A visit to New York City’s One World Trade Center, better known as the Freedom Tower, now tops many travel bucket lists. This is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan and, for many visitors, their interest goes beyond simple curiosity. They feel a call to pay their respects to the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and also to show their appreciation to the city of New York. What they find is a remarkable building, unique inside and out, that allows them to see the Big Apple in an entirely new way.
If you’re planning a visit to New York, this is what you need to know to get the most from your visit to the Freedom Tower.
1. It’s Known By More Than One Name
What locals and tourists alike call the Freedom Tower is officially One World Trade Center. But the building has a long list of nicknames, including the 9/11 Observatory, the WTC Observatory, and the 9/11 Tower. Don’t worry -- if you use any of these terms, people will be able to give you directions. But since 2009, its proper, legal name has been One World Trade Center. Poignantly, that is the same official name that the North Tower of the original World Trade Center complex carried.
Of course, One World Trade Center is the name of the building, but not all of the building is open to the public. The area open to visitors is the One World Observatory.
2. It’s A Record-Setter
One World Trade Center has the distinction of being the tallest building in the United States, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest building in the world. It’s the equivalent of 104 standard floors high, but thanks to some levels that boast soaring ceilings, it only has 94 stories.
There is, however, one record it didn’t beat. It’s only the second-tallest freestanding structure in the Western Hemisphere -- the CN Tower in Toronto is taller by about 40 feet. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, since you won’t be pining for any extra height when you visit!
3. There’s A Historical Reference Most People Miss
Speaking of building heights, there’s a special historical reference built into One World Trade Center’s height that even most New Yorkers don’t know about. The building’s total height, including the spire, is 1,776 feet. This was designed deliberately to reference the year the Declaration of Independence of the U.S. was signed.
4. There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye
Perhaps the most interesting thing about One World Trade Center can no longer be seen. Its beams are covered in graffiti, some sanctioned (members of the public were invited to sign the first beam inserted into the building’s base) and some not so much (like the signatures of all the tradespeople who worked to construct the structure). President Barack Obama even signed the steel beam that was hoisted to the top of the tower.
5. It’s An Ecological Marvel
Those signature-filled beams aren’t the only interesting things beneath the building’s surface. The structure is on pace to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification, making it one of the most environmentally sustainable skyscrapers in the world. Part of its eco-friendly design includes ultra-clear glass for maximum natural light and smart interior lighting that automatically dims on sunny days. The building also utilizes wind power and steam heating.
6. It’s Built To Impress
To say that the One World Observatory is just that -- an observatory -- is to sell the experience short. Yes, it is indeed an incredible way to observe the skyline of New York City, but it is so much more.
From the videos and displays at the visitor entrance to the amazingly fast Skypod elevators that take you up 102 stories in just 47 seconds, everything about the visit is high-tech and built to impress. It’s a full audiovisual experience that sets the stage for the incredible final reveal -- an unencumbered view of New York City.
7. Different Tickets Equal Different Experiences
Yes, in theory, you can just walk up to the visitor entrance and purchase a ticket to the One World Observatory. However, whether or not you will be able to do so is based entirely on availability, and visitors are strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance. The specific ticket you purchase will determine what kind of experience you get.
Standard tickets cost $35 per person and are timed tickets. This means that you are given a 1-hour window of time in which to arrive. The benefit of this system is that it manages the flow of visitors and ensures that there is a comfortable amount of space for everyone.
Combination tickets cost $45 per person. In addition to receiving an assigned time slot, you will be given access to the priority, skip-the-line routes for the security screening, the elevators, and the exit. Combination tickets also include the use of the One World Explorer. This is an iPad that functions as a kind of digital viewfinder. You hold it up to the window, and it will identify all of the important landmarks and notable buildings within view. If you chose to skip the combination ticket but change your mind at the last minute, you can add on an iPad rental for $15 when you arrive.
All-inclusive tickets cost $55 per person. They include all of the above but offer flexible timing. You don’t have to select a certain time slot; rather, you choose a morning, afternoon, or evening ticket. This is an ideal solution if you are unsure of your exact arrival time or if you want to play things by ear. This ticket also includes a $15 credit to use at the gift shop, café, bar, or restaurant.
On all of the above packages, seniors save about $2 and youth between six and 12 save $6. Children age five and under can enter for free.
8. There Are Little-Known Deals And Tours
Mastercard cardholders will want to see whether they are eligible for two-for-one admission if they pay with their credit card on a Tuesday. This was a popular program that ran through the spring of 2019 and may possibly return. At present, Mastercard cardholders are eligible for a $65 VIP tour program that includes all the perks of the all-inclusive ticket plus the services of a tour guide.
9. Locals Aren’t Too Sure About The New Restaurants
To best understand why there are mixed feelings about the food options at One World Observatory, it’s necessary to take a look back in time. The original restaurant at the first One World Trade Center, Windows on the World, was a beloved New York City institution. While assurances were made that the institution would be revived with the new building, this hasn’t been the case. Sentimental New Yorkers and visitors alike are none too pleased. Adding insult to injury is the fact that you have to purchase tickets to the One World Observatory just to access the new restaurants and the bar. You can’t just pop in for one posh drink and call it a night.
The new facilities include One Café (a casual cafe), One Mix (a bar and small-plates grill), and One Dine (a fine-dining restaurant), and, in general, they get good reviews. If you’re timing your visit to One World Observatory to correspond with the sunset, it would be a really nice treat to stay and enjoy dinner as the light changes around the city. However, most New Yorkers would probably agree that the restaurants are no longer attractions in and of themselves.
10. The Plaza Is A Must-Visit
A lot of guests to the Observatory overlook the large triangular plaza on the west side of the One World Trade Center building, facing the river. This plaza features a terrace paved in granite, sweetgum trees, and a combination planter and bench that’s a block long. It’s a really pretty, relaxing place to gather your thoughts. You can access the plaza at no charge via a staircase on Vesey Street.
11. Its Neighbor Is Truly Special
One World Trade Center’s next-door neighbor is the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located where the original Twin Towers stood. The structure honors the victims of the 9/11 attack as well as the victims of the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. The memorial features two large waterfalls and reflecting pools set in the footprints of the original buildings. Inside the memorial is the 9/11 Museum, which houses 10,300 artifacts, nearly 2,000 oral histories, and 500 hours of video.
Visiting both the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the One World Trade Center’s One World Observatory on the same day makes sense, both theoretically and for scheduling purposes. It’s important to note, however, that they are separate organizations and that there are no combination tickets available. That said, many third-party tour operators offer bundled packages including other attractions and services that may be a good deal for you depending on your interests.
It’s helpful to think of the One World Observatory as a tribute to New York City. While its history will forever be intertwined with the events of September 11, 2001, that’s not the Observatory’s primary focus. Instead, it’s about the growth, development, beauty, and community of New York City. A visit is an inspiring, exciting, eye-opening way to see the city in a new light.