What to Do in Midtown East

New York's city center is called Midtown, the site of the most famous skyscrapers in the world and a multitude of must-see destinations. Midtown East, which starts on Fifth Avenue and continues to the East River, extends from East 34th Street to 59th Street. Mix and mingle with the white-collar workers teeming through Grand Central at rush hour, drink in the Deco masterpiece of the Chrysler Building, and shop the stores on Fifth Avenue for an unforgettable New York experience. You can also visit the city's newest attraction here—SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, the world's most immersive observatory experience.

Midtown East has historically been characterized by an intense work culture, as the skyscrapers filling the area house endless offices and storefronts. The post-pandemic era has seen the neighborhood opening more to residents and tourists, the latter drawn to a unique mix of architecture, culture, and history. Commuters still funnel through the magnificent Grand Central Terminal, the world's most famous train station. It's also a midtown destination for shopping, dining, public events, and audio tours in many languages. 

Grand Central is steps away from the Chrysler Building, which, while not open to the public, remains the one of the world's finest examples of 1930s Art Deco architecture and the 12th-tallest building in the city. For fabulous views of it, either day or night, check out SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. Blending elements of art, technology, architecture, and thrill, SUMMIT takes the concept of an “observation deck” to entirely new heights through its three levels of multi-sensory experiences.

Just to the west of Grand Central you'll find the New York Public Library’s flagship location, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. A splendid Beaux-Arts structure hosts rotating exhibits. Along East 41st Street, leading to and from the library, look down for Library Way, a series of bronze plaques with inspirational quotes from classic books and celebrated authors. The NYPL's newest branch is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), at Fifth Avenue and 40th Street. It has a rooftop terrace that's open to the public.

The United Nations headquarters, built in 1949-50, sits all the way on the East River at 42nd Street. The international organization for peace and security is available to tour on weekdays. Near the U.N. is one of the city's finest examples of 1960s architecture, the steel-and-glass Ford Foundation Building. The building's one-of-a-kind lobby contains an indoor semi-tropical garden with a lily pond. This lobby garden is open to the public, although it is temporarily closed due to Covid precautions.  

Beautiful churches are also found in this area, including St. Patrick's CathedralSt. Bartholomew's Church, and St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral. St. Patrick's, located near Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue, draws crowds to behold its Neo-Gothic interiors and observe Catholic mass. The structure first opened in 1879 and is the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. 

An interior view of Morgan Library & Museum.

A short walk from Grand Central is the Morgan Library & Museum. The Morgan is housed in the exquisite private library of historic financier J.P. Morgan. Converted into a museum, the Morgan's permanent collection includes works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Dickens, and Hemingway, as well as three Gutenberg Bibles.

Other cultural institutions in Midtown East include Japan SocietyScandinavia House, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, and the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store in Grand Central Terminal. For an escape room adventure, you can recover a stolen painting, or break out of a terrifying jail at the neighborhood's The Escape Game NYC.

The top reason to visit Midtown East is the most famous shopping corridor in the world: Fifth Avenue. From 42nd Street to 59th Street, Fifth Avenue has days and days' worth of shopping and spectacular window displays during the winter holidays.

Some high points include legendary department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. Other stores include Zara and H&M. On Lexington Avenue, another powerhouse department store delivers fashion with stellar service: Bloomingdale's.

Gramercy Park is located south of Midtown East, between 21st and 23rd Streets and bordered by Park Avenue South and Third Avenue. It's best known for its small, fenced park, the last private park in the city and accessible only to residents of surrounding buildings. Click here for more information on the history of Gramercy Park.

Murray Hill is another residential neighborhood, running from 29th to 42nd Streets and bordered by Second and Fifth Avenues. The area around Lexington Avenue and 28th Street is known for its high concentration of Indian restaurants.

Check out our neighborhood guides of nearby areas like Midtown West, home to the Empire State Building, and The Upper East Side

Dining in Midtown East quick links: Ammos EstiatorioAretsky’s PatroonBenjamin SteakhouseCasa LeverGrand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, The Hugh, Le PavillonNerai, Morton's The SteakhousePershing SquareThe Sea Fire Grill, Urbanspace Vanderbilt.

Shopping in Midtown East quick links: DataVision (electronics), Midtown Comics, Schumer's Wines & Liquors.

A great resource for exploring the area is the Grand Central Partnership Interactive Map, which provides a more complete listing of area restaurants, bars/lounges, retailers, and more.  

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Contributor: Merrill Lee Girardeau

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