Ground Zero is, without doubt, one of the most significant sites in New York City. It’s home to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, plus a collection of brand new buildings that make up the World Trade Center.
Taking a guided tour is a great way to experience it. You’ll hear firsthand accounts from local guides and get an in-depth overview of the area’s history — I know because I tried it! In this post, I’ll share my experience of what it’s like to take a Ground Zero tour.
Why take a Ground Zero tour?
The 9/11 Memorial on its own is beautiful and moving, but the addition of a guide to share it with you adds so much more to the experience. You can only really appreciate the memorial when you have the full scope of both the events of September 11th and the resulting work and reconstruction that followed.
While you think you might know everything about 9/11, I guarantee you’ll learn something more on a tour, even if it’s just the perspective of what it was like to be in New York on that day. And the guide will ensure that you fully understand everything you’re seeing.
Who should go on a Ground Zero tour?
So who should go on a Ground Zero tour? Really anyone who is interested in learning more about Ground Zero and September 11. If you think your children will be respectful and attentive, there’s no reason they need to be excluded. The material is covered sensitively.
The same goes for international visitors. While the memory of September 11, 2001, is particularly potent for Americans, it truly was a worldwide event. Any guest from any country could enjoy a tour.
As upsetting as it is to think about, 9/11 is very much part of the fabric of New York. It’s a critical moment in history. Though keep in mind that the content of the tour might be heavy and emotional. If that makes you uncomfortable, it’s OK to pass.
Your 9/11 Ground Zero Tour
The tour lasts a total of 90 minutes and meets outside Saint Paul’s Chapel at both 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
The first stop, Saint Paul’s Chapel, is just one block away from the site of the attacks. By some miracle, it survived the falling building debris and later served as a makeshift rescue center. You’ll discover the important role the church played in the aftermath of 9/11 and how it still serves as a tribute today.
You’ll then make your way down towards the 9/11 Memorial, where you can pay your respects and survey the almost 3,000 victims’ names engraved on parapets. The guide will share with you the symbolism behind the man-made waterfalls and discuss how the new Freedom Tower and World Trade Center were built.
Some of the other stops in and around the memorial include the FDNY Memorial Wall, dedicated to the 343 firefighters who were killed in the attacks. You’ll also get a chance to walk through the Oculus transit hub and mall. Sites like the Survivor Tree and the Millennium Hotel are also included.
Here’s a loose itinerary of the tour:
- Saint Paul’s Chapel
- 9/11 Memorial
- World Trade Center
At some point during the tour, your guide will share with you their personal connection to 9/11 — where they were that morning and how the day unfolded.
Keep in mind, each tour is unique, so the stories and stops might vary slightly from one another.
What I learned on my Ground Zero tour
What I remember most from my tour is the way in which the guide described her life in the days immediately after the attacks. The way that the city slowed down, almost to a halt. The never-ending news stories and black smoke that continued to billow from Lower Manhattan. But also the lines and lines of volunteers — ready to give blood, to help search for survivors. She described the ways in which the city came together in a way she had never seen before.
I’ll also never forget the images. I saw before and after pictures that showed just how different the area looked, even only a few years earlier. It was incredible to see how dramatically everything changed.
Why Ground Zero is better with a guide
Sure, there’s probably multiple self-guided options for exploring Ground Zero. But booking with a local New York guide takes all the stress out of it. No need to worry about getting lost or missing part of the experience.
Plus, then you’re free to ask questions and have a guaranteed picture-taker with you at all times!
Tips for visiting Ground Zero
How to get there
You can take the 1, 2, 4, 5, A, C, J or Z subway train to Fulton Street or the R train to Cortland Street. If you’re taking a cab, the address is 209 Broadway — or you could just say Saint Paul’s Chapel.
The memorial is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum has the same hours, but is only open Thursday-Monday. However, the hours on September 11 are quite different. The museum is closed all day and the memorial isn’t open to the public until 3:00 p.m.
How to dress
The memorial is often windier and chillier than other places downtown. It’s a good idea to bring an extra jacket, especially if it’s a colder day.
If you happen to be in the area and have some time to kill before the tour, there’s a few things you can do.
- Visit the One World Observatory in Freedom Tower.
- Walk a few blocks south and check out Trinity Church.
- Or walk up north and see City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Where to eat
The Financial District has plenty of options for you to choose from either before or after your tour. You could visit the famed Italian market, Eataly, or head to the food court at Brookfield Place.
If you’re willing to travel a bit, Stone Street is just a 15-minute walk away and features multiple different restaurants on a quaint pedestrian-only block with Dutch Revival architecture.
The best way to visit Ground Zero
I hope this post has inspired you to join us for a guided tour. Each tour both commemorates the tragic events of 9/11 and celebrates NYC’s solidarity and growth as you discover how the World Trade Center was brought back to life.
A tour will undoubtedly improve your visit — it did mine! — and hopefully leave you feeling more fulfilled with your experience of Ground Zero.