The Movie-Geek’s Guide to New York City: 15 Must-See Filming Locations
A favourite of filmmakers, New York City is always ready for its close-up. Pay homage to the Big Apple’s quintessential movie moments with this list of 15 must-see, must-Instagram filming locations.
New York Public Library
Housing more than 8-million artifacts and books, the magnificent main branch of the New York Public Library has been featured prominently in Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sex and the City: The Movie (really, Big?) and Spider-Man (oh, Uncle Ben).
From there, make the short walk to Bryant Park for a burger at Shake Shack and a spin on the charming carousel in the summer or on the ice skating rink in the winter.
Insta-worthy: Patience and Fortitude, the Library Lions located at the library’s 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue entrance, are the big draw for shutterbugs. For a less predictable shot, head inside to snap the spectacularly ornate Rose Main Reading Room.
Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, Date Night, Captain America, Big, Shaft (the original!), A Chorus Line, Vanilla Sky, Birdman… The list of movies shot in the neon-lit heart of New York City is endless.
Times Square is at its brightest and most boisterous at night, but don’t go there hungry. En route, stop at West 51st Street and Broadway for a bite at Ellen’s Stardust Diner—featured in New Year’s Eve—where the showtunes-singing wait staff are part of the experience.
Radio City Music Hall
Fans of The Godfather will recognize this famed theatre as the spot Michael Corleone and Kay Adams learn about the assassination attempt on Don Corleone. Billed as the “Showplace of the Nation” when it opened in 1932, Radio City Music Hall continues to host hundreds of concerts and events each year. Don’t have a ticket? Get an insider’s view of the venue and meet one of the world-famous Rockettes during the guided one-hour Stage Door Tour ($27 USD).
Insta-worthy: The marquee shoots best at night from the intersection of 6th Avenue and West 50th Street.
Hook and Ladder 8
Who you gonna call? You can’t help but hum the Ghostbusters theme song on your approach to the active FDNY firehouse used as Ghostbusters HQ in the 1984 comedy classic. For a photo op alongside like-minded fans, book an NYC TV and Movie bus tour ($43 USD) with On Location Tours which makes a stop at this TriBeCa location.
Insta-worthy: Once you take the requisite photo of the firehouse exterior, look down: the station’s insignia—featuring the Ghostbusters logo—is painted directly on the sidewalk.
Empire State Building
The most iconic skyscraper in New York City (thanks, King Kong!), the Empire State Building has played a starring role in Elf and Sleepless in Seattle—though, sadly, the latter film’s emotional climax was filmed on a replica set. Head out early in the morning to avoid long lineups for tickets, security and the elevator leading up to the famous open-air Observation Deck on the 86th floor (standard passes start at $34 USD).
Insta-worthy: The only problem with the 360-degree view from the Empire State Building is that it doesn’t include the Empire State Building! For that, you’ll need to visit Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center 16 blocks north. You can save money and skip lines by purchasing a New York CityPASS ($158 CDN) get access to both experiences.
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Although you saw it destroyed by a flying saucer in Men in Black, the real-life Unisphere stands tall in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens. The 12-storey stainless-steel globe was commissioned for the 1964 New York World’s Fair to celebrate the dawn of the space age and “Peace Through Understanding,” and shines like new thanks to recent restoration efforts.
Baseball fans will want to visit nearby Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, while little ones will enjoy the Queens Zoo.
Insta-worthy: If you’re visiting in the summer, a selfie with the reflecting pool and fountains is a must. In the off-season, when the pool is empty, stand underneath the globe for a unique angle.
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Grand Central Terminal
A transportation hub for travellers and commuters since 1913, Grand Central Terminal has been the big screen backdrop for everything from chases (North by Northwest) and gun battles (Carlito’s Way) to alien invasions (The Avengers) and flash mobs (Friends with Benefits). To learn more about this Beaux Arts beauty, download the Grand Central Tour app ($5) for an official self-guided audio tour, then stop by the Magnolia Bakery location in the Lower Concourse for one of their deeply delicious cupcakes.
Insta-worthy: Watch the ebb and flow of the bustling main concourse from the east or west balconies or aim high for a photo of the arched windows and constellation-themed ceiling mural.
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Conceived by John D. Rockefeller during the Depression as a “city within a city,” Rockefeller Center encompasses six square blocks of Midtown Manhattan. Several of the complex’s most popular attractions have made film appearances, including The Rainbow Room (Sleepless in Seattle), Top of the Rock (The Adjustment Bureau) and The Rink at Rockefeller Plaza (Elf, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York).
After a day of sightseeing, relax with a cocktail at the stately Lotte Palace New York on Madison Avenue—its Tavern On 51 bar offers a cool Old New York vibe. The mansion-turned-hotel appears in the rom-coms 27 Dresses and Just My Luck.
Insta-worthy: The stairs to the Center’s sunken plaza are the best spot to capture a shot of the massive gilded statue Prometheus, one of the most-photographed works of art in the city.
Manhattan’s 864-acre green space is one of the most popular filming locations in the world. Movie buffs will recognize Central Park‘s bench-lined Mall from Kramer vs. Kramer and Maid in Manhattan, picturesque Bethesda Fountain as the site of the sing-along in Enchanted and Wollman Rink as the oh-so-romantic backdrop in Serendipity and Love Story.
If a hot dog from a cart won’t do, nestled on the park’s west side is the world-famous Tavern on the Green. Featured in dozens of films including Wall Street, Beaches and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, the restaurant is probably best known as the spot where poor Louis Tully bangs fruitlessly on the windows trying to escape a demon dog in Ghostbusters.
Insta-worthy: All of it—but the balconies of the whimsical Belvedere Castle at the 79th Avenue Transverse offer particularly stunning views of the Great Lawn to the North and the Ramble to the south.
Part tourist attraction, part talisman for New York Stock Exchange traders, artist Arturo Di Modica conceived Charging Bull as a symbol of strength and courage. Located at Bowling Green at the intersection of Broadway and Morris Street in Lower Manhattan, the statue has popped up in Hitch, Arthur (the remake) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
While you’re there, enjoy a Wall Street-inspired moment with a drink at the bar at CUT inside the luxurious Four Seasons New York Downtown on nearby Barclay Street. Afterwards, walk two blocks west to One World Trade Centre to marvel at the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
Insta-worthy shot: Go very early in the morning or late at night to get a photo of Charging Bull and its controversial new companion, Fearless Girl, without throngs of tourists in the background.
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Sex and the City: The Movie fans will know this iconic landmark at the spot Miranda and Steve reunite after their separation. It’s also where Alvy professes his love for Annie in Annie Hall. The bridge has dedicated pedestrian and bike lanes (stick to yours!) and takes about 20 minutes to cross depending on the sight-seeing, photo-snapping crowds.
Insta-worthy: Taking a selfie from the Brooklyn-side arch ensures you capture some of Manhattan’s skyline. For a perfectly framed image of the bridge itself, head to the intersection of Front Street and Washington Street in Brooklyn.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is one busy leading lady. Her film credits include X-Men, Titanic, On the Town, Splash and the shocking final scene in the original Planet of the Apes. You can admire her from the Staten Island Ferry (the service is free), but to get up close you’ll need to book the Statue Cruises Experience which includes admission to Liberty Island and Ellis Island National Immigration Museum: the point of entry for more than 12-million immigrants starting a new life in America.
Insta-worthy: Capture Lady Liberty in all her glory from the boat deck just before it docks at Liberty Island.
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side saw a surge in visits with the release of Night at the Museum. Young film fans can explore the real exhibits behind the characters featured in the Museum movies including the Tyrannosaurus Rex (“Rexy”) in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs and the Capuchin Monkey (“Dexter”) in the Hall of Primates. The general admission is $23 USD, but pay-what-you-wish admission is available at ticket counters.
Insta-worthy: A photo of the façade and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial is a must. Follow the line of kids heading to the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples for a selfie with the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) head.
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A fixture of Manhattan’s Lower East Side for more than 100 years, Katz’s Delicatessen entered film lore as the site of Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. There’s even a sign affixed above the famous table that reads: “Where Harry Met Sally… Hope You Have What She Had. Enjoy!” (The last part is a nod to the line from the film—“I’ll have what she’s having!”—which was actually delivered on-screen by director Rob Reiner’s mother.) If you go, go hungry, be ready for a line-up, and order the pastrami sandwich. You’re welcome.
Insta-worthy: Choose between the movie moment sign inside or the deli’s marquee.
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Boasting architecture as impressive as the collection it houses, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side is one of New York City’s most striking filming locations. The white exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright design can be spotted in Men in Black, Bye Bye Birdie and When in Rome, while the interior’s spiral main gallery is showcased in Annie (the remake) and, of course, Manhattan.
After an afternoon of browsing the exhibits, hop in a cab for a quick ride south to Serendipity 3 on East 60th Street—the dessert destination for Jonathan and Sara in the rom-com Serendipity.
Insta-worthy: Look up from the entrance level for a shot of the rotunda spiral and glass dome or take the elevator to Rotunda 6 to capture the lower levels. Note: Selfie sticks are not permitted in the museum.
For more information on New York City, visit NYCgo.com.