Welcome to the ‘city within a city’ – Rockefeller Center. Begun in the 1930s, partially as an antidote to the effects of the Depression, the 19 building complex sits on 11 acres between 48th and 52nd Streets and between 5th and 6th Avenues.
But those mundane facts give no hint of the excitement to be found within those boundaries. Built atop a set of underground corridors, known as ‘the catacombs’, the area is home to restaurants, shops, NBC Studios, a skating rink, and much more.
Take a stroll around the plaza and watch the ice skaters, or join in! From the plaza level (the rink is sunken), above the skaters, you can see the giant, prone Prometheus sculpture.
Above the gilded Prometheus, bringing fire to mankind, is the massive 70-story RCA (now General Electric) tower, housing the Rainbow Room and the observation deck. The Rainbow Room is on the 65th floor and makes for a memorable meal to accompany unforgettable Art Deco décor.
The observation deck, Top of the Rock, has re-opened after a 20-year closure and the view is spectacular. The spires of the steel-gargoyled Chrysler Tower and the Art Deco Empire State Building are clearly visible, as is much of the rest of Manhattan.
The deck sits atop the famous Raymond Hood designed RCA Building. Home to the well-known, and still going strong, Radio Corporation of America, the tower is an architectural landmark.
And, if you visit during the Christmas holiday period, you can watch the lighting of the 50 foot (or more) Christmas tree here. Don’t forget to walk around and spend some time taking in the sights, including the huge Atlas statue, bearing a ringed world on his shoulders.
The Channel Gardens make for a peaceful retreat from the beehive below. Sited between La Maison Francaise and the British Empire Building, they’re an oasis on a concrete island.
Several days could be spent taking tours alone. NBC offers a tour of the studio, and the glass-walled area outside makes for interesting viewing. Radio City Music Hall, the famous theater that still “lines ’em up around the block” has one as well. Home to The Rockettes, the theater offers musical performances in the evenings.
Shops line several of the ground-level buildings, including the popular Nikon House which attracts photographers from all over the world. All around are ample opportunities to find things and people worth snapping, as well. This part of the complex is heavily traveled.
But the shops and restaurants don’t stop at ground level. In the Underground Concourse fast food and other dining, clothing boutiques, card stores and a blizzard of other stores can be found. For those who missed it uptown, the Metropolitan Museum has a store in the complex as well.
The ‘catacombs’ connect 14 of the complex’s main buildings, so take a little walking tour under Sixth Avenue. With nearby subway entrances running through the concourse, travel to and from the Center is easy from any part of the city.