The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. The Empire City. New York City goes by many nicknames, but everyone knows about this penultimate tourist destination. It’s actually the number one pick of places to visit for non-US travelers and Americans alike, and there’s no question why. There are a million things to see and do in New York within a very compact space. Unfortunately, New York also comes with a bad reputation for wheelchair accessibility, due to a poorly maintained subway system and sidewalks in some areas. Fortunately, Lower Manhattan is a wheelchair user’s dream, with dozens of accessible things to see and do, and absolutely no need for public transportation or taxis to see them if you stay in the area. Here are my suggestions for the best wheelchair accessible things to do in Lower Manhattan.
1. One World Observatory. One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, is (currently) the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at the (historical) 1776-foot mark. Its design and construction developed under unique circumstances in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and the building is situated right next to the former site of the World Trade Center. At the 102nd floor sits the One World Observatory, providing an unparalleled 360° view of Manhattan and beyond. Begin your exploration of One World Observatory at the video wall in the Welcome Center, which welcomes you in ten languages and celebrates the homelands of all visitors. Hear the true stories of the people who built it in an inspiring walk-through video montage. You’ll be whisked to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere in less than 60 seconds in the Sky Pod elevator while watching a time-lapse evolution of NYC over the past 500 years. At the 100th floor, step into the observatory for panoramic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey, and the surrounding waters. Stand on the glass Sky Portal and look down to the city streets for a totally unique perspective! Admission prices range from $35-$70 based on the experience you want. I would recommend buying an upgraded ticket for expedited entry, and definitely the VIP Pass if you have a MasterCard. The entire experience is fully wheelchair accessible.
2. 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The 9/11 Memorial is located at the site of the former World Trade Center complex and features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools within the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The Memorial plaza is one of the most eco-friendly plazas ever constructed with more than 400 trees surrounding the pools, symbolizing a spirit of hope and renewal. Names of victims are inscribed on bronze parapets surrounding the pools. The Museum is unique for its location within the remnants of the original World Trade Center site. The We Remember exhibition, recorded in 28 languages, demonstrates the global reach of witnesses to the attack. At the museum you’ll see many thousands of artifacts in the historical, memorial, and witness exhibitions. In the Pavilion, three films which run daily feature world leaders reflecting on 9/11’s impact on global events and inspiring personal stories by some of those most directly affected by the attacks. Many visitors will need to mentally prepare themselves for this experience, as it can be emotionally disturbing and devastating. However, the museum is beautifully curated, and is the perfect tribute to the almost 3,000 people who perished during the 9/11 attacks. To avoid long lines, I would highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time, either online or at one of the many ticket kiosks outside the main entrance. Tickets start at $26, and I would highly recommend splurging on the Early Entrance ticket, which includes a VIP tour at 8:15AM, a full 45 minutes before the museum opens to the public. The museum and memorial are completely wheelchair accessible, and you can more easily look into the pools at the corners, which allow wheelchair users to roll under the metal panels.
3. The Oculus. The Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center Mall replaces the PATH train station that was destroyed during 9/11 in 2001. This 800,000 square foot building cost 4 billion dollars, making it the most expensive train stop in the world. With its sleek and modern design, it immediately became an attraction in Lower Manhattan. The transit hall alone is 325 ft long which is 90 ft more than Grand Central Terminal. The mastermind behind the design of the Oculus in New York is the Spaniard Santiago Calatrava, whose design was inspired by a child releasing a dove. There was a plan to have the roof become retractable like a birds wings, but it would have just cost too much. In fact, the construction of the Oculus exceeded the budget so much they had to stop at 4 billion. The Oculus was designed to let light stream down into the transportation center. With over 50 stores in the shopping hub, you will be sure to find what you are looking for. Here is the complete list of stores. What’s really great about this shopping space is that it is not nearly as crowded as Soho or Midtown. Most importantly, there are clean and spacious accessible bathrooms. Both entrances at the west and east end have elevators to the mezzanine level, where you can take a second elevator to the balcony and Oculus (lower) levels.
4. Liberty Park. Lower Manhattan’s new one acre, $50 million Liberty Park is now open to the public, offering Highline-inspired raised views of the World Trade Center grounds, including the 9/11 memorial fountains. Made up of densely-planted plots, long angled benches, and a 336-foot-long “vertical garden,” it’s an elevated oasis from the area’s crowds and construction. Liberty Park was developed and constructed by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the vast majority of its space sits 25 feet above Liberty Street, in between Greenwich Street and Trinity Place and takes less than five minutes to walk through, end to end. However, it’s a beautiful place to sit and relax, enjoy a hot dog lunch, and just reflect while gazing upon Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial next door. Near the northern end of Liberty Park’s top level is a bronze sculpture of an armed soldier on horseback. Entitled “America’s Response Monument,” it’s a 13-feet-high commemoration of the earliest days of the Afghanistan war that contains steel pulled from the Twin Towers’ wreckage. A Greek Orthodox shrine will eventually be opened inside the park, meant to replace St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. Recently relocated to Liberty Park is Fritz Koenig’s Sphere sculpture, which was moved from the World Trade Center site to Battery Park during the Bloomberg administration. The ramp to access Liberty Park is on the west side along West St.
5. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. No visit to Lower Manhattan (or New York City in general) would be complete without a ferry ride to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States and is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is located in the Main Building of the former immigration station complex and tells the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Depending on the time of year, tickets can sell out months in advance, especially those that allow the visitor access inside the Statue of Liberty Monument or Crown. You may purchase advance tickets online before they sell out. Tours are self-guided, and can last between three to five hours, depending on your pace when you visit both Ellis and Liberty Island. All vessels are wheelchair accessible. Statue Cruises personnel are available to assist visitors that require the use of a wheelchair. Upon arrival at either Battery Park or Liberty State Park visitors that require the use of a wheelchair should ask to speak to the Ticket Office Manager, who will then coordinate the personnel that will assist with entry inside the screening facility as well as boarding the Statue Cruises vessel. Once the visitor is on either Ellis or Liberty Island our personnel will assist with boarding the vessels. Elevators are available for the Ft. Wood Promenade area, and all buildings are accessible. Island ferry transportation is provided by Statue Cruises, the only ferry provider with access to the grounds, and tickets start at $25 for adults. Ferry boats depart daily from New York City’s Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan.
6. Battery Park. For more than 200 years, The Battery has been an invaluable part of New York City’s history. In 1855, Castle Garden, situated inside the Park, became the world’s first immigrant depot. Decades before Ellis Island was built or the Statue of Liberty gazed down at incoming boats, millions of newcomers arrived at The Battery from Europe and elsewhere. Although its role has changed, people from around the world still visit The Battery for a view of the city’s past. Ferries dock at its shore to pick up visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and all summer long concerts play on its grounds. Its beautiful waterfront and flower gardens make The Battery a lovely place to wander. For those who’d like a longer stroll, the park’s location at the southern tip of Manhattan makes it a classic starting point for walking tours through the city. The Park is filled with monuments, including the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, the Coast Guard Memorial, the East Coast Memorial, and the New York Korean War Veterans Memorial. It’s also home to the unique Sea Glass Carousel.
7. Wall Street Tour. For a fantastic (and brief) 90-minute accessible walking/rolling tour of the Wall Street area, link up with Wall Street Walks. You will learn how the New York Stock Exchange started as a group of businessmen working under a Buttonwood tree, and how they become the largest, most watched financial exchange in the world. You will learn about financial icons J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and how they made history, and see where Wall Street power brokers go to lunch. You will also learn the importance of the Dow Jones Index so you can understand what financial shows are talking about when they give their closing bell reports. The tour will take you past the New York Stock Exchange, through the Trinity Church cemetery, Bowling Green, the Federal Building, and Customs House, finishing up at the 9/11 Memorial. The tour costs $35 for adults and $10 for seniors, and is full accessible with the exception of getting close up to the bronze statue of The Bull.
8. National Museum of the American Indian. The National Museum of the American Indian cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media, covering the entire Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. The museum’s sweeping curvilinear architecture, its indigenous landscaping, and its exhibitions, all designed in collaboration with tribes and communities, combine to give visitors from around the world the sense and spirit of Native America. New York’s George Gustav Heye Center is located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. The museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions—as well as a range of public programs, including music and dance performances, films, and symposia—explore the diversity of the Native people of the Americas. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible, and the accessible entrance is located immediately to the right (east) of the main entrance at sidewalk level.
9. Trinity Church Cemetery. Trinity Church has two historic cemeteries in Lower Manhattan, located at Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, which are the resting places of important figures in American history such as Alexander Hamilton. Five of Hamilton’s children were baptized at Trinity between 1788 and 1800. Notably, several of them were non-infants, suggesting perhaps that this was a period of heightened religious involvement or interest for the Hamiltons. In this video tour, you can learn about Hamilton’s life at Trinity Church. You’ll see the places where Hamilton spent time as a new immigrant, documents showing his participation in church life, and the final resting places of Hamilton, his wife Eliza, his son Philip, his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, and his friend Hercules Mulligan. The church is currently being renovated, but you can access the cemetery from the entrance on Wall Street.
10. Tour of City Hall. One of the oldest continuously used City Halls in the nation that still houses its original governmental functions, New York’s City Hall is considered one of the finest architectural achievements of its period. Constructed from 1803 to 1812, the building was an early expression of the City’s cosmopolitanism. City Hall is a designated New York City landmark, and its rotunda is a designated interior landmark as well. The fully accessible tour of City Hall includes a discussion of the building’s history, art, architecture, and civic function. Spaces toured include the landmarked rotunda, City Council Chamber, and Governor’s Room, a reception room that houses part of the City Hall Portrait Collection and historic furnishings. Reservation tours of City Hall are typically offered for individuals on Wednesdays at 12:00 PM and Thursdays at 10:00 AM. However, as dates and times are subject to change, please refer to the list of available tours HERE. There is a “first-come, first-serve” tour every Wednesday at noon. Sign up begins at 10am at the tourism kiosk at the southern end of City Hall Park (Broadway and Barclay St.) Sign up continues until 11:30am, but spots fill up quickly so the earlier you can get there, the better. All tours are one hour long and are free.
11. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Stretching across the East River, the iconic Brooklyn Bridge opened up back in 1883 to carry traffic (nonautomotive at the time) between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. One of the most recognizable parts of the New York City skyline, the bridge has been featured in movies and on television shows, and is a real piece of New York City history. A stroll across the elevated pedestrian walkway provides a true New York City experience. The Manhattan-side entrance is at Park Row and Centre Street, across from City Hall Park, east of City Hall. It’s definitely possible to cross the bridge completely from one end to the other, but you an also go part way and turn around at any time, thanks to the accessible pedestrian walkway. If you are arriving by on foot/chair, you can use the map in this post. You can also use this Google map for directions to the pedestrian walkway from your starting destination. The picture and map will help you find the pedestrian promenade. The incline is very mild and won’t put a strain on your battery, although the bridge is long (1.3 miles), and you may want a push after a while if you’re in a manual chair. I would recommend crossing as early as possible during the day, as the walkway can get extremely crowded as the day progresses. It is also very safe to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, as there are many tourists and commuters using the bridge until about 11 pm (23:00) at night. Be very careful with cyclists, as there is a pedestrian lane and a bicycle lane. If you need some souvenirs, there will be dozens of vendors with tables at the ends of the bridge.
12. The Seaport District. The Seaport District is New York’s original commercial hub, located on the East River in Lower Manhattan with stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the NYC skyline. The Seaport can trace its roots to the 17th century, when the neighborhood served as a vital Dutch West India Company outpost connecting the new and old worlds. During these years, the trade at the Seaport helped catapult New York City’s economy into one of the most robust in the world. The historic cobblestones of the Seaport have since been transformed into 450,000 square feet of dynamic culinary, fashion, entertainment and cultural experiences that both locals and visitors can enjoy. The historic Seaport cobblestoneswhere shipping magnates once congregated in illicit drinking parlors and the first immigrant fleets were welcomed, is now New York’s most exciting and eclectic place to eat and drink. From cult vegan cuisine to authentic Italian specialties indulgent burgers to addictive ice cream, it’s easy to spend a full day and night eating your way around the waterfront—with more to come back for. There are only a few cobblestone sections in the pedestrian areas, and you can get around those by using the sidewalks. You can easily reach the Seaport District by following Fulton Street, or walking north along the water from Battery Park.
13. Museum of Jewish Heritage. At its core, the Museum of Jewish Heritage provides not only a remembrance of the past, but also the promise of a better future. By providing the story of the Holocaust through the experiences of those who lived and died, the museum serves as a memorial and tribute to their heritage, and a lesson to be learned from the tragedy. It is a reminder of history, but it also provides a message about the far-reaching consequences of discrimination and social injustice, both of which are still important today. The museum’s collection contains more than 25,000 items relating to modern Jewish history and the Holocaust. Many of these rotate into the Core Exhibition, while others are featured in temporary exhibitions. In addition, many can be viewed in the museum’s searchable online collection. The Core Exhibition tells the story of 20th and 21st century Jewish life from the perspective of those who lived it. Through a rotating collection that includes artifacts, photographs, and documentary films, the Core Exhibition places the Holocaust in the larger context of modern Jewish history. It is currently preparing for a huge exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust, which will open on May 8, 2019. Expect large crowds after the exhibition opens, but you can purchase timed tickets online ahead of time HERE.
14. Skyscraper Museum. Located in New York City, the world’s first and foremost vertical metropolis, The Skyscraper Museum celebrates the City’s rich architectural heritage and examines the historical forces and individuals that have shaped its successive skylines. Through exhibitions, programs and publications, the Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. SKYLINE is a ground-breaking exhibition devoted to the invention and evolution of Manhattan’s skyline, past, present, and future. The exhibition examines the emergence of the collective image of the skyline as the brand identity of New York, but also distinguishes five periods in which new buildings grow and take characteristic forms based on economic, technological, and regulatory factors. For a description of the gallery and for photos of the space, please visit their Photo Slideshows page. The Skyscraper Museum is located in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City at 39 Battery Place. Museum hours are 12-6 PM, Wednesday-Sunday. General admission is $5, $2.50 for students and seniors, children under 12 are free. Free for members of the military, police, fire departments, veterans and for visitors who are disabled and their caregivers. Click here for directions to the Museum. All galleries and facilities are wheelchair accessible.
Are you ready for an accessible adventure to Lower Manhattan in New York City? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel and we’ll start planning!