One World Observatory is all my twelve year old son knows about the original World Trade Center which was built and destroyed in my lifetime. It was an interesting journey to the top of the new One World Trade Center with him admiring the glass and modern architecture. The area, a 16 acre park, is filled with reminders and memorials of that tragic day, 9/11, yet my son only sees the new construction and smooth marble carved with stranger’s names. I remember visiting the Twin Towers to see my mother at work when I was a child (1970 something). She worked at Sumitomo Bank and she really stuck out as the only American blonde in a sea of Japanese employees. I was always welcome and given gifts by the women. I had the best Hello Kitty collection before it was even popular here! (I often wonder if this was the beginning of my affinity with Asian culture. Later in life I tried to study Japanese and Buddhism, but found an easier connection with Mandarin and martial arts.) Needless to say, when I watched the second tower get hit on live television on September 11th, I felt a piece of my soul get torn out. I’m a New Yorker, those were my towers, in my city, and… all of those lives. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel returning to the site of the World Trade Center for the first time since its rebirth.
One World Observatory
One World Observatory is located on the top of One World Trade Center on levels 100, 101, and 102. The structure is built on the actual former site of 6 World Trade Center and it was designed with the same height and base of the original, 1 WTC, the North Tower. It is the tallest structure in NYC and the western hemisphere and the 6th tallest in the world. The total height with the spire is 1776′, an intentional reference to the Declaration of Independence.
The Global Welcome Center is the security check point before you visit the tower. They are thorough. Make sure you check the website for allowable items and save some time by not wearing a lot of metal accessories. You will go through a metal detector and have your personal items run through an x-ray machine. Once through, be sure to check out the wall in front of you. It’s a map of the world listing the visitors from each country to One World Trade Center on a daily basis. Pretty cool.
The Observatory’s unique SkyPod elevators jet you up 102 stories in 47 seconds. It was a smooth ride and my ears didn’t pop once. (The website ads make it look like the SkyPod is glass with views of the city as you fly up, but you should know, it’s just a screen that plays the transformation of New York City from original settlers to present day.) The pictures were interesting but difficult to enjoy or fully view since they do tend to fill the elevators to capacity. This experience is lost in a crowd.
Once you’re at the top, a small tour of some history brings you around to the most unique views of the city. The open floor plan and large glass windows allow for beautiful panoramic views that include iconic sites and the surrounding waters. We were told that on a clear day the visibility reaches mountains 70 miles away. That’s how high up you are! (You can see the shape of Manhattan from this picture I took on the north side of the building. This is the only building in NYC that I have experienced this kind of view.) If you don’t already have a camera with great zoom, I suggest you invest in a telephoto lens for your smart phone.
If you have an interest in New York City’s history, architecture, and even conservation, there are plenty of resources here to keep you engaged. We had the pleasure of listening to an interactive presentation that covered all of these bases. Did you know that Greenwich Street was the original Hudson River coastline? The coastline was extended using land reclamation (aka landfill) a few times over the past 400 years. So, the World Trade Center is built on reclaimed land. Due to current laws, land reclamation is no longer legal so the size of Manhattan will not get any larger. (Of course, this fact really drives up the cost of real estate!) Some other interesting facts we learned along the way…1 WTC was built with a concrete column through its center to prevent a building collapse and the building is made with recycled steel and recycled ash in the concrete. One World Trade Center is considered a “green building.”
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located right next door (south) to One World Trade Center where the original Twin Towers stood. Set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers are two acre-sized reflecting pools with waterfalls. (These are the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.) 400 Swamp White Oak Trees surround the pools as a sign of hope and renewal. There’s a small clearing known as the Memorial Glade which is designed for gatherings and ceremonies.
You are likely to see friends and relatives who lost their loved ones at the World Trade Center. The bronze parapets surrounding the memorial pools lists the name of every person who lost their life in the 2001 and 1993 attacks here. People bring paper to rub their loved one’s name from the engraving, white roses are placed at each person’s name on their birthday, and small American flags are inserted into some names (presumably put there by a loved one).
The 9/11 Memorial is free of charge and open to the public daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Next to the 9/11 Memorial is Liberty Park where you’ll find the Sphere. This 25-tonne bronze piece which sat at the foot of the towers was the sole surviving sculpture. It was designed to represent “world peace through world trade.” It sat for a number of years in Battery Park while construction was completed of the buildings and memorials. There it sat, crushed, with an eternal flame lit beneath it honoring the dead. There was some argument about returning it to the memorial site, but it seems fitting to have it continue to represent world peace in a global community here.
St. Paul’s Chapel
An interesting addition to your journey is St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church (on Broadway at Wall Street). This current Episcopal parish continually serves the community and played a big role in the efforts at Ground Zero. St. Paul’s became the site of “round-the-clock relief ministry to rescue and recovery workers for nine months. Though the World Trade Center buildings collapsed just across the street, there was no damage to St. Paul’s, earning it the nickname ‘the little chapel that stood.’” One of the displays is a collection of patches symbolizing all of the agencies that came to help in the rescue. They were not only from all over the country, but all over the world.
- One World Observatory offers a hand held device for an augmented-reality tour which highlights important landmarks, but is an additional fee.
- Tickets to One World Observatory range $28-67
- Kids under 5 are free
- Standard Child’s ticket is $28, adult $34
- Range up to VIP goes to $64
- Guests must be at least 17 yrs or accompanied by an adult
- One World Observatory is great for all ages
- No food or beverages
- Photos okay, but no video cameras, tripods, etc. without prior written permission (4 weeks)
- A visit can be done in 45-60 minutes, but allow more time if you really enjoy taking photos or soaking in history.
- There is a restaurant on the 101st floor and yes, you do need your tickets to access
- There is no stair access except for emergency, so everyone must ride the elevator
- 9/11 Memorial and Liberty Park are suitable for all ages
- 9/11 museum Free Admission Tuesday tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at the Museum starting at 4 p.m. Distribution time subject to change.
- 9/11 family members free seniors and children 6 and under free
- all others $12-24 (more with a tour)
- The historical exhibition in the 9/11 museum “may not be appropriate for visitors younger than 10. Adults accompanying younger visitors should exercise discretion before entering.” FAQ
- 9/11 Memorial is not affiliated with One World Observatory
Family Adventure Rating ♥♥♥♥
Cost– This adventure can add up quickly if you’re planning on visiting the Observatory and the Memorial Museum. A family of five will minimally cost $150 just in entry fees to both locations. You can keep the costs down by breaking up your adventure into two visits and enjoying the parks or taking advantage of the museums free entry on Tuesdays. Transportation costs (gas, tolls, parking) need to be added. Check out my Budget page for savings ideas.
Parking & Transportation– Getting here is pretty easy. The transportation hub is right on the site which directly connects you to 11 different subway lines. There are plenty of parking garages within quick walking distance which are fairly priced. I booked one on “Spothero” two blocks away for a Saturday visit and paid $20.
Location– The world is at your fingertips in Manhattan, so this is a great location. If you want to drive in, it’s conveniently located near FDR Drive and the West Side Highway to avoid driving through Manhattan streets. Within walking distance, you can visit other great features in the city.
Day Trip or Overnight– This makes a nice day trip, but you can combine it into an overnight experience with other adventures in the city. Some may find it emotionally exhausting so take that into consideration when planning.
Experience– My experience returning to the World Trade Center site upon the bulk of its completion was favorable. Enough time has passed that the remnants of the devastation to the city has been cleaned/removed. Anyone who did not experience the devastation to the area firsthand may not feel a deep connection, but would certainly understand the meaning. The memorials were designed delicately for all visitors. They are powerful and peaceful at the same time. The museum displays may not be for all ages, but the memorial parks and new World Trade Center certainly are.
Combination- Lower Manhattan is a terrific place for adventure! The Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, Charging Bull of Wall Street, 9/11 Tribute Museum, Irish Hunger Memorial, many parks, and so much more can be found near the World Trade Center. Many of these adventures will only cost you time and energy so they’re a great addition to your World Trade Center visit. A great map will help you explore!