New York Public Library

Lonely Planet review

Loyally guarded by 'Patience' and 'Fortitude' (the famous marble lions overlooking Fifth Ave), this beaux arts show-off is one of NYC's best free attractions. When dedicated in 1911, New York’s flagship library ranked as the largest marble structure ever built in the US, and to this day, its Rose Main Reading Room will steal your breath with its lavish, coffered ceiling.

The library's Exhibition Hall contains precious manuscripts by just about every author of note in the English language, including an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and a Gutenberg Bible. The Map Division is equally astounding, with a collection that holds some 431,000 maps, 16,000 atlases and books on cartography, dating from the 16th century to the present. To properly explore this mini-universe of books, art, chandeliers and porticoes, join a free guided tour, which leaves from the information desk in Astor Hall.