New York City, NY, USA

New York City: A Visit to the United Nations and its Living Counterpart

Experience ethnic and cultural diversity in NYC's popular landmark as well as everywhere else.

It should come as no surprise that New York City is home to the headquarters of the world's most significant international organization: the United Nations. After all, the city itself is in essence a living United Nations.

With almost 200 languages spoken, 40 percent of the NYC population was born outside of the United States. Combine the cultural and ethnic diversity of the residents with the hundreds of consulates, embassies and permanent U.N. missions and you have a cosmopolitan city unlike any other. Even the embassy-filled nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is downright homogeneous when compared to the ever-changing rainbow of worlds that is New York City.

This ethnic and cultural diversity and vibrant mix of world influences might be one reason why NYC attracted nearly 50 million visitors in 2008 and is predicted to annually welcome more than 50 million people from countries around the globe by 2012.

A Brief History of the United Nations

Rising from the ashes of World War II, the city of San Francisco hosted the United Nations Conference on International Organization in June 1945, with members of 50 countries convening to draw up the U.N. Charter. The Charter grew from proposals developed by the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China. The United Nations officially came into existence in October 1945. As New York was America’s most international city, it was chosen to be its headquarters. Construction of a modern complex to house the institution began in 1947 on the banks of the East River in Manhattan and concluded in 1953.

In 1948, the United Nations formulated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a historic proclamation of the rights and freedoms to which all men and women are entitled. Since then, there have been more than 80 U.N. treaties to protect and promote specific human rights. The Millennium Summit, held at the New York headquarters in 2000, was the largest gathering of world leaders to date.

Visiting the United Nations

The 18-acre site extends from 42nd Street to 48th Street, and from First Avenue to the East River. When you pass through the gates, you enter international territory. The land doesn't belong to just one country, but to all the countries that joined the organization. The United Nations has its own security and fire forces, issues its own postage stamps and conducts business in six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The visitors' entrance is located on First Avenue at 46th Street. Parking is not available so public transportation is recommended. By subway, take the 4, 5, 6 or 7 trains to Grand Central Station and walk on 42nd Street to First Avenue. If taking the bus, take the M15, M27, M42 or M104.

Arrive early for any scheduled tour or meal reservation in the Delegates Dining Room, a highly recommended experience. Security is thorough and you'll want to leave yourself enough time to get through the checkpoints.

Touring the U.N. With Young Ambassadors to the World

Throughout the year, young people from approximately 20 different countries who speak dozens of languages give tours to the public. These special U.N. tour guides, called U.N. Ambassadors to the Public, undergo intensive training and education in world events. They are briefed every morning on world developments so that their presentations are current on the day of the tour.

About 400,000 people visit the United Nations each year. May is usually the busiest month because of the large number of school groups. If you take a tour, you could easily end up being guided by a Brazilian from the Amazon and joined by backpackers from New Zealand, farmers from Canada, Chinese businessmen or students from the United States. The unexpected variety is part of the fun. Call 212-963-8687 for information on tours.

Lunch in the Delegates Dining Room

For a truly memorable experience, take the official tour and then have lunch in the Delegates Dining Room, which overlooks the East River and is filled with U.N. staff and delegates. Each week, a different country takes over the kitchen and offers up a sumptuous array of food and libations from their nation. Few tourists or native New Yorkers know about or go to the Delegates Dining Room for lunch, so you'll feel like a real insider.

Arrive toward the beginning of lunchtime and grab a table before the rush. The dining room fills up quickly with U.N. delegates and workers, and lines easily develop for the mouthwatering culinary delights stretched out on the buffet and served by chefs from that week's hosting country. It’s all-you-can-eat, so save your appetite for dessert.

Don’t be in a rush once you get a table. With unlimited food, it's easy to sit there for several hours enjoying the incredible view of New York and the mix of people.

Making a Reservation for Dining at the U.N.

Reservations for the Delegates Dining Room are a must and should be made as far in advance as possible through the maître d'hôtel at 212-963-7625. The minimum age requirement for group reservations is 12 years or over. Proper attire is required.

In order to get upstairs to the Delegates Dining Room, you must present a picture ID at the information kiosk in the main lobby. You'll receive a security pass and badge. A security guard near the elevator will direct you to the attended elevator which takes you to the fourth floor. It’s a bit complicated but still loads of fun. You’ll feel like a diplomat.

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