Two hundred and fifty thousand people commute through Grand Central Terminal in New York City every day and half a million more walk through it every day, but many never really notice their surroundings or the history behind them. After buying an inexpensive audio tour on Groupon, we can report that a guided visit to the terminal will really astound you.
The Roman god Mercury stands atop the terminal accompanied by Hercules and Minerva. The Tiffany Clock is the largest example of Tiffany glass in the world.
The audio tour guides the listener through 22 stops and takes about an hour to complete. Most of the stops have additional "secret" information that you can select. We found the "secret" facts especially interesting. For example, there is a hidden staircase connecting the information booth on the top level to the one below it. The lower booth is now the high-end refreshment kiosk shown below.
The lower level information booth is now a coffee bar.
"Busy as Grand Central Station" is still true today, at almost any time of day or night. The clock at the information booth and all other terminal clocks are set to be accurate within 1 second every 20 billion years.
The Oyster Bar Restaurant opened in 1913 along with the rest of the terminal. In its heyday it was a place to be seen for Hollywood celebrities just stepping off the red carpet or by New Yorkers who wanted to dine at the glamorous new world transportation hub. The restaurant was famous for its oyster stew, but didn't really feature much seafood in those early days. After declining years, the Oyster Bar was reinvented in 1974 and is now a premier restaurant serving 30 varieties of oysters and a long list of fine seafood and wines. Just outside the entrance, you can try out the secret whispering columns. If you stand by one and have a friend go across the way to the diagonal column you can talk to each other secretly. At any given moment now, you will see people experimenting with this astounding acoustical marvel.
The columns outside the Oyster Bar are known as the Whispering Gallery.
The terminal was commissioned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the "Commodore", who made his fortune in shipping and later amassed more millions with railroads. He wanted to leave his family mark at the terminal, so visitors should be on the lookout for the Vanderbilt family symbols of oak leaves and acorns, which are even featured on the chandeliers.
The chandeliers pay homage to the age of electricity, when visitors were dazzled by all the artificial light in the building. All light bulbs in the terminal were intentionally left uncovered so that the magic of electricity and electric trains would be evident to all.
If you keep looking up, you will be amazed by the constellations that fill the blue sky overhead. People at first complained that they were in reverse order, but Cornelius Vanderbilt swore that it was intentional - it was God's view of the sky, not man's, that he wanted to recreate.
The zodiac is featured on the massive vaulted ceiling.
When you're ready to take a break from sightseeing, you can find something to suit any budget from the lower level Dining Concourse with fast food to the much more exclusive The Campbell Bar or Cipriani Dolci.
Cipriani Dolci overlooks the upper level of the terminal.