New York has long been among the most desirable cities to visit in the world. Travelers flock to the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Broadway, and the Empire State Building. But in recent years, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum has joined the ranks of New York City’s most popular sights.
The 9/11 Memorial was dedicated and opened to the public in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The memorial’s focal points are two pools, each nearly an acre in size, that sit in the footprints of the former North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. The pools contain the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, each descending 30 feet into a square basin. There is no charge for visiting the memorial, and it is open every day.
The adjacent museum, mostly located underground, opened in 2014 and houses more than 70,000 artifacts in 110,000 square feet of space. There is a fee to visit the museum, and it’s recommended that tickets be purchased online in advance. Visit the website for opening days and times.
The memorial and museum honor those who lost their lives in both the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Combined, these tragic events were responsible for the deaths of 2,983 people.
Vacations are often intended as an escape from the realities of daily life, a time to indulge in fun and frivolity. So whether or not to visit a memorial and museum documenting a terrible tragedy can be a difficult choice. It helps to be informed about what to expect and how best to approach this experience.
Here are nine things to know before visiting the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
1. Consider How You’ll Get There
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is located in lower Manhattan. Parking in this area is very limited, so it’s best to use public transportation or ride sharing, depending on your time, budget, and starting location.
With its location next to the World Trade Center Oculus Transportation Hub, getting to the memorial and museum can be accomplished by subway, bus, or the PATH train. However, the public transportation system in New York City can be frustrating. Schedules are subject to change due to repairs, and tickets are not available at every station. Ask your hotel concierge or Airbnb host for help getting to this part of the city. It will also help to download the MYmta app prior to your trip.
If you’re traveling at an off-peak time, using a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft is also a good option. But don’t do this during morning or evening commuting hours, since you’ll be stuck in traffic.
2. Arrive Early Or Late
Each year, the 9/11 Memorial attracts more than six million visitors, while the museum hosts more than three million. Needless to say, these places can be very crowded, especially during the peak summer season. To enjoy them with smaller crowds, arrive early in the day or later in the day.
The memorial is located outside in a park setting and is an especially peaceful place early in the morning. If you don’t plan to visit the museum, try getting to the memorial early and enjoy this unusually quiet part of the city.
3. Be Prepared For An Emotional Experience
Everything about the memorial and museum is serious and subdued. From the cold, gray metal framing the pools and memorializing the names of the victims to the dark and austere concrete walls of the museum, this is an emotional experience. Exhibits in the museum include vehicles destroyed by the falling buildings, video footage of the attacks, and photos of the dead.
Many people plan a visit to the memorial and museum as an act of respect. But seeing the awful fallout of a terrorist attack can be hard for some. Those concerned about their emotional reaction should consider a visit to the memorial. While still sober, the memorial pools and surrounding park space are peaceful, akin to a loved one’s grave.
Another option for those concerned about their emotional reaction is to experience the museum virtually. A 60-minute tour through the museum’s key spaces will provide a deeper understanding of 9/11, the lead-up to the attacks, and their continuing global significance.
4. Download The Audio Guide
The vast size of the memorial and museum can make the experience overwhelming. Fortunately, there are audio guides available to help visitors navigate. You can either rent audio equipment or download the guides on your phone. Three tours are available: Witnessing History, Discovering History (for children 8 to 11 years old), and Building History.
A separate audio guide is available for the memorial and can be purchased through the Apple or Google app stores. This 40-minute tour uses GPS technology to guide visitors around both the North and South pools, to the Survivor Tree, and through the Memorial Glade.
5. Start Inside At The Museum
If you’re planning to visit both the museum and the memorial, consider getting to the museum early to avoid crowds and saving the memorial for later. This is also a nice way to give context to the memorial. While most people are generally familiar with the events of 9/11, many have forgotten the details. As they explore the museum’s exhibits, visitors are taken through the timeline of events and shown the subsequent destruction.
While rotating exhibits are always offered, the core exhibits are an important part of a visit. The historical exhibition presents the story of 9/11 using artifacts, images, first-person testimonies, and archival audio and video recordings. The memorial exhibition honors the individuals killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. Finally, Foundation Hall is the location of the slurry wall, a surviving retaining wall of the original World Trade Center that withstood the devastation of 9/11, as well as the Last Column, which stands 36 feet high and was the final steel beam removed from Ground Zero to mark the end of the nine-month recovery effort.
6. You Don’t Need To See Everything
Viewing the photos of thousands of victims along with the remains of vehicles, buildings, and personal effects can be difficult. While some people will spend 2 to 3 hours to take in everything the museum offers, others may prefer to move through quickly. Come prepared for each member of your party to experience this museum in their own way.
7. End Your Visit Outdoors At The Memorial
After time indoors, it’s nice to retreat to the park setting of the memorial. Most people are immediately drawn to the North and South pools that mark the former location of the World Trade Center buildings. Inscribed around the edges of the pools are the names of all the victims.
Next, head to the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree that was discovered at Ground Zero during the clean-up. It was removed and rehabilitated, and later returned in 2010. It stands as a symbol of resilience.
Finally, walk through Memorial Glade, a tribute to all those who are suffering or died from 9/11-related illnesses. The path through the glade is flanked by six stone monoliths that were constructed in Vermont.
8. Think Twice About Bringing Little Ones
Young children are not likely to understand the 9/11 Museum and could be very upset by its exhibits. The dim, underground setting may also be alarming for young children. However, older kids may be open to visiting. The audio tour offered for kids 8 to 11 years old is a nice way to make this experience age appropriate.
The 9/11 Museum offers advice on how to talk to kids about terrorism. Grandparents may want to review this prior to a visit with children.
9. Don’t Miss The Oculus
Across the street from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is the World Trade Center Oculus Transportation Hub and Westfield Mall. This shopping center and hub is one of the most unique buildings in New York City. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the spiny white oculus was intended to resemble a dove taking flight from a child’s hand. Its peace-filled symbolism is a lovely contrast to the destruction that took place in 2001.
Inside the mall are large chain stores, small boutiques, and a variety of restaurants. After appreciating the Oculus inside and out, grab a bite to eat. If you’re visiting during New York’s hot and humid summer, the air-conditioned mall provides a cool break. For an expansive view of the memorial and its grounds, head to La Pizza & La Pasta, located inside Eataly, a large Italian marketplace.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum can be a part of any visit to New York City. Depending on the age and life experiences of the members of your party, the visit can last half a day and include everything offered, or simply be a short walk around the memorial. September 11, 2001, was a tragic day in American history, and the families of the victims hope we will never forget their sacrifice.