Ground Zero was the scene of one of the most shocking events in the recent history of the city and is one of the most emotional visits to make in New York. I tell you what you can visit when you are strolling through the area.
1. See the One World Trade Center, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world
After the attack, the area had to be completely rebuilt. The Twin Towers gave way to four large and modern skyscrapers where the One World Trade Center stands out, a building that has become one of the main landmarks of New York.
At first, it was baptized as Freedom Tower but later that name was discarded because of its emotional weight. Thus, finally, One World Trade Center was chosen as the name of the tallest building in the complex with 104 floors and 1,776 feet, a symbolic number that refers to the year of the Independence of the United States. This makes it the sixth tallest building on the planet and the first outside Asia.
It is accompanied by other glass, steel, and concrete skyscrapers called 2 WTC, 3 WTC, 4 WTC, and 7 WTC, intended for business offices and other purposes, which replaced several of the buildings affected after the collapse of the Twin Towers.
2. Visit the 9/11 Memorial dedicated to the victims
The 9/11 Memorial is one of the most emotional visits to make in New York. Located at Ground Zero, it pays tribute to all those who died in the terrorist attacks of 2001. This and the 9/11 Museum are the two monuments that struck me the most at Ground Zero and leave your emotions running high.
On the same site where the Twin Towers stood imposing today is the Memorial Plaza, two huge fountains fed by waterfalls that are bordered by bronze plaques on which the names of all the victims have been engraved.
They in turn are enveloped by hundreds of beautiful oak trees brought from Washington and Pennsylvania, also scenes of 9/11. The result is a magnificent oasis of recollection amid the bustle of the city that invites us to stroll to remember the past and to fill the future with hope and illusion.
3. Contemplate The Survivor Tree
Among all these trees stands out one called The Survivor Tree, the only one that survived the tragedy. The employees of the recovery works at Ground Zero in New York found it a month after the attacks and although it was still alive, it was in very poor condition so it was removed to be cared for and recovered.
Years later, in 2010, the surviving tree was returned to its original location and is now a symbol of hope and resilience for all New Yorkers and even the world. It is truly wonderful to be able to contemplate it today.
4. Climb to One World Observatory, the highest observation deck in New York City
The top floors of One World Trade Center, 100 to 102, house one of the newest observatories built in the Big Apple. With a height of 12,680 feet, it is the highest observation deck in New York. From here there are spectacular 360º views to enjoy of the city.
However, the One World Observatory does not have an outdoor area unlike other viewpoints such as Top of the Rock or The Edge, but it is all glass and interior so the perception is somewhat different since you can not feel the wind in the face or the feeling of vertigo as in the others. Also, for those who want to take pictures, this may be a problem.
In any case, I recommend a visit to One World Observatory if you like skyscrapers and modern architecture as I do, because the design of this viewpoint allows you to see up to 50 miles of the city in all directions: the Empire State, the Brooklyn Bridge... and even the Statue of Liberty.
The experience begins from the moment you enter the elevator, which is covered with LED panels that enliven the climb to the viewpoint with the development of New York from its origins. In just 47 seconds! It is also a symbol of the new World Trade Center after Ground Zero that New Yorkers are proud of.
- Where is it: The observatory is in the One World Trade Center skyscraper located at 285 Fulton Street.
- Hours: Open daily from 9AM to 8PM.
5. Visit the impressive 9/11 Museum
The 9/11 Memorial also has a museum that displays a collection of more than 10,000 items recovered from the rubble that belonged to the victims and the people who tried to help them after the attack.
For all of us who in one way or another witnessed 9/11, visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is a very emotional moment during a trip to New York. It opened in May 2014 and documents the history and significance that the attacks on the World Trade Center had through an extensive collection of pieces that bear witness to that tragic date.
What is the 9/11 Museum like on the inside?
That the 9/11 Museum is located underneath Memorial Plaza, within the remains of the original World Trade Center structure, was amazing to me. There is nothing that can prepare you for what you will see inside the 9/11 Museum after passing through the security arch as it stirs up so many emotions.
It is impossible not to have a lump in your throat throughout the tour, learning so much about the terrible event and the heroic response of New York City.
I was very impressed to see the remains of the original columns of the Twin Towers, the objects of the victims recovered from the rubble, the testimonies of the survivors, and especially the stairs by which hundreds of people tried to flee for their lives amid the chaos.
In the museum, there are even the remains of a fire truck that took part in the rescue efforts that fateful day. It is truly shocking. Many people sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others and thanks to all those anonymous heroes, hundreds of people managed to survive that morning.
- Where is it: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located at 180 Greenwich St, Lower Manhattan.
- Hours: Open Sunday through Thursday from 9 AM to 8 PM (with the last admission at 6 PM) and Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 9 PM (with 7PM being the last admission time).
Isabel's Traveller Tip
Since the visit lasts almost 2 hours, I advise you to plan it with enough time according to the opening hours so you don't miss anything and go calmly.
6. Stroll through 11- S Memorial Glade, the memorial of the heroes
Precisely to the rescue teams and the people who died from the indirect consequences of the attack is dedicated the Memorial Glade located in Memorial Plaza, near the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
Many firefighters, police, sanitation, and other workers lost their lives while trying to help the victims or clearing debris. Others died from various illnesses after being exposed to the harmful toxins in the air at Ground Zero.
They were all part of this tragedy, along with the nearly 3,000 direct victims and their families. The 9/11 Memorial Glade is a tribute to all of these people.
What does the 9/11 Glade Memorial look like?
The story behind this memorial is very moving because of the beautiful meaning behind it. It is a four-meter long walkway with six monoliths that seem to sprout from the ground and run through it. Each has steel from the One World Trade Center and was designed following a traditional Japanese technique called kintsugi, which involves repairing broken ceramic pieces by filling the cracks with gold.
Kintsugi represents the idea that no scars should be hidden. On the contrary, they have to be shown because it is a symbol of damage but at the same time of strength. A concept that comes to signify New York City's ability to overcome adversity without ever forgetting what happened on 9/11. A precious lesson in resilience.
7. Discover The Oculus and go shopping in the mall
Where the PATH Station used to be, destroyed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the WTC Central Station has been built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
It is a huge and spectacular central station that connects numerous subway lines, trains, and large buildings in the Financial District. What caught my attention is that it is crowned by a glass and metal dome called The Oculus through which light can flow easily illuminating the whole.
For its design, Calatrava was inspired by how a child releases a dove into the sky, but some people say that it looks like a big eye with eyelashes or that it is like being inside a whale...
The truth is that it is very different from Grand Central Terminal, the most important railway station in Manhattan and, in my opinion, one of the architectural jewels of New York dating from the nineteenth century. Although it is complicated to compare them since they are very different styles. Each has its own charm, don't you think?
The Westfield World Trade Center Mall
Just below the structure of The Oculus, which serves as a roof to the huge central lobby, is located Westfield World Trade Center Mall, a shopping mall with more than 50 stores (Apple Store, Lacoste, H&M, Pandora...) and several restaurants (Eataly, Shake Shack, Starbucks...) that came to replace the World Trade Center Mall when it was destroyed in 9/11.
Westfield World Trade Center Mall is a good place to go shopping or to take a break for a snack after a visit to Ground Zero in New York. How about a coffee, an ice cream, or a hamburger to get your strength back and continue your route through the city?
8. Take the opportunity to visit the Financial District
Lower Manhattan has several tourist attractions such as Battery Park, Wall Street, and its Charging Bull, City Hall, the New York Supreme Court, or Trinity Church, among others. But if there is something that attracts thousands of tourists to this area, it is the so-called "Financial District" of New York. Here, among hundreds of executives in suits, you can discover imposing buildings such as the New York Stock Exchange or the famous buffalo, which you will have to rub for good luck.
In this area, the streets are narrower and the skyscrapers are even taller (if possible), so much so that you will find it hard to guess the blue of the sky between the tall buildings. Here everyone is in a hurry, so you will also find plenty of fast food places where workers take a break in their day to eat something.
9. Mix culture and shopping at Brookfield Place
Speaking of shopping, the 9/11 attacks also damaged the former Winter Garden Atrium shopping center that was then part of the World Financial Center. Although its structure withstood the attack, it was damaged under the rubble and the building had to be reconstructed to restore it to its former splendor and appearance.
In 2002, almost a year after the event, it reopened its doors under the name of Brookfield Place and we were able to walk again through the galleries and marble staircases, enjoying the beautiful windows through which natural light penetrates and the huge palm trees located inside the mall.
This mall is a lovely place to take a break and have a snack or to browse in its luxury stores (J. Crew, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Louis Vuitton...). There is even a food market called Le District specializing in French cuisine where you can order what you like and sit down to eat at the tables scattered around the premises.
What else to do at Brookfield Place?
Throughout the year, Brookfield Place hosts cultural activities such as exhibitions, concerts, performing arts, and children's programs for the whole family. If you are traveling with children to New York it is a good idea to take a look at their cultural offerings at their official website since there is always something to do.
In addition, during the winter outside of Brookfield Place, there is an ice rink that is not usually as crowded as others in the city. I recommend you to visit it at Christmas time if you like skating as they also organize a nice light show in its central square.
- Where is it?: It is located at 230 Vesey Street.
- Hours: Open Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM and Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM.
10. Visit Saint Paul's Chapel, the miracle of 9/11
This chapel is a miracle. Despite being located very close to where the Twin Towers were located, it did not suffer any damage during the attack, unlike other more modern buildings in the area. Not a single broken pane of glass. That is why the Saint Paul's Chapel is known as "The Little Chapel That Stood".
It is the oldest religious building in Manhattan. Georgian in style, it is the only colonial-era chapel on the island known because it was here that George Washington made his speech as the first president of the United States in 1789.
Centuries later, surviving 9/11, became a symbol of the triumph of life over unreason and barbarism. Because of its proximity to the area of the tragedy and the good condition it was in, Saint Paul's Chapel was used as a shelter for the police, firefighters, and volunteers who for long months worked at Ground Zero helping to clear the rubble and search for victims.
Saint Paul's Chapel Memorial
In fact, to remember the fallen of 9/11, a room inside the church was dedicated to them as a memorial. Saint Paul's Chapel is another of the places at Ground Zero in New York that I advise you to visit. Not only for its historical value but also for its emotional value to the city.
There you can see some photographs of the people who sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others and messages of support from the international community. There is also a board for those who disappeared that fateful day and you can even see the bed on which the volunteers rested during their endless days of work at Ground Zero. Undoubtedly, a visit that makes you shudder and makes you reflect a lot for the meaning it carries.
- Where is it?: It is located at 209 Broadway, between Vesey and Fulton Streets.
- Hours: Open Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM. The chapel is open Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM and Sundays from 7 AM to 9 PM.
11. What was the World Trade Center?
It was a complex located in Lower Manhattan where the iconic Twin Towers stood, a symbol of the American financial world since its inauguration in 1973.
The 9/11 terrorist attack devastated the World Trade Center and took the lives of thousands of people. The area where the tragedy occurred became a huge crater that was eventually rehabilitated to build a memorial to the victims.
Today it has become a symbol of resistance in New York and Ground Zero has been refurbished with several monuments that are well worth a visit. What can you see at the World Trade Center?
Practical information about Ground Zero in New York City
- Where is it?: Lower Manhattan, next to Wall Street.
- How to get there?: By public transportation, you can take the Broadway - Fulton St subway (lines 4 and 5) or Cortlandt Street - World Trade Center (lines N and R); or the M05 and M20 bus lines.
12. Other interesting experiences in Manhattan
Manhattan is the heart of New York, one of those places you could never get tired of exploring. If you enjoyed your visit to Ground Zero, you might be interested in taking the Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour with which you won't leave any relevant corner undiscovered.
With this tour you will see from a bus all the sights of downtown New York, its emblematic neighborhoods such as Greenwich Village, Wall Street, Chinatown or Little Italy, as well as the streets that make Manhattan world famous such as Fifth Avenue.
Why do I recommend the Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour?
There are several reasons why I recommend this experience:
Comfort: You will be able to see all of Manhattan from a bus, which is a perfect way to approach the city at the beginning of your trip. The entire tour is by bus with stops at St. John the Divine and Battery Park.
Includes pick-up at your hotel: The Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour has pick-up points at several hotels in the city including the Wellington Hotel, the Intercontinental Barclay, the Hotel Pennsylvania, and the Hotel Riu.
Local guide narration: You will be accompanied throughout the tour. Your guide's narration, whose context will change the way you enjoy New York, will be entirely in Spanish throughout the 3.5-hour tour.
If you are traveling with your family: It can also be a good option if you are going to New York with children and they get tired quickly walking long distances or if you are only going to be in the Big Apple for a few days and would like to familiarize yourself with the most essential areas of the city.
Save money and time: Although the price may seem a bit steep for a bus tour, in my opinion when you put everything in a balance you can consider this tour as a way to see all of Manhattan accompanied by a guide, in a comfortable vehicle. Then you can explore on your own the areas you liked the most, but already knowing the historical context of the neighborhoods you return to.
If you want to know more about this experience in New York, I recommend you read the article about the Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour where I explain in detail everything you will see, give you some useful tips and tell you more about other interesting experiences in the city that you won't want to miss.