With its opulent chandeliers, whispering arches and Tiffany clock, New York City’s iconic Grand Central Terminal celebrates its centennial this year. A free open-to-the-public, daylong gala on 1 February — 100 years to the day since the original keys were handed over to the terminal’s stationmaster — sets things in motion.

The 12-hour celebration gets underway at 9:30 am in the main concourse under the star-flecked blue and gold zodiac ceiling mural with a concert by the United States Military Academy’s West Point Brass and Percussion. Music and dance performances will take place throughout the day, stopping only for a rush-hour break between 4 pm and 6:30 pm.

Elsewhere in the terminal, several shops and restaurants are getting in on the action offering items at 1913 prices for the day. A commemorative United States Postal Service Express Mail stamp will be sold at the lower concourse information booth from 10 am to 3 pm and a Lego replica of Grand Central will be on display for an open-ended run at the Station Master’s Office.

In conjunction with the terminal’s birthday activities, a multimedia exhibition – Grand by Design: A Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Station – is showing in Vanderbilt Hall, just off the main concourse. The installation, open 8 am to 10 pm daily through 15 March, highlights the transportation hub’s history, delves into the building’s architectural features and innovating engineering, and examines Grand Central’s role in the city’s development.

Centennial events continue throughout 2013 and include a Grand Central-centric contemporary art exhibition from 6 March to 27 July, taking place in the station’s New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store, as well as a performance art installation running 25 March to 31 March, a night of poetry on 10 April, and a display of historic trains cars the weekend of 11 May – all in the station’s Vanderbilt Hall.

Visitors to the building have access to terminal tours as well. The Municipal Art Society of New York conducts a 75-minute tour leaving from the entrance of Track 29 on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm, and beginning 11 February, the tour will be offered every day. Self-guided audio tours are also available at marked ticket windows in the main concourse from 9 am to 6 pm daily or as a downloadable app. And on Fridays at 12:30 pm, 90-minute guided walks sponsored by Grand Central Partnership begin from 120 Park Avenue.

Amy Brader is the New York City Localite for BBC Travel