also located in lower Manhattan.

Interested in exploring more of New York? Check out – New York City – Midtown Manhattan