Prior to the pandemic, my husband and I enjoyed a handful of trips to New York City. No matter how many times we visited, I loved that giddy thrill as we’d hop off the train at Penn Station and take our first steps up to the city streets. Growing up in a small town, I always dreamed of visiting New York City. I don’t think I could ever live there now, but I enjoy a fun, long weekend taking in the sites, smells, food, culture and chaos of the city. And if you’re stationed in Groton and travel rules allow, you should absolutely go.
My husband is quite the history buff, but he’s opened my eyes to so many cool and interesting places. There is so much history out on the East Coast! We made it out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, two major bucket list items for us. But we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the lesser known historic sites sprinkled across the city. For one, there was far less crowds and Instagramming selfies. We also loved hopping on and off the subway, venturing up to neighborhoods we had never explored before. There is so much history to discover in New York City.
If you find yourself in the city and want to do something different, consider these sites — all of which are free!
Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace
Neighborhood: Flatiron District
Address: 28 East 20th Street, New York, NY, 1003
Located between Broadway and Park Avenue South, Theodore Roosevelt’s recreated birthplace lies inside an assuming brownstone. Theodore Roosevelt was raised in a similar townhouse on 20th street, and would of course later grow up to become our 26th President. The site includes an exhibit gallery with artifacts and historic photos, a 5-minute introductory film and guided tours of the five restored rooms.
Know Before You Go: Pair your visit with a stop at the Union Square Greenmarket, only three blocks away. The farmers market operates Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays year-round, and is truly something magical. A farmer’s market paradise, right in the middle of the city.
African Burial Ground Memorial
Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan
Address: 290 Broadway New York, NY, 10007
I admit we didn’t know much about this site before we visited, but it is a very sacred place. Back in 1991, construction began on a 34-story federal office tower. Developers discovered skeletal remains located 30 feet below the street, – upwards of 15,000 remains of enslaved and free Africans who lived and worked in colonial New York. Today the site is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America, with a very beautiful memorial and museum, showcasing artifacts and exhibits about the historic role slavery played in constructing New York City. The memorial honors all those buried here.
Know Before You Go: Don’t rush this visit. The exhibits are very emotional and thoughtful, and there is so much to read and reflect upon. Be prepared for heightened security, as you will walk through a metal detector when you arrive.
Federal Hall National Monument
Neighborhood: Wall Street
Address: 26 Wall Street, New York, NY, 10005
Situated in the heart of Wall Street stands Federal Hall, the location George Washington took the oath of office as our first President, as well as the site of the first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch offices. The building serves as one part museum, one part memorial to our first president and the very beginnings of the United States of America. The site also includes an exhibit of the life and work of Alexander Hamilton, and his role establishing our financial system.
Know Before You Go: Venture up to the second floor and find the bible – the exact bible – that George Washington took his oath on. Also don’t miss a photo-op with George Washington’s statue outside!
General Grant National Memorial
Neighborhood: West Harlem
Address: W 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, New York, NY, 10027
No visit to New York City historic sites is complete without a stop at the General Grant National Memorial, the largest mausoleum in North America. While many of the national sites have been replicated, this site remains as it was completed in 1897: the final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia. The mausoleum is stunning as it is massive, showcasing people’s gratitude for the man who ended the Civil War, strove to heal the nation and make rights for all citizens a reality. This site was our favorite by far, as we learned so much.
Know Before You Go: The visitor center is merely a gift shop, but don’t pass on the educational film next door. You will learn so much more about President Grant and truly understand the mark he left on our country.
Stonewall National Monument
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
Address: 38-64 Christopher Street, New York, NY 10014
Stonewall is a very special place. Through the 1960s, almost everything about living openly gay, bisexual or transgender was a violation of law. The landmark is named for the riot that broke out in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, following a police raid. In 2015 the Stonewall Inn became a New York City landmark, and in 2016 President Barack Obama designated the park as a National Monument, as the country’s first National Monument designated for an LGBT historic site.
Know Before You Go: The monument itself is Christopher Park, with no formal visitor center or museum. For the full experience make sure you pop into the Stonewall Inn for a drink. The business is still functioning as a gay bar today, with special memorabilia and gifts available for purchase.
Hamilton Grange National Memorial
Address: 414 W 141st Street, New York, NY, 10031
OK, this is for all you Hamilton fans! Completed in 1802, Hamilton’s estate “The Grange” was to serve as a countryside oasis for him and his family. He only enjoyed the home for two years before his death. Today the mansion resides in St. Nicholas Park, Manhattan, that preserves the relocated home (just a few blocks from the original site). Enjoy an hour-long ranger tour of the mansion and restored interior rooms, along with an interactive exhibit and film.
Know Before You Go: Guided tours are offered at 10am, 11am and 2pm, so plan your visit accordingly! If you need a place to eat, we loved The Grange Bar + Eatery. You can only guess what the country kitchen-style restaurant was named for.
Thanks for reading! Have you visited any of these sites?