Walking through New York City's Grand Central Terminal during rush hour can feel very overwhelming. The activity inside the station reminds me of a frenetic jazz composition; people of varying shapes, ages, and ethnicity whiz around you at different paces. The speed walkers have a train to catch and those sleeping at tables have nowhere else to go. A strange mix of train exhaust, fresh baked goods and urine wafts through the air. I wouldn't expect any different from one of the busiest train stations in America.
When compared to other points of entry and egress, like the Port Authority Bus Terminal, JFK airport, or Penn Station, Grand Central exudes the most charm and class. I can't think of a grander way to enter the city.
I love wandering around the station with my camera and never miss a chance to gaze up at the iconic aquamarine ceiling of the Main Concourse. There are many beautiful details around the terminal that I'm sure go unnoticed by the herds of daily commuters.
Here are some of my top tips for navigating Grand Central Terminal like a local:
- The Grand Central Oyster Bar is a classic venue to have a drink or a bite to eat before you depart New York City. The main restaurant dining area is a nice spot for a date, but if it's the classic Mad Men feel you seek, check out the bar in the room to the right. A smile goes a long way with these bartenders and waiters, whose attention is notoriously hard to get during rush hour.
- The Station Master's Office near Track 36 is a secret oasis of calm when the terminal is a zoo. You're less likely to be approached by weirdos in this tidy waiting area, which features oak benches from the old waiting room (Vanderbilt Hall). The ladies room in the Office is usually not very busy, too. Free WiFi is also available.
- If there are two passengers heading one-way to the same Metro-North stop, you can save time at the ticket machine by purchasing a round-trip ticket for one. It will cost the same as two one-way tickets and the ticket collector on the train won't mind when you say you're traveling together (in fact, I think they appreciate it).
- This is a great place to take photographs, but don't forget to keep your camera safe and watch your belongings. I prefer to keep my camera tucked in my bag rather than around my neck.
- If you're departing Grand Central in the morning, cafes like Zarros can be really busy. I wandered through the entire Dining Concourse looking for an alternative and realized Juniors, Magnoila Bakery and Shake Shack were also open. My banana muffin and iced coffee from Magnolia were delicious and I didn't have to wait in a line to buy them.
- The Metro-North ticket machine room by the Hudson News and the Main Concourse is always busy. I never understand why, when there are several other locations to purchase a ticket. When I'm not pressed for time, I usually buy my ticket from the agents in the Main Concourse. There's also a large room of machines to the right of the staircase to The Campbell Apartments in the Main Concourse. Additionally, the Dining Concourse has a few ticket machines behind the pillars in the center of the room.
If you'd like to learn more about the history of Grand Central Terminal during your next visit to NYC, I recommend downloading an audio guided tour or booking the official Grand Central Terminal guided tour. Every Wednesday this July in Vanderbilt Hall, there is a Taste of The Terminal event, where select vendors will offer tastings, treats, and special offers.