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Top 7 Wheelchair Friendly Things to Do in New York City

Published on December 28, 2017 by Cory Lee

Known as the Big Apple, New York City is a vibrant and eclectic city. Luckily, NYC offers quite an array of accessible attractions, delectable food, and vast people-watching opportunities. If you’ve never taken a New York City cab ride, you’re in for an adrenaline rush that parallels the most exciting thrill rides around. Get ready to hang on to your hat and experience all that wheelchair accessible NYC has to offer! While there are so many sights to see, I’ve compiled a list of seven awesome wheelchair friendly things to do during your stay:

1. Empire State Building

empire state building nyc

Steeped in rich history, this epic 103-story, Art Deco building was built in just over a year. The Empire State Building is fully ADA compliant and visitors can easily traverse throughout the building by both manual and motorized wheelchairs.

There are two primary observation floors: the 86th and 102nd floors. The 86th floor features ramps and lowered walls so everyone can enjoy stellar views of the city. Walls on the top deck (the 102nd floor) are higher, so you’ll probably need an adjustable height wheelchair. If your circumstances allow you to accommodate the higher walls, both indoor and outdoor venues offer breathtaking views up to 80 miles into New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

There are museum-like exhibitions, restaurants, and fun coffee shops sprinkled throughout. Visiting the building at night is a truly memorable experience due to the changing color of the tower, not to mention gazing upon the millions of twinkling lights across the city center.

2. Ellis Island

ellis island nyc

Another stately example of wheelchair accessible NYC and American history can be found at Ellis Island. Our rich culture was built upon the millions of immigrants who passed through its halls seeking opportunity in the land of the free.

The entire museum is wheelchair accessible, with ramps or elevators to each floor. Additionally, wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis at both Ellis and Liberty Island.

Take a trip back in time as you peruse the historic immigration station and use your imagination to sense the excitement that immigrants must have felt in the grand registry room. Historic photographs, sea-laden century-old baggage, and holding dormitories are just a few of the sights to see here. Admission fees also cover a trip to Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, one of the most famous wheelchair accessible attractions in NYC.

3. 9/11 Museum & One World Trade Center

9 11 memorial nyc

One must never forget the events that transformed modern-day America through such a tragic and senseless loss of lives. Considered one of the most sobering wheelchair friendly activities NYC presents to travelers, it is an important destination that allows visitors to pay tribute to the brave Americans who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. The iconic, triangular architecture of One World Trade Center, with the beacon of color changing night lights, is one of the most photographed buildings throughout Manhattan.

Designed with inclusivity in mind, there are wheelchair accessible drop off and pick up locations at both the museum and memorial site. Wheelchairs are available at the museum on a first-come, first-served basis and entrance is accessible for motorized wheelchairs. All exhibitions, restaurants, and restrooms within the museum are wheelchair accessible. The Memorial is designed for wheelchair access, providing the same views into the eternal flowing remembrance pools whether you’re sitting or standing. The museum’s exhibitions include narratives about the heroes, the void created by the lost lives, and emotion-provoking recovered artifacts that remind us of the resilience of the American spirit.

4. Times Square

times square nyc

On a lighter note, Times Square is famous for dropping the ball on New Year’s Eve. But did you know that a trip to Times Square gives visitors the chance to hug their favorite cartoon character as well? Whether you’re in love with Elsa, Elmo, or Mickey Mouse, these characters are sure to bring about a sense of childlike wonder. When you’re in the mood for live music and a good laugh, the Naked Cowboy is an unmistakable character on the strip.

If you’re interested in soul-soothing energy, you’ll probably want to stop by the Times Square Church to hear the gospel choir belt out their melodies. At Madame Tussauds, you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous and photobomb your favorite celebrities. Fully accessible, including restrooms, this one-of-a-kind wax museum provides hours of double takes and fun.

Another interesting attraction in Time Square is Ripley’s Believe It or Not. With over 500 exhibits, this museum overflows with oddities and rare artifacts, including shrunken heads and albino giraffes to name just a few.

5. Broadway Shows

broadway theater nyc

A trip to NYC isn’t complete without taking in at least one Broadway show. While all theaters are required to accommodate wheelchair users, some theaters are better suited for wheelchair users than others. This is because some of the older buildings have steps into the theater or are cramped and difficult to maneuver by wheelchair. You’ll probably want to attend a Broadway show in a newer or remodeled theater for the best ease of use.

The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, conveniently located near Times Square, offers level street access, elevators to all floors, and accessible restrooms on the lower and mezzanine levels. Show themes range from comedies to musicals to dramas, providing literally something for everyone. Built in 1903, the New Amsterdam Theatre is a New York icon with famous greats like Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, and Eddie Cantor donning the stage. Fully restored to its original elegance, updates include wheelchair designated seating and restrooms. The theater also now hosts magical Disney musicals, including the highly acclaimed ALADDIN.

6. Top of the Rock

top of the rock nyc

With unparalleled 360-degree views of the city, this famous destination is one of the legends of New York City. Offering astonishing views of the city from three observation decks, it is also fully accessible. Visitors can use the automatic doors at the main entrance located on 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Elevators to all floors, designated wheelchair-only bathroom stalls, and a wheelchair-friendly guided tour of Rockefeller Center all make this a favorite for those of us with special mobility needs.

As you embark upon your journey to the top, you’re sure to delight in the Breezeway, a colorfully lit room which makes you part of the exhibition by assigning you a color that follows your every move. For art glass and crystal lovers, the Radiance Wall and Joie Chandelier are Swarovski masterpieces. These are just a few of the amazing things to see along the way. The major highlight of this experience is that “butterflies in your stomach” feeling as you look upon Midtown NYC from the open-air deck of the 70th floor.

7. Eating New York Style Pizza

new york pizza

Like that old saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” this holds true for eating pizza like a true New Yorker. Often served by the slice, this isn’t your old standby pizzeria slice, this is a feat of pizza magic. One of the ways to fit in as a native is to fold this gigantic slice in half and eat it in one hand, all while traversing the city’s busy sidewalks. New Yorkers also like to stop in at their favorite family pizzeria, order a whole pie, and shout among friends.

Fortunately, wheelchair accessible restaurants are available on almost every corner throughout the city. Eataly, on 23rd Street at 5th avenue, boasts homemade mozzarella on their pizzas, and diners can enjoy both indoor and rooftop eating options. It has earned top marks from the Wall Street Journal and the Food Network. Don’t let the diner-like appearance and cheap prices fool you. This pizza is an Italian culinary delight unlike any other!

In conclusion, wheelchair accessible NYC abounds with places to go, sights to see, and excellent food to eat. In fact, one could visit this remarkable city dozens of times over and never see or eat the same thing twice.

Get around the Big Apple with ease by renting a wheelchair or mobility scooter in NYC from Scootaround. Whether you’re seeking a compact wheelchair for easy hotel storage, a transportable chair for hair-raising taxi rides, or a power wheelchair to navigate the vast city streets, their friendly staff will help you find the perfect model to fit your needs. If you think purchasing a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair might be a better option, you can also browse Scootaround's online store to find the device that's best for you.

curb free with cory leeCory Lee is a wheelchair user, travel addict, and accessible travel writer.

On his blog, Curb Free with Cory Lee, he hopes to inspire others to roll out of their comfort zones and see all the beauty our world has to offer.

Images Used in This Article

Empire State Building image, "Empire State Building 34TH Street" by SpiritbearNY is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ellis Island image, "Financial District da Ellis Island - New York" by Attilio Piano is licensed under CC BY 2.0

9/11 Memorial image, "9/11 Memorial South Pool" by John St John is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Times Square image, "Times Square" by ShawnDavie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Broadway Theater image, "Broadway theater" by Marcos Rivera is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Top of the Rock image, "top of the rock" by giulia_vignati is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pizza image, "Lombardi's Pizza" by Simon Doggett is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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