The Financial District in lower Manhattan encapsulates the full range of American history, from its nascent stages to its imminent future. The area around the former World Trade Center commemorates the 9/11 attacks at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, while just south of the Battery stands the patron saint of the city: the Statue of Liberty.
Largely defined by the intensive industry after which it is named, The Financial District (or FiDi) accommodates white-collar workers with high-end restaurants and bars around Wall Street, which you'll find jam-packed at happy hour. But an undeniable element of the Financial District, which starts at Chambers Street to the north and continues to the tip of Manhattan, is the density of destinations perfect for first-time visitors.
Dedicated in 1886, the Statue of Liberty remains a universal symbol of freedom, democracy, and mercy. 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.
The ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are located at the historic Castle Clinton National Monument, once a defensive structure built prior to the War of 1812 in the strategic site now known as Battery Park and home to the awe-inspiring Sea Glass Carousel. 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.
To understand how the Financial District ticks, Wall Street Walks takes visitors through the historic capital of world finance and home of the New York Stock Exchange, comprising more than 200 years of history.
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. At the top of One World Trade is One World Observatory. Visitors can zip to the top of the tower in 60 seconds inside state-of-the-art Sky Pod Elevators. At the 100th floor, visitors can take in jaw-dropping panoramic views of the city on the main platform.
At the base of One World Trade is the brand new mall, 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 stores like Tissot and Apple, along with other shopping options and several major train lines on the levels beneath. Walk in the underground passageway towards Brookfield Place for more luxury shopping and a food court overlooking the Hudson River.
Trinity Church is Manhattan's oldest parish, first established in 1697. Free tours of the church take place 7 days a week at 2pm. St. Paul's Chapel, an Episcopal church and Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous religious use (1766), saw worshippers like George Washington, whose 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.
On the East River, the South Street 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 with the wonderful South Street Seaport Museum, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and many shops and restaurants boasting waterfront views of the Brooklyn skyline.
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 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 bird’s-eye view aboard Helicopter Flight Services, which departs from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6.
For a guide to a nearby neighborhood, check out the sleek streets of Tribeca.
Dining in the Financial District: For a list of the best restaurants in the Financial District, click here.
Contributors: Alan Binenstock, Colin Carlson, Irene Ross, Linda Sheridan, and Merrill Lee Girardeau