How you doin’? Or more to the point, where you goin’? If you’re headed to New York City as a Friends fan, there are some places you just have to visit. But believe it or not, most scenes in Friends were filmed thousands of miles away from the Big Apple on Hollywood soundstages in Los Angeles, California.
Friends is a beloved sitcom (duh) about characters living in a fun but fictional version of NYC. A lot of the sets were inspired by real New York spaces and some of the shots even featured authentic New York landmarks, but the show itself was filmed almost entirely in Hollywood. For every set dressing and scene scouting choice, careful considerations were made to give the series the most authentic New York vibes possible. It worked on us!
So, how can you tell the real thing from the soundstage while watching Friends or traveling the world? A good rule of thumb is that interiors are artificial, while exterior shots are generally the real deal. If you visit LA, you can take Warner Brothers Studio tours and see a lot of the interior sets constructed for the series. If you take NYC by storm, you can catch glimpses of the real locations that viewers are led to believe the characters spend time in. You might even find yourself in a city with its own #FriendsFest, a celebration of all things Friends. Either way, you don’t need unagi to find your way around the sets and real spaces that make up the Friends world. You just need this handy list! Could it BE any more useful? (Let us know if so!)
Without further ado, here are 10 fictional and 10 real places that belong in the Friends universe.
20 Ross’ Place Of Work: “The New York Museum of Prehistoric History” (Not Real)
When we first meet Ross, he’s an awkward A-type personality going through his first divorce. There aren’t a lot of good things going on in his life–Phoebe even tries to “cleanse his aura” of bad juju in the pilot episode–but he always has his career going for him! Any Friends fan knows that Ross has an impressive career in palaeontology.
For the first five seasons, Ross works at “The New York Museum of Prehistoric History.” You may remember this as the place where Ross and Rachel have a monumentally romantic date under the planetarium stars or where Joey gets hired as a tour guide and starts a mini revolution among workers in the cafeteria. Yes, that’s the same cafeteria where Ross had his infamous post-Thanksgiving sandwich (the “Moist Maker”) stolen.
The museum has fake life-size figures of prehistoric man, dinosaur skeletons, and fossils galore. You’d think that all that stuff would cost a lot of money to reproduce and that the location scouts would choose to film the museum’s scenes in an actual museum to save money. In reality, Ross’ museum scenes were filmed on a Hollywood soundstage with sets constructed just for filming purposes.
If the series was actually filmed in New York City, it’s likely that the museum used would be the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Stop by there if you ever take a Friends-themed trip to NYC and feel like a true Geller!
19 The Fountain (Not Real)
So, no one told you life was gonna be this way? (Clap-clap-clap-clap!) When you read those words, we’re certain that a particular tune jumps into your head. Maybe a particular scene does too. Do you happen to picture six friends wearing black and white, dancing in a fountain and having the time of their lives? We do! The Friends fountain is as iconic as the theme song itself.
Lots of NYC tourists pose by fountains in Central Park thinking that they’ve found the Friends fountain, but this is yet another Friends location that doesn’t exist in the real world. According to a Friends location scout, the Pulitzer Fountain in New York City was the inspiration for the fountain in the Friends intro. The Friends fountain was a unique near-replicate built at the California studios especially for the opening credits, while the Pulitzer Fountain is a real New York City staple. It was built in 1916 to honor the Roman goddess Pomona, meant to bring about abundance and wealth. It also makes a great dupe for Friends fans looking for the ultimate Insta moment.
Grab five of your closest pals and head to NYC’s Grand Army Square for your own version of the iconic intro. Dragging a retro couch into the park might be a bit too extra, but it’s your call.
18 The Friends’ Las Vegas (Not Real)
Who could forget the Friends’ trip to Vegas? After Joey’s film gets cancelled, the struggling actor makes ends meet as a gladiator at the famous Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. When Phoebe, Monica, and Chandler show up on the scene and try to be supportive, he’s super embarrassed and dressed in full gladiator armor. Ross and Rachel, who show up in Vegas a day later, get into an escalating prank war and end up drunkenly married in a Vegas wedding chapel. This episode features all the wild Vegas shenanigans that the city is known for. It’s like The Hangover before The Hangover. If you want to experience Vegas, go for it!
Unfortunately, the Vegas that the friends visit is a constructed set that no longer exists. In fact, when the actors are perusing the Casino, they’re actually walking in the very same place that their Central Perk couch usually sat. The Central Perk set was taken down and turned into Caesar’s Palace for this episode!
This was the only time throughout all ten seasons that Central Perk was taken down. Who knew that Joey’s “identical hand twin” of a blackjack dealer was standing in Central Perk all along.
For the ultimate Friends-inspired Vegas trip, definitely hit up the real Caesar’s Palace on the Las Vegas strip. Make up some fake names to use while gambling your hard-earned dollars away (Princess Consuela Bananahammock, anyone?) and maybe even plan a shotgun wedding.
17 Alessandro’s Restaurant (Not Real)
We’re first introduced to Alessandro’s Restaurant in episode nine of season four, “The One Where They’re Going to a Party.” After Monica gets a gig as a food critic, she eats a “grossly incompetent” meal at Alessandro’s Italian restaurant, a swanky spot in Midtown Manhattan. It’s the kind of place Ross would wear leather pants to. Monica’s ruthless restaurant review calls Alessandro’s food “inedible swill,” particularly the marinara sauce that tastes like tomato juice.
It turns out that Alessandro himself isn’t Italian but Lebanese and in dire need of help from a real Italian food expert like Monica to take the reins. He hires her as his new head chef so she can put her foodie attitude to use. This results in a brief mutiny from the rest of Alessandro’s kitchen staff and plenty of pranks, from burning her chef’s coat to writing down fake specials to even locking her in a freezer! This seemed funny in the moment but in hindsight, yikes!
Thankfully, the restaurant is not a real place. It’s a complete fabrication created to act as backdrop to Monica’s head chef ambitions, which Rachel says she has had “forever.” This restaurant is the first one Monica gets to run by herself but also the one where she is treated the worst. We wouldn’t go there even if it were real.
16 Lincoln High (Not Real)
So, here’s the situation. We are absolutely certain that somewhere in America, there’s a real Lincoln High School. There are multiple real Lincoln High Schools! But the one Ross, Monica, and Rachel’s characters say they have gone to is most definitely fictional. It’s created as part of Rachel and the Gellers’ backstories. A pre-nose job Rachel, lovestruck Ross, and much heavier Monica spent their younger years at this high school in Long Island, New York. (If that isn’t spin-off series material, we don’t know what is.)
Superfans will remember other Lincoln High grads that the gang mentioned or met on the show, including Luisa Gianetti, Chip Matthews, Amy Welsh, Roy Gublik, Ta-Taka-Ki-Kek, and of course, Will Colbert (played by Jennifer Aniston’s then-husband, Brad Pitt). The high school is featured heavily in flashback episodes like “The One with the Prom Video,” “The One with the Rumor,” and “The One Where the Stripper Cries.”
Even though Lincoln High was totally made up, it did make for some great moments.
Rachel dressing up in her cheerleader uniform and performing for Ross’ fiancée, Emily, was unforgettably adorable. She wears the Lincoln High colors of red, black, and white and shakes her pompoms like there’s no tomorrow. Go Bobcats!
15 Javu (Not Real)
Unlike Alessandro’s, Javu is a positive work environment for head chef Monica. It’s a chic spot that’s especially appealing to Monica because of its squeaky-clean kitchen. “It’s not just Health Department clean, it’s Monica clean!” she explains to Chandler after her first day. Even her co-workers are cool. One of them is a bit too cool for Chandler, who gets super jealous when Monica calls him “the funniest man” she has ever met. Alas, that coworker and all of Javu itself is completely fictional and built for scene-filming purposes only.
You know, scenes like when Phoebe is singing for change to the line of Javu customers waiting to eat. She left her regular place at Central Perk for Javu because it became so popular with Monica leading its kitchen. Of course, Phoebe’s taste in music doesn’t vibe with most of the Javu crowd, including Monica herself. That’s because Javu is a classy place or, as Phoebe describes it, “pretentious-comma-garlicky.” Maybe it’s not the best atmosphere for hits like Smelly Cat, Sticky Shoes, Trapped in the Hospital Closet, and Crusty Old Man.
If Javu were real, you could visit it and eat lobster with your “lobster!” It’s probably for the best, though. Lobster isn’t great when it’s too garlicky.
14 The Friends In Barbados (Not Real)
The whole gang of friends plus their various significant others head to Barbados for the finale episode of season nine. Ross gets them all passes to his palaeontology conference.
And who could turn down a vacation in the Barbados, right? With tropical sunshine, beaches, palm trees, and Caribbean waves, it’s true that Barbados is a total paradise. It’s not true, however, that the Friends cast visited the island on the show.
They used the same Warner Brothers soundstages as usual to film the scenes that took place in Ross’ conference hotel and surrounding resort. The actors didn’t have to go any further than Dijon Street and Stage 24 at the Warner Brothers’ Burbank Studios.
Some Friends fans have taken to online forums when planning their own Barbados vacations to find out where the friends stayed during the Barbados episodes. How cool would it be if you could stay at the same resort where Phoebe and Mike were reunited after David’s proposal, right? It would be so fun to get drinks at the bar near where Joey and Rachel had their first kiss (which nobody asked for) or to stay in the suite where Ross and Joey’s date, Charlie, find romance while rewriting his keynote speech. Unfortunately, you can’t walk in the footsteps of Friends characters in the Bahamas. You’ll have to visit the real Bahamas, separate from the Friends universe. Just bring some heavy-duty conditioner so you don’t end up like Monica. (“IT’S THE HUMIDITY!”)
13 Joey And Chandler’s Apartment (Not Real)
What we wouldn’t do to watch Baywatch and play a game of Fireball in this famous bachelor pad. It saw so many roommates move through it over the years, but it will always belong to Chandler and Joey in our eyes. It breaks our heart to say it, but Joey and Chandler’s apartment never really existed. The ceramic dog, the Laurel and Hardy poster, and the La-Z Boy chairs were absolutely real. The chick and the duck? Real. The pizzas they all ate? Very real. But the apartment itself–the walls, doors, and rooms–were not. The Hollywood soundstage strikes again!
This apartment was built as part of the original set in California. If you’ve watched the series closely, you’ll notice that the number signs on the outside of the doors even changed from 4 and 5 to 19 and 20 as the series went on, with the assumption that viewers wouldn’t be bothered by the inconsistency. The apartment was on the ground floor, despite what the hallway suggests, because it was a simple ground floor set with an open fourth wall where cameras, crew members, and the occasional live audience watched on.
This set was taken down after the series wrapped in 2004, so you can’t even visit it on a trip to LA. It will always live on in our memories of the guys’ shenanigans, though! That Foosball table is forever in our hearts.
12 Monica’s Apartment (Not Real)
Monica’s awesome apartment is any 90’s kid’s dream home. Eclectic style but somehow always squeaky clean with plenty of space for friends at parties, Monica’s place had it going on. The balcony itself was an NYC dream come true! The window seat overlooking it also made the perfect place for wallowing in tears and looking out at the rain. What more could a romantic twenty-something ask for?
Like Chandler and Joey’s place, Monica’s apartment was a complete construction in a Warner Brothers studio, which you can visit if you’re ever in Hollywood. The kitchen and living room are fully formed, but the entrances to the bedrooms and bathroom are fake.
The doorways to Monica and Rachel’s bedrooms have never actually led to their bedrooms. Those rooms were only built on a need-to-be-used basis. When you see characters walk into them, the footage has been cut and pasted between completely different locations!
Even more shocking is what lay behind the wall where those bedroom doors were positioned. The CENTRAL PERK SET was on the other side of that wall! Yes, the wall that the friends all watched TV on while sitting on Monica’s couch was actually Gunther’s coffee bar on its reverse side.
One thing that was real about Monica’s place? Apparently, when the episodes were being filmed, her apartment set was always stocked with snacks and drinks for the cast and crew, while Chandler and Joey’s fridge was usually empty. Totally fitting.
11 Central Perk (Not Real)
If you’re a true Friends fan, you might give your left phalange to step inside Central Perk for a day. You would think, with the way the show makes it seem, that Central Perk is just down the road from the friends’ apartments in NYC’s Greenwich Village. In one episode, Joey counts 97 steps from their apartment building to the entrance of Central Perk. That might have actually been an accurate count, considering the guys’ apartment was just a stone’s throw away in the very same studio.
No need to go outdoors; these actors could easily jump from one set to the other as needed. The illusion of a New York City street is strong, but really, this set is still in California.
This was just another constructed set, but perhaps it is the most famous one. That’s why after the show finished filming, the Central Perk set was preserved by Warner Brothers and moved into a lot next to the studio’s Prop House. If you ever get a chance to take the Warner Bros. VIP Tour, you’ll get an up-close and personal view of this iconic set. Look out for Phoebe’s guitar propped up by the little stage area!
We recommend heading to New York City and finding your own little independent coffee shop instead. You could get lucky. WB has sold the copyright to the Central Perk logo and concept with the rumor that real Central Perks will someday be fully functioning in New York! So far, we know that there’s no Gunther included, but we’ll keep our ears out for any more news.
10 Lucille Lortel Theater (Real)
Now, it’s time for the ten locations on Friends that you can actually visit in the real world. At number ten, the Lucille Lortel theater is a real New York staple in the city’s West Village. In season three, the characters see Joey perform at Lucille Lortel throughout three episodes.
You might remember him falling in love with his co-star Kate while they shared the stage in the off-broadway play “Boxing Day.” The critics liked it just as much as his friends did! Read: not at all. In the same episode, Ben Stiller guest stars as Tommy, the guy Rachel has just started dating. He famously yells his head off at an elderly couple who sits in his and Rachel’s assigned theater seats.
Those theater seats are REAL, baby! Lucille Lortel Theatre is a total iconic landmark in New York City and has been since its opening in the 1920’s. Its marquis reads “New York’s Foremost Off-Broadway Theatre.” That makes it quite the high point of Joey’s acting career at that point in the series, as his agent Estelle reminds him. These days, the Lucille Lortel Theatre is still going strong. There are even the Lucille Lortel Awards for excellence in off-broadway performance. Stop by the theater to see this season’s best off-broadway shows and feel like a true Tribbiani superfan.
9 New York University (Real)
Ross worked at NYU after his stint at the (aforementioned and fictional) New York Museum of Prehistoric History. You might remember this stretch of his career including a relationship with Elizabeth, one of his young and ultra-hip students. He got off to a rocky start to his role as professor, with a few awkward chalkboard moments and a total lack of confidence while standing in front of a lecture hall. However, he improved over the years and continued his (fictional) rise to the top of the paleontological research world.
Even though Ross was never a real professor at NYU, that didn’t stop real NYU students from rating him on a RateMyProfessor page with fake reviews of his teaching style and course load. The ratings are high! If only Dr. Geller was a real person alive to accept them.
If you ever take New York by storm, you’ll definitely notice NYU banners throughout its central downtown campus. It’s a great college. Famous alumni include Cole Sprouse, Dakota Fanning, Angelina Jolie, the Olsen twins, and James Franco.
As a bonus, it’s quite near to Washington Square Park, a place Phoebe references on the regular as a good street performance spot.
Drop a dollar in somebody’s guitar case as you pass through! Phoebe would be proud.
8 Chandler’s Office Building (Real)
Oh. My. God! Janice’s on-again-off-again boyfriend actually “worked” in a real New York City building. It’s a pretty iconic one too. The Solow Building is so architecturally eye-catching that you’d probably notice it even without trying to. It’s on West 57th Street, stretching 50 floors high with an impressive curved-out base. This skyscraper was also featured in Sex and the City, along with films like Zoolander and recent Superman movies.
Chandler worked in this building throughout his character’s time on Friends. He was briefly joined by Joey, who took on the acting persona of “Joseph” for the job. It turned out that Joseph wasn’t a great co-worker, so Chandler had to take on the persona of “Chandy” to fire him.
Major points if you can remember what Chandler did for a living! If you can’t quite name it, you’re not alone. Rachel and Monica lost their apartment to Chandler and Joey after guessing incorrectly in the lightning round of the gang’s high-stakes trivia game. Their guess: a transponster (“That’s not even a word!”). The right answer: an IT procurement manager. In the real world, the Solow Building houses workers in the marketing and equity management fields. Just as dull, in our humble opinion.
7 The Moondance Diner (Real)
Do you remember when Monica had to wear a horribly tacky vintage getup for her 50’s diner job? She put up with everything from a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig to an overstuffed bra, poodle skirt, and roller skates, which might have been the worst part of all. Rollerskating waitresses might sound far-fetched for a restaurant in 90’s-era New York City, but this diner was actually 100% real.
The Moondance Diner opened all the way back in 1933. It could seat just 34 people and measured about 36 feet by 16 feet. It didn’t exist in its SoHo (the region of Manhattan that’s just South of Houston Street) until later, and by the 90’s, it was a major tourist attraction.
It also drew a lot of pop culture attention beyond its appearance on Friends. You might recognize it from its appearances in Sex and the City, Miami Vice, and even Reading Rainbow. In 2002’s Spider-Man, the character of Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is a waitress at this very diner.
If it was 2007 right now, you’d be able to walk in and order a milkshake at the Moondance Diner on your next trip to NYC. Unfortunately, since that year, it has been closed from the public. We’ve rounded up some of the city’s best places for you to get your foodie fix in the meantime.
6 The Plaza (Real)
The opening episode of season seven is all about the friends celebrating Monica and Chandler’s engagement at a big party in the Plaza Hotel. Every true New Yorker and New York lover knows the Plaza Hotel. It’s in almost every great movie set in NYC, from the Great Gatsby to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. You can also see it in scenes from movies like Eloise at The Plaza, Serendipity, Sleepless in Seattle, and Moonstruck. I mean, could it BE any more famous?
The Plaza was built way back in 1907 in the popular French Chateau style of the time. Originally, it was a residential building for the wealthiest New Yorkers. That explains its perfect downtown location by Central Park, the city’s main museums, and more. Inside, you can tell that this place was made to suit the most luxurious residents of the 20th century. It’s got gold, marble, and crystal details fit for any socialite or, in Monica’s case, head chef.
Fun fact: Monica originally put herself and Chandler on the waiting list for a wedding at the Morgan Chase Museum (another real New York City location). Chandler’s discovery of this fact and love of that venue prompted him to finally pop the question. But when their wedding day actually comes, it’s clear that it is being held in a hotel, not the museum that viewers were expecting. Fans explain this as being because the museum had a two-year waiting list, while Monica and Chandler’s love couldn’t wait that long. Aw, you guys!
5 London’s Main Attractions (Real)
In Joey’s words, “London, baby!” Unlike the friends’ trip to the Barbados or Vegas, they actually traveled to London for the episodes set in London, England. It’s easy to tell! All the landmarks they explore and pose in front of can’t be faked.
If you want a Friends-inspired London vacation, follow these tips. Stay at the London Marriott Hotel on Grosvenor Square. Every time you leave the hotel, put your London map on the ground and step into it. You’ll be doing what Joe did, exactly where he did it.
Then check out all the main tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace, the Thames, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey. Joey calls it “hands down the best abbey I’ve ever seen,” and Prince William and Kate Middleton have since been married there! For pics outside the place where Ross and Emily held their wedding, visit St. John’s Church in Wapping. Then head to Trinity Square and buy yourself a classy Union Jack hat, just like Joey did (to Chandler’s disappointment). Maybe you’ll get lucky and buy it from Richard Branson himself!
Celebrity cameos are huge in the London episodes of Friends. Sarah Ferguson, the original duchess Fergie, runs into a London-loving Joey. Hugh Laurie even makes an appearance as Rachel’s seatmate on her plane ride over to Ross’ wedding, and he does a hilarious job of pretending to care about her relationship drama. Long live the (drama) queen!
4 Saks Fifth Avenue (Real)
Rachel Green is a role model for many reasons. The biggest one might actually be her glow-up from café barista to high-flying fashion executive without so much as a college apprenticeship. Get it, girl! Rachel always had ambitions involving work in the fashion industry, and landing work at Saks Fifth Avenue was one of her biggest goals. She was interviewed here early in the series and was devastated to be passed over by another candidate in the end.
Saks is a world-famous name brand shopping destination in Manhattan. It’s the ultimate upscale department store in the city, where you’re likely to find A-list stylists and celebs shopping any day of the week. It’s easy to see why Rachel would dream of working for this status symbol of a store. After shopping in it for so many years with her daddy’s credit card and her trust-funded friends, it would have been so liberating to earn her place among Saks’ most powerful people. Alas, the only friend to work here ended up being Joey. A lucky break lands Joey a job as a perfume tester at Saks Fifth Avenue for one fun episode.
These days, Saks is still going strong. It even has a pretty stunning Instagram account featuring artsy short films about fashion.
3 Bloomingdale’s (Real)
Rachel’s fashionista dreams come true when she actually gets herself a job at Bloomingdale’s, another Manhattan shopping mecca. You’d probably recognize Bloomingdale’s from the bags its customers carry out, labeled as everything from “little brown bag” to “big brown bag.” By season three, Rachel gets her fashionably-shoed foot in the door of this massive NYC retailer when she works as an assistant in its offices. After realizing that she’s back to serving coffee on the regular, she earns her place as an assistant buyer before being unluckily demoted to a personal shopper.
At Bloomingdale’s, Rachel is able to work closely with all the top brands this department store sells. All of her hard work and time pay off as she eventually gets hired by Ralph Lauren himself and ultimately, by Louis Vuitton in Paris. Talk about #CareerGoals.
Now Bloomingdale’s has several locations in Manhattan, but if you want the authentic Friends experience, you definitely need to check out the original store on Third Avenue. It’s a spectacular nine-story building (think: nine floors of shopping) that maintains its original art decor exterior and will fill you with the kind of passion for fashion that helped Rachel’s career soar.
Bonus: It’s also a great place for modern-day celebrity spotting.
2 Ugly Naked Guy’s Apartment (Real)
That’s right, you yourself can stare through the windows of the Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment if you visit New York City. We don’t know who actually lives there now, but any true Friends fan knows that this series staple was once home to the ugliest and most frequently naked neighbor any of the friends had ever encountered. It also briefly belonged to Ross, who had to bargain with the Ugly Naked Guy to land the lease for the place. When remembering Ross moving his furniture into that fateful apartment, only one word comes to mind, “PIVOT!”
This apartment is located in Manhattan, like the other friends’ apartment exteriors, but it’s not actually right across the street from them. Can you believe that all those back and forth shots between the friends’ apartment windows were just really good acting and clever edits?
At no point did their apartment balcony actually look out directly towards the Ugly Naked Guy’s. Since it’s a real building though, we’re certain that somebody’s apartment does! We can only hope they never get inspired to make a massively long “poking device.”
To spot this apartment from street level, just pass by this location while you’re in the Big Apple. From the Apothecary table to Ross’ “kara-tay” practice to every precious moment when Ross and Rachel embraced behind the windowed wall of this apartment, there’s plenty for you to appreciate.
1 The Friends’ Apartment Balconies
As you know by now, the Friends apartment interiors were not actually in New York City. They weren’t even real apartments. They were well-designed sets built in an LA studio for filming purposes only. They didn’t even have fourth walls! But the exterior shots of the apartments WERE real, taken of a real building in the real New York City. They’re all ready to be in the background of a killer selfie the next time you’re in NYC, if you know where to look.
Head to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, found in its lower West Side blocks. You’ll find the Friends’ apartment balconies at the corner of Grove Street and Bedford Street. The Village is referenced many times throughout the series and is also home to the real restaurant that inspired the creators to build Central Perk.
From that street corner, you can gaze up at the apartments and imagine just what it would be like to be Rachel, newly independent in the big city, or Monica, cleaning the last speck of dirt off its cozy-cool window ledge. You can picture Chandler and Ross dangling from the fire escape after some shenanigans went wrong or Joey stepping out the door of the building with a girl (or two) on his arm. This is the New York scene that Friends taught us to love, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Just watch out for smelly cats.
Sources: Hooked on Houses, Friends Central, FriendsWikia.com