Visiting the United Nations Headquarters in NYC

If you’ve been following us for a while, you will know that we love to take in all the educational aspects at our destinations and NYC was no different. Miss 10 is thankfully very interested in all things global and has been asking many questions about global issues over the past year. So she was delighted to take in the United Nations Headquarters during our visit to New York. It was high on my list too- I’m a geographer at heart and did my final year thesis on the Millennium Development Goals and their implementation (how I ended up working in mental health I’m not quite sure!) 

United Nations Headquarters, New York

The UN headquarters was designed by the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer (designer of the incredible UFO type structure in Guanabara Bay  in Niteroi situated in our neighbourhood when we lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Google it – I will write all about our Brazilian days at some point). 

The UN was created in 1945 after World War II. Initially 51 countries signed up to commit to maintaining international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress; as well as improving standards of living and human rights. 



Currently, 193 countries are members and have the right to vote on issues of global concern. The are 5 permanent members: France, Russia, China, United Kingdom and United States, and 10 that are voted in every 2 years. According to data from the official website, the UN receives about 1 million visitors from around the world each year. 


It is situated centrally in New York, not too far from Grand Central Station. We booked our tickets in advance and guided tours only run Monday to Friday. The price is $ 20 (+ tax) per person and it is necessary to choose a time for the guided tour.  Tours are available in the UN’s six official languages:  Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. There is the possibility of the guided tour being available in a number of languages including German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese, check out the website here.

Gifted artwork in the United Nations Headquarters, New York

It is clearly stated on your email to arrive 1 hour in advance. You need to gain Security Clearance before going in. This requires presenting at the UN Security Check in office opposite the main building with photo ID. There was a big queue and some people that left it late wanted to jump the queue. This was not allowed. They check your ticket and give you a wristband and an access sticker to the main building – which is right in front of you. Passing through the concierge, there is airport style security then you can spend some time exploring the sculptures and views from the garden before heading into the main building to pick up your tour. 

Our guide was a lovely Spanish man who pitched the tour perfectly for the whole audience of 20 people. Miss 10 was the only child and he ensured that he understood and could see all he was taking about. He explained some details of the architecture, the conference rooms, and how the United Nations operates. It was fascinating. 

United Nations Headquarter, New York

Depending on the demand of the meetings of the day, it is possible to visit the General Assembly Hall, Security Council Chamber, Economic and Social Council Chamber, and the Board of Trusteeship Council (this last room was where Emma Watson and the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai have already given their speeches on female empowerment- two of Miss 10s current heroes). 

We got to briefly sit in some high level discussions about Cuba and the trade agreements in the General Assembly. Miss 10 was fascinated by the scale and size of the translation ensuring all members can understand in their own language. 


Artistic representation of the Human Rights articles

Throughout the halls and corridors there are many beautiful artistic representations of various aspects of the UN along with incredible gifts from many countries. We particularly loved the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, designed by the Brazilian artist Octavio Roth. 

There is a section about disarmament, where you can see remnants of nuclear explosions in Nagasaki and Hiroshima (coins, bottles, and statue). Miss 10 was shocked to learn some of the tragedies that have happened around the world. 


It is a really interesting few hours, well pitched for a child aged 10 and up. A little different than the usual sights of New York such as the Statue of Liberty, but well worth it in our opinion. You can take photos in most places but not record videos. I didn’t take enough as I was so enthralled in all the explanations and views. There’s a lovely bookshop at the end in which we needed to exhibit serious self control. Apparently I still love human geography! We enjoyed a coffee in the cafe and people watched all the different country representatives grabbing their caffeine fix on the way to UN business. 

Lady Liberty – visiting the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island with Kids

One of the most iconic New York City, if not American sights is the Statue of Liberty – symbolising freedom for all people. A trip to NYC is not complete without a visit to her. It was high on Miss 10’s  agenda of things she would like to see and do during our trip. Lady Liberty was originally made in France and gifted to the USA by France to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. 



There are a number of ways you can visit, from the water, from the air by helicopter,  or for us we climbed right to the top to stand in her crown. 

A visit to Lady Liberty is high on most tourists agenda, so it can get quite busy with long queues. Book your tickets in advance. There are a number of options available :

A visit to Liberty Island and climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty 

Our chosen adventure was not only to get close and personal to Lady Liberty herself, but to get in her crown for those views. Buy your tickets to visit Liberty Island from Statue Cruises (it is also included in the New York City Explorer Pass). It is the easiest way to experience and learn about the Statue of Liberty.

You can purchase tickets on the day, but pre booking is advisable (even just to miss the huge queues). If you want to go to the Crown, they open around 5 months in advance and tend to sell out 2-3 months in advice. All tickets include a visit to Ellis Island, so you can make a full day of it.


We arrived at the dock in Battery Park, and made our way to collect our pre booked tickets for the Crown. It is also possible to go to the ferry terminal at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. We queued up, and went through airport style security, before catching a ferry over to Liberty Island. There’s a cafe and some nice places to explore and walk around on the outside, getting good views. There’s a number of tickets options, to the reserve only which includes the ferry over and back, an audio tour, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Statue of Liberty grounds, you can add on the pedestal, or crown options.

The National Park Service allows only 240 people per day to climb to the crown; 1,000 daily tickets are available for the pedestal so tickets are limited.


The pedestal – once in side the Statue of Liberty you can explore the museum and visit the Statute’s original torch. The museum itself isn’t particularly large, but it offers a great deal of insight into the history of the Statue and the excitement around it. It gives you a good understanding  of the importance of this national monument.  There’s an audio tour, with a version especially for kids that was enjoyed by Miss 10.



The crown – the climb to the crown is strenuous – 393 steps, equivalent to 27 stories of a building– and recommended only for people in good physical health. The area inside the statue stairwell is cramped, with steep steps only 19 inches wide. The head clearance is only 6 feet, 2 inches, and it tends to get very hot in the statue; on summer days, it can be as much as 20 degrees hotter than it is outside. Even on a cold October day, we felt the heat as we climbed up to the stuff. The advice form the National Park Services recommends that if  you suffer from heart or respiratory issues, vertigo, claustrophobia, fear of heights or have any mobility issues, avoid climbing to the crown. Only children who are at least 4 feet tall (around 5 years old)  and accompanied by a responsible adult can climb the statue. Miss 10 was well able to make the climb, I realised how much less fitter than her I was, as I was exhausted at the top. You have to leave your bags in the lockers at the bottom. We brought some water, which was well needed as we went. Coming down is as, if not more challenging as going up.


From the top, standing in Lady Liberty’s crown, you can see the view across to Manhattan and out to sea. It’s incredible to think about the journey all the immigrants made as they arrived in their New World of opportunity.


You can also take a free, ranger-lead tour of Liberty Island daily departing from the flagpole and lasting around 45 minutes. All ages are welcome on the tour, it covers how and why the statue was made, the history of Liberty Island, and many fascinating aspects of the Statue’s importance.


Ellis Island Immigration Museum 

3FE7FDD3-FC8D-4257-A272-23CFB0BA68AFEllis Island was the first stop for the 12 million immigrants who arrived to NYC and were processed there. It is a short ferry from Liberty Island. The museum is beautiful and well worth the visit, especially for older kids to learn about the story of immigration in America.  Most of the galleries required a lot of reading, but there were several interactive kiosks that Miss 10 could listen to the immigrant stories. We traced many from Ireland, including the North, and heard about their incredible journeys across to their new lives. There are also digital archives that we were able to search for our relatives, we found a few that were known to migrate to America during and after the Irish Famine. Miss 10 was fascinated by this all.

There is also a free audio tour at Ellis Island near the large immigration hall. With a special feature for children, you can go room to room at your own pace, listening to the narration by a young immigrant following through their footsteps of the process. There are incredibly powerful stories and photos. Miss 10 was interested in all those who were not let in, due to ill health, or possible psychiatric illness after such a journey. She was troubled by the injustice, and it has been something she has discussed many times since. 


Free views from the Staten Island Ferry 

FA0BF861-6D92-41E5-959C-E49931F0C8DDIf you want to see Lady Liberty for free the public ferry will take you to the borough of Staten Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty along the way.

To get there, head to the Staten Island Ferry terminal next to Battery Park. The ferry departs approximately every half hour and can get very busy, but don’t be deterred by the masses of crowds around the entrance – the ferry is huge so there’ll be plenty of room for everyone to board. For the best view, go to the right hand side of the boat to secure a viewing spot along the railing. After you’ve passed the statue, you can move to the back of the boat for some fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline. 


A Harbour Cruise

4EF49EF9-2AED-4148-AC40-677D6F69389FMany people recommend taking in the Manhattan skyline by harbour cruise, which will take your around Liberty Island to get a good look at the statue from the water. These boats often have cafes or bars on board and are a bit more intimate than the public ferries, so hopefully you won’t have to elbow people out of the way for a good view. Cruises last an hour, and there’s not the queues and security checks required for ferry departures to Liberty Island. A good option if you are short on time, but want to get up close to the statue. Do book ahead, it gets busy especially in peak Summer times.

A helicopter tour 

If you have plenty of cash, or want to splash out there are some incredible photos of people who have seen Lady Liberty from above on a helicopter tour. 


Top Tips for visiting Lady Liberty

  1. Arrive early and allow plenty of time – you need to get through airport style security and then get the ferry over to Liberty Island. It all takes time so get there early.
  2. It is busy – try to visit during the week and early in the morning to avoid major queues. Tickets are time sensitive so make sure that you get the right ones.
  3. There’s not great food options (and rather pricey) so bring a picnic, there are plenty of places to sit and eat.
  4. Book in advance – especially if you want to see the crown, they often sell out 3 months plus in advance.
  5. It can be cold and windy  on the water, yet warm in direct sunlight so be prepared for the weather. It’s a tough climb up to the top of the crown so makes sure you bring some water for that.

Battery Park 

There’s many interesting sculptures to see around the Battery Park area, including ones depicting the Immigrants. The Sea Glass Carousel, a place were music, art, glass, and steel, all come together in a magical journey of the sea. The carousel contains 30 different types of giant glowing fibreglass fish to the tune of soothing classical music and aquatic sound effects for a virtual underwater experience. Set in the original place of the first New York Aquarium, it is $5 a ride, and a lovely activity to do with children.