With the tallest steeple in North America, Riverside Church has been a focal point in the skyline of New York City since the church opened its doors in 1930. And in 2020 the house of worship became a top-tier tourist attraction, too.
After some 30 years, a change in the church's insurance policy means that visitors can now climb to the top of the structure. That takes 104 steps, but the effort is rewarded with panoramic views to the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse on the uptown side and, looking downtown, the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
While you're up in the tower you'll likely hear its 73 bells chime—they do so every 15 minutes. On the way up, visitors climb right past the 20-ton Bourdon Bell, which the church bills as the largest tuned bell in the world.
The steeple can only be visited on a guided tour, but that's not a hardship since it gives you the chance to become acquainted with the resplendent architecture and quintessentially New York ethos of this important religious institution. Highlights of the tour include the main sanctuary, which has a Gothic interior modeled on the Chartres Cathedral in France; 16th-century stained-glass windows brought over from Belgium; and a smaller limestone chapel that's a replica of another French church, this one a 12th-century Romanesque structure.
The guide will direct you to look closely at the art that adorns these areas. This may be the only church on the planet to have a stained-glass window decorated with images of Muhammad, the Buddha, and Confucius. That's because this is a truly interdenominational space. On a recent Sunday, the speakers at the pulpit of the main sanctuary were a rabbi, an imam, a Catholic priest, and a Baptist minister. We sure hope they later walked into a bar together.
Note: The tower tour takes 1.5 hours. If you're in the neighborhood and don't have time for that, simply drop by and wander through the sanctuary. This is one of the city's loveliest churches and an ideal spot for quiet contemplation.