Strand Book Store. Photo: Colleen Callery
An inspiration and backdrop for innumerable stories, New York City has a rich literary history that could fill volumes—and it does. (Cleo Le-Tan’s A Booklover’s Guide to New York and Evan Hughes’ Literary Brooklyn are two fascinating ones to start with.) But even for the truly bookish, the experience of seeing literary landmarks and famous authors’ former haunts in person is difficult to match. To make sure your NYC visit is sufficiently book-centric, put these notable libraries, cool bookstores and storied locations on your itinerary. Just remember to bring a book along for the trip.
Courtesy, The New York Public Library
New York City has a knack for making everyday places extraordinary, and the New York Public Library is no exception. The majestic , just east of Bryant Park, has been a beacon for book lovers since its opening in 1911. Even if you’re not here to check out books (it is home to a circulating library during the renovation of the nearby ), spend some time under the soaring ceilings of the Rose Main Reading Room and make sure to snap a pic in front of the beaux-arts building alongside the library’s leonine mascots, .
Jefferson Market Library. Photo: Molly Flores
Another stunning public branch (this one originally a courthouse) worth a visit—in part to admire its clocktower and garden—is the , in the West Village. Lower Manhattan’s library is free and open to the public as well, though not affiliated with the NYPL system. Peruse its stacks of more than 70,000 volumes of verse or take some time to relax in its airy reading room, overlooking the Hudson River.
The Morgan Library & Museum. Photo: Graham Haber
You’ll find two more notable libraries tucked inside museums. At the , the showpiece of the permanent collection is J. P. Morgan’s beautiful display of rare and out-of-print books. The museum holds regular exhibits on authors and illustrators (for example, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Maurice Sendak) that are also a major draw. Dog lovers won’t want to miss the , which features a surprisingly substantial archive—about 16,00 volumes—of breed-specific guides, AKC dog show catalogs and other canine-related records.
Courtesy, The Strand Book Store
If you’re looking to take a piece of literary New York home with you, pick up a title or two at one of the City’s many . is unquestionably one of the most famous, thanks in part to its signature “18 miles of books” (though they now stock closer to ). Don’t miss the Rare Book Room, peaceful upper floors and jaw-dropping sidewalk-sale prices.
Courtesy, Greenlight Bookstore
Other beloved book-selling institutions include neighborly , author-owned and the store, noteworthy both for its indie selection and superlative levels of natural light. Find old-school browsing experiences at (check out the NYC-specific section of guidebooks and anthologies), (a high-ceilinged spot specializing in whodunits) and the trusty (complete with handsome spiral staircase).
Edgar Allen Poe Cottage. Photo: Julienne Schaer
New York City has always been a hub for writers, so much so that there’s a chance you unknowingly might be walking in the footsteps of an author you admire. One way to be sure, though, is to visit an author’s former home. Pass by the Hotel Chelsea (currently closed for renovations), where literati like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith—as well as a slew of other artists, musicians and punks—once resided. In Greenwich Village, you can find the (also the neighborhood’s narrowest building) at 75 ½ Bedford Street. And don’t forget about Edgar Allan Poe, who spent his last five years in the City. Take a tour of the Bronx where he composed haunting works like “Annabel Lee” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”
Central Park's Literary Walk. Photo: Will Steacy
Pay homage to renowned figures along Central Park’s picturesque , lined with statues of writers including poet Robert Burns and novelist Sir Walter Scott. In Riverside Park, look for the around 150th Street, near the novelist’s longtime residence. The in Harlem is the final resting place of poet and novelist Langston Hughes. His ashes are buried under the main lobby floor beneath an installation inspired by one of his poems; his , open to the public, is within walking distance.
Minetta Tavern. Photo: Malcolm Brown
Though not exactly landmarks, bars have been historically sacred places for writers. Some NYC nightspots were known for their literary regulars—or even credited as being the birthplace for famous books and stories. Legend holds that O. Henry wrote his short story “The Gift of the Magi” in the second booth of (). The Algonquin Hotel was the home base for the (co-founded by Dorothy Parker), which now lends its name to the . Try to snag a coveted table at Greenwich Village’s , once a favorite hangout of Ezra Pound, Eugene O’Neill and E.E. Cummings, or one a few blocks away at , where Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald had a nearly permanent claim on table 26.
Courtesy, Oscar Wilde
There’s another category of bars that may not have hosted famous authors (yet) but are a bookworm’s happy place thanks to their literary themes and decor. Guests of the at the Hudson Hotel are invited to read books from the bar’s impressive collection while relaxing by the fireplace. You’ll also be surrounded by hundreds of handsome volumes at in Greenwich Village and at in Midtown East. Toast writer Oscar Wilde at this namesake gilded (which has NYC’s longest bar) with a book of your own.