Lower Manhattan is the city’s oldest neighborhood—sometimes known as the Financial District—and it's booming. Until recently, the tip of the island was mainly a 9–5 community, and there were few reasons for visitors to linger after seeing the 9/11 Memorial or taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Today, there are endless opportunities to play, dine, shop, and sleep in Lower Manhattan. Here are some of the best reasons to devote a day or two of your precious vacation time to the area below Chambers St., the unofficial boundary of Lower Manhattan.
The Best Things to Do in Lower Manhattan: Water
The tip of Manhattan is bathed by the East River and the Hudson River, which come together south of Battery Park to form New York Harbor. The views and the many green spaces invite you to stroll along the water’s edge through Battery Park and along the East River Waterfront Esplanade. The best way to experience New York Harbor is from a boat. You can ply the waters for free on the Staten Island Ferry or for $2 on a 6-minute ride to Governors Island, where you can wile away the hours in a hammock or circumnavigate by bicycle free from the threat of automobiles. For a high-energy guided tour of the area, the Zephyr is your ride: hop the Statue of Liberty Express to get some wind in your hair and incredible photo ops of downtown and Lady Liberty herself. Lower Manhattan is also the launching point for the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Ikea no less. A ferry to the superstore in Brooklyn is free on weekends, and $5 weekdays, but the charge will be deducted from your purchase. Swedish meatballs anyone?
Yet another way to appreciate the water is from above. Many visitors walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, but there’s even more justification now that Brooklyn Bridge Park has revitalized a formerly derelict industrial area on the far side of the East River. The park’s 85 acres wrap more than a mile of waterfront, and offer both passive and active entertainment: from summer movies with a view of the Manhattan skyline, to a roller rink, to a herd of weed-eating goats.
The Best Things to Do in Lower Manhattan: History
Museum of Jewish Heritage
The story of Alexander Hamilton may be sung six days a week up in the theater district, but the man lived and worked in Lower Manhattan. Visit his haunts courtesy of the Downtown Alliance’s self-guided walking tour, and don’t miss the magnificent Alexander Hamilton Customs house, now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
There are more than 115 monuments and memorials in NYC and a cluster of them can be found in Lower Manhattan. Their diversity is staggering, from the African Burial Ground National Monument to the Irish Hunger Memorial to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, and of course the 9/11 Memorial. You can also honor the victims of a maritime tragedy at Titanic Memorial Park, remember the Holocaust at the Anne Frank Center USA and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, or immerse yourself in verse at Poets House.
Trinity Church is a 300-year-old congregation that is still thriving; its sanctuary, chapel, and cemetery are rich in American history. John James Audubon and Alexander Hamilton are buried in Trinity’s graveyard. Just up Broadway, George Washington prayed in St. Paul’s Chapel after his inauguration.
The Best Things to Do in Lower Manhattan: Shopping
You would expect luxury shopping around Wall Street and indeed, Tiffany, Gucci, and Hermes are all represented. But bargains can also be found. New York’s best-known discount department store, Century 21, has a massive presence in the neighborhood, and treasures regularly turn up for a song at St. Margaret’s House Thrift Store.
The Best Things to Do in Lower Manhattan: Dining and Drinking
Industry Kitchen exterior
To replenish calories spent walking along the waterfront, stop in at Industry Kitchen, where you can practically touch the boats passing by from the edge of the East River. The dining room is encased in glass in case of inclement weather, while the patio beckons on sunny days. On the west side of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty waves at you from Gigino at Wagner Park, perhaps wishing for a plate of Tuscan pasta and a glass of wine. South Street Seaport will debut a host of new dining options in 2017, but in the meantime, Seaport Smorgasburg can satisfy most any craving. The six food vendors range from Filipino to Belgian, but gazing at the water may inspire a craving for a lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, washed down with a local brew.
When New York was Nieuw-Amsterdam, Stone Street was the heart of the community. Today, it’s a charming cluster of 19th-century buildings studded with restaurants and bars—perfect for a pub crawl.
Brookfield Place is an office complex near the World Trade Center. Its many amenities are open to the public as well as New Yorkers who work there. Among them is one of the city’s largest food halls, Hudson Eats, with dozens of dine-in and takeout options. There’s even a food hall within a food hall called Le District, devoted to all things French.
The Best Things to Do in Lower Manhattan: Public Art
The Charging Bull is the symbol of Wall Street, but the neighborhood is studded with monumental sculptures by artists including Jeff Koons, Jim Dine, Isamu Noguchi (above), and Jean DuBuffet. There’s even a plaza named for and displaying works by Louise Nevelson. All of this, and much more, is packed in to a relatively compact area, served by free shuttle buses that make 37 stops throughout Lower Manhattan from Battery Park City to South Street Seaport.