Manhattan may seem like a small island in land mass, but what it lacks in land mass, it sure does make up for in history and character. It’s home to the oldest City Hall building in America, it was the gateway where millions of immigrants entered this nation with hopes for a better future, it is where George Washington took his first oath as President of the United the States, and it is the location for America’s greatest tragedy to date, ground zero. There’s a lot to see in this area, so here’s our list of the top things to do in Lower Manhattan that you shouldn’t miss during your visit!
Lower Manhattan is Something Unique & So Special
The northern part of Lower Manhattan has fewer large high-rise buildings and is more commonly a hub for the arts, and numerous historical sites, (as this is where the populating of Manhattan began). You’ll also find home décor shops, specialty shops, eateries, and bar hopping opportunities. With that being said, the southern part of this area is also the home of the Financial District and Wall Street. Even though the high rises are fewer, that doesn’t mean they are non-existent, this is still Manhattan after all.
Most of Manhattan is built on an easy-to-follow grid system of roads with Avenues running north to south and streets running east to west. But once you hit below 14th St things begin to get a little wild!
The further down south you go, the more disorganized the road situations can appear, with streets running diagonally, lots of little “half blocks” including some roads that appear as roads on the map but are in fact only ever open as pedestrian roadways.
Even with this bit of chaos, you will find that Lower Manhattan is a rather simple area to navigate on foot because the further south you go, the narrower the island gets. And it’s a wonderfully fascinating and fantastic area to spend at least a day exploring during your visit to NYC!
READ MORE: Things to Do in Brooklyn from a Local
A Little Background – This is Where NYC Began!
In 1624, European settlers began populating this island they eventually called Manhattan, starting near New York Harbor, where The Battery Fort was constructed shortly thereafter for protection. When the first settlers arrived, the island was populated by the Lenape people and was originally known for its fascinating biological diversity.
Along with the Lenape people, this land was home to porpoises, gray wolves, bears, songbirds along with rolling hills, forests, freshwater wetlands, fields, salt-water marshes, beaches, ponds and springs – a very different landscape from the Manhattan we know today.
Due to the vastly varying landscapes and wildlife presence, coupled with the number of settlers crossing the waters to come to New York, it would be over a century before the city expanded any further north than what is still known as “Chambers Street.” For this reason, this area of the island’s historical significance to the United States is vast!
Lower Manhattan packs a lot of history in a small area that can get lost among the hustle and bustle of daily modern life in the big city, but no doubt everywhere you look in this area there is a historical story to be discovered.
Explore the Historical Sights in Lower Manhattan
Probably the most notable historic location here is Battery Park, which is home to the boat docks that ferry guests every day out to Liberty and Ellis Island. During its busiest years, these boats have been known to ferry more than 4.5 million guests to the islands! It is best to purchase tickets for these boats online as spots can fill up fast.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Once on the islands, take advantage of the free audio tours. With your personal headset you can take your time walking through the exhibits as well as looking at the structures and receive interesting historical facts as well as hear stories from people who experienced the immigration process first-hand.
Staten Island Ferry
If you don’t have time to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Islands individually, many people find it fun to take the Staten Island Ferry, the ferry is free and goes right by Lady Liberty, providing a better view than you can get from land, the ferry has indoor and outdoor seating. When you reach Staten Island, you can disembark and walk around the corner to the neighboring dock and board the next ferry back to Manhattan, giving you another view of the coastlines and the Statue on your way back.
Grab a Bite Where George Washington Once Ate at Fraunces Tavern
If you want a spot of lunch, a quick pint, or just a break from the heat, check out Fraunces Tavern. This Tavern has been in operation since 1762, when it opened under the name “Queen’s Head Tavern” and is located down at 54 Pearl Street.
George Washington was known to be a regular, along with many other patriots and he even gathered a group of his officers here after the British troops left to celebrate their victory in the Revolution. This structure is considered a national landmark and also houses a museum with artifacts pertaining specifically to the building and its regulars.
Walk New York’s Oldest Street – Stone Street
Stone Street is one of New York’s oldest streets. In 1658 it became the first cobblestoned street in what was then known as “New Amsterdam” and over time came to its current name of Stone Street because of these cobblestones.
While the street has now been sectioned off (one portion of the street is currently located, still intact, inside the 85 Broad Street skyscraper) the eastern side has a few blocks that are closed for pedestrians only, during the summer months as the streets fill with tables and seating for patrons to enjoy the many restaurants and bars there are to choose from.
While the food and drink may feel modern, the energy of the street will have you feeling full of history from the old glory days of New York’s beginnings.
A Look Back at History at the Tenement Museum
In the Lower East Side be sure to head over to the Tenement Museum, to get a peak of what life was like to those who immigrated to the United States early on. 97 Orchard Street, an old tenement building, that was dilapidated and abandoned, and had been that way for over 50 years was discovered by historian Ruth Abram and social activist Anita Jacobson in 1988.
Combing through the rubble, the museum slowly came together with the artifacts found and it now offers us the ability to gain a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and worked in these buildings. The interesting set up of this museum is that you can go multiple times and get different experiences based on the track you choose.
There are currently 9 different apartment tours to choose from, each providing different stories in an immersive experience based on the different trades and people who would traditionally reside in these apartments. A unique experience that will make you want to come back for more.
Trinity Church, facing Wall Street, is actually the 3rd building of its name. The first burned down in the Great New York City Fire of 1776, the second (which was known for notable parishioners such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton) was eventually torn down due to the structure weakening. The third and current was finished in 1846 and held the title of tallest building in the United States until 1869.
The church building itself is an architectural wonder for its time, and many also take interest in the burial grounds surrounding it as notable people like Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler Hamilton, William Bradford, and Hercules Mulligan were all buried here.
Popular Attractions in Lower Manhattan
NYSE, Wall Street, Federal Hall
There are many popular attractions that you can see simply by walking around the financial district, for instance, you can easily walk around the municipal buildings, see Federal Hall – the oldest city hall, and only be a few blocks away from Wall Street, where you can see the New York Stock Exchange.
Fearless Girl and Charging Bull
From there you will be near the Fearless Girl and the Charging Bull, take note that these statues can change locations but Google Maps typically has an accurate location pin for them so if they aren’t where you “have seen them before” the map may be able to point you in the right direction.
One World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial & Museum
From Wall Street it is an easy walk to the 9/11 Memorial, One World Trade Center, and the 9/11 Museum. If you would like to go into the museum or up in the Tower to the Observation Deck it is best to purchase those tickets via their website ahead of time.
The World Trade Center area has become increasingly lively in recent years with the opening of the Oculus, which is as interesting with its architecture outside as well as it is inside where is feels like an open atrium that houses a high-end shopping mall. There have also been a few outdoor restaurants and bars pop up in this area so if you have a break between ticket times there is plenty to explore or taste.
Explore the South Street Seaport & Museum
Adjacent to the Financial District on the east side of the island, you will find the South Street Seaport. The Seaport is known for having the most concentrated amount of restored commercial buildings from the 19th century and is home to some of the oldest architecture you will find in downtown Manhattan.
Among the many shopping, eating, and drinking locations you can find here, you can also check out the Seaport Museum. Some may say that the entire area of the Seaport is a museum, which is somewhat true since that was what the area was preserved to be, a way to enable us to travel back in time. But there are also specific buildings with exhibits that you may want to check out, especially if you are into boats as the Seaport is in possession of the largest fleet of historic ships in the states.
If you walk all the way to the boarder of the port, on the east river you will enjoy great views of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge, old boats at the dock and if you are lucky you may just time it right to enjoy an outdoor concert on the rooftop of Pier 17.
Fun Tours & Activities in Lower Manhattan
Seaglass Carousel in Battery Park
If you are looking for a little fun, check out the Seaglass Carousel in Battery Park. This carousel was built in homage to one of the nation’s first public aquariums which was located in the Battery (the aquarium is now home to Castle Clinton) which opened in 1896 and closed in 1941.
Tickets for the carousel can be purchased on your phone while standing in line via QR code or paid for with cash when you get to the front of the line. The carousel is indoors and provides sound and lighting effects to make you feel as though you are underwater as you ride inside of an iridescent fish.
Snap a Pic in Front of the Ghostbuster’s Firehouse
If you are a fan of television and movies, New York City has no shortage of filming locations to spot and there are a few of these right in this area. A popular spot of this kind is the Ghostbuster’s Firehouse. At 14 North Moore Street in Tribeca you will find this unmistakable firehouse on the corner as it faces north. While the Ghostbusters sign may not hang outside of it, there is a little shoutout to the famous film painted on the ground.
Do be aware, this is an active firehouse so be respectful with your photos, enjoy the view but don’t expect a tour.
Find the Friends & Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartments
Another notable building nearby is the Friend’s Apartment, which pops up on Google maps as a landmark without you even having to type it in. 90 Bedford Street on the corner of Grove Street in Greenwich Village you will see this well-known sight from the long-running sitcom friends. On the 1st floor is a lovely restaurant that you can pop in to if you would like, or you can just get some good photos from the corner across the way.
Sex and the City fans will also love this part of the city as only a few blocks north at 64 Perry Street you can see the lovely front stoop of what is known as Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and since you are already visiting Carrie’s apartment there is no reason that you shouldn’t head just a few blocks further to 401 Bleecker Street and pop into Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake.
Grab Something Sweet at Magnolia Bakery
This bakery shot to fame after Carrie and Miranda sat outside of it and enjoyed cupcakes while they talked about Aidan for the first time. It became so popular that the bakery began selling a “Carrie Cupcake” in 2007 (vanilla with pink pastel buttercream, the same as she eats in the episode) as a sort of thanks to the fans.
There is another Magnolia located at Rockefeller Center, but let’s face it, the Bleecker Street location just has more charm and history about it.
Popular Neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan to Explore
There are many interesting neighborhoods that make up Lower Manhattan and one of the most well-known would have to be Chinatown.
Food & Shopping in Chinatown
Chinatown has no specific borders but a loosely acknowledge area of Canal Street from Manhattan Bridge to Lafayette Street along with a few blocks south along Canal. This area is known as a place to shop and barter as well as get some of the most authentic Asian food either from a restaurant or from anyone of their Asian-style markets.
Explore Little Italy
Located just off Canal Street but to the north is Little Italy, Mulberry Street is perhaps the most famous strip of road in this neighborhood and there is no shortage of Italian markets and restaurants here. While the area is considerably smaller than its neighboring Chinatown it is sure to delight especially if you happen to plan your trip during their annual Feast of San Gennaro which takes place every September and the road is closed off and full of street foods and other crafts to buy.
Wander & Daydream in Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village is a must “wander” as it is full of historic architecture and beautiful tree-lined streets to walk around and explore. The Cherry Lane Theater, at 38 Commerce Street was established in 1924 and is New York City’s longest continually running off-Broadway Theater. This theater has long been known as a place for aspiring playwright’s and actors to get their start in the industry.
While on the topic of Theater, if you love a good Broadway sing-a-long you can’t miss out on Marie’s Crisis. The bar is nothing fancy in décor and is also cash only, but the gin is probably cold and the piano is definitely HOT- and so is the crowd.
Nightly, Broadway hopefuls along with people who are happy to perform in their shower and nowhere else pop in for libations and tunes. The pianist will play requests and if you are lucky, you might just spot someone famous hitting the notes alongside you but know that this isn’t the type of place to go for a conversation, it mostly standing room only to give patrons ample opportunity for singing and dancing.
Nearby is Christopher Street where you will find the Stonewall Inn, the location where the Stonewall Riots originated in 1969. You can have a drink at the Inn, see a cabaret at the famous Duplex and visit the Stonewall Memorial on this little historic strip of road. Each summer in June this street becomes the heart of NYC Pride. Greenwich Village is also a known hub for comedy. A walk down Bleecker Street is sure to point you to many different spots such as the Comedy Cellar, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Lantern.
While in the area, be on the lookout for various plaques placed throughout to denote historical buildings, streets, and sights all around.
A Full Day of Fun in Lower Manhattan!
There is certainly no shortage of places to explore and cuisines to eat in Lower Manhattan, you can find plenty to do over a weekend without even leaving the area! From mornings of historical walks or enjoying a brunch at the famous Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown, to afternoons enjoying a pint where George Washington once did or escaping indoors for some authentic Italian Food.
You can fill your evenings with comedy, live music, indie films, or singing showtunes in a room full of strangers. Whatever it is you want to see, Lower Manhattan has got you covered.