It may seem odd to write about visiting a railway station, after all, most of us only visit one when we’re travelling somewhere. But we think Grand Central Terminal in New York is a destination worth adding to your Big Apple itinerary.
The beautiful building, which houses the rail network, puts the ‘Grand’ into Grand Central. The main concourse has a vintage charm with high vaulted ceilings, Tennessee marble floor and gold and nickel-plated chandeliers. It’s a reminder of an era when travel was more of an overall experience rather than the modern rush to get to a destination.
The balcony above the main concourse (pictured above) allows visitors the opportunity to take in the atmosphere of the quintessentially New York landmark. It’s the perfect vantage point to elevate yourself above the hustle and bustle of busy commuters to appreciate the architecture.
Studying guide books before our trip I saw Grand Central Terminal referred to in many as a must-see attraction with descriptions like “one of the most magnificent public places in the country” (Frommers) and “New York’s most breathtaking beaux arts building” (Lonely Planet).
We had a jam-packed itinerary while in New York but I was determined to fit in a visit even if it was quick. We found there was more to Grand Central Terminal than we anticipated and our quick visit turned into several hours including dinner at a restaurant.
This is a building which Americans should be proud of and that sense of patriotism is reflected with American flags proudly hanging in the main concourse. In what is a sign of the world post September 11, armed military personnel patrol the station and although necessary I still find this sight a little unsettling. We commented on this to some New Yorkers and were told they find it reassuring to see the high police presence in the city.
I was only put off momentarily by their presence because the opulence all around soon had me distracted.
The chandeliers and brass clocks sparkle as though they’ve been polished with military precision.
In the main concourse don’t forget to look up to check out the greenish blue sky ceiling which depicts the constellation of the winter sky above New York.
We found access a breeze and I’ve since read Grand Central Terminal was the first stairless station of its time, designed for speed in mind with ramps included to ensure access for all. It’s a shame this forethought wasn’t used for all railway stations.
If you’re quite happy to feel silly and look a little unusual, make sure you stop by the arches which make up the Whispering Gallery. Near the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant you’ll find four arches. If you are travelling with family or a friend stand diagonally opposite to each other facing the wall. Then whisper something to the wall.
The sound is reflected so well by the stone walls and arch that you’ll hear what the other person says as clearly as you would if they were standing beside you. Avoid the busiest times in the station for the best effect. It’s particularly fascinating for kids.
Audio tours of Grand Central Terminal are available 7 days a week (except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving) between 9am and 6pm. This allows visitors to do a tour at their own pace with a headset, audio description and terminal map. The tour focuses not only on the architectural highlights of the Terminal but provides a real story about little known secrets, anecdotes, archival material and the History of the Terminal. This tour can be achieved in as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour and costs just $9 per adult and $7 discounted (seniors, military, students, kids). In addition to the headset tour, visitors may download the app of the tour to their iPhones or Android-powered smartphones for $4.99
If you’re interested in a more extensive tour then there’s the option of a Docent-led tour. The tour lasts 75 minutes and departs each day at 12:30 pm. The cost is $25 for adults or $20 for seniors (65+), students with valid ID, children under 10 years old (correct at time of writing.)
Grand Central Terminal offers 35 options for dining from upmarket institutions like the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Shake Shack and many individual cafes and take away options.
This really isn’t like your ordinary food court. There’s architectural details to take in all around including the beautifully etched glass between the booth seating in the food court.
If you’re a cupcake lover like me, make sure you stop by the Magnolia Bakery.
Grand Central Dining Concourse Hours
Monday-Thursday: 6:30AM to 11PM
Friday-Saturday: 7:00AM to 9:00PM
Sunday 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
I loved this guy who spied me taking a photo of the shoe shine station and gave me a thumbs up.
68 Stores also call Grand Central Terminal home but the New York Transit Museum is our pick if you are looking for a less touristy souvenir of your visit. I read about this store in a travel forum before we travelled to New York and it proved a good tip.
It’s a store but also a gallery which offers changing exhibitions aimed at collecting, preserving the cultural, social and technological history of public transport in New York. There’s a great range of gifts and memorabilia available.
Grand Central Terminal is definitely worth adding to your list of attractions in New York and is accessible to all with elevator access and ramping throughout.
Read more about facilities and Grand Central Terminal here.