Skip to main content

New York City as the Stage for the World: Walks Through the City's International Cultural Centers

(revised 2012) New York City is home to many international cultural centers that serve to highlight, advocate, or otherwise educate a larger public about a particular country, cultural group, or language. The city's international culture extends back to its earliest days, but New York firmly established itself as a world financial and cultural center in the latter half of the twentieth century. Certainly, the waves of immigration over the centuries have made New York one of the most diverse cities in the world. One of the city's most well-known institutions, the United Nations, brings thousands of people from around the world to live and work. The headquarters of the UN, built in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in the years 1949-1952, is designated international territory.

 Park Avenue. The Italian Cultural Institute of New York is on the left. In the distance, the Asia Society.
This walk serves as an introduction to several international societies, groups, and institutes, primarily located in a convenient swath of land from the Upper East Side, specifically the area known as the Gold Coast, to Midtown Manhattan. Some of the institutions are homegrown, like the Asia Society, founded by John D. Rockefeller III. Other organizations are sponsored by a country, such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, an agency of the Republic of Austria.


View International Cultural Centers in New York in a larger map

Start at the Asia Society and walk south to the Onassis Cultural Center in the Olympic Tower, stopping in at several of the centers. The distance is a little over one mile. Or, find some of the other cultural centers located on the map (and this list in not complete) and make your own international walk. The only reason these centers are grouped together for a self-guided walk is their geographical proximity. This particular walk, however, has the added benefit of several historical points of interest, architectural gems and retail attractions between the stops. A few of these places are noted below and on the accompanying map. 

Asia Society
Asia Society (725 Park Ave. at 70th St.)
The society's building in New York, just one of many Asia Society centers around the world, is housed in a large building on Park and E. 70th Street. The society hosts a full range of exhibitions and programs, all centered on developing a better understanding of the nations of Asia. Stop for lunch at the Garden Court Cafe, a highly-regarded culinary favorite for the surrounding neighborhood. 

Italian Cultural Institute of New York (686 Park Ave)
A small room just inside the main doors of the institute hosts art exhibitions.

Queen Sofia Spanish Institute (684 Park Ave)
The society was founded in 1954 to promote Spanish culture. Margaret Rockefeller Strong de Larraín, Marquesa de Cuevas, the granddaughter of Standard Oil founder, John D. Rockefeller, donated the building to the society in 1965. The neo-Federal townhouse by McKim, Mead & White dates from 1927. For more on the fascinating life of Margaret Rockefeller Strong de Larraín, read this essay from 1987 in Vanity Fair by the late Dominick Dunne.


Americas Society (680 Park Avenue)
The society's mission is to encourage understanding of issues affecting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada.

Seventh Regiment Armory (with temporary sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara)
Seventh Regiment Armory (643 Park Ave.)
Walking along Park, be sure to take note of the armory at 67th Street, built by the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard in response to President Lincoln's call for troops in 1861. The Park Avenue Armory is a newly designated arts institution committed to hosting cultural events in the non-traditional venue.  

China Institute In America (125 E 65th St.)
A group of American and Chinese educators founded the institute in 1926 to foster a better understanding of China. The institute presents cultural programs, including an exhibition series at the gallery.

Roosevelt House
• Sara Delano Roosevelt and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Houses (47-49 E. 65th St.). now Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, Hunter College, CUNY. This double townhouse is the  where FDR recovered from polio (1921-22) and where he learned he was to be Governor of New York (1928) and later President of the United States (1932).

Walking note: Throughout the Gold Coast, look for buildings that serve as permanent missions of countries in the United Nations.

Barneys New York (660 Madison Ave.)
Barney Pressman opened the store in 1923 at Seventh Avenue and W. 17th Street. This nine-story store on Madison Avenue opened in 1993, the largest store built in New York since the Great Depression. Filing for bankruptcy in 1996, the family later sold its shares of the store to Jones Apparel. That company in turn sold Barney's to an equity firm based in Dubai.

• 36 and 40 E. 62nd Street. Stop to look at the two handsome buildings on the south side of the street: 36 E. 62nd is the neo-Georgian Links Club. The facade of 40 East 62nd (1910) is rich in medieval ornament. 

French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) (55 E 59th St.)
A formidable player in New York culture, FIAF is a multi-faceted organization presenting music and film at Florence Gould Hall, literary programs, a popular language center, a gallery, and many special events.

IBM Building (590 Madison Ave.) 1983, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes Assocs. Step inside to the Garden Plaza, a public space, to see the tree-filled glass atrium. 

Sony Tower (550 Madison). Famous post-modern building with a Chippendale top built by AT&T and designed by Philip Johnson/John Burgee.

Austrian Cultural Forum
Austrian Cultural Forum (11 E 52nd St.)
Before entering, please step back to look at the acclaimed architecture of this 2002 building. Architectural theorist and practitioner Raimund Abraham designed the slender 24-story building on E. 52nd Street, built in 2000.

Onassis Cultural Center (645 5th Ave.) 
atrium, Olympic Tower
In his will, Aristotle Onassis directed a foundation to be established to honor the memory of his son Alexander. The Cultural Center opened in 2000 and presents exhibitions, musical events, lectures, and films concerning ancient and contemporary Hellenic culture. The public atrium inside the Olympic Tower, built in 1976, features contemporary art by Greek artists as well as the casts from the original friezes of the Parthenon (housed for the most part in the British Museum). The geometric neon and metal sculpture on the wall, titled "The Road to Mistra," is by Stephen Antonakos.

Walk through the Olympic Tower to the other side of the building on E. 51st. St. Patrick's Cathedral is directly ahead. Rockefeller Center is on the right.  

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from September 29, 2010.









Popular posts from this blog

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

Circling the Met: A Springtime Visit to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a double feature of art and nature, the Metropolitan Museum of Art happens to be conveniently situated in Central Park. The front of the museum faces Fifth Avenue, its monumental wings stretching the blocks between E. 80th and E. 84th. The sides and the back of the museum are within easy walking distance of several prominent landmarks within the park.  Cedar Hill in Central Park Before a visit to the Met, consider taking a walk around the museum beginning on the southern side. A walk in the park can serve as a good preparation for a museum visit, because looking at or noticing the shapes and colors of the built and natural environment can enhance the art experience. Cedar Hill in Central Park The path south of the 79 Street Transverse leads to a scene at Cedar Hill very much like a panorama, with a vast wide-angle expanse of green grass and hill. Take the first path that leads back over 79th Street to the southern side of the museum. This path brilliantly disguises the motor traffi

Visiting New York City Again on the First Day of Spring

  The first weekend of spring in New York City coincided with bright and pleasing weather. Blue skies and Blue Jays, Bald Eagles and brightened crowds greeted the new season, at least in my world. It may be a cliché to say something like “Hope is in the air,” but contrast this spring of 2021 with the one a year ago, the new mood is palpable. Last year during early spring, the city shut down, in caution and crisis, but this season feels like a resurrection, albeit still cautious. The Met Steps on Fifth Avenue Last spring, when many of the city’s residents feared going outside, many are at least partially vaccinated now. The numbers rise every day. I have been fully vaccinated for a month now, so I used the occasion to revisit New York City. I have been out and about in my neighborhood, but in terms of the public New York City, the one celebrated in tourist books and on this website, I have not ventured there much at all.  A Bald Eagle grasps a fish in its talons outside the Met Cloister

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

Traversing Manhattan: An Afternoon Trip to the Battery and Back Again

  Wherein the vaccinated sightseer from Northern Manhattan travels to the southern end of the island by means of the express bus, the MTA subway, and the NYC ferry, with a little sauntering on foot In Battery Park, during the first blushes of spring in New York. View of One World Trade Center Residents of the far north and far south of Manhattan are the ones most keenly aware that they live on an island. The north end of the borough tapers to a relatively small area of land, bounded by the confluence of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers and the waters of Spuyten Duyvil. The land is hilly and green, with an old growth forest. The Battery sits on the southern end, a land where the geography is defined by the meeting of the East River, the Hudson River, and the vast New York Harbor. Manhattan stretches a little over 13 miles on the long side and just 2.3, more or less, at its width. On 42nd Street, approaching Grand Central Terminal. A resident of the hilly northern terrain may sometimes long

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Walking on Snow

❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ For the better part of this new year, snow has been either on the ground or in the forecast. In the city landscape, the streets look enchanting for a day or so and then devolve into a dirty mess. This sort of snow is unappealing for an invigorating walk. A snowy path in Inwood Hill Park The forest, on the other hand, has managed to stay enchanting throughout each bout of winter weather. The presence of owls and hawks, bright red cardinals and sweet chickadees, and brown squirrels and black squirrels transform the woodlands into a fairy tale. An Eastern Screech-Owl at home in the winter forest I've spent much of the whole pandemic year, going back to March 2020, in the woods of Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. While I have been accustomed to walking through the park in spring, summer, and autumn, I've never managed to engage with the deepest parts of the forest when a lot of snow was on the ground. Last winter there wasn't much snow anyway. Eastern Screech-Owl

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge:  "The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apr

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had