The Financial District might be the most historically rich neighborhood in New York City. You’ll find traces of founding fathers George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first fine dining restaurant, and a 300-year-old tavern on these winding streets at the tip of Manhattan.
The Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum mark more recent American history and are some of the most popular sites for first-time visitors to New York. While you’re in the Financial District (or FiDi), you’re sure to see white-collar workers in this office-dense area, which is also filled with fantastic bars and restaurants for power brokers, pleasure-seekers, and everyone in between. Below are the best things to do in the Financial District.
The Statue of Liberty
Dedicated in 1886, the Statue of Liberty is the city’s patron saint and a universal symbol of freedom, democracy, and mercy. It stands atop Liberty Island in New York Harbor, along with the new Statue of Liberty Museum.
Located on the adjacent island, the Ellis Island National Immigration Museum features thousands of square feet of exhibition space, movie theaters, a book shop, and restaurant. Book your trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with Statue Cruises, the only ferry providing on-site access to both iconic locations in New York Harbor.
Wall Street is both a literal street and how we describe the financial industry located in this bustling area. The famous Charging Bull statue by Arturo Di Modica attracts plenty of daily visitors, along with Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl statue in front of the neoclassical New York Stock Exchange. Nearby, the cobblestones of Pearl Street and Stone Street boast great eating and drinking. To understand how the Financial District ticks, Wall Street Walks takes visitors through the historic capital of world finance.
The World Trade Center
Built in the aftermath of 9/11, One World Trade Center (the "Freedom Tower"; map) is the tallest building in the United States and the 6th-tallest in the world, measuring 1,776 feet high. Visit the top of One World Trade at One World Observatory. You’ll zip to the top of the tower in 60 seconds inside state-of-the-art Sky Pod Elevators. At the 100th floor, take in jaw-dropping panoramic views of the city on the main platform.
At the base of One World Trade is Westfield World Trade Center. This complex is located inside the distinctive Oculus, a spiny white structure rising out of the ground like a dove or a set of ribs (depending on who you ask). Inside this futuristic mall are retail stores like Tissot and Apple, along with other shopping options and several major train lines on the levels beneath. Walk in the underground passageway toward Brookfield Place for more luxury shopping and a food court, Hudson Eats, overlooking the Hudson River.
The Seaport District
On the East River, the Seaport District dates back to the 1600s as one of the world's preeminent ports (although the cobblestoned streets only date to the 1960s). Now it's a commercial center that includes the wonderful South Street Seaport Museum, a state-of-the-art movie theater, shopping, and fine dining restaurants boasting waterfront views of the Brooklyn skyline. The Seaport District’s Pier 17 also hosts rooftop concerts by the riverfront.
The Staten Island Ferry
For a free tour of New York Harbor—and some great pics of the Statue of Liberty—take a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. Board this orange ship, which runs 24/7 at no cost to travelers, at Whitehall Street near the historic Stone Street area of FiDi. Once in Staten Island, shop at New York’s first outlet center, Empire Outlets, located just steps away from the ferry terminal.
Trinity Church is Manhattan's oldest parish, first established in 1697. Its current building was completed in 1846, and founding father Alexander Hamilton is buried on the church grounds. The church and churchyard are free to explore, 7 days a week.
St. Paul’s Chapel
St. Paul's Chapel is an Episcopal church and Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous religious use (1766). President George Washington prayed here after his second inauguration, and his pew has been preserved inside the sanctuary. St. Paul's was also home to an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. The church is free to visit, and public tours are offered Fridays at 3pm.
Fraunces Tavern Museum
Other historical sites include Wall Street's Federal Hall National Memorial, housing artifacts like the Bible used during George Washington's Presidential inauguration and the statue of Washington out front. Built in 1719, Fraunces Tavern Museum consists of a colonial-style restaurant on the first floor and an upstairs museum that exhibits Revolutionary Era armaments, flags, and other art and objects.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust depicts Jewish culture in the early 1900s and the horrors of the Holocaust, including survivor testimonies and art reflecting the richness of Jewish life worldwide.
Offering free admission 7 days a week, the National Museum of the American Indian is located inside the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. Together with its location in Washington D.C., it is home to the largest, most extensive collection of Native arts and artifacts in the world.
If discount shopping is on your agenda, get designer threads at a fraction of the price at Century 21 Department Store. They have over 15 departments of quality designer merchandise at 40-70% off retail, including European and American designer fashions for men, women, and kids. There’s something for everyone, including handbags, cosmetics, outerwear, European and domestic sportswear, lingerie and sleepwear, and a gigantic shoe department.
The ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are located inside Battery Park, once a strategic battle site, at the very tip of Manhattan. The historic Castle Clinton National Monument was a defensive structure built prior to the War of 1812 and now houses the Statue Cruises ticket office.
The park’s awe-inspiring Sea Glass Carousel is sure to wow kids and adults alike. Also located in Battery Park are the New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, a statue of Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, and the Netherlands Monument (reminding us that New York was once called New Amsterdam).
Cruises & Helicopter Tours
The area is also a hub for some of the city’s top sightseeing companies. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises offers narrated tours of New York Harbor and views of the Statue of Liberty by day or night. Tours available on New York Water Taxi include an All Day Access Pass with convenient hop-on, hop-off access in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Both Circle Line Downtown and Water Taxi depart from the South Street Seaport.
You can also capture a bird’s-eye view of the city aboard Helicopter Flight Services, which departs from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6.
Here’s our list of the best restaurants in the Financial District.
For a guide to a nearby neighborhood, check out the sleek streets of Tribeca.
Contributors: Alan Binenstock, Colin Carlson, Irene Ross, Linda Sheridan, and Merrill Lee Girardeau