Given all the amazing things to do in (what many call) the greatest city in the world, it’s no wonder there’s also a long list of WWII sites in New York City. Just about halfway between the WWII sites of Boston and Washington D.C., (and just a couple of hours from WWII Weekend in Reading, PA) you’ll find the great sites on this list, dotting all five New York City boroughs.
WWII sites in New York City
Whether it’s museums or forts or monuments and memorials, this list of WWII sites in New York City definitely has what you’re looking for. You can find all the WWII sites in New York City from this post on this map.
WWII museums in New York City
If New York City lacks anything, it’s definitely not museums. There are art museums, history museums, transportation museums (way more interesting than it sounds!), and a whole list of hidden gems you can’t find anywhere else.
And for World War II enthusiasts like us, there’s also a handful of WWII museums in New York City just waiting to be explored.
USS Intrepid Museum – Manhattan
The USS Intrepid is a World War II aircraft carrier docked right here at Pier 86 in Manhattan. The USS Intrepid is a National Historic Landmark and helps make up the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum—a maritime history museum and collection of museum ships. (You can also check out the Space Shuttle Enterprise if that interests you too.)
The USS Intrepid was commissioned in 1943 and spent a good amount of time fighting in the Pacific Theater. During the Intrepid’s active years it was torpedoed once and hit by Japanese kamikaze planes on four separate occasions.
The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum is included in the New York CityPASS, a time- and money-saving booklet that gets you into the city’s top sites at a huge discount. (Plus you often get to skip the long lines!) I use CityPASSes wherever they’re available and I love them. Planning to see more than just the WWII sites in New York City? See if the New York CityPASS is right for you and your trip in that link.
Museum of Jewish Heritage – Manhattan
The Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is located on the southern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park. It opened in 1997 with a mission to “educate diverse visitors about Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust.”
This museum features exhibits like:
- Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.
- Holocaust-era art as testimony
- Ordinary treasures
- Eyewitness photographs
- And more
The museum, uniquely designed by architectural firm Roche-Dinkeloo as a six-sided structure, represents the Star of David and the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Cradle of Aviation Museum – Long Island
Granted, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is located on Long Island and not technically within New York City limits, I’ve still decided to include it given its relevance and the fact that it’s still Queens-adjacent.
Located on what was once Mitchel Air Force Base, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is so named due to the number of historic “first flights” taken from this area. Some of these include:
- First night flight
- Charles Lindbergh’s first solo transatlantic flight (You can see the plane used for this flight—the Spirit of St. Louis—at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.)
- First nonstop transcontinental flight to San Diego, CA
- First transatlantic airship flight
- And many more actually.
The Cradle of Aviation museum features 75 air and spacecraft that span eight galleries and 100 years of history. Much like the Air & Space Museum, this one also showcases many different types of craft not only from World War II. However, they do have a World War II gallery featuring many awesome World War II planes and a Women in Aviation section focusing on women’s wartime contributions in aircraft factories (and beyond).
Spyscape – Manhattan
Marketed as both a museum and an experience, Spyscape takes you into the world of spymanship (is there a better word for that?). You get to learn true spy stories and history and take immersive spy tests. But most importantly, you get to learn about spying in World War II and learn about some cool WWII tech like the Enigma machine.
Spyscape is more of an interactive, immersive experience than it is a museum in the traditional sense, but if you’re looking for something different, this is definitely it.
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To learn more about the Enigma machine and codebreaking in World War II, I highly recommend watching the movie The Imitation Game (2014).
Harbor Defense Museum – Brooklyn
Located next to the Brooklyn base of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is the Harbor Defense Museum whose mission is “to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret historically significant material related to the history of Fort Hamilton and the seacoast defense in New York.”
The Harbor Defense Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in an original part of the historic fort. It contains military artifacts all the way from the Revolution to, our favorite, World War II.
This museum is free to visit and open to the public.
Floyd Bennett Field and Hangar B – Brooklyn
According to the National Park Service who now operates Floyd Bennett Field, this was actually New York City’s first municipal airport. During World War II it became a naval air station. (For more on Floyd Bennett Field’s World War II history, check out this page.)
Today, you can visit Floyd Bennett Field as it no longer serves as an airport. You can check out the Ryan Visitor Center to learn about the field’s aviation history, and Hangar B to see some historic aircraft and the volunteers actively working to restore them.
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For someone interested in New York City’s World War II history, checking out A Night at the Garden is a must. A Night at the Garden is an Oscar-nominated short documentary (7 minutes) about the night in 1939 when 20,000 New Yorkers gathered together at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the rise of National Socialism. It was the largest pro-Nazi rally in the United States. You can watch the whole film here for free.
WWII memorials in New York City
After an influx of what he believed to be “hundreds of inadequate [World War I] memorials, many of them poorly designed and constructed and often located where they were subject to vandalism and natural deterioration,” 20th-century New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses determined not to let the same thing happen after World War II. (source)
Rather than a mass of mediocre monuments, he proposed one grand World War II memorial for each borough. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t pan out but it does explain why you can’t find more World War II memorials in New York City. Here are a few you can visit:
WWII East Coast Memorial – Manhattan
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan’s Battery park you’ll find the East Coast Memorial—dedicated to the 4,601 American servicemen who lost their lives fighting the war in the Atlantic Ocean.
This memorial consists of a large plaza, a huge bronze eagle, and eight granite pylons containing the names, ranks, military organizations, and states of the deceased. The memorial dominates an area in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, in between the carousel and the bay, facing the water with a direct view of the Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn War Memorial – Brooklyn
If your visit to New York City involves a walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll end your stroll at Cadman Plaza Park, home of the Brooklyn War Memorial.
This massive granite and limestone memorial contains an inscription that perfectly describes its purpose:
This memorial is dedicated to the heroic men and women of the borough of Brooklyn who fought for liberty in the Second World War 1941 – 1945 and especially to those who suffered and died. May their sacrifice inspire future generations and lead to universal peace.
On each side of the memorial stands an enormous sculpted human figure representing “Victory” as a male warrior and “Family” as a female and child. But the memorial is more than just the massive wall; it also includes a memorial hall whose walls contain the names of the 11,500 Brooklyn service members who died in the war. However, many don’t even know about the memorial hall as authorities closed it down almost 30 years ago.
Efforts to renovate the Brooklyn War Memorial as well as make it wheelchair accessible are ongoing and were scheduled to begin in late 2019. You can read more about the renovation efforts here.
Van Cortlandt Park Memorial Grove – The Bronx
In 1949, the Van Cortlandt Park Memorial Grove was designed to honor the men who fought in World War II and includes a variety of oak trees as a symbol of strength and endurance.
Beneath the trees lie a number of bronze plaques dedicated to WWII soldiers. You will also see plaques for President Roosevelt and the sons of the Bronx Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers. Like many World War II memorials in New York City, this one is in need of repair. A renovation project currently led by World War II veterans is in the works.
WWII forts in New York City
Given its location on the East Coast, New York City played a major defensive role during World War II. Because of this, many of the former Revolutionary and Civil War military forts were retrofitted and repurposed.
Fort Jay – Governor’s Island
Between Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty you’ll find Governor’s Island; and on Governor’s Island you’ll find Fort Jay. Fort Jay dates all the way back to the Revolutionary War. However, during World War II it served as the headquarters of the Eastern Defense Command as well as the headquarters and training grounds of the First Army.
Though there isn’t much World War II history to actually see at Fort Jay today, they do offer tours where you can learn about the fort’s and the island’s military history. The National Park Service now operates Fort Jay and you can visit for free. It’s just a short ferry ride from Manhattan.
Fort Wadsworth Center and Museum – Staten Island
Next on the list of WWII sites in New York City is Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island near the western base of the Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge. Wadsworth is actually one of the oldest military installations in the country (dating back to the 1600s). It primarily served as a coastal artillery base during World War II and a home for Italian prisoners of war.
At Fort Wadsworth you’ll also find the Visitor Center and the Fort Wadsworth Museum where you can check out exhibits on the fort’s military history including its role in World War II.
Fort Totten – Queens
Billed as New York City’s Civil War fort, Fort Totten served a big purpose during World War II as the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command.
The Fort sits mostly abandoned but you can explore a number of former batteries and old tunnels. You can also check out the Visitor Center to learn more and/or take a ranger-led tour.
Fort Totten is pretty far north in Queens where, unfortunately, no trains go. To visit you’ll need to either drive or take a bus.
Fort Hamilton – Brooklyn
You may have noticed I already mentioned Fort Hamilton in this post as it’s also part of the Harbor Defense Museum. But since this category is on WWII forts in New York City, I thought I should include it here too in case that’s what you’re specifically looking for.
For more on visiting Fort Hamilton, check out the Harbor Defense Museum website.
Other WWII sites in New York City
Because these don’t fit into any other category, here are some miscellaneous WWII sites in New York City.
Kaufman’s Army & Navy
Whether or not you’re in the market for some new (but old) World War II memorabilia, you must stop by Kaufman’s Army & Navy in Midtown Manhattan, just off Times Square.
Kaufman’s has been selling military surplus and memorabilia since 1938 and they’re sure to have something that interests you. In addition to Army and Navy surplus goods, they also sell military collectibles, heavy on the World War II variety.
World War II tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Brooklyn Navy Yard played a huge role in World War II. Among other contributions, it is responsible for the building of such World War II battleships as the North Carolina, the Iowa, and, most famously, the USS Missouri on which the Japanese signed their surrender in 1945.
The World War II history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is extensive and interesting—and the best way to learn about it is on an informative tour like this one.
This World War II tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard lasts about two hours and has nothing but 5-star reviews. It includes a private bus and driver, a professional tour guide, and sticks to small groups for the best possible experience. Get more booking info for this tour here.
Love battleship history? You can see many interesting artifacts from the USS Arizona in the state of Arizona. Check out this post to see where all you can explore Pearl Harbor history in Phoenix.
More info for visiting WWII sites in New York City
- Book your NYC hotel room on Booking.com, my favorite booking site.
- I personally love the New York Hilton Midtown for its perfect location and big, clean rooms.
- Don’t forget to pick up a New York City guidebook for the rest of your sightseeing.
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