History and Art of Rockefeller Center Guided Tour

Rockefeller Center and lawn

TripSavvy / Kelsea Watkins

Rockefeller Center is well known for its eponymous Christmas Tree, as well as its public skating rink, but there is much more to Rockefeller Center. Participants on the Rockefeller Center Tour will come to discover the extensive artwork and architectural nuances throughout this 14 building complex, as well as understand the important innovations that made Rockefeller Center revolutionary when it was built in the 1930s.

About Rockefeller Center

Opened in 1933, Rockefeller Center was one of the first building complexes to incorporate artwork throughout, all reflecting the progress of man and new frontiers. The most significant urban complex of the 20th century, Rockefeller Center's innovations included heated buildings and the first indoor parking complex. Rockefeller Center was an important employer during the Great Depression — its construction provided 75,000 jobs during the early 1930s. Built with a facade of Indiana limestone, Rockefeller Center reflects the Art Deco style of elegance without ornamentation.

About the Tour

Our group of 15 participants (tours are capped at 25) hailed from everywhere from China and Korea to Israel and Ohio. Each participant was given a set of headphones and a small transmitter to plug them into, which made it very easy to hear everything our guide had to say — a welcome treat in such a busy area of the city. It also meant that if you wanted to stray from the group for a moment to take a picture, you could still keep up with the information being shared. Cybil leads our group throughout many of the buildings in the complex, including showing us the Today Show studios, the GM Building and the medallion where the Christmas Tree stands in season.

The tour highlighted the diverse array of art incorporated into the 14 buildings that make up the Rockefeller Center complex. All of the art commissioned for Rockefeller Center was focused on the progress of man and new frontiers. Lee Lawrie was one of the artists whose work is most prominently featured throughout Rockefeller Center — from interior murals to bas-reliefs and sculptures on the facades of many buildings, his influence is clear throughout the complex.

Tour Pictures

Cybil shared with us the story of the murals created by Diego Rivera in the GE building depicting Lenin and the resulting controversy. She also pointed out the Atlas statue opposite St. Patrick's Cathedral, and how from behind it resembles Jesus Christ. The many artistic and architectural details throughout Rockefeller Center were exciting to discover, even for someone who's visited the area many times before.

I would caution families, that this tour is probably best suited for teens and adults — younger children might prefer the NBC Studio Tour, which has more interactivity, as well as chances to sit and not as much walking as the Rockefeller Center Tour.

Essential Information About the Tour

  • Rockefeller Center Tour meets at the NBC Experience Store at 30 Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center Map
  • Closest subway to Rockefeller Center Tour: B, D, F, V at 47-50/Rock Center
  • Rockefeller Center Tour Cross Streets: 5th & 6th Avenues (at 49th Street)
  • Rockefeller Center Tour Payment: Cash and Major Credit Cards
  • Children under age 6 are not permitted on the tour.
  • If you miss your scheduled tour, they will charge you a 25% reticketing fee. Plan to arrive 20 minutes before your scheduled tour.
  • The tour lasts about 1 hour and fifteen minutes.
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