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Though the New York Public Library comprises 92 locations all across Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, most travelers visiting New York City will be drawn to the flagship location, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd. Anchoring one of the most popular neighborhoods in the Big Apple, the Stephen A. Schwarzman building is an unmissable fixture in Midtown, at the crossroads of the Theater District, Bryant Park and the city’s iconic shopping thoroughfare.
Whether you’re a bibliophile drawn to the elegant reading rooms and hallowed stacks or just casually sightseeing in the city, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the New York Public Library.
Since opening in 1911, the landmark Beaux-Arts building has welcomes millions of visitors – on its first day alone, it saw 50,000. It took a dozen years to construct the marble library, which was restored in 2011. There were 88 miles of stacks in the original building, though the library has since expanded to 125 miles of shelving.
The library’s humanities, social sciences and fine arts collections are particularly well-known, but there are plenty of literary relics, too: A first-edition copy of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” signed by JK Rowling, for example, and manuscripts from Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
Visitors can see the library’s highlights (and a few otherwise off limits rooms) by showing up for one of the docent-led, hour-long tours that begin at 11am and 2pm every day from Monday through Saturday, and at 2pm on Sunday. Tours are free, but available only on a first-come, first serve basis and are limited to the first 25 people who show up to the reception desk in Astor Hall.
Almost every day of the week, visitors can take advantage of free and paid programming at the New York Public Library. Though many events are held at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building, there are events and activities available at branches of the library all over the city. Families in particular should watch out for storytimes and playdates. But there are also regular film screenings, author talks and classes.
All year long, visitors can see free exhibitions at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library for Performing Art and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. See collections of zines and chapbooks; discover the history of Harlem’s cultural evolution; and learn about how dance and performance has been archived and preserved from now until the end of the year and into early 2020. At the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, visitors can also experience a year-round gallery of murals depicting the history of writing.
If you’re just passing through the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building during a full day of sightseeing in New York City, there are a few things you should keep in mind. To start, only residents, students and employees (or those paying property taxes) are eligible for a free New York Public Library card. Also keep in mind that the water fountains don’t work, but there is a cafe and free Wi-Fi.
After a busy exploring the New York Public Library, grab a power lunch at Charlie Palmer, just a five-minute walk from the main building. For just $39, you’ll get to enjoy two seasonal plates (think: cauliflower soup, butternut squash risotto, “Big Apple” cobbler) and a cocktail. Might we suggest, following a few hours browsing the stacks, the “Lost in Translation” Japanese whisky with honey-ginger syrup and lemon juice.
After your run, there’s so much more to explore in New York City. Check out our NYC Travel Guide for recommendations on where to eat and what to do here in New York.