Earlier this month, I (Jeremy) needed to attend a morning appointment in New York City. Afterwards, since my appointment was right around the corner from the UN, I decided to book a tour of the United Nations (UN) Headquarters. This ended up being a great visit! I enjoyed both the historic aspects as well as the really interesting art/displays donated by the various member countries.
Location of United Nations: 46th St & 1st Ave, New York, NY
Access: If you don’t have official business with the UN, access to the United Nations Visitor Centre is only permitted by tour. Tour check in across the street (1st Ave) from the main entrance.
Arrival Information: You will be asked to arrive 1 hour before your tour time and will need to present a photo ID and complete a security check. There are quite a few restrictions regarding items you are not permitted to bring on the tour. Plan ahead and leave water bottles and large bags at your hotel. Read the complete arrival instructions before you arrive.
Cost of Standard Tour: $26/$18/$18/$15 for Adult/Student(13+)/Senior/Child(5-12), children under the age of 5 are not permitted.
How to Book a Tour: It is advised to book ahead online. The day I went, there was same-day availability, though this might not be the case at peak times.
Hours of Standard Tour: Typically Monday-Friday, where the first tour starts at 9:30am and the last tour starts at 4:45pm. A tour is typically 45-60 minutes, and consists of up to 20 guests.
Other Tours: There are also options for thematic tours, private tours, and more! See the website for more information.
The guidelines recommended arriving 60 minutes before the time on my reserved ticket. However, it only really took me 15 minutes to get my badge at the Visitor’s Center and pass through security. Perhaps I was just there at a fast time – I didn’t really wait in security and there were only a couple people ahead of me in line to get the badge; I could imagine things taking longer during peak periods. Even if you get there early, they did have plenty of interesting exhibits and displays in the first floor public area.
Immediately after entering, there is a nice outdoor exhibit.
One of the highlights of visiting the UN Headquarters is that you will be able to see many gifts from other countries. This gift from Italy is a sculpture of a sphere within a sphere and was designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro for both the United Nations and for the Vatican. It is supposed to be a symbol of the new world forming out of the old.
The views of the skyscrapers in New York City are also quite nice!
The Visitor Centre Building Before the Tour
Statue of Nelson Mandela
When you enter the lobby, you will be greeted by a statue of Nelson Mandela, a gift from the Republic of South Africa. Mandela is best known for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 when he ended Apartheid South Africa and brought in democracy.
Silk Portraits of the Secretary-General
As I wandered, there were quite a few interesting exhibits. Iran made a donation of several silk portraits of the various Secretary-Generals of the United Nations.
Around the corner was the Technology Museum exhibit showing how the United Nations has employed various technological devices to help keep peace around the world.
Intermixed with the exhibits is some fairly cool artwork.
Related Read: Our Experience at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California
Memorial to Dag Hammarskjöld and Others
This Stained Glass Memorial is a tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld and the other members of the UN who died in a plane crash while flying on a trip to negotiate for the Congo Crisis. It was an independent donation and was designed by Marc Chagall with help from Brigette Simon and Charles Marq.
If you are interested in seeing the United Nations at work, there is a nice viewing window that showed some level of activity in what was most likely a large conference or briefing room.
United Nations Post Office
In the basement, next to the coffee shop and gift shop, the United Nations also has its own post office and its own stamps that are valid for use to mail things between the New York office, the Geneva office, and the Vienna office.
Building of the United Nations Headquarters
There are also some pictures showing the building of the UN Headquarters as well as a model.
All-in-all, the pre-tour experience was quite good!
On the Tour
Replica of the Royal Thai Barge “Suphannahong”
Eventually my tour time was called. The guide took us up the stairs, and we saw one of many gifts from the member countries, this one from Thailand, a replica of the Royal Thai Barge “Suphannahong”.
Mankind’s Struggle for a Lasting Peace
We started walking towards the Security Council chambers. Along the way was this mural donated by Spain, called Mankind’s Struggle for a Lasting Peace. The guide explained how it’s a representation of the struggle between war and peace, with a primary focus of leaving the viewer hopeful that we can build a better world.
Security Council Chamber
Since the Security Council was not in session, we were able to visit the Security Council Chamber, one of three main chambers typically visited on the tour. This is where the 15 members of of the Security Council meet to deliberate and attempt to keep peace and security for the Nations. There are 5 permanent members: China, France, Russian, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The other 10 members are elected for a 2 year term. At time of writing this post, the elected members included Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.
Apparently, it used to be possible for members of the general public to attend live Security Council sessions, but with security concerns post-2001, they decided to stop this. That said, they apparently put recordings of all the sessions on the web within 24 hours.
This room was designed by Arnstein Rynning Arneberg, a Norwegian, and all of the furnishing were provided by Norway. The mural on the far side of the wall was designed by Per Lasson Krohg and was intended to inspire peace.
The walls also have a special meaning – the guide described the grain as symbolizing plenty, the anchor as faith, and the hearts to uplift.
We then went on to see the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber and Trusteeship Council Chamber. One of them had an active session going on; the guide explained that we could walk through quietly but not take photos.
After that, in the hallways, they showed us a map of various UN peacekeeping missions, and on the opposite wall, they showed an exhibit of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A two-story mural that I did not get a good picture of was “War and Peace (Peace)” donated by Brazil and designed by Candido Portinari. Part of its goal was to encourage representatives to work for peace.
More ominously, around the corner, was a tapestry symbolizing the disaster in Chernobyl, Belarus had Alexander Kishchenko design this beautiful, if horrifying, tapestry showing the terrible effects of radiation:
Related Read: Our experience in Kyiv, including the Chernobyl Museum
The Golden Rule
This mosaic entitled The Golden Rule was based on a painting by Norman Rockwell and was inspired by the message of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The hope is that there will be peace around the world despite differing religions, philosophies, and cultures.
After this, the guide took us to an exhibit about landmines and nuclear weapons, and about the UN’s goals of non-proliferation.
General Assembly Hall
At the very end of the tour, we saw the General Assembly Hall. This is where the General Assembly meets by gathering all 193 nations. Since they were in session during the visit, we could walk through the back, but not linger. There were also no photos allowed until after we left, and only from outside the door.
And that concluded the tour – we took the elevator down to the main lobby. I could have spent more time seeing the exhibits down there, but I had already essentially mostly done that while waiting for my tour time.
If your travels take you to New York City, consider taking a tour!
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