Whether it’s skyscrapers and art museums or residences and civic institutions, no other city in the world hosts as many buildings as New York City. The variety is staggering, and while many other cities try to outdo NYC’s skyline, it remains unsurpassed. With so many landmarks, it’s hard to keep track of them all, but to get you acquainted with New York’s amazing architectural landscape, we offer this guide to the most beautiful buildings in NYC.
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Most beautiful NYC buildings
Occupying an area on the East River between 42nd and 48th Streets, the headquarters of the United Nations embodied the hopes for postwar peace when it opened in 1952, and represents the very first example of International Style architecture in Gotham. Though it comprises a complex of three individual buildings, it’s most iconic element is the 39-story tower that houses the offices of the U.N. Secretariat. A vertical slab sitting parallel to the water, it’s designed by the brilliant Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Set to one side of the site, the Secretariat Building appears to cantilever above the lower-rise structures (General Assembly and Conference Buildings) that take up the rest of the campus, making it one of the indelible landmarks on the NYC skyline.
Named for a theater that once occupied Central Park West between 63rd and 64th Streets, The Century apartment building sports a sleek art moderne exterior that sets it apart from its Beaux-Arts style neighbors. Constructed in 1931, The Century was joined a year later by a sister building, The Majestic, done in the same machine-age style. Both can be easily seen looming over the trees from inside Central Park.
Noticeable for its exterior cladding of green terra-cotta ceramic tiles, The McGraw Hill Building was the brainchild of Raymond Hood, the famed architect behind Rockefeller Center and American Standard Building next to Bryant Park. Opened in 1931, The McGraw Hill Building is one of NYC’s many Art Deco masterpieces. Distinguished by a flanged crown sporting the McGraw Hill name in art moderne lettering, it looks like something out of a Buck Rogers fantasy of the future.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Luke H. Gordon
One of Manhattan’s most prestigious and exclusive coop buildings, the Dakota was built on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West in 1884. Back then, there was literally nothing else around it, but its arrival heralded a luxury housing boom on the Upper West Side. Instantly recognizable from its distinctive gabled rooftop and profusion of dormers, The Dakota is arranged around a central courtyard. The building provided the setting for the blood-chilling movie classic Rosemary’s Baby and was also the scene of another, real-life horror: The 1980 murder of musician and former Beatle John Lennon.
Photograph: Shutterstock/EarthScape ImageGraphy
Built between 1803 and 1812, New York City Hall is New York’s most important civic structure—not only for being home to the Mayor’s office, but also for its architectural grandeur. The latter is sometimes lost amid the high-rises looming around City Hall Park, but once you approach the building, or enter its interior rotunda, it’s easy to appreciate this marvel of Georgian and French Renaissance Revival elegance. City Hall has seen its share of history, of course: Two U.S. Presidents (Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant) lay in state there after their deaths. It was also the scene of “Policeman’s Riot” of 1857, in which factions competing for the honor of being NYC’s official law-enforcement agency—the notoriously corrupt New York Municipal Police loyal to Mayor Fernando Wood, and the newly formed Metropolitan Police created by the New York State legislature—slugged it in front of City Hall when officers from the latter attempted to arrest Mayor Wood for defying Albany’s decision to create the new police force.
The famous “Chippendale Building”—so named for the notched pediment atop the 647-foot tower at 56th Street and Madison Avenue—was both derided and celebrated when it opened in 1984. Designed by Philip Johnson as the headquarters for AT&T, 550 Madison Avenue flew in the face of the taste for functionalism that had defined corporate architecture up to that point. By reaching into the past for inspiration—not only with its aforementioned pediment crown, but also in its use of pink granite to face the exterior—Johnson’s design became the first and best example of ’80s postmodernism in New York.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone/Beyond My Ken
“Less is more” was the mantra of fabled German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and nowhere is that philosophy more forcefully represented than in his design for the high-rise headquarters of distillery giant Seagram. Completed in 1958, it is the epitome of International Style aesthetics, expressed as a perfectly proportioned box clad in bronze. Its minimal forms and luxurious materials continue inside with interior decorations in travertine and marble. Complementing the building’s majesty is the way it’s set back from the street on an expansive public plaza made of granite.
Photograph: Jesse David Harris
Opened in 1952, Lever House was one of the first examples in NYC of International Style architecture, a rubric for the corporate brand of modernism that became prevalent in the postwar era. Designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Lever House was only the second structure (after the U.N. Building) to employ what’s known as a glass curtain wall—a sheer facade of windows with no ledges or exterior decorative motifs. Comprising a vertical slab cantilevering over a horizontal low-rise edifice, Lever House seems to float effortlessly above its site at 54th Street and Park Avenue.
Photograph: Courtesy SOM/Florian Holzherr
Completed in 1931 just after the openings of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, this Art Deco gem has long stood in the shadow of its midtown cousins, yet it’s of a piece with the same Jazz Age optimism that produced those icons. Located on the corner of 51st Street and Lexington Avenue, the building was originally constructed as the headquarters for the RCA Victor Corporation, which manufactured record players and radios at a time when such consumer items were the latest in cutting-edge technology. The octagonal gothic tower rises 640 feet to a magnificent crown of lightning bolts symbolizing radio waves and the power of electricity.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Klaus Wagensonner
One of two buildings in NYC by renowned architect Frank Gehry (the other being a 76-story skyscraper in Lower Manhattan), the ICA Building at West 18th Street and Eleventh Avenue houses the headquarters of InterActiveCorp, a holding company founded by billionaire Barry Diller. Its billowing form is pure Gehry, though it’s somewhat more restrained than his famous Guggenheim Bilbao. An undulating facade of “fritted” glass (glass printed with patterns of ceramic dots) gives the exterior a milky-white sheen that reinforces the building’s resemblance to sails fluttering in the wind.
Photograph: Courtesy Audrey C. Tiernan
French architect Jean Nouvel describes his 23-story residential tower at the intersection of 19th Street and the West Side Highway as a “vision machine.” Well, it’s certainly a vision with its skin of irregularly sized windows creating an effect that looks more like a Gustav Klimt mosaic than it does a glass curtain wall. Inspired by the compound eyes common to insects, Nouvel’s design consists of 1,647 windowpanes punctuating a curved exterior wall that reflects and refracts the light off the Hudson River.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Shinya Suzuki
Known curving, swooping lines more suitable for UFOs than architecture, Zaha Hadid (1950–2016) has only one completed NYC building to her name, but it totally lives up her reputation for futuristic daring. This Chelsea condo overlooking the High Line was one of her final projects before her death. It’s also the latest addition to the neighborhood’s “starchitects row”—a group of residences for the one-percent created by contemporary architecture’s bold-face names (Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Bang). Yet even in this star-studded company, Hadid’s blend of Art Deco and Jetson-esque style points makes her design a standout.
Photograph: Tim Fisher Photography
Since opening on West 53rd Street in 1939, MoMA has regularly expanded its building with additions designed by different world-class architects. Taken together, the building represents a veritable master class in cutting-edge architecture, but while it has many authors, its parts add up to an imposing whole that seamlessly co-exists with its midtown surroundings. The original museum was the handiwork of Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, two masters of the International Style. Philip Johnson created the Grace Rainey Rogers Annex in 1951 and The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden two years later. In the 1980s, MoMA spread westwards with a postmodern annex topped by a high-rise courtesy Cesar Pelli. In 2001, MoMA shut down for three years to accommodate a top to bottom reconstruction planned by Yoshio Taniguchi (who was also responsible for 4 WTC). The museum’s latest extension opened in 2017 with a section designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro—marking the first phase of a project that will eventually connect to a future wing of the museum inside Jean Nouvel’s residential tower next door.
Photograph: Timothy Hursley
Designed by Tokyo firm SANAA, the New Museum became an instant NYC landmark when it opened on the Bowery in 2007. Wrapped in silvery aluminum mesh, and divided into a set of boxes stacked irregularly on top of each other like a tottering tower of Christmas presents, the building’s ethereal appearance makes for a marked contrast to the gritty neighborhood around it.
Photograph: Courtesy New Museum New York/Dean Kaufman
The triangular peculiarity of the Flatiron Building has been one of the New York’s most captivating and talked-about edifices. When it was built in 1902, it so defied common architectural practices that it was commonly believed it would collapse as soon as it was faced by a strong gust of wind. Over a century later, it’s still standing, and even served as the office of the fictional Daily Bugle in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. 175 Fifth Ave between 22nd and 23rd Sts
High and mighty, indeed: The Woolworth Building is one of New York City’s 20 tallest buildings, and at the time of its erection (ahem) in 1913, it was the tallest in the world. Its lights were turned on in a fancy opening ceremony by President Woodrow Wilson, who pushed the on switch from Washington, D.C. Since the demise of the Woolworth Company in the ’90s, the building has passed hands to property developers who plan to convert the top 30 floors into luxury condos. Priced at $110 million, the penthouse will be downtown Manhattan’s most expensive sale. 233 Broadway
Has any actual radiator in history looked as grand and gorgeous as this? Perhaps the radiators in the White House? Wait, perhaps the radiators in the Radiator Building! Either way, this glorious Gothic tower was built for the American Radiator Company in 1924 by John Howells and Raymond Hood, and is the subject of Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1927 painting, Radiator Building—Night, New York. The building’s black brick symbolizes coal, and the gold brick represents fire. It’s now the fancy Bryant Park Hotel. 40 W 40th St
As iconic as it is, the Chrysler Building must suffer from a serious little-brother complex. It held the undisputed title of world’s tallest scraper for a mere 346 days after its completion in May 1930, at which point it was usurped by…the Empire State Building, only a few blocks away. (Stupid Empire State Building, always hogging the postcard images and whatnot.) Amazingly, Walter P. Chrysler funded the entire construction out of his own pocket. 405 Lexington Ave between 42nd and 43rd Sts
The original, nine-story 4 WTC was destroyed on 9/11, so its replacement, a glimmering glass tower designed by the legendary Fumihiko Maki that opened to the public November 2013, is all about renewal—in more ways than one. Indeed, 100 percent of the energy used in the building comes from renewable sources like solar and wind. And hey, business world, there’s still plenty of office space available! 4 World Trade Center
Take a look at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in all its magnificent, truly skyscraping, slender, elegant glory—and it’s hard to not hear the opening refrain from "Rhapsody in Blue" playing, such is this building’s old-school New York romanticism. Completed in 1939 by tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. in the Art Deco style, it’s long been the HQ of NBC and still houses such TV classics as Saturday Night Live. But our favorite 30 Rock feature? The Christmas tree, of course! 1250 Sixth Ave
Even if you arrive at Grand Central out of breath and late for your train, you’ll find yourself involuntarily taking a moment to bask in the splendor of this true New York landmark. Built in 1913, the sheer scale of GC is awesome—it’s the largest railroad terminal in the world—but its glory goes way beyond size. Consider the gigantic clock in Tiffany glass, surrounded by sculptures, or its stunning starry ceilings. Though we’re rating our picks of New York’s most beautiful buildings on their facades, GC’s interior is so huge as to make you feel like you’re still outside. 89 E 42nd St
To some: a weird carbuncle. To us: a beautiful carbuncle! Media tycoon William Randolph Hearst built the comparatively teeny six-story HQ in 1928 as the base for a skyscraper—which was temporarily scrapped when the Great Depression hit. Nearly eight decades later in 2006, the skyscraper—all glittering glass and steel—was completed. The first tower to be built in NYC after September 11, 2001, it’s also the city’s first ecologically awesome “green” high-rise office building, and if you haven’t seen the massive waterfall in the atrium, then you probably should. 300 W 57th St
The enormous, curved main entrance of Brooklyn’s central library was designed to look like an open book, but walking through the gorgeous gilded pillars that frame the doors feels more like entering a massive ancient Egyptian tomb. Or possibly getting abducted by an alien spaceship. 10 Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Ave, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/gabriele82
Originally built as a hotel by copper baron William Earle Dodge Stokes around the turn of the century, the Ansonia’s ostentatious spires and facades are just as famous as the salacious nature of some of its clientele—in the ‘70s, the building hosted a gay bathhouse and a swingers’ club. Today, it houses $12 million condos and rent-controlled units alike. 2109 Broadway between 73rd and 74th Sts
One Wall Street—originally the headquarters of the Irving Trust Company, it now houses the Bank of New York Mellon’s many financial minions—is a classic example of Art Deco architecture. It also looks like somebody giving the finger. Think of it as NYC’s way of saying, “Suck it, rest of the world!” 1 Wall St at Broadway
The world’s most famous skyscraper. It has been scaled by King Kong—all 103 stories. It has impaled the titular fruit of James and the Giant Peach. It has withstood the impact of a wayward WWII-era B-25 bomber (only one of these actually happened! Guess which one!). And legend has it that a penny dropped off the top can build up enough velocity to kill someone on the street below. Please do not test this theory. Thank you. 350 Fifth Ave between 33rd and 34th Sts
The old-world Gothic style of St. Pat’s, complete with flying buttresses and imposing spires that look like they could house a hunchback (come on, Disney, where’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2: Quasimodo Takes Manhattan?), certainly stand out as unique in thoroughly modern NYC. Construction of the cathedral began in 1858 but wasn’t completed until 20 years later, owing to a lack of funds during the Civil War. In the highly obnoxious words of Bono, “The God I believe in isn’t short of cash, Mister!” 14 E 51st St between Fifth and Madison Aves
One of the grander apartment buildings in the city, Alwyn Court is best known for its ornate terra-cotta facades—depicting dragons, baby angels and all manner of other French-looking stuff. It is second-best-known for appearing in that Geico commercial with the bodybuilder directing traffic in front of it. That commercial is weird. 180 W 58th St at Seventh Ave
Easily Brooklyn’s most recognizable silhouette (Jonathan Ames once referred to it as “the most phallic building” he’d ever seen), this former bank features a four-sided clock tower topped with a dome. The theatrical, Byzantine-Romanesque architecture was a hit when it opened in 1929, though it’s since been re-adapted as luxury condos. Standing 37 floors tall in a relatively skyscraper-free zone, it remains a handy beacon for disoriented tourists; and its ground-floor atrium (now closed to the public) is no less astounding, with Romanesque columns and a gold-flecked mosaic. 1 Hanson Pl, Brooklyn
This recently designated landmark isn’t NYC’s tallest skyscraper, but on closer inspection it becomes clear why preservationists have doted on it over the last century. First of all, that color—a refreshingly rich, peach-y red, from alternating layers of sandstone and terra cotta. Then, there are the painstakingly restored details (it was originally constructed in 1889, under commission by Austin Corbin, an early developer of the Long Island Railroad), like iron window bays, high arches, and cornices decorated with swarms of Gothic faces, dragons and spiraling garlands. And thanks to the MTA repurposing it as a transit hub, commuters and tourists alike get to marvel at it on a daily basis. 13 John St between Broadway and Nassau
Standing at attention ruddily along the southern tip of City Hall Park, this 1886 red brick masterpiece mashes up several architectural styles to create a truly dynamic form. When you stroll by, be sure to squint up at the intricately carved pillars and cornices that grace the building’s upper echelons. Media types take particular interest in the location, too: the Potter once sat next to the original New York Times building (alongside other city rags, leading to this street being nicknamed ‘Newspaper Row’). 38 Park Row at Beekman St
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Reading Tom
This indulgent, not to mention gigantic, feat of Gothic Revival wizardry is hard to miss. It spans 601-feet in length, making it one of the five largest church buildings in the world; hovering majestically over the pulpit, the dazzling rose window alone contains over 10,000 pieces of stained glass. Different architects have come and gone over the years (it first opened to the public in 1941), but it remains technically incomplete, making it Manhattan’s most famous work-in-progress. 1047 Amsterdam Ave between W 110th and W 113th Sts
Built in 1909, this 50-story clock tower overlooking Madison Square Park once acted as the MetLife Insurance Company’s head office. It was no surprise that celebrity hotelier Ian Schrager snapped up the property when he got the chance in 2012: the tower is modeled after St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, and its pyramid-pointed roof, topped with a gilded cupola, is like a jewel on the midtown skyline. 5 Madison Ave at E 24th St
In 1881, this medieval-inspired castle was erected to house spill-off from the Flatbush Avenue Armory. Mexican-born, New York-raised architect RL Daus (who left brownstones, banks, and offices dotted around Brooklyn) designed it, without ever suspecting that one day, his creation might be re-purposed as a shelter for the homeless. The fortress’ most striking feature? A pair of massive, 200-foot-high crenelated towers looming severely over Marcus Garvey Boulevard. 1357 Marcus Garvey Blvd at Jefferson Ave, Brooklyn
Back in 1929, when much of Central Park West remained open and undeveloped, this triple-towered residence tore onto the scene like Pete Townshend power-sliding onstage. Its contemporaries were also landmarks, of a sort—the neighboring San Remo, the Warwick Hotel, and the Hotel Belleclaire, all designed by prominent Hungarian-born, Jewish architect Emery Roth. Inside the Beresford, his most romantic and iconic residence, the courtyard encloses a fountain and garden, and the exterior is decked with smiling cherubs and rosettes. 211 Central Park West between 81st and 82nd Sts
It takes only 60 seconds to get to the observation deck in the tallest building of the Western Hemisphere, where tourists (and locals) get a unique and fascinating birds-eye view of the city. The lookout from the inside is undeniably grand, but let’s take a moment to acknowledge One World Trade Center’s outer beauty. Since its official opening in 2015, our skyline has certainly reached the next level.
One of Kings County’s preeminent cultural institutions, this 560,000-square-foot venue made history as the first American museum to exhibit African objects as artwork. In addition to the more than 4,000 items in the Egyptian holdings, museum goers can scope pieces by masters such as Cézanne, Monet and Degas, plus an entire center devoted to feminist art. (The venue is the permanent home of Judy Chicago’s massive installation The Dinner Party.) Beyond its physical acquisitions, the spot draws crowds with the perennially popular free Target First Saturdays.
When Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a sculptor and art patron, opened the museum in 1931, she dedicated it to living American artists. Today, the Whitney holds about 19,000 pieces by nearly 2,900 artists, including Alexander Calder, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Georgia O’Keeffe and Claes Oldenburg. Still, the museum’s reputation rests mainly on its temporary shows, particularly the Whitney Biennial. Held in even-numbered years, the Biennial is among the most prestigious (and controversial) assessments of contemporary art in America. The 2015 opening of the Renzo Piano-designed edifice near the High Line drew acclaim for its sleek and simplistic layout.
The New York Botanical Garden is one of the best New York attractions for a reason—it has a 50-acre forest, a stunning palace modeled after Spain’s Alhambra, a rose garden, and a gorgeous conservatory that is certainly worth an Instagram (or two).
This Middle Ages museum may have been constructed in the ’30s, but it feels much older than that. Set in a bucolic park overlooking the Hudson River, the structure re-creates architectural details from five 15th-century monasteries and houses items from the Met’s medieval art and architecture collections. John D. Rockefeller, who donated the land for the museum, even purchased a tract across the river to preserve the pristine view. Make sure to inspect the tapestries, including the famous 16th-century Hunt of the Unicorn.
One of the world's largest campuses for the performing and visual arts, Lincoln Center began its construction in 1959 thanks in part to funding from John D. Rockefeller III. Today, the center houses 30 world-class venues—including the Metropolitan Opera House, the David H. Koch Theater and the Julliard School—as well as 11 resident organizations that collectively host thousands of events every year. At the heart of the complex is the well-recognized Josie Robertson Plaza whose fountain can be seen spouting white-lit jets of water with the golden glow of the Met lobby serving as an elegant backdrop.
Refined yet flamboyant, the TWA (Trans World Airlines) Flight Center tops the list of NYC’s midcentury modern marvels. When it opened in 1962, it epitomized the glamour of the Jet Age with its swooping roofline. Designed by Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), the terminal didn’t just appear futuristic: It boasted such cutting-edge technology as covered jetways, baggage carousels, electronic schedule board and gates clustered away from the main terminal—all common features today. The building was landmarked in 1994, but by then, TWA had gone out of business. JetBlue took over the site, building a brand new terminal behind it. In 2016, ground was broken on a project to repurpose the structure as a luxury hotel.
One of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the U.S., this downtown landmark is actually the third version of the church. The original, opened in 1697, burned in Great Fire of 1776, when the British occupied NYC during the Revolutionary War. In 1790, the second Trinity Church opened, but in 1838, its support beams buckled, and the structure was demolished to make way for the third iteration of the building, consecrated in 1846, which stands today. With its 281-foot high steeple, Trinity was the tallest building in New York City until 1890, when the New York World Building opened across from City Hall. It still manages to stand out from the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan.
Designed by namesake architect Marcel Breuer (1902–1981), The Metropolitan Museum’s showcase for contemporary and modern art is the most elegant Brutalist building in NYC. Opened in 1966 as the home of the Whitney Museum, the Met Breuer’s granite-clad, inverted ziggurat form cantilevers over a sunken sculpture garden. In 2015, the Whitney decamped to its current Meatpacking District location, leasing the building to The Met for eight years. Because of budgetary constraints, however, The Met is now planning to leave in 2020, three years ahead of schedule, with the Frick Collection taking over the space for the two or three years it will take to complete a major expansion of its Fifth Avenue home.
Opened in 1977, 601 Lexington Avenue (formerly the Citicorp Building), instantly became a presence on NYC’s skyline, thanks to the distinctive “pennywhistle” shape created by the 915 foot-tall tower’s 45° angled top. Another feature is its stilt-style base, which allows it to cantilever over St. Peter’s church on the northwest corner. The building also boasts a public atrium and a sunken plaza. In 1978, it was discovered that the building was structurally unsound: During construction, support braces that were supposed to be welded together were fastened with bolts instead, creating the danger that high winds might topple the tower. The mistakes were fixed, and a tuned mass damper—a device that reduces structural vibrations—was added at the top of the building.