A history lover’s guide to New York.

If you are a history nerd like me, you may want to check out these places in New York. Although some of the New York sites mentioned may not have thousands of years worth of history behind them, I highly recommend you check them out to find out how New York and indeed America became what they are today.

New York Transit Museum - Downtown Brooklyn.

Set in a decommissioned Subway station in Brooklyn Heights, the New York Transit Museum tells the story of the transport system in New York over the past 100 years. 

Learn about the extraordinary engineering involved in constructing the tunnels and how the design and infrastructure allowed for a transport system that runs 24 hours a day, every day of the year. 

Head underground to discover the authentic 1930’s style subway station and view the selection of subway carriages through the decades right up until the 1990’s. 

Walk through each of the carriages and see the many different turnstiles and tickets used for a real feel of life throughout the years. 

There is also a gallery section with interesting photographs of construction as well as art and interactive exhibitions of subway users. 

Admission is $10 per person (Free if you have the NYC Pass)

The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum celebrates the stories that define and strengthen what it means to be American. They share stories of the immigrant and migrant experiences through immersive guided tours which include the Sweatshop workers tour, Irish Outsiders and the Hard Times Tour. 

There are two options, you can take a guided neighbourhood walk or visit the two restored 19th century tenement blocks. 

Today, the Tenement Museum has restored seven apartments and a lager beer saloon inside 97 Orchard Street. The families who lived at 97 Orchard reflected the trends of immigrant populations in America, from the Northern and Western Europeans of the post-Civil War era of the late 1800’s to the Southern and Eastern Europeans of the early 1900’s.

I opted for the “Hard Times Tour” Listen to the stories of the Gumpertz family from Prussia in the 1850’s and the Baldizzi family from Sicily in the 1920’s.Hear how these two families, living in different centuries, shared similar struggles, hopes and survival strategies as they worked to create new lives in America.

Tours start from $27 per person, the tenement museum can only be visited with a guide.

Ellis Island

The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration is located in a former immigration station complex and tells the moving tales of the 12 million immigrants who entered America through the golden door of Ellis Island. Today, the descendants of those immigrants account for almost half of the American people.

Expect to learn about the experiences that immigrants would have had during the 7-10 day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, to the inspection process that would have taken place both in the baggage room and inside the Great Hall. The guided tour chronicles island history during its busiest years of operation.

An audio tour is included with each ferry ticket. It features more than 120 hours of content, 2,000 audio stop segments and chronicles Ellis Island in three parts: The Ellis Experience, Journeys: The Peopling of America and Journeys: New Eras of Immigration. All are available at the Acoustiguide desk.

If you’d like a more in depth experience you can book the Hard Hat Tours of the Hospital Complex: The guided 90-minute tour will take you to select areas of the 750-bed Ellis Island Hospital Complex. The ticket price includes ferry tickets and provides access to the grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

Visit the Laundry Building, with much of its original equipment still in place, where more than 3,000 pieces of laundry were washed and sanitized daily. There are also infectious and contagious disease wards, kitchen, staff housing, an autopsy room and more to explore. There is also an art exhibit by renowned French artist JR on display throughout the hospital complex with installations on 16 interior walls.

Tours are $59.60 per person.

You can only access Ellis Island via private ferry. You can book your ferry here via State Cruises.The ferry has two ports: Liberty State park in New Jersey or Battery Park in New York.

Alternatively, you can combine your ferry trip with a visit to The Statue of Liberty on a whistle stop tour.

Retired NYPD Gangster Crime & Food Walk

This experience comes right from the “horse’s mouth”. No tour guide. No filter. 

Get the real stories from the streets while visiting notorious gangland locations as you walk from the East Village to Little Italy experiencing what it was like to be an associate of New York’s famous families.

You’ll hear first hand accounts of the Mafia and their crimes in NYC and get a chance to taste the local cuisines. You will visit Crime Family member hang-outs where they ate, partied and ran their elusive “family businesses”. Visit the locations tour companies don’t even know exist.

See the former Gambino headquarters “The Ravenite Social Club” and more. Begin the tour  at a famous mafia “red sauce joint” established in 1908.

The guide, Dennis enjoys sharing true crime stories of his interesting police career and life experiences while growing up and working these streets, coupled with amazing food from his neighborhood.

You’ll top it off with a full-sized cannoli from one of Little Italy’s iconic local pastry spots. 

Tours start from $60 per person (depending on the day of the week)

National Museum of the American Indians

The museum is located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions—as well as a range of public programs, including music, dance performances and films. 

The museum’s permanent exhibition, Infinity of Nations, displays over 700 Native American objects from across the continents. When you first walk into the museum, there is a stunning vaulted ceiling in the entranceway, created using fourteen layers of specialized paint. The result of these thick layers is a finished product that looks and feels like embossed leather.

Also, on the ground floor is the Tipi Room which shows a modern Tipi and its construction and the exhibit explains the origins and purposes of the Tipi in American Indian culture.

Entrance to the museum is free.

Leave a Reply