New York City Has 86 National Historic Landmarks… But These 10 Are the Coolest

Written by Katie Melynn Wood
Updated: August 30, 2023
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New York City is the city that never sleeps, which may be a good thing since there are so many amazing places and things to explore. It was founded around 1624 and has so many historic landmarks that you can’t get to them all in just one visit. Many of the best spots in NYC are well-known attractions but there are also some fantastic gems that are off the beaten path and less crowded. It’s hard to narrow the list down to just 10 and you can easily tailor your visit to get to the best spots that interest you. We’ve attempted to highlight some of the coolest and you can check out our list of 10 great spots to see New York City history in person.

#1 Carnegie Hall

Founded and opened in 1891, Carnegie Hall has become a world-class music venue that offers concerts, interactive exhibits, education and outreach, and amazing architecture for its patrons to enjoy. The history of Carnegie Hall begins with its founding by American businessman Andrew Carnegie, for whom the hall is named. It was designed by Chief Architect William Burnet Tuthill, who was also a cellist and a member of the Oratorio Society of New York City. It was one of the first major music halls of its kind in New York. Seeing Carnegie Hall is synonymous with seeing the history of New York and how it went from a mid-size town to a major center of arts and culture. Carnegie was very influential in this process.

During your visit, you can see a concert or performance, walking in the footsteps of greats such as Gustav Mahler, Mark Twain, and Bob Dylan. You can also take a tour of the Rose Museum, which includes artifacts and photos from the hall’s history. The Rose Archives are another valuable resource for those wanting to do original research and learn more about the role of Carnegie Hall in NYC’s history. There are numerous performances to enjoy at one of the various theaters and venues within the Hall. You can also look for special events and receptions.

Carnegie Hall, Manhattan, New York City, USA

There are three main stages in Carnegie Hall, which can host up to 3,671 patrons.

©Victoria Lipov/Shutterstock.com

#2 New York Public Library

One of the great literary treasures of the city, the New York Public Library is home to an amazing collection of books as well as special exhibits. It is the third-largest library system in the world and provides valuable resources, education, classes, and events for New Yorkers and visitors. One of the best parts about a visit to the library is that almost all of its programming is free! Residents can sign up for a library card and check out materials.

The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures is notable for its collection of iconic pieces of New York and literary history. In the free permanent exhibit, you can see Charles Dickens’ writing desk, an original hand-written draft of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and original copies of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The main library location is adjacent to Bryant Park, another great spot to get some lunch as you read books checked out from the library.

New York City Public Library Entrance in Manhattan

The marble lions at the entrance to the main NYPL branch are named Patience and Fortitude.

©Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

#3 Duke Ellington Residence

If you are a music lover, getting to see the long-time residence of composer and pianist Duke Ellington should definitely be on your list. Ellington’s apartment was Unit 4A and he lived and worked there for 22 years. He wrote a lot of his most famous pieces in the apartment. While you can’t get inside to see it, you can walk in his footsteps as you explore the Washington Heights neighborhood. This neighborhood has seen a lot of cultural icons walk through over the years.

The building is also a treat for architecture buffs. It is a Late Gothic revival building built in 1915. The entire neighborhood is very residential, with a lot of amazing architecture. The Cloisters Museum in nearby Fort Tryon Park is another treat for architecture lovers. One of the best things about checking out the historic sites in Washington Heights is that many of them are free. The Washington Bridge is another notable spot in the area.

 Looking across Washington heights in Manhattan to the George Washington bridge.

Washington Heights is home to many interesting buildings, including the Washington Bridge.

©Gregory James Van Raalte/Shutterstock.com

#4 Central Park

A visit to NYC isn’t complete without a stop in Central Park. The massive park covers 843 acres and was built in 1858. It is one of the most-visited parks in the United States but visitors don’t need to worry about feeling crowded. There is so much space and things to explore that you’ll have plenty of room. The Bethesda Terrace and Central Park Mall are great areas to snap a photo, while plays and shows put on at the outdoor Delacorte Theater are fantastic. It is also a must-see for those looking for a fun dog-friendly park for their furry friend. Park laws require leashes for all animals. There aren’t any dog-specific parks but dogs are a common sight in all areas of Central Park.

Notable spots to stop include the Ramble, a large green space perfect for relaxing or picnicking. The Central Park Carousel dates to 1908. A carousel has been sitting on the same site in Central Park since 1871! The zoo and Belvedere Castle are also places to snap a vacation selfie or see animals in Central Park. The park’s layout was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, considered one of the most influential American landscape designers, and his mentor Calvert Vaux. Not only is Central Park a fun place to explore, but it is also one of the most iconic New York City landmarks that really captures the spirit of the city.

Aerial view of the Central park in New York with golf fields and tall skyscrapers surrounding the park.

Central Park is a large, public park in New York City.

©RAW-films/Shutterstock.com

#5 Hamilton Grange

Musical theater and history fans will love a stop by the Hamilton Grange in uptown Manhattan. The former residence of Alexander Hamilton, a U.S. Founding Father, is now a museum that showcases colonial history and the many accomplishments of Hamilton. Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury and was influential in designing the infrastructure of the United States government in its early days. He was famously killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. The house has artifacts and re-creations of its original rooms and furnishings.

The Grange is a National monument and is free to the public. You can visit the Visitor’s Center, watch a short film about the building on your own, or participate in a guided tour of the residence given by a knowledgeable park ranger. The Grange is located in St. Nicholas Park. There are around three acres of outdoor area directly around the Grange that are open as well as the larger portion of St. Nicholas Park. The Grange is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but is open every other day of the week for tours and visits.

Entrance to St. Nicholas Park at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem in the fall

St. Nicholas Park is home to the Hamilton Grange.

©Here Now/Shutterstock.com

#6 Empire State Building

Another well-known New York City landmark, the Empire State Building is one of the best places to view the city skyline. The Observation Deck has made cameos in movies like Sleepless in Seattle and now has a glass-bottomed floor so that you can get even better views. In addition to the Observation deck, which is easily the most-visited part of the Empire State Building, there are also interactive exhibits. You can sit next to bronze statues of the construction workers who built the structure, check out a replica of the original elevator, and even recreate a scene from King Kong from within the building.

Lines can get long so getting the express pass can be a great way to bypass the lines and make the most of your time. There are plenty of places to eat or grab a drink or souvenir during your visit. You can really make a stop at the Empire State Building an all-day affair. Check out the lighting scheme, which changes to support various holidays, sports teams, or major events in the city and around the world.

Empire State Building, The United States

The Empire State Building is one of the most recognizable in the New York City skyline.

©iStock.com/Shooter_Sam

#7 USS Intrepid

One of the coolest spots to visit in New York City is the USS Intrepid, a sea, air, and space museum in a one-of-a-kind location. Step onboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which is located right in the Hudson River. The Intrepid is an important part of history, active in World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, and as a NASA recovery vessel. There are numerous artifacts onboard as well as dedicated exhibits of the ship’s history. The hanger and flight deck have restored aircraft as well as other artifacts. Internal spaces show what it was like to live on the ship at sea.

The ship is a National Historic Landmark as well as part of a larger museum. The other sites nearby include the guided missile submarine Growler, a space shuttle pavilion, and a display of the fastest plane to fly across the Atlantic, the Concorde. Veterans and Active Duty military members get free admission as well as access to special events and programs.

USS Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum

The USS Intrepid is a great place to learn about maritime aviation right in New York City.

©Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

#8 City Hall

If you have any sort of tasks to take care of, City Hall is a beautiful place to get them done. It is the oldest city hall in the United States that has been continuously functioning as a working government building. The building was completed in 1812 and featured brownstone and marble. The current building includes limestone from Alabama. You can learn all about the founding and history of New York City as well as information about its location and influence.

The interior rotunda has a grand marble staircase and has seen amazing and notable events occur throughout the years. Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state in the rotunda following his assassination. The building is also home to an impressive collection of artwork documenting many figures and events in American history.

Not all areas of City Hall are accessible to the public. Remember, it is a working government building and home to many offices. It is part of a larger neighborhood known as Civic Center. Other government and historic buildings nearby make this a great place to take a walking tour of notable architecture. The City Hall subway station is located underneath the building. While it is only used for current trains to turn around via a loop, you can take a tour to see the ornate decoration of this early subway station.

New York City Hall in the morning time at City Hall Park in the Civic Center.

City Hall Park is just outside the main city hall building, a great place to enjoy some time outdoors.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

#9 Tenement Building at 97 Orchard Street

To get an authentic view of New York City through the years, you have to add the Tenement Museum to your list of places to visit. This unique museum is located in a former tenement building. The building originally had 22 apartments and now boasts 7 recreated tenement apartments. It was home to mostly immigrant families who came to America between 1863 and 1935. Ellis Island may be the better-known place to learn about the many people who came to the United States from other countries but this amazing museum gives a better glimpse into what life was like for them after they arrived.

One of the coolest things about this museum is just how much is known about the various inhabitants showcased in the exhibits. You can see where they came from, what they did for work, what their family life was like, and ultimately where many of their descendants ended up. There are also recreations of some of the businesses that ran out of the tenements. These include a saloon, a dressmaker, and others. Actors bring some of the stories to life, depicting known residents from history. Special events like a neighborhood block party keep the community spirit alive.

Vintage tenement buildings and modern buildings in the background, New York City

Tenements were small apartments where many families lived as they worked to build a life in NYC.

©littlenySTOCK/Shutterstock.com

#10 Governor’s Island

You may not expect such a green oasis in the middle of New York City but Governor’s Island is exactly that. Located just south of Manhattan where the East River and Hudson River meet, Governor’s Island is 172 acres and has eateries, green spaces, and historic buildings. It was originally a fishing spot for Native Americans and settlers, later a fort, and finally a National Park. You’ll need to take a ferry to get to the island, which is a fun excursion in itself. The Statue of Liberty and Battery Park are all major landmarks visible from your ferry and from Governor’s Island.

There is also a thriving arts scene on Governor’s Island. There are plenty of permanent and temporary installations, special events highlighting artists, writers, and other creatives, as well as Governor Island Arts, an organization dedicated to bringing opportunities for artists to connect with the public. Many of the exhibits, events, and installations are free. If you are an artist, there are also opportunities to apply to their residency programs.

Fly over, view Governors Island National Monument near New York and Manhattan from a bird's eye view.

Many of the buildings on Governor’s Island were originally housing for military families.

©V_E/Shutterstock.com

Summary of 10 Cool Historic Landmarks in NYC

LandmarkLocation
Carnegie HallMidtown
New York Public LibraryMidtown
Duke Ellington ResidenceWashington Heights
Central ParkManhattan
Hamilton GrangeHamilton Heights-West Harlem
Empire State BuildingMidtown
USS IntrepidHudson River
City HallCivic Center
Tenement MuseumLower East Side
Governor’s IslandEast River/Hudson River

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/tifonimages


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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