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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.