THEN AND NOW: How famous New York City landmarks have changed over the years

Nearly 65.2 million tourists visited New York City in 2018, according to Travel Pulse, and that number keeps growing.

There’s no shortage of sites to see in the city that never sleeps – even if some of them are tourist traps. And while some of New York City’s most famous attractions have changed drastically since the early 1900s, others have remained largely the same.

Here’s what 12 New York City landmarks looked like back in the day.


The Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of freedom in New York Harbor.

Lady Liberty was a gift from France dedicated in 1886 by President Grover Cleveland. The base of the statue contains a plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus.”


Over 4.5 million people visited the Statue of Liberty in 2016.

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Liberty Island today.
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oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

Hurricane Sandy did serious damage to Liberty Island in 2012, flooding 75% of the island and closing it for several months.


Over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954.

A 17-year-old girl named Annie Moore was the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in 1892. She and her two brothers had arrived from County Cork, Ireland.


Ellis Island is now a museum where people can research their family’s history.

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The registry room at Ellis Island.
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MarinaMonroe/Shutterstock

The database contains information about people who passed through Ellis Island up until 1924.


The Empire State building was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1931.

The Empire State building is 1,250 feet tall and has 102 stories. Its 200-foot antenna was added in 1950.


It attracts around 3.5 million visitors every year.

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The Empire State building in the New York City skyline.
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Mihai Simonia/Shutterstock

The building is also a mainstay in pop culture thanks to movies like “King Kong” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”


Central Park opened in 1858, and horse-drawn carriage rides have been offered there since 1863.

Carriage rides used to cost 25 cents per passenger. These days, rides start at $110 for 30 minutes.


It’s still one of the best ways to see the park.

Horse-drawn carriages offer special rides for proposals and other special occasions.


Times Square wasn’t always tourist-friendly.

It got its name when The New York Times moved its offices to the area in 1904. Even when they relocated in 1913, the name stuck.

In the aftermath of The Great Depression, it became known as a major center for drug trade, prostitution, and criminal activity. Rolling Stone called it “the sleaziest block in America” in 1981, according to the landmark’s official website.


Now, it’s a hub of Broadway shows and public transportation.

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Times Square is always full of tourists.
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Andrew F Kazmierski/iStock

In the 1990s, the combined efforts of Mayor Rudy Giuliani and investments by Disney in the area transformed it into a top tourist destination. Local New Yorkers do their best avoid its congested streets full of slow-walking visitors and costumed characters at all costs, but tourists love it.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Ave opened in 1880.

Before its current location, the museum was located at the Douglas Mansion on 14th Street.


Several additions to the building have been made over the years.

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The Met today.
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Luciano Mortula/Shutterstock

New wings of the museum house Impressionist art, Renaissance sculptures, and contemporary works.


Dinosaurs have always been a draw at the American Museum of Natural History.

The Hall of Late Dinosaurs opened in 1939 with an enormous tyrannosaurus rex skeleton as the main attraction.


The museum now houses a cast of a 122-foot-long dinosaur, one of the largest ever discovered.

Known as a titanosaur, the fossils were discovered in Argentina in 2014.


The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was a small affair in the 1930s.

Workers used to collect their paychecks at the Christmas tree during the Great Depression. The first tree in 1931 was 20 feet tall.


Today, the star-studded tree lighting ceremony is broadcast around the world.

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The Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony in the present day.
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Brad Barket/Stringer/Getty Images

In 2018, the 72-foot tree contained over 50,000 lights and was visited by around 750,000 people every day during the holiday season.


It took 14 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge, from 1869 to 1883.

At 1,595 feet long, it was the longest bridge in the world until 1890, when the Forth Bridge was completed in Scotland.


The Brooklyn Bridge has earned the nickname “Times Square in the Sky” for its massive crowds, according to the New York Times.

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Tourists pose for a selfie on the Brooklyn Bridge.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

An average of 13,196 people cross the bridge on weekdays, and 32,453 people on weekends.


Grand Central Station was built in 1913.

Its architectural marvels include a 125-foot ceiling with a mural of constellations and an ornate clock surrounded by sculptures of eagles and Roman gods.


It has been protected by the Landmarks Law passed in 1965.

After the old Penn Station was demolished in 1963, the Landmarks Law was passed to preserve historic buildings in the city.

Read more: ‘One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat’ – See beautiful pictures of New York’s old Penn Station before it was torn down


The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were a prominent part of New York City’s skyline.

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The World Trade Center in August 2001.
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REUTERS/Enrique Shore

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were a familiar sight to New Yorkers,” Brittany Fowler wrote in Business Insider. “For decades, you looked up, and they were there. It was a reassuring sight.”


After the towers were destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2011, One World Trade Center was completed in 2014.

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One World Trade Center, also known as The Freedom Tower.
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Phil Dolby/Flickr

One World Trade Center is 1,776 feet tall – a reference to signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.


Before the neighborhood of Hudson Yards was built, the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s rail yards took up 28 acres on Manhattan’s west side.

In order to build Hudson Yards, a platform was constructed above the 30 Long Island Rail Road train tracks.


Hudson Yards is now the most expensive real-estate development in US history at a total cost of $25 billion.

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The Vessel in Hudson Yards in 2019.
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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

The neighborhood includes an office tower at 55 Hudson Yards, a performance venue called The Shed, and a 150-foot tall honeycomb structure known as the Vessel. The entire 28-acre project is set to be completed in 2024.

Read more: Hudson Yards is the most expensive real-estate development in US history. Here’s what it’s like inside the $25 billion neighborhood.