It seems appropriate to be logging blog post the week of President’s Day about a national park unit with this GIANT statue of President George Washington right out front. In fact, Federal Hall National Memorial might just be the perfect national park to visit on President’s Day (or your next New York City vacation). For one of the smaller sites in the park service, the list of things to see at Federal Hall National Memorial packs a big punch.
You’ll want to set aside at least 45-60 minutes to get through our list of “Top 10 Things to See at Federal Hall National Memorial” including a selfie with our first president!
Note: As of this writing, Federal Hall National Memorial has not re-opened to the public since the COVID-19 pandemic. Check the park’s website for current operating hours and safety information.
Where is Federal Hall National Memorial?
A trip to Federal Hall begins in lower Manhattan on Wall Street, the epicenter of the world’s financial markets. The memorial was established in this location (previously used as a New York Custom’s House) where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States of America. The site was also home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices.
Each time we celebrate Inauguration Day and a new presidential administration, our democracy celebrates the peaceful transfer of power.
It’s a tradition that was established by George Washington and began at the site of what is now Federal Hall.
How to Get to Federal Hall
As with most New York City National Park sites, it’s best to arrive on foot or via public transportation. There’s limited parking near Federal Hall.
Federal Hall National Memorial can be reached via several NYC Metro subway stops within a 5 block radius including:
4 or 5 (green)
J or Z (brown)
2 or 3 (red)
A or C (blue)
10 Things to See At Federal Hall National Memorial
Plan to allow about 45-60 minutes to take a self-guided tour of Federal Hall. If you have additional time, check with the park ranger desk for daily events and ranger-guided tours of the memorial.
This is our don’t miss list:
1. The First Inaugural Bible
Occasionally, we’ll run into an artifact or museum exhibit in a national park that is so cool it gives you the goosebumps.
For fans of American and world history, top of the list at Federal Hall has to be viewing the first inaugural Bible. It’s one of those “woah” items you won’t want to miss.
Located in one of the exhibit halls off the Rotunda area, the Bible was the original used by George Washington at the inauguration in 1789. It’s been used by several Presidents at recent inaugurations, including Presidents George Bush and Carter.
2. The Rotunda View
Amy has about a hundred photos of different rotundas in our digital collection. For whatever reason, it’s just fun to stand in the center of a giant room and take in the view. The rotunda at Federal Hall serves as the connection point for many of the different exhibits and museum features. But don’t miss a stop in the center of the room to take in the incredible architecture.
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation the artictecture at Federal Hall is a ‘mash up.’ “Architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Davis modeled the exterior on the Parthenon in Athens and the interior rotunda on the Pantheon in Rome. The building reflects the ideals that the young United States government was built upon. And that beautiful dome in the rotunda? You wont find it on any blueprints of the building.”
4. The Inauguration Balcony Slab
Along with the Inaugural Bible, Federal Hall also has several markers that signify the location where Washington first took the oath of office. The Inaugural Balcony Slab (the piece of the previous building where Washington stood to take the oath) is located inside the building on display near the Rotunda. There’s also a marker outside near the bronze statue of Washington indicating the general location where the balcony once stood.
5. The View of Wall Street
Just off the front steps of Federal Hall, you’ll find another one of New York City’s iconic tourist stops. Wall Street, the financial hub of the United States, intersects the building, giving visitors a view of the bustling New York Stock Exchange building. Depending on the time of year (and the time of day) you visit, Wall Street can be a fun place to stop and people watch.
6. The New York Harbor Visitor Center
If you’re planning a stop at Federal Hall during a longer New York City national park vacation, you’ll want to stop in at the New York Harbor Visitor’s Center, located inside the main visitor’s center at Federal Hall. The New York Harbor Visitor’s Center has information about all 11 national park units in the New York City area. It also serves as the current visitor’s center for some of the seasonal sites and for nearby Stonewall National Monument as plans for developing the new park continue.
7. The Bank Vault
The building where Federal Hall National Memorial is located was once a Custom’s House and a sub-treasury, holding thousands of dollars of currency from our newly formed nation. Some of the original bank vault security can still be seen in an exhibit just off the Rotunda area.
8. Complete the Junior Ranger Program
Federal Hall has a terrific Junior Ranger program for visitor’s of all ages. Available for free, the program covers the history of the area, some unique trivia about George Washington, and some fun facts about our country’s first capitol building.
Take a few minutes to download the packet before you go or request a copy of the booklet from a park ranger when you arrive.
9. The Portrait Gallery
Along with the inauguration memorabilia, we also think the Portrait Gallery is worth a stop while touring Federal Hall. The gallery features original paintings of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton during scenes of the early days of the democracy.
It also has several displays showing what Manhattan looked like in the early days of White settlers and colonial establishment. According to the Brooklyn Public Library, the lands where Federal Hall National Memorial and much of New York City currently stands were the “historic home of the “Lenapehoking” or the Land of the Lenape, an offspring of the Algonquin civilization… including present day New Jersey, New York and Delaware, until forced displacement started with European “discovery” of the land and continued well into the 19th century.”
10. The Museum Store
We don’t typically mention the gift shops in our national park posts. They are either your thing, or they’re not. But it’s worth stopping in the small store off the rotunda of Federal Hall as it’s one of the better stocked shops of the NYC parks. If you’re looking for George Washington biographies or memorabilia, Revolutionary War-era books and postcards, the museum store here is worth the stop.
Other National Park Sites in New York City
Interested in adding Federal Hall National Memorial to a larger New York City national parks vacation?
Check out our itinerary for a full list of the park units AND suggestions for transportation, when to visit each site, and other historical markers to visit in the city.
Some of the closest National Park Service units to Federal Hall include:
- African Burial Ground National Monument
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
- Castle Clinton National Monument
- Lower East Side Tenement Museum National Historic Site (affiliated site)
Federal Hall is also close to the 9/11 Memorial, Bowling Green, Trinity Church, and the Brooklyn Bridge.