A one-hour guided tour of the United Nations offers an exciting opportunity to see the inner workings of one of the world’s most impactful organizations. Here’s what to expect as you join the more than 42 million visitors who have taken a guided tour at the UN Headquarters, one of New York City’s most popular attractions for more than 60 years.
The UN Building
Up for a geography challenge? Take a look at the flags as you enter the Visitor Centre Lobby. Try identifying each of the 193 UN member states by its flag. (Hint: flags are flown in English alphabetical order, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.)
The Headquarters’ public areas are adorned with incredible works by artists and craftsmen from around the globe. The UN Plaza, Lobby and Lower Level feature 65 unique pieces in total, and the Centre offers a free mobile app explaining the history and meaning behind each one.
Before or after your tour, check out the Bookshop (where you can pick up UN stamps, perfect for those postcards home), Gift Centre and Café, as well as rotating exhibits highlighting topics currently on the UN’s agenda.
Available in more than 10 languages and hosted by a team of 25 multilingual guides, the UN tour is arguably the most accessible in the city for international travelers. No matter the language you’re sure to get an intimate experience, since groups are capped at 20 participants or fewer.
As your group makes its way through the hallowed halls you’ll learn about the structure of the UN and the work taking place both within the Headquarters and beyond. From intriguing and informative to astoundingly poignant, the Centre’s many exhibits convey the impact of entities like UNICEF and the World Food Programme; the history of the United Nations and the demand for human rights protections; and the UN’s various commitments including Peacekeeping, Disarmament and Sustainable Development.
Groups are granted access to the Security Council and General Assembly halls whenever the UN meeting schedule permits; these chambers are where member nations deliberate on the world’s most pertinent issues and policies. Known for its iconic green marble podium, the General Assembly Hall acts as a “Parliament of Nations.” It’s where international cooperation can be achieved through a majority of votes from the 193 members, all of whom have an equal vote.
Last but not least, explore the newly renovated Kids Corridor if you have aspiring diplomats in your entourage. The interactive experience is designed for children ages 5-10 and helps young visitors understand the work of the UN and how it relates to their daily lives.
No matter your age, don’t be shy to ask your guide questions as you take it all in. What does UNICEF stand for? What’s the difference between an embassy and a consulate? The tour is your chance to find out!
Planning Your Visit
Located within one block of UN Headquarters in Midtown East, Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza is the closest hotel in New York City to the United Nations. (It’s also the accommodation of choice for many foreign diplomats during the UN’s general assembly period each September.) Millennium Hilton guests receive exclusive discounts on UN guided tours as well as 10% off at the Bookstore and Gift Shop when they book the guided tour directly through the hotel.
It’s important to note that while the public areas are open to visitors every day, guided tours are offered only on weekdays. Children under 5 are welcome in the public areas but not on guided tours, due to security reasons, and advance reservations are recommended to ensure your desired tour date and time. Pricing, reservations and complete tour info is available at visit.un.org.
The UN complex is technically its own territory so accessing the area is a bit like going through airport security. You’ll first need to present a photo ID at the Visitor Check-in Office, located across the street from the UN itself (unlike an airport, one ID will grant access to your entire party). Wait times vary by season but it’s recommended to budget one hour before your tour’s start time for security screening. Once you’re in, register for your tour at the Cashiers Desk inside the Lobby and then immerse yourself in the world of the United Nations.
All photos copyright: John Gillespie