Long Layover at Ground Zero in NYC

ground zero New York City long layover

I found myself barreling down the subway tracks into the city, on a mission with some real purpose– to visit Ground Zero and the Memorials dedicated to the victims. Visiting Ground Zero in New York City has been on my bucket list for years.

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Long Layover at Ground Zero

With more than a seven-hour layover at JFK and the last thing I wanted to do was hunker down in a lounge with overpriced cocktails just before a transAtlantic flight. I had no intentions of trampling up and down the hella long terminals selling overpriced handbags, perfume and alcohol either. After a quick Google search and some useful train information from the locals.

This year, I was in Italy on September 11 this year. If I didn’t have Internet access, I might never have known it. It’s not that they (the world) doesn’t care or sympathize, it’s that the rest of the world has been suffering under the terror that America felt that day for much longer.

I stored my carry-on in a locker (available at terminals 1,4 and 8) hopped on the Air Train to Jamaica Station for $5 and bought a new round trip subway ticket into the city for $6.50.

Reflecting on My First Time as a Podcast Guest 

My destination– Ground Zero– the site of the worst terror attack in American history.

I’ve wanted to visit

Ground Zero since it was opened to the public on September 12, 2011, a day and ten years commemorating the attacks and honoring the 2,996 people who lost their lives when 19 al-Qaeda militants hijacked four airplanes. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane plowed into the structurally fortified Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought back against the terrorist.

RELATED: A long layover and walking tour in Hunan’s region of China eating dumplings and walking the streets with a local Guangzhou Walking Tour and Long Layover and a trip to Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Where were you on 9/11?

Where were you on 9/11? I was a college student, golfing in Columbus Georgia. It was a beautiful crisp morning, the perfect weather for a day on the golf course.

The kids were in school and Steven was deployed overseas.

A friend came up to me just as I was about to tee off from the 4th. By then, we weren’t sure if we were under attack or if it was a terrible accident that took the first tower down. I rushed home just in time to see the second tower crumble. I watched people fleeing the smoke while others poised on the window ledges leaped to their death. It was surreal then and still gives me goosebumps now.

I will never forget where I was or the surreal nature of what happened– that this couldn’t be happening. It was like watching a movie, it just didn’t seem real. But I will also never forget how we came together as a country, one nation who loved and cared for one another.

Like most people, I “knew of” people who died on 9/11. And even and still, the emotions were raw and real and common for all of us. We were Americans first and nothing else mattered.

That’s something I hope we get to feel again real soon.

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Take the E Train South

… to Ground Zero. It’s easy to remember because it’s the last stop. 19 stops and 45 minutes I emerged from the underground at the edge of Manhattan.

Follow the signs to the 9/11 Ground Zero Memorial where there are two Memorial pools, Liberty Park, a museum and World Trade One.

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World Trade Center Monument

Pictures don’t do it justice, it’s really beautiful. The pools/ fountains are understated and symbolic. Two waterfalls cascades over the sides and into a square hole represent where both towers once stood. The water is constant and a powerful soundtrack to all the hustle and bustle of everything going on around them.

The walls of the pools are lined with the names of the fallen, which on any day may be decorated with roses to celebrate the birthday they would have had if they were still alive.

It’s 1 pm, and the sun is high and very hot. There is a cool breeze under the rustling trees that provides a little relief from the scorching sun. It’s reverently quiet, although kids are at play, friends are talking, and

eating lunch together and visitors rub their hands over the names inscribed into the Ground Zero memorial, trying to visualize the chaos and carnage of that autumn day almost 16 years ago last month.

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Self Guided Walking Tour

This is exactly what they, the terrorist, want us to stop doing. And this– is exactly why they will never win.

I walked towards the Greek Orthodox Church STILL or FINALLY under construction from that fateful day, having been the only house of worship damaged in the attack. The aroma of a hot dog, yes a hotdog stopped me in my tracks. I could have eaten two, but I settle on one ($4) and it was good ya’ll.

The dog is good… sauerkraut, onions, and spicy mustard– perfect and just what I needed to fuel this concrete trek. Just so you know if you ask for mustard, no one will say anything, but you will be marked as a tourist. And it’s definitely better than anything at the airport.

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All That Glitters

Something gold catches my eye, so I followed It into fenced-in cemetery at St. Paul’s Chapel. It’s very pretty and offers a cool place to sit and take in all the hustle & bustle around me. Taxis honk, slam on their brakes and gun it to the next light as mothers call out to their children before they run out into traffic.

Much of my youth was spent pounding these city strengths until responsibility called out to me. I love it, but I don’t miss it.

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Check out the Obelisk and its shop, then head to the Observatory Tower in World Trade One.  You’ll get a three-state panoramic view of the city.

RELATED: I love long layovers for the chance to experience a destination that didn’t quite make your bucket list. Our long layover in Kuala Lumpur proved that it should be on your bucket list.

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An Aerial View of the City

Tickets to the One World Observatory

Purchase your ticket online at oneworldobservatory.com if you value your time. Otherwise, stand in line for up to 90 minutes with the rest of the uninformed masses. Lol

Full Disclosure… I was one of the latter. I did not purchase my tickets online until I saw the line I had to stand in just to buy tickets. It took all of 10 minutes, I paid the online fee and showed the line attendant my receipt for a 2 pm entrance time– with 5 minutes to spare. It cost me $37 but I was able to bypass that epic line that practically wrapped around the tower.

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It’s a Long Way Up

Once in, you ride the escalator down to the entrance, go through security and follow everyone into a room to watch a short film. Afterward you hop into a large elevator that whisks you up 102 floors with ear-popping quickness as the walls of the elevator disappear into the history of the city from its prehistoric beginnings until yesterday. That– was pretty cool.

You can even rent an interactive tablet for $15.  Point and shoot, bam, audio history and more than you’d want to know about the history of the city. The views are spectacular without it. I skipped it, but if you’re new to the city, it’s a great orientation to the city.

The ride down is less dramatic but just as ear popping.

I backtracked to the airport, happy–  with almost two hours to spare.

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  1. Tania

    I was in kindergarten in 9/11 and still remember the tragedy of it. Your pictures look awesome and im glad you had a chance to visit such an important place.

  2. Dr. K. Lee Banks

    What an amazing experience and great photos! I imagine it was a very solemn moment when you were standing at Ground Zero.

    I do remember where I was on that horrible day. My lifelong best friend, who is also like a sister, and I were visiting at her house, drinking tea, and chatting. We wouldn’t have known what was going on, except her mom called and told my friend to turn on the TV. She did and we stood there in shock, watching the events unfold, just holding each other and crying. 🙁

  3. Hannah Marie

    This place surely gives many emotions. I hope I could visit this. I honestly can’t remember where I was when it happened.

  4. Mommy Sigrid

    Wow! So many new developments there now. I went there a couple of months after the 9/11 and it was really a depressing sight. Glad that America has moved on with their heads held high.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Many of have. Some have not and will not because like any group of people, we aren’t monolithic. I believe, it’s important to realize we aren’t in this world alone in the fight on terror and the ravishes of their affects.

  5. Stephanie

    I don’t think anyone will ever forget where they were. I was in the 9th grade and all we did all day was stay glued to the news. I lived not too far from the city (in Philadelphia), so I was able to take the train up a few times to see them working on the monument, but I’ve never seen it finished. It looks absolutely beautiful. I’ll definitely have to take another trip up to walk around.

  6. Stephanie

    I still remember that day so vividly. I remember my dad telling me that this was an event in my life that no one would ever forget, that exactly what you were doing would be ingrained in your head forever similar to those who were alive during the Kennedy assassination. He was right. 17 years later, I remember every moment of that day.

  7. Natalie

    The last time I was in NYC it was still under construction. My sister was just there last week and visited the museum as well. I really want to visit next time I am in the Big Apple.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It doesn’t seem like almost 20 years does it? My mom once told me when time seemed to be flying, it meant I was getting old fast. lol Thanks for taking the time to comment, coma back again real soon.

  8. mdaisi

    I remember living this 17 years ago in New York. I was young at the time and remember walking from school to home because trains were not working and also the smoke filled air would never escape me. I have been to Ground Zero countless time. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I ama a little older, I was a young mother. I was on the golf course at the time and returned home just in time to see the second tower go down. It was so surreal, I kept saying this isn’t happening. My hubby was stationed in Saudi Arabia at the time. And I remember how scared he was when he asked me to go get the kids from school. It’s one of those events every American will remember where they were at the time.

  9. tara pittman

    My family recently visited this site when we visited my son at the Merchant Marine Academy and we toured the museum. My son was in full uniform so we were able to go to the front of the line and he got in for free. The museum was worth the money and it was hard learning about this day and what others went through.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      So true. Whenever I go somewhere with my husband and kids who also seeve, in uniform, I always touched by the kids kindness of Patriotic strangers.

  10. Joanna

    It must be so overwhelming to visit Ground 0. I understand what you mean when you say that people outside the US don’t really “remember”, and I think that is because life moved on. I remember 9/11, I was just a kid back then and the news were all confusing, nobody knew what was going on.

  11. Chris

    I can still remember vividly how it was all over the news back then…

    Hope such thing never happens again.

    Amazing pictures you have there!

  12. LavandaMichelle

    9/11 has changed my life in so many ways, One being the creation of my beautiful daughter, Now 15. All these years later, I have never visited ground zero. Thanks for sharing such lovely photos and information and it certainly beats waiting at the airport.

  13. Fatima

    Thanks for the tip to take the train. There’s nothing better than being able to pay your respects to those who have fallen

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It’s a small price to pay to see something so beautiful and important when the alternative would have been sitting around an airport.

  14. Leo T. Ly

    I was a coop student working at a high rise at that time. I was in total shock that day and I was sent home from work that day. I couldn’t get myself away from the news channel for more than half a day. 9/11 is a day that I will probably never forget.

  15. Joy

    The September 2011 attack in America is such a sad day. Many families have lost a family member and that is just awful. Good that you visit Ground Zero. They should not be forgotten.

  16. Anosa

    I can’t remember when I was during that time but the sadness over the people around the world is truly unforgettable. Indeed they are worth commemorating. And ohhh, The Observatory view is amazing!

  17. Rebecca Swenor

    I remember that day very well and was at work when it happened. It was like time stopped because I had a bad feeling it was an attack. I had friends and family in the service and was in shock when the second plane hit. Some day I hope to visit Ground Zero like you it too is on my bucket list of places to see. Thanks for sharing your experience and the awesome photos.

  18. steve walters

    I would love to visit ground zero. Our whole world changed changed from that one moment and everything there looks like it has so much gravity and is so important. (FYI that hotdog looked so good, I literally had to go make one for myself)

  19. Sondra Barker

    Visiting Ground Zero and the memorial there is one of my must-sees every time I visit New York. There’s so much respect and remembrance for the tragic event, and I can only feel hope when I’m surrounded by the memorial

    Sondra xx

  20. Denay DeGuzman

    My daughter is currently vacationing in New York, and I believe she plans on visiting Ground Zero. I think for me it would bring so many deep emotions that I’d really need to prepare myself for visiting that site. It’ll bring back so many feelings of heartbreak and despair and courage.

  21. Heather

    The last time I was in New York, there wasn’t a memorial yet built. The vastness of the hole that remained was startling. I would love to go back and see Ground Zero.

  22. Joanna Everyday Made Fresh

    The one time I was in New York, they were still working on this. I’d love to go back and visit Ground Zero. Where was I? I was actually working in a coffee shop in the mall. I had just seen the news before heading out the door, and I thought for sure that no one would be out shopping…I was wrong. I so wanted to be at home with my family. And all of these people were walking about like nothing major had just happened.

  23. Jelena

    I was at home at 9/11. I was then guarding my 6-month-old daughter and all the television stations were showing breaking news. I thought that the Third World War started.

  24. Damond Nollan

    Thank you for sharing your journey and tips along the way. You know, I never thought about exploring the city when there are long layovers. Hmmmmmm, great idea!

    I know where I was when the towers fell. I was at work and we all huddled around a small tv trying to find out what was going on. Just like that, you brought it all back.

    Look forward to reading about your next adventure.

  25. Tiffany Yong

    During 9/11, I was at home (in Singapore) watching TV and news was interrupting the shows, telecasting the happenings every 20 minutes. It was one of the times when I didn’t really know the seriousness of the case until I grew up~

  26. Kelley

    I was in 5th grade on 9/11 and it was like time completely stopped. We just turned all of the TVs on and watched but I’m sure none of us understood what was going on.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes, I it was 16 years ago, which is so long ago. There are many kids who were too young to completely understanding what happened that day.

  27. Ana De- Jesus

    I was still a little child when 9/11 happened but I learned more about it when the tube terror attacks happened in the UK and it saddened me to hear of everything that had transpired during 9/11. We will always remember x

  28. Jen Walker

    I’m glad you opted to not just sit in the airport for 7 hours! Sept 11th was not an easy day for us in the US, and I actually thought my friends were playing a cruel joke at first when they told meas I was in early morning classes when it first started.

  29. Tina Grant

    This is something that is on my bucket list for sure. I remember that tragic day like it was yesterday. Such an emotional visit I a sure for everyone that pays their respects.

  30. Tiffany Haywood

    I’m so glad you had a chance to visit. You worked that 7 hours to the fullest! Way To Go! I was at work about 30 minutes outside the city on 9.11 and remember every moment listening and watching as things happened. We will never – ever – forget.

  31. Julia Elizabeth

    What a beautiful way to spend your layover. I was 6 years old and living in Kenya at the time so I honestly didn’t understand much of what was happening but I of course remember the day very vividly.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      It’s been 16 years, thats a long time in people’s collective memory. But something like this triggers an emotion that’s not soon forgotten.

  32. Ruth I.

    You made a good decision with your time, long layovers are really for a little tour. The place is beautiful with its history.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree if you are stuck in an airport for more than a few hours check out the tourists desk for available activities. Some airports are tricked out with fun and free things to see and do. Some offer free city tours too.

  33. Ant

    I was getting ready for work. The weekend before, I was in Boston. I remember walking through security and no one was there…I didn’t have to put my luggage on a conveyor belt…there were a handful of people on my flight back to Tucson. That’s where a few of the morons took flight classes.

  34. Marie

    If I were given the opportunity to spend a long layover in the same place, I would do the same activities you did! Looks like you enjoyed!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      What? No love for the NYC? Tell me I read that wrong and it sounds like there’s a GOOD story behind your words. You should check out the Ground Zero Memorial if you ever find yourself on the dark side again. Lol

  35. Jack bransson

    The view tho, it looks so amazing and worth a visit. These places that really worth to spend the money on. Awesome pictures!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      So many ‘babies’ here, lol. I’m sure you’ve seen the images, it was a scary day for us not knowing where or when it would end.

  36. Ana Vukosavljevic

    You used your layover time in the best possible way! What an exciting day. I’ve never been to NY, but if I visit it some time, I would love to spend one like yours. Btw, these photos are beautiful! You are glowing

  37. Shaylah Coogan

    We took our family there a year ago and was moved beyond words. It’s so beautiful yet haunting at the same time. Going down below to see what’s left behind and the items, photos, and artifacts were so difficult to look at.

  38. Alicia Taylor

    I have never been to the ground zero memorial. I am not sure I could keep my composure if I did. That day impacted me greatly. It’s one of those things that you will always remember who you were with and what you were doing at that moment.

  39. Brigette Collins

    What a great way to spend a layover. I have never been to NY but visiting there and Ground Zero is definitely something I would like to experience. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I was in middle school and I was about to be sent to the principles office for uniform violation when a classmate came in and said there was an attack. My immature self at that time had no idea what was going on so I quickly went to my seat relieved I wouldn’t get in trouble. sad I know. But as soon as they turned on the TV and I seen what was actually going on, my heart sank and I felt so ashamed, scared and hurt. I will never forget that day and how it impacted me.

  40. Maria

    your pictures were great. The view is super nice… I just remember the whole tv coverage of the 9/11.. I was a kid and don’t remember anything much besides that

  41. yonca

    Your pictures are amazing! I was in Long Island and planning to go NYC to see Twin Towers on 9/11. My husband couldn’t get a day off and changed the plan that morning than we watched what happened on news. We were lucky. I will never forget it.

  42. May

    I was so sad on 9/11. My mom worked in the building next to the Twin Towers and I was so worried if she was okay or not. Luckily she was okay, but some floors in her building sustained some damage still, glass shattered everywhere. It was a very scary moment for me.

  43. Milton Goh

    Ground Zero is a place filled with lots of emotions. I like what you said about the tragedy bringing Americans together in a powerful way. Adversity can be a great rallying force.

  44. angie

    The date of 9/11 will forever be in my memory. I do know where I was, where my kids were and where my husband was. I was with my friends at work on what began as a normal day my children were at school and my husband had the day off I called home a few times to talk to him during that day. The children came home and it was something that began as normal day had lots of questions and shock at the end of it.
    That was my day and I was no where near the area so I can only feel for as many that were

  45. corinne & kirsty

    The view does look spectacular. I was just a tiny kid when 9/11 happened so I didn’t fully understand it until I was older but I can only imagine how emotional it can be to be back there and remember.

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