Traveling with a history buff? New York City’s rich past goes beyond iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. You can visit the homes and favorites spots of America’s earliest presidents and classic authors, or see where world-changing events from your social studies textbooks happened in person. Here are some of the best historically critical spots in the city to check out.
From the outside, Fraunces Tavern might just look like a typical restaurant-slash-bar with a cool, old school vibe. But inside, there’s even more history than there is whiskey (and there’s a lot of whiskey here). This spot has been operating since 1762, having hosted famous figures such as George Washington, Henry Knox, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Most infamously, Fraunces Tavern is where Washington said farewell to his troops at the end of the Revolutionary War. Head upstairs to the Fraunces Tavern Museum for the ultimate Revolutionary Era experience.
Any history buff going to New York needs to check out McSorley’s. This East Village dive bar’s claim to fame as the oldest Irish tavern in the city is warranted as its been around since 1854. Above the bar at McSorley’s hangs a set of real wishbones supposedly placed by men leaving for World War I. The bar is home to various other historical memorabilia and has served Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and many others.
Teddy Roosevelt was the first president born in NYC, and you can tour his childhood home. Head down to 28 East 20th Street to visit a recreated version of the townhouse our 26th president lived in until he was 14, restored to look exactly as it did back then. Bonus: there’s also an exhibit of political cartoons featuring the president here!
This one’s equally as awesome for history and literature nerds alike. The Edgar Allan Poe cottage, located in the Bronx, is where the famous poet once lived with his wife and mother-in-law. Visiting this official New York City Landmark means walking through the space where Poe wrote pieces such as Annabel Lee, The Raven, The Bells, and more. It’s also where his wife, Virginia, died tragically of tuberculosis.
Stonewall Inn may not go as far back as some of these other places, but its past is just as powerful and important. Established in 1967, Stonewall Inn was one of the city’s most popular gay bars, and the only one that allowed dancing. On June 28, 1969, officers unsuccessfully raided the spot, resulting in the famous Stonewall Riots. This event represented the gay community fighting back and also led to the country’s first pride parades. In 2016, Stonewall Inn and its surrounding area was designated the first LGBT national park site. Stop by for “Big Gay Happy Hour” and see where it all took place!
Delmonico’s touts itself as the country’s “first fine dining restaurant.” Opened in 1837, this steakhouse served the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain. The original FiDi location is still in operation today - though it’s no longer owned by the Delmonico family - so make a reservation and maybe you’ll see some of today’s most notable people!
Before Ellis Island brought millions of dreamers into New York, there was Castle Clinton. Located in what is now Battery Park in Manhattan, Castle Clinton operated from 1855 to 1890, bringing in over 8 million people. But that’s not all - before it was an immigration station, Castle Clinton was a theatre and opera house; later, it became home to the New York Aquarium. Today, it is Castle Clinton National Monument, where countless people come to visit the site at which millions of immigrants became Americans.
In 1991, plans for a Federal office building were halted after a grim discovery was made. Construction revealed that hundreds of years ago, the area was used as a burial ground for thousands of African slaves. It since has been transformed into a beautiful monument with an exhibit dedicated to this dark part of the city’s past.
Trust us when we say this next one is worth the ferry ride. The Conference House was the setting of the Staten Island Peace Conference, an unsuccessful attempt to end the Revolutionary War in 1776. The conference saw attendees including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. It was designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1966; today, the manor hosts historical exhibits and reenactments while maintaining its coziness from when it was a family home.
Fun fact: the Conference House happens to be located at the most southern point in the entire state of New York!
Visit the studio of Edward Hopper and see where the artists worked for over 50 years of his prolific career. Located on the NYU Silver School of Social Work campus, the studio contains real objects from Hopper’s life, such as an easel and even his fridge. The studio is mostly used as a meeting place for classes, but it can be visited by anyone looking for a little bit of inspiration and history...as long as you make a special appointment here!
If you’re walking down Duane Street in a rush, you might miss this small yet significant piece of history. On the brick exterior of the NYPD headquarters, there is a sole non-functional window. The story goes: prisoners of the Revolutionary War would look out of this window while held in Sugar House Prison. It’s estimated that over 17,000 people died in this prison and others like this from 1776-1783. Creepy, but definitely an important part of America’s past.
The history of punk is still history, right? World famous club CBGB opened in the East Village in 1973 and helped launch bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads, and Blondie. Sadly, the club closed its doors in 2006, but traces of the music mecca still remains at John Varvatos, the store that took its place, including some graffiti on the interior walls and an inscription on the concrete outside.
Langston Hughes House
In Harlem, you can visit the brownstone that poet Langston Hughes called home from 1947 to 1967. The house has been a landmark for decades, but was recently saved from activists who campaigned to turn the writer’s former home into a space for the arts. Find out more about it here!