Are you lucky enough to be hopping the rails at the classical and majestic Grand Central Station in New York City? Not only is there plenty to admire just within the station itself – maybe you have some leisure time before catching your train. There is plenty to discover nearby just by taking a little stroll!
Here are some of the exciting ways to kill time inside and outside of Grand Central, the grandest of all railway stations!
Things to Do Near Grand Central Terminal
Or rather, outside. Grand Central is a monument to the old New York. Popular opinion is it needs remodeling, but rather it needs preserving.
If you have just a few minutes, take a walk around the building and admire the architecture. The sculptures surrounding the clock at the main entrance depict Hercules, Mercury and Minerva, representing strength, speed and wisdom. The lifelike eagle statues perched on the corners help keep the pigeons away.
Inside, you can wait out your train in the Biltmore Kissing Room. It is so named for being the room where exhausted passengers were often reunited with their loved ones after long journeys. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you’ll get a kiss too!
FUN FACT! Don’t forget to look up! You’ll see the ceiling hole where a redstone missile was placed at the height of the cold war as a display against soviet strength. Lots of other historical tidbits can be found throughout the terminal
And if it all looks very familiar, that’s because the main concourse has been featured in films from classic Hitchcock all the way to the Marvel movies of today!
Before you step out, immerse yourself in the wonders of Grand Central. From its stunning celestial ceiling to its myriad of shops and eateries, there’s much to explore. Don’t miss the gourmet delights at the food market or the allure of the champagne bar.
The Majestic Empire State Building
Just a short stroll away, the Empire State Building stands tall, asserting its dominance in the New York skyline. This Art Deco masterpiece, completed in 1931, has been a symbol of human ambition and architectural innovation for nearly a century. A mere 10-minute walk from Grand Central will lead you to this iconic skyscraper.
Once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building has played host to countless moments in history, from famous movie scenes to New Year’s celebrations. As you approach, its limestone facade, inspired by the setbacks of the 1916 Zoning Resolution, offers a visual treat, leading the eye upwards to its iconic spire. Visitors can ascend to the 86th and 102nd floor observatories, where they are greeted with unparalleled 360° views of New York City.
From this vantage point, the city sprawls out beneath you, with landmarks like Central Park, the Hudson River, and the Statue of Liberty visible on clear days. The observatories also offer interactive exhibits, detailing the building’s history and its significance in popular culture. For those visiting in the evening, the Empire State Building offers a unique spectacle. Its tower lights change colors to commemorate various events and holidays, making it not just a sightseeing spot but a beacon that reflects the city’s ever-evolving spirit.
The Oasis: Bryant Park
A few blocks west of Grand Central Station, the verdant expanse of Bryant Park unfolds. This urban sanctuary, nestled amidst the towering skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan, offers a refreshing respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. Covering over 9 acres, Bryant Park has a rich history and has transformed over the years from a military encampment in the 1700s to the beloved public space it is today.
As you step into the park, you’re greeted by the meticulously manicured lawns, ornate fountains, and a canopy of mature London plane trees, providing shade and a sense of tranquility. The park’s design encourages both relaxation and recreation. There are movable chairs and tables, allowing visitors to customize their own cozy nooks, whether for reading, chatting, or simply people-watching.
Bryant Park is not just a passive green space; it’s a hub of activity throughout the year. In the warmer months, the park hosts a myriad of events, from outdoor movie nights and yoga sessions to live music and dance performances. The park’s central lawn becomes a favorite spot for picnics, sunbathing, and even spontaneous frisbee games.
When winter arrives, Bryant Park transforms into a winter wonderland. The centerpiece is the Winter Village, featuring a free ice-skating rink surrounded by charming holiday shops and eateries. Whether you’re gliding on the ice or sipping hot cocoa, the park exudes a festive atmosphere that’s hard to resist.
Adjacent to the park is the stunning New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, adding to the area’s cultural significance. With its blend of natural beauty, cultural events, and historical landmarks, Bryant Park is truly an urban oasis, offering a slice of serenity in the heart of Manhattan.
The Electric Pulse: Times Square
Further west from Grand Central Station, the unmistakable vibrancy of Times Square beckons. Often referred to as “The Crossroads of the World,” Times Square is a dazzling mosaic of lights, sounds, and energy. This iconic intersection, where Broadway meets Seventh Avenue, has been the heartbeat of New York’s entertainment district for over a century.
As you approach Times Square, you’re immediately enveloped in its electric atmosphere. Giant LED billboards flash with advertisements, casting a perpetual glow that turns night into day. The streets are alive with the hum of activity: tourists snapping photos, street performers showcasing their talents, and New Yorkers weaving through the crowds, all against the backdrop of historic theaters and modern megastores.
Times Square hasn’t always been the family-friendly tourist magnet it is today. Its evolution from the early 20th century, when it was a hub for the arts and culture, through the latter half of the century when it faced decline and became synonymous with urban blight, to its renaissance in the 1990s, is a testament to New York’s ever-changing nature.
Today, Times Square is home to many attractions. The TKTS booth offers discounted tickets to Broadway shows, making theater more accessible to the masses. The numerous flagship stores, from M&M’s World to the Disney Store, provide unique shopping experiences. And every year, as the clock ticks down to midnight on December 31st, people from all over the world gather here to watch the famous New Year’s Eve ball drop, a tradition that has been celebrated since 1907.
But beyond the glitz and glamour, Times Square is a place of stories. Every theater has its history, every billboard has its narrative, and every passerby brings their own tale to this bustling crossroads. It’s a place where dreams are pursued, where cultures converge, and where the pulse of New York City is most palpable.
Admire The Chrysler Building
Almost at the doorstep of Grand Central, the Chrysler Building stands as a testament to New York’s architectural prowess. Its Art Deco design is a photographer’s dream and a sight to behold.
The Chrysler Building’s facade, adorned with hubcaps, eagles, and the iconic radiator cap gargoyles, pays homage to the automobile industry, reflecting the vision of Walter P. Chrysler, the automotive magnate for whom the building was commissioned. As sunlight hits the building, its terraced crown, made of Nirosta stainless steel, shimmers, creating a radiant spectacle that has captivated both locals and tourists for decades.
Inside, the opulence continues. The lobby boasts African marble walls, sienna-colored floor, and a ceiling mural titled “Transport and Human Endeavor” by Edward Trumbull, which celebrates mankind’s achievements in transportation and technology. The mural, with its vibrant hues and intricate details, encapsulates the era’s optimism and faith in progress.
While the Chrysler Building primarily serves as an office space and isn’t open for public tours, its exterior alone is a sight to behold. Photographers often find themselves capturing its essence from various angles, with the building offering a different charm at every turn. Whether it’s the intricate brickwork, the gleaming metalwork, or the majestic spire, every element tells a story of ambition, vision, and artistry.
A Literary Haven: New York Public Library
Merely three blocks west of Grand Central Station, the imposing marble façade of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building stands as a beacon for knowledge seekers. Established in 1895, this iconic institution has been a cornerstone of New York’s cultural and intellectual landscape for over a century.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted by the grandeur of Astor Hall, with its soaring ceilings, marble columns, and ornate chandeliers. The library’s vast collection, spanning millions of items, is a testament to humanity’s literary and scholarly achievements. From ancient manuscripts to contemporary novels, the library’s shelves house stories and knowledge from every corner of the globe.
The library’s heart is the majestic Rose Main Reading Room. Stretching nearly two city blocks, this architectural marvel boasts a beautifully frescoed ceiling, grand chandeliers, and long oak tables, providing an inspiring ambiance for reading and research. It’s a space where time seems to stand still, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in their studies amidst the hallowed silence. But the New York Public Library is more than just a repository of books. It’s a living institution that continually evolves to serve the city’s diverse community.
Throughout the year, the library hosts a plethora of events, including author talks, exhibitions, workshops, and educational programs, catering to audiences of all ages and interests. One of the library’s lesser-known treasures is the Map Division, housing over 435,000 maps, some dating back to the 16th century.
For history buffs and researchers, this collection offers a fascinating journey through time, charting the world’s ever-changing geographical and political landscapes. In an age dominated by digital media, the New York Public Library stands as a reminder of the enduring power of the written word. It’s not just a place to borrow books but a sanctuary for thought, reflection, and discovery. Whether you’re a scholar, a tourist, or a local seeking solace from the city’s hustle, the library offers a serene space to reconnect with the world of ideas.
The Iconic Rockefeller Centre
A bit further afield, but worth the walk, the Rockefeller Centre offers a plethora of attractions. Whether you’re heading to the ‘Top of The Rock’ for panoramic views or shopping around, it’s a must-visit. And come winter, the famed Christmas tree lights up the plaza.
Spanning 22 acres, the Rockefeller Centre isn’t just a single building but a collection of structures, each with its own unique character and purpose. The centerpiece, however, is the GE Building, also known as “30 Rock.” Towering at 850 feet, this skyscraper offers visitors the ‘Top of The Rock’ observation deck, where panoramic views of the city unfold in all their glory. From Central Park’s green expanse to the distant Statue of Liberty, the vista from this vantage point is nothing short of breathtaking.
At the base of the GE Building lies the sunken plaza, which undergoes a magical transformation with the seasons. In winter, it becomes the city’s most beloved ice-skating rink, surrounded by the golden Prometheus statue and the fluttering flags of nations. Come Christmas, the plaza is graced by the iconic Rockefeller Christmas Tree, a towering spruce adorned with thousands of lights, drawing visitors from around the world.
The Rockefeller Centre is also a hub for the arts. The Radio City Music Hall, with its neon lights and classic marquee, has been the venue for countless concerts, shows, and events over the decades. The artistry isn’t confined to stages; it’s etched into the very walls of the Centre. From the intricate bas-relief carvings to the grand murals, the Centre is a canvas showcasing the ideals and aspirations of an era gone by.
For those with a penchant for shopping, the underground concourse offers a myriad of stores, boutiques, and eateries, making it a shopper’s paradise. And for aficionados of broadcasting, the NBC Studios offer a behind-the-scenes look at the world of television production.
The Rockefeller Centre, with its blend of architecture, art, entertainment, and commerce, encapsulates the spirit of New York. It’s a testament to visionaries who dared to dream big and a symbol of a city that’s always on the move, always reaching for the stars.
Shopper’s Paradise: Macy’s NYC
Heading south from Grand Central, a mere nine blocks away, stands the legendary Macy’s Herald Square. Established in 1902, this flagship store is not just a retail giant but a piece of New York’s rich tapestry. With over 2.5 million square feet of retail space, it proudly holds the title of the largest department store in the world.
As you approach Macy’s, its iconic star logo and grand façade beckon shoppers from near and far. Stepping inside, you’re transported to a world of retail wonder. Spanning multiple floors, each section of the store offers a unique shopping experience, from the latest fashion trends and luxury brands to home goods and cosmetics. The store’s vastness is such that it’s often said one can get lost amidst its myriad aisles and departments.
But Macy’s is more than just a shopping destination. It’s a historical landmark with over a century of stories. The store’s wooden escalators, some of the oldest in the city, whisper tales from the past, while the Memorial Entrance on 34th Street pays tribute to the employees who served during the World Wars.
One of the store’s most celebrated events is the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Since its inception in 1924, this parade has become a cherished tradition, with its magnificent floats, giant balloons, and performances drawing millions of spectators, both on the streets of New York and in front of television screens worldwide.
Whether you’re a fashion enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a curious visitor, Macy’s offers a blend of retail therapy and cultural experience. It’s not just a store; it’s an institution, a testament to New York’s ever-evolving retail landscape and its enduring charm.
Bibliophile’s Delight: Barnes and Noble
A few blocks from Grand Central Station lies a haven for book lovers: Barnes and Noble. Established in 1886, this bookstore chain has grown from a single storefront in New York to one of the largest booksellers in the U.S., yet its heart remains firmly rooted in the city’s literary culture.
As you step into the Barnes and Noble near Grand Central, the scent of fresh pages and the sight of towering bookshelves immediately envelop you. The store, with its vast collection, caters to a diverse range of readers. From the latest bestsellers and classic literature to niche genres and rare editions, there’s a book for every kind of reader.
For those who prefer digital reading, the store’s Nook section offers a range of e-readers and digital content. And if you’re in search of a gift or a memento, the store’s diverse collection extends beyond books to include journals, board games, collectibles, and more.
Adjacent to the bookshelves is the store’s café, a perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or a pastry while diving into a new book or magazine. It’s a space where conversations spark over shared reading interests, and where the city’s hustle momentarily fades away.
In an age where digital media dominates, Barnes and Noble stands as a testament to the timeless allure of printed books. It’s not just a store; it’s a sanctuary for the written word, a place where stories come alive, and where the city’s literary heart beats strong.
Diplomacy in Action: United Nations Headquarters
Located just four blocks east of Grand Central Station, the United Nations Headquarters stands as a symbol of global cooperation and the collective pursuit of peace. Established in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations (UN) was founded on the principle of nations coming together to prevent future conflicts and promote international collaboration.
The UN Headquarters, with its sleek modernist architecture, occupies a prime spot along the East River. The complex comprises several buildings, including the iconic Secretariat building, which towers over the area with its blue-green glass curtain wall, and the General Assembly building, where representatives from member states convene to discuss pressing global issues.
Visitors to the UN Headquarters are often struck by the serene ambiance of the grounds, a stark contrast to the bustling streets of Manhattan. The Peace Bell, a gift from Japan, and the Non-Violence sculpture, depicting a gun with a knotted barrel, are poignant reminders of the organization’s mission to promote peace and disarmament.
Guided tours offer a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the UN. As you walk through the corridors, you’ll get a glimpse of the Security Council Chamber, where decisions on international peace and security are made, and the Trusteeship Council Chamber, dedicated to promoting self-governance and development in former trust territories. The tour also showcases gifts from member states, each telling a unique story of culture and diplomacy.
Throughout the year, the UN Headquarters hosts various events, exhibitions, and conferences, shedding light on global challenges such as climate change, human rights, and sustainable development. These events often draw world leaders, diplomats, activists, and scholars, making the UN a melting pot of ideas and solutions.
The United Nations Headquarters is more than just a collection of buildings; it’s a beacon of hope and a testament to humanity’s shared vision for a better future. In the heart of New York City, it serves as a constant reminder of the importance of unity, dialogue, and global collaboration.
Eating On The Go
You might only have time for just a quick bite. Luckily at Grand Central, you’ve got some of the classiest options ever found in a train station.
- Grand Central Market – You can find a healthy variety to choose from – you don’t really have to go anywhere else! The selection even includes delectables from New York legend Eli Zabar.
- Frankies Dogs On The Go – If you want to go somewhere else and you really need it to go, have a quick hot dog treat at Frankies!
- Shake Shack – Or have a burger at one of New York’s most famous chains!
- Lower Level Concourse – But if you have time for choices and the market is too fancy, try a doughnut or fried chicken on the lower level concourse, amongst others.
If you had the time to wander about, you’ve probably built up an appetite. But you look at your watch and you only have time for a quick drink! It better be perfect. Find the Perfect Pint at the appropriately named The Perfect Pint East. It’s just a stone’s throw from Grand Central. But don’t throw any stones in crowded New York, you’re likely to hit somebody.
If you like live music with your meal, catch a bite and a tune at Fine and Rare, which describes the food, the music and the atmosphere at this lovely establishment.
Parks and Recreation
If you have the luxury to escape the terminal, try getting some fresh air in a nearby park or exploring history with local landmarks. Here are a choice few:
- Bryant Park – Offers a comfy setting brimming with atmosphere and attractions. Depending on the time of year, attractions range from a christmas market to outdoor cinema nights.
- Pershing Square Plaza – This is a park with a history of its own. Did you know it’s not actually a square? It’s a public space located under the Park Avenue viaduct that intersects 42nd street and Park Avenue. A relaxing oasis in the concrete jungle.
- United Nations Building – Not far from the station is the place where all the world’s great leaders make the plans that decide our destiny. Worth a look, no?
- The News Building – More of a stimulant for the imagination, the historic building showcases the huge globe sculpture associated with all the news we need to hear! That famous facade was used in the original 1977 “Superman” movie with Christopher Reeve.
Fascinating Film Locations
Speaking again of famous filming locations, is your idea of a landmark the real place some of your favorite scenes were filmed? Then Grand Central Concourse is just the beginning!
After flying your way to the news building, head up to the corner of 52nd and Lexington to the “7 Year Itch Grate” where the legendary photo of Marilyn Monroe’s windy day was taken and recreate your own magic. Now that’s an instagrammable moment!
A little farther away near the East River you can walk along the river by the Queensboro bridge, where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton took their romantic stroll in “Annie Hall”.
Museums and Art Galleries Near Grand Central
If you want to spend your time taking in some cultures, try these interesting museums to waste an hour or two.
Morgan Library is named for oil magnate J.P. Morgan and includes collections you might not find in a regular library or museum, including the millionaires own archives.
Like I said, you don’t have to leave Grand Central to have a full new york tourist experience. The terminal even has its own museum. Fittingly, it’s the New York Transit Museum, which explores the history of transportation in one of the most overpopulated cities in the world!
And for a goofy excursion, try the Museum of the Dog, presented by American Kennel Club. That’s right, a museum for our furry four-legged best friends, where you can spend a little time appreciating canines without all the messy pickup.
Finally, there’s always time for shopping, right? You should make it a store or two that you may not find in Any Mall, USA. Try Fifth Avenue. Iconic and expensive, Fifth Avenue might seem intimidating. But you don’t have to be a millionaire to go window shopping at some of the most famous stores in the world!
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.