I recently had the chance to explore Manhattan for the weekend and was once again struck by what a dream place it is for a fan of U.S. history. From Gilded Age mansions, cemeteries, palatial libraries, museums, and Beaux-Arts train stations to soaring skyscrapers and cathedrals, there is plenty of grandeur to absorb. Since a picture is worth a 1000 words, I decided to do a photo essay of my most recent trip featuring some of my favorite places to see and things to do in NYC.

Midtown Manhattan

The Morgan Library in Murray Hill is truly a treasure. See Pierpont Morgan’s former library, study, and fabulous rotunda. In other areas of the museum, one visit galleries to see current exhibits. On Friday evenings, it is open to the public for free, so although a bit crowded it is well worth the journey there.

Morgan Library, NYC
Mr. Morgan’s Library

Whether you want to relive a Ghostbusters moment, check out one of the current exhibits, revel at the architecture, or research, a trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the historic main branch of the New York Public Library. A visitor’s guide will help you as you wander around this bibliophile’s dream space–make sure to go up to the 3rd floor to see the amazing reading room.

Picture of Rose Reading Room at New York Public Library
Rose Reading Room at New York Public Library

While in the neighborhood, history buffs will want to check out the grandeur of Grand Central Station. The ceiling alone brings wonder, but the architecture of the entire station delights.

Grand Central Station, NYC
Grand Central Station main terminal

The weather was rather inclement for good photos, but while in the area of Grand Central, you may want to check out the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and Macy’s on 34th Street. While in the midtown area of Manhattan, I enjoy checking out Rockefeller Center. Although it shines at Christmas, it is neat any time of the year. As a U.S. historian, I greatly enjoy the NBC studios tour, which covers the history of National Broadcasting Corporation and its radio origins. Other notables at 30 Rockefeller Plaza are the Josep Maria Sert’s murals, American Progress and Time, in the main lobby.

Josep Maria Sert mural, GE Building, NYC
Josep Maria Sert mural

Outside, Rockefeller Center puts on a show at Christmas time with its famous tree and ice-skating rink.

Photo of Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and skating rink, NYC
Rockefeller Center

And while in the area, don’t forget to check out Atlas carrying the world.

Atlas statue, Rockefeller Center, NYC
Atlas statue, Rockefeller Center

Across the street from the Atlas statue on 5th Avenue is historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This church was built to affirm religious tolerance (Catholics had been poorly treated in America at the time) and paid for by the contributions of poor and rich alike.

Photo of interior of St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC
Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

A stroll down 5th Avenue is requisite for fashionistas and history buffs alike. Make sure to check out Versace, which is housed in a mansion built for William Vanderbilt in 1905.

Photo of Versace store, NYC
Versace store on 5th Ave.

Showing the heritage of this ritzy street, Cartier occupies the former home of successful banker, Morton Plant that was built in the Italian Renaissance style a year earlier than William’s in 1904.

Cartier, NYC
Cartier on 5th Ave.

And no trip to Manhattan would be complete without a requisite nighttime trip to Times Square.

Photo of Times Square at night, NYC
Times Square at night

Lower Manhattan

The Financial District provides lots of things to see and do. We didn’t get a chance to visit these, but the African Burial Ground, Federal Hall, the Woolworth Building, New York Stock Exchange, Charging Bull and Fearless Girl statues, and Battery Park are all historical notables in this area of lower Manhattan.

We were able to stop by New York’s City Hall (one of the nation’s oldest). Finished in 1812, this Federal-style building has French influences.

Image of New York City Hall
New York City Hall

Built in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel still holds services so travelers can worship where George Washington once attended. The cemetery in back provides a place for quiet reflection.

Photo of St. Paul's Chapel and cemetery, NYC
St. Paul’s Chapel & cemetery

Directly behind St. Paul’s Chapel is the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center. I was a stockbroker when the attacks occurred on September 11, 2001. It was that event that, in part, fueled my decision to become a historian. But on that day, I was a financial advisor and watching a business news station as I watched the cemetery of St. Paul’s get covered with debris. Miraculously, the chapel was not damaged. Today, one can visit the memorial where towers one and two stood.

Photo of 9/11 Memorial
9/11 Memorial

A short walk from the 9/11 Memorial will take you to Trinity Church and the eternal resting place of Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Eliza. Trinity Church held its first service in 1698, but the current Gothic Revival building dates to 1846.

Photo of Alexander Hamilton grave at Trinity Church, NYC
Alexander Hamilton grave

Upper Manhattan

A trip uptown will take you to Central Park and one of the largest art museums in the world—The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This vast collection of over two million works of art is easily my favorite in the United States. With so much to see, one can get overwhelmed so I advise coming with a plan of which pieces are “can’t miss” for you. I consult the museum’s map ahead of time and route out a manageable path that will let me sate my appetite for art without making me too full. With collections spanning from ancient times to modern, the art inside tells great tales of human history. My favorites are artifacts from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Mesopotamia. I also love the Renaissance works, Impressionist paintings, and armor.

Assyrian lions, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Assyrian human-headed winged lions, c. 883-859 BC

There are so many things to do in NYC that this photo essay just takes a nibble out of the Big Apple. In warmer weather, I roam all over Manhattan, as well as Liberty and Ellis Islands. I hope you enjoyed this blog of New York’s photographic past and present. Happy travels!

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