Top 10 most iconic buildings in New York City
You’ve seen it in hundreds of photographs, movies and TV shows, but New York’s skyline never fails to amaze the first time you catch sight of it. With streets full of towering buildings soaring up into the sky, Manhattan is certainly a hub of incredible architecture. Some are iconic, some are more off the beaten track, but a trip to New York is never without gasping in delight at the amazing buildings that make the city so well-renowned. Get your camera ready - here are the top 10 most iconic buildings in New York.
Solomon R, Guggenheim Museum
Where: Situated at 1071 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 89th Street in Upper East Manhattan.
What: Founded in 1937 to showcase early modernist avant-garde art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, often referred to as ‘The Guggenheim’, is one of the most popular museums in New York City. This iconic piece of International Style architecture was American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s last major work and is revered internationally as his greatest masterpiece. Wright’s ingenious concept envisioned a continuous ramped gallery, allowing visitors to take an elevator to the top level and then descend leisurely amidst Guggenheim’s collection of nonobjective geometric paintings. While initially polarizing critics, The Guggenheim went on to revolutionize the design of galleries and museums, both in architectural form and in the way exhibitions would be experienced.
Highlights: Today the Guggenheim is the permanent residence of a growing collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, early modern and contemporary art and hosts prominent short term exhibitions throughout the year. Must see exhibits include, Woman with yellow hair, a famous Picasso depiction of his mistress and model Marie-Therese Walter, the Mapplethorpe repository, a comprehensive collection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, and Jackson Pollock: Exploring Alchemy, a didactic exhibition investigating the process behind Pollock’s iconic painting. While the first two are permanent features at the Guggenheim, the latter is on display until the 6th September. It is undoubtable that the Guggenheim hosts one of the most significant collections of art in the world, however it is the masterpiece they sit in that proclaims it a New York essential visit.
Where: Located at 300 West 57th Street on Eight Avenue, near Columbus Circle.
What: The Hearst tower unites the Hearst Corporation’s numerous publications and communication companies in a headquarters building that mirrors the history of the company, the 20th century’s architectural development and the global economy. The original headquarters building was commissioned by the founder William Randolph Hearst and designed by the architect Joseph Urban who proposed a skyscraper with an Art Modern cast stone façade base. With the sudden arrival of the Great Depression after the stock market crash of October 1929, construction was postponed and for the next 75 years the base was all that stood. In 2004 Sir Norman Foster’s Late Modern tower was added. Awarded the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2006 as the best skyscraper of the year in the world, Foster and Partners design extended the boundaries of architecture with unparalleled environmental considerations paving the way for future green high rise buildings in the city and across the world.
Highlights: The building’s symmetrically rigged corners cannot be missed rising distinctly from its ordered stone base which sits as a distinguished backdrop to a large, bright four story atrium. At the centre, a water sculpture constructed with thousands of glass panels boasts the tower’s economic performance, using recycled rain water to cool and humidify thermal conditions. From here one can appreciate the success and magnitude of the construction while enjoying a coffee amidst the colossal steel columns in the Hearst building’s Cafe57.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Where: Located on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st streets in Manhattan facing Rockefeller Center.
What: The slaughter houses and cattle yards which once surrounded St Patrick’s Cathedral have long since been replaced by the expansive glass and steel monuments of modernity, which enveloped its boundary during the Northern advance of Manhattan. As the largest decorated Neo-Gothic Cathedral in North America it stands as a prominent ode to the site’s substantial religious heritage. Originally purchased by the Jesuit community in 1810 who built a college on the site, the property changed hands several times throughout the first half of the 19th Century until its acquisition through debt payment by the young and energetic Rev. Michael A. Curran. In 1858 work began on the new James Renwick Jr designed cathedral which stands today.
Highlights: The spectacular vaulted gothic ceiling which covers the central nave is best experienced amidst the bellow of the Cathedrals organs which can be heard daily during certain Mass services. At other times of the day visitors are free to wander through the Massachusetts marble columns and enjoy other notable features such as the exquisite stained glass windows by American, French and English artists, the Saint Elizabeth altar designed by the Roman artist Paolo Medici and the large Pietà sculpted by William Ordway Partridge.
Where: Situated at 175 Fifth Avenue.
What: Designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Daniel Burnham, the Fuller Building, or Flatiron as its better known represents a turning point in the city’s construction methods and subsequent height limitations. Being one of the first buildings to use a steel frame, it was able to rise to 87m making it one of the tallest in the city on completion in 1902. While still incorporating classical features with a three part limestone and glazed terra-cotta façade, it seems to defy architectural logic and at the time of construction was commonly expected to collapse when faced with a strong gust of wind. Over a century later Burnham’s design has undermined doubt and the Flatiron building has become one of New York’s most iconic images.
Highlights: The striking form of this elongated, triangular infill block is best appreciated on arrival from the North down 5th Avenue, where from several blocks back the curved façade corner appears, rising from the street like the colossal hull of an approaching ship. On the ground floor the magnitude of this abnormal construction can be appreciated further while perusing the Flatiron Prow Art space which occupies the corner lot and hosts a rotation of exhibitions by artists that use or promote sustainability, technology and interaction.
Grand Central Terminal
Where: Located at 42nd Street and 3rd Avenue
What: This famous Beaux-Arts train terminal is one of the largest train stations in the world by number of platforms, with 67 tracks on two levels. Commonly referred to as Grand Central Station, it has become a global celebrity for its regular appearances in the media. Notable performances include the 2004 Oscar winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the recent box office hit, the Girl on the Train.
Highlights: Take a leisurely stroll through the iconic concourse gazing up at the astronomical mural on the ceiling which depicts the Mediterranean sky during the October to March Zodiac and features 2,500 stars. In the centre lies the information booth and long-established meeting place, identifiable by its magnificent opal faced clock worth an estimated $10 million.
American Radiator Building
Where: Situated at 40 West 40th Street, in midtown Manhattan.
What: The American Radiator Building takes substantial influence from the form of Finnish Architect Eliel Saarinen’s unbuilt Tribune Tower design, combining gothic and art deco styles. Conceived by the architects John Howells and Raymond Hood, it was built as office space in 1924 for the American Radiator Company who operated there until 1988 when it was sold to a Japanese company, Clio Biz and then again in 1998 to investor and entrepreneur Philip Pilevsky. Due to its free standing nature and subsequent limited floor space of 5,600 feet, the tower was deemed unprofitable as office space and so in 1998 the British Architect David Chipperfield was employed to transform it into a quirky boutique hotel. Chipperfield restored all of the iconic exterior features, including the black brick with gold ornament and the dramatic lighting and created a revamped interior of equal prowess.
Highlights: The striking neo-gothic and art deco façade is best appreciated on a sunny day in adjacent Bryant Park, when the gold detailing glints against the black brick work in contrasting opulence to its steel and glass surroundings. Inside, Chipperfield’s refurbishment can be enjoyed with a drink in hand under the vaulted tiled ceiling of the Cellar Bar which occupies the original radiator showroom.
Where: Between 48th and 51st Streets
What: Commissioned by the Rockefeller family as a second business district for New York and developed over almost 50 years, the Rockefeller complex comprises 19 buildings across 12 acres. The original 14 Art Deco office buildings are from the 1930s, one Modernist skyscraper was added across 51st Street in 1947 and a further four International-style towers were added in the 1960s and 70s. Branching beyond its original purpose, the Rockefeller Centre is home to a wide range of high profile facilities including, Radio City Music Hall entertainment venue, NBC network headquarters and TV studios and the second highest restaurant in the city, the Rainbow Room.
Highlights: The Rockefeller Centre is among the last major building projects in the United States to incorporate a program of integrated public art. Sculptor Lee Lawrie contributed twelve individual pieces including the famous statue of Atlas facing Fifth Avenue. This and other art pieces including Paul Manship’s impressive Greek mythological bronze gilded statue can be viewed while wondering through the large expanse of landscaped public space.
One World Trade Center
Where: 285 Fulton Street, Manhattan
What: Completed in July 2013, One World Trade Centre is the tallest skyscraper in New York and the sixth tallest in the world. Its height of 1,776 feet (541 m) is a deliberate reference to the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. The design solution for the tower is an innovation in structure, urban design, safety and sustainability and is part of an effort to memorialize and rebuild following the destruction of the original World Trade Centre’s. It is known colloquially as the freedom tower.
Highlights: Arriving by the subway the efficiency of the towers design is instantly apparent in its seamless connection with the cities extensive underground transport network. Rising up through the chamfered square antiprism of steel and glass, a visitor can continue to floors 100-102, two floors from the top, where a three-story observation deck with food court and events space offers unbroken views of the city.
Where: 405 Lexington Avenue at 42nd Street
What: At the time of The Chrysler Building’s construction in 1928 there was a race to erect the city’s tallest skyscraper. Rising at a frantic pace of four floors per week, it gained this title at 1,046 feet, before being surpassed by the Empire State Building 11 months later. The Chrysler building does however remain the tallest brick skyscraper in the world and is a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture.
Highlights: Originally the site of a Chrysler dealership, the lobby of the building is a spectacular example of Art Deco interior design. Open on weekdays, you can admire the ornate and colourful mural across the jutted angular ceiling by artist Edward Turnbull entitled, Transport and Human Endeavor, which depicts the manufacturing and engineering marvels of its age. Measuring 78 by 100 feet, it was the largest indoor mural in the world when it was completed. If visiting after sunset the atmosphere of the Jazz Age comes alive as the lobby floods with warm light from the tall panelled lights embedded into the stonework.
Empire State Building
Where: 350 Fifth Avenue, between W33 and W34
What: From its completion in 1931 the Empire State building (named after the nickname for the state of New York) stood as the world’s tallest building for more than forty years until the World Trade Centre’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Designed by the American firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon in the Art Deco Style, it comprises a steel frame with 6,500 windows penetrating an Indiana Limestone and granite facade. In 2005 the Empire State Building was named one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world.
Highlights: The 86th floor of the Empire State building is advertised as the most famous observatory in the world offering the best experience of the heart of New York City. The view from the deck is particularly stunning at sunrise as the first light of the day shimmers across the tips of the tall steel and glass structures below. In addition to the spectacular view, the recently restored lobby with stunning Art Deco ceiling murals is a sight to behold.
Enjoy New York - The City That Never Sleeps, with these recommended tours & stays
The Grand East Escorted Tour (19 nights)
Great Eastern Cities Escorted Tour (7 nights)
Great American Majestic Landscapes - Independent Rail Tour (11 nights)
Self-Drive American Heritage - New York to Miami (15 nights)
New York & Boston Twin Centre (6 nights)
Hudson Hotel New York
The St Regis New York
Viceroy Central Park New York
Royalton Park Avenue
New York Travel Guides
- Useful Facts
- Top 10 things to do in New York
- Top 10 luxury hotels in New York
- Head out on one of these top day trips from New York City
- Top 10 most iconic buildings in New York City
- Top 10 rooftop bars in New York
- Top 10 restaurants in New York
- A beginner's guide to Central Park
- Top 10 historical hotels in New York
- 72 hours in New York
- Scale the Rockefeller Center
- Eating, Drinking & Nightlife
- Things To Do and Excursions