New York City Architecture

New York City has a rich architectural history. From the iconic Empire State building to Tudor City or the brownstones of the West Village and everything in between, New York encompasses many architectural styles. I always see the buildings, oooo and ahhh at them but realized I didn’t know much about them. Part of traveling is learning the history of the place. It helps put the city, the people, the buildings into context. Heading to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower is great but learning when and why it was built and that originally, the Parisians hated it, makes the structure come alive a bit more.

So to put the landscape of New York into better context, I took a Context Travel tour. Context Travel offers historical and cultural tours to cities throughout Europe and the United States. I did their Vatican tour in Rome and was excited to take some of their New York tours. Many travel writers I know rave about them and I like the idea of a cultural as opposed to sightseeing tour. My time with them was spent this way:

My tour lasted 3 hours, though the condensed 3 minute video only gives a small glimpse into it. You get to learn about the Port Authority, the New York Times building, Grand Central Terminal, The Chanin Building, and the United Nations. All places I simply couldn’t fit into a video. There wasn’t enough time and I got yelled at quite a bit for filming inside. (In private buildings, they don’t really approve!) I highly recommend one of these tours. They give you a different perspective on the city and the tour leaders knew their stuff. Context hires PhD’s and experts on the tour’s subject. My guide was an architect at one of the city’s big firms.

Regardless of whether you ever go on a Context tour, I think the idea of what they do is important. Context’s mission is to give people deeper knowledge than just in the museum display or site brochure. That really resonates with me as I think learning about a place is just as important as seeing a place. Many people (including myself) often visit places without ever learning their history. Knowing the history of place gives us a deeper and richer understanding of where we are, whether that means reading a history book, listening to a podcast, or taking an architecture tour.

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  1. That was really interesting! I like when themed tours because the crowd is much more interested in the subject than a regular, introductory tour where everyone is in their own heads.

    I might book something with them when I travel next time!

  2. This is something I definitely want to look into on our next trip. I’ve been to New York many times, yet never have really stopped to dive deeper than our normal routine. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Even with the phalange like shapes of many of NYC’s landmarks, it still holds some of the most amazing cityscape and waterfront views imaginable.

    Now if we could only throw a roaring 20s style party at one of the prohibition homes off of Central Park, we would be in business.

  4. New York City has such a rich history.. I love living here for that.

    If you ever come back to visit – read Pete Hamill’s Downtown: My Manhattan. It’s a great look into the history of Manhattan and he writes it almost as if he’s walking the streets with you. You’ll never look at NYC the same.

  5. Michelle Cianfaglione

    Hi Matt!

    You did a great job with this post! Let me know f you would like me to add your site to my friend’s page on my blog, and if so sent me a short write up on your website.


  6. Nora

    Born & bred in NYC for the first 19yrs of my life I always oooh & ahhed at the bldgs & of course we know there is history. I will be going back home for my 40th bday at the end of October & was really looking for a more personal tour…this time I want to KNOW the history. I think I have found it!! Thx for the tip

  7. Paul

    Thanks Matt. One note: we keep all our walks to six people or less, which really increase the whole learning aspect of our tours.

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