Visiting New York’s Ground Zero, the 9/11 Museum and Freedom Tower

Visiting New York’s Ground Zero, the 9/11 Museum and Freedom Tower

The United States — and the world — changed forever on September 11, 2001. Terrorists ran planes into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. New York’s Ground Zero became the most infamous of these locations, with more than 2,000 lives lost.

Now, many years later, this harrowing reminder of inhumanity is solemnly remembered with the Ground Zero Memorial, the 9/11 Museum and the massive Freedom Tower.

I was able to visit the site with my mother and sister. It brought back memories of that day, while I watched from a television and shed tears as I watched the devastation.

While there are many places in New York City that one should see (including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island), I would argue that Ground Zero is one location that we must visit and take our children. While not with my kids during this trip, I know that we must get to the site before they grow up and move out of our home.

St Paul’s Chapel

Ground Zero Church
A look at St Paul’s Chapel with the Freedom Tower in the background – Photo credit Lana York

St Paul’s is the “Little Chapel That Stood.” During the 9/11 attacks many buildings in the area toppled after the collapse of the World Trade Centers, but nearby St Paul’s withstood the instability and became a central location for the relief workers over the next several months. The church, built in 1790, is famed for George Washington attending services.

St Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero
Disaster relief workers used St. Paul’s Chapel as a resource after 9/11 – Photo credit Lana York

You can enter the church, which still holds services, throughout the week. A 9/11 Memorial Wall located at the back of the chapel pays homage to the emergency crews and relief workers who worked tirelessly after the attacks.

Ground Zero church
The St. Paul’s Chapel cemetery stand right next to the Ground Zero Memorial site

I love visiting old churches and their graveyards. This graveyard felt more somber as I looked past the headstones to the Ground Zero Memorial and Freedom Tower across the street.

Ground Zero Church Cemetery
The church and cemetery are across the street from Ground Zero – Photo credit Lana York

The church serves as a beacon of hope, even in the darkest of times.

The Oculus

This strange looking building, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, serves as one of New York Port Authority’s transportation hubs. An estimated 250,000 daily commuters pass through the hub on one of 11 subway lines. The Oculus also has 78,000 square feet of retail and dining space.

Ground Zero Oculus
Exterior view of the Oculus and Freedom Tower

We called it the Whale, because of its shape. Inside, the pristine white architecture seems to deafen the noise of all the commuters, shoppers and diners.

Ground Zero Oculus
Looking up inside the Oculus, you catch a breathtaking view of Freedom Tower

The Oculus provides amazing picture-perfect shots of the Freedom Tower. And while it seems a little out of place at Ground Zero, I think it is a fitting tribute to the indomitable spirit of New York and humankind in general. The building seems to speak loudly, “You will not hold us down. We will persevere.”

Ground Zero Memorial

Ground Zero Reflecting Pool
One of the reflecting pools at Ground Zero Memorial.

The site where World Trade Center One and Two once stood has been turned into the Ground Zero Memorial Park. Cascading water plummets down the twin reflecting pools, each nearly an acre in size. The waterfalls are the largest man-made ones in North America.

Ground Zero Memorial
A view of the reflecting pool and Freedom Tower

Around the reflecting pools are the names of 2,977 people who lost their lives in New York City, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Ground Zero Memorial
A partial list of names of those 9/11 victims at the Pentagon.

I know the noise of the city echoed all around me during the visit. However, I do not remember the honking of horns and buzzing of construction equipment while here. My family and I soberly watched the waterfalls dropping the massive amounts of water.

Ground Zero Reflecting Pools
My mom and sister take time to reflect on 9/11 at the Ground Zero Memorial

We read the names of the victims and cried as we saw the gifts left next to the inscribed names. I thought about all that I have, and how those who lost loved ones that day must still feel the immeasurable void.

Ground Zero New York
Flowers and other gifts are left at the memorial by family members

I have a tip to those visiting the Ground Zero Memorial. Please, please, please be respectful of the site. I imagine Ground Zero is much like visiting a Jewish Concentration Camp or the fields of Normandy in Europe or the Killing Fields in Cambodia. It is a somber site which deserves some quiet and reflection. Yet, I saw a few people with their selfie sticks, smiling for the camera as they captured their picture at the site. There is a time and place for everything, and the memorial does not seem like the place for a selfie.

Freedom Tower

The reflecting pools stand in the shadow of Freedom Tower, which towers over the skyline of New York City. The structure stands an impressive 1,776 feet (honoring the year when the United States’s colonist declared their independence from England’s King George III).

Ground Zero Freedom Tower
Freedom Tower rises above New York, a bold reminder that we will always remember.

The tower is a crowning achievement to humankind’s ability to rise from difficulties and stand tall against those things that might bring us low. Seen from almost every location in lower Manhattan, it is a fitting companion to the memorial.

9/11 Museum

This was my first visit to Ground Zero. My sister lives in the city, and my Mom visited before. Both have gone to the observation deck at the top of Freedom Tower. So, my mom asked me what I wanted to do while at Ground Zero. I told her unhesitatingly that I wanted to go to the 9/11 Museum.

The museum tunnels under the Ground Zero memorial. You are led down seven stories into the bowels of the former twin towers, and get to see where the underground foundations of the towers once stood.

Ground Zero Trident Beams
Trident Beams from the Twin towers stand near the entrance of the 9/11 Museum

Descending the escalator past the Tridents (steel beams that once formed part of the outer structure of the North Tower) is a reminder that you are going to witness a dark time in United States history. I had no idea how moving the experience would be and how raw I would feel after leaving.

The massive size of the structures made the experience real for me. As I saw the Trident beams or looked at the remnants where metal support structures once stood, I realized that although I found the events frightening while watching from TV, they were even more earth-shattering in person.

Ground Zero concrete slab
Concrete slabs show metal beam impressions at the base of the North Tower.

I looked at the a segment of the North Tower’s radio and television antennae. I was dwarfed standing next to it.

Ground Zero Radio Antennae
Part of the radio and television antennae that once topped the North Tower

As I walked by the fire engine Ladder 3, I remembered the emergency workers who gave their lives that day in order to save others.

The most moving part of the museum, however, is not seen in pictures. In fact, photography is prohibited in this area. Here, you hear the voices and see the remnants of those who perished. You are inundated with the recorded voices of people recalling where they were that fateful day. You see replays of the morning television shows as they break the news.

Ground Zero Fire Truck
Damage sustained by Ladder 3 Fire Truck

There also are the things you see. A charred rolodex that sat on someone’s desk. A clock, stopped in time, shows the minute when the plane hit a tower. So does a watch worn by a victim. You see pieces of each plane.

And you hear the voices. Recordings of news shows, 9-1-1 dispatch calls, firefighter conversations reverberate throughout the halls. You read and hear the final messages left on voicemail machines. Survivors recall their escapes and loved ones record their final moments with their lost loved ones.

It is an overwhelming experience. In truth, we were unable to get through the exhibit because those voices and images proved too much for us. They brought back some of the feelings we felt on that day. They also created new feelings that we could not experience until time had passed and we had grown in maturity.

I write all of this as a warning. The museum is probably too emotionally charged for young children.  It is better suited to teenagers. I want my kids to go someday, but I think they are too young at present.

Lest We Forget

Ground Zero is one of the most important places I have ever traveled. As I said, I do want my kids to go to the site one day. One of the amazing things about traveling is that we can experience firsthand some of the worst and best of humanity.

It is important for our kids to know both the greatness found within humanity and the atrocities that we perpetrate on each other. At Ground Zero, one is able to see humankind at its worst and at its best.

There are very few things in life more important than this.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Our family friendly Two Day Manhattan Itinerary.

Take a tour of Alexander Hamilton’s New York Estate in Harlem.

Ground Zero and 9/11 Museum New York

All photos and content by Family Well Traveled. Use of photos or content without permission will result in legal action.

25 thoughts on “Visiting New York’s Ground Zero, the 9/11 Museum and Freedom Tower”

  • Great post. I’ve visited ground zero a few years back. It really brings home what happened back on that fateful September day in 2001. I agree with you that we should bring our children to see this place. One day, when we visit New York as a family, we’ll be sure to stop there.

  • I visited Ground Zero only a few months after 9/11. There was no museum nor Freedom Tower then. It was a very sobering experience. What I remember the most is not even the site as such (which was horrific) but the goodness of people. It is absolutely amazing how a tragedy can bring people together. Thank you for sharing… and safe travels. Eva

    • Many years later, I think the thing that stands out is how people stuck together and helped each other. What a great, enduring legacy from a tragic day.

  • Great post. When I visited, the Oculus was still being built and Freedom Tower I believe hadn’t opened its doors to its first occupants. I did go to the Ground Zero Memorial, and you are bang on in your remark about the selfie stick smiling shots.

  • I have yet to visit ground zero and plan on visiting someday. I had no idea that the waterfalls is the largest manmade one in North America. Such a sad time in our history…

  • I still remember precisely where I was 9-11. I was getting back from a trail run in Tucson Arizona. It was beautiful and I had that warm glow of endorphins pumping through my body. Then we turned on the radio. My running partner was from the East Coast and immediately started calling people to see if they were ok. The pictures on the TV never seemed real but the look on his face really brought it all home for me. To think there is a new generation out there that don’t have a cognitive memory of this event. Good things Ground Zero exists.

    • I remember where I was too. And I remember everything that happened the night before, not so much because those events were memorable, but because they became linked with the events of the next morning.

  • This is such a powerful place. Even just reading about it and seeing some of your images cause all the emotions to rise up. I didn’t remember St. Paul’s Chapel and appreciate that you included it here, I will make a point to go see it the next time I’m in New York. The memorial is beautiful, but there is something very poignant, very comforting about the Chapel continuing to stand and sheltering the relief workers.

  • Live in NYC and still haven’t made it down to the 9/11 Memorial for a proper visit. Will never forget seeing the clouds of smoke on the way home to Queens from The Bronx on that fateful day. Seeing the names was very moving. It was amazing to see the progress of the Freedom Tower being built over the years

  • I’ve visited the chapel on my last trip to New York but the new site was still under construction then. We should remember that atrocious things like that – loss of an incredible number of lives – is happening every day somewhere on this planet; a terrible thought, but necessary not to forget all the victims on every continent around the globe.

  • Remembering what happened to the 9/11 makes me feel sad as I saw the building collapsed and many people died, I will never ever forget that moment when I was just a kid. I hope I could visit Ground Zero too someday and pray for a bit there.

  • I remember seeing a travel show where they covered the Oculus and the architectural brilliance of the concept just stunned me . What a wonderful symbolisation. The church is a charm.

  • We need to get back and visit. The last time we were at ground zero there was only a platform for viewing the crater. Thanks for the post we really enjoyed it.

  • I´ve been in New York some years ago, and it´s really an amazing place with a lot of things to know. I saw this place but i confess that i don´t like the way american treat this place. That why i didn´t went to this museum. But it´s good to know a little more about it.

  • I really had no idea all 9f the museums and memorials there were to visit near and at ground zero. I also find it hard to believe selfie sticks and smiles at this somber memorial. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.