New York City Travel Guide

New York City Sights

New York Public Library Main Branch

  • 5th Ave. Map It
  • Midtown West
  • Building/Architectural Site

Published 09/11/2016

Fodor's Review

In 2011 the "Library with the Lions" celebrated its centennial as a masterpiece of Beaux Arts design and as one of the great research institutions in the world, with more than 6 million books, 12 million manuscripts, and 3 million pictures. Expect changes, if not to the look, then to the feel, of the building as it attempts to become more welcoming and useful for its next 100 years of use, all without selling its soul, of course. After years of deliberation and negotiation with a very attached public, renovation plans now include the creation of more public space and amenities as well as state-of-the-art collections storage beneath Bryant Park. For now, the library remains open to visitors. The marble staircase at the library's grand 5th Avenue entrance is an excellent perch for people-watching, before or after you explore the opulent interior.

The library's bronze front doors open into Astor Hall, which leads to several special exhibit galleries and, to the left, a stunning periodicals

room with wall paintings of New York publishing houses. Ascend the sweeping double staircase to a second-floor balconied corridor overlooking the hall, with panels highlighting the library's development. Make sure to continue up to the recently restored, magisterial Rose Main Reading Room—297 feet long (almost two full north–south city blocks), 78 feet wide, and just over 51 feet high; walk through to best appreciate the rows of oak tables and the extraordinary ceiling. Several additional third-floor galleries show rotating exhibits on print and photography (past exhibits have included old New York restaurant menus and a 1455 Gutenberg Bible). Free hour-long tours leave Monday–Saturday at 11 and 2, and Sunday at 2 from Astor Hall. Women's bathrooms are on the ground floor and third floor, and there's a men's bathroom on the third floor.

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  • New York Public Library, Midtown West, New York City, New York, USA.

    Jorg Hackemann/Shutterstock

Sight Information


5th Ave., between 40th and 42nd Sts., New York, New York, 10018, USA

Map It


212-930–0800-for exhibit info


Published 09/11/2016


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Apr 29, 2017

Gorgeous (and Free!) Attraction

My spouse and I visited the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) main branch on a Sunday afternoon in mid-January 2017. This branch is open daily, with extended hours on Tuesday and Wednesdays and abbreviated hours on Sundays; check their website for exact details. Admission is free, as are the one-hour tours that depart daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm (no 11:00 am tour on Sundays). Summer hours close the library on Sundays in July and August, and the

Library Shop and Amy’s Bread café are never open on Sundays. Self-guided audio tours lasting 30- to 45-minutes are also available. You can also view a free 25-minute film about the library in the visitor’s theatre on the first floor. The main branch (the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) of the NYPL is located on Fifth Avenue and spans the blocks from East 40th to 42nd Street. Another branch, the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL)/B. Altman Building, is located on Madison Avenue between East 34th and 35th Streets (it was once a department store). The main branch is a National Historic Landmark adjacent to Bryant Park. You can find restrooms on the third floor, as well as an additional women’s restroom on the ground floor near the coat check and information desks. The children’s center, which features the original stuffed animals from Winnie the Pooh (including Pooh, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, and Tigger) is also on the ground floor. Lions “Patience” and “Fortitude” greet guests as they approach from Fifth Avenue toward the main entrance. The 1911 Beaux-Arts building contains more than 6 million books, 12 million manuscripts, and 3 million photographs. The bronze front doors open into Astor Hall, which leads to several special exhibit galleries and to a stunning periodicals room with wall paintings of New York publishing houses. (Regrettably, security guards were stationed at the closed doors of the smaller rooms, which did not encourage pleasant admittance.) As you climb the sweeping marble double staircase, you reach a second-floor balcony that overlooks the hall and contains panels that highlight the library's development. Continue up another staircase to the McGraw Rotunda (with its soaring arches, murals, and Gutenberg Bible), which leads to the Rose Main Reading Room (at nearly 300 feet long, almost 80 feet wide, and over 50 feet high, it spans almost two full north-south city block with its rows of oak tables and unforgettable ceiling). Third-floor galleries feature rotating exhibits on print and photography. (Elevators are also available, making the building handicap-accessible.) We have visited NYC many times over the years, and we have passed the library on many of those visits, but this was our first foray inside – we wonder why it took us so long to explore this architectural masterpiece!

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