Things to do in Downtown NYC
NYMB’s Guide to Lower Manhattan
Once you’ve seen New York from the water, check out some of the best and most historic sites in Downtown New York! Lower Manhattan is home to South Street Seaport, the Financial District, the Battery, and much more. This is where the Dutch put their first settlement, New Amsterdam, in 1624, and traces of the American Revolution are everywhere. Watch our video for a quick version of our “things to do in downtown NYC” tour, and get the full details below.
Things to do in Downtown NYC
By Kristina Fiore
New York Media Boat
1) World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial. Get a ticket in advance and go up to One World Observatory in the Freedom Tower. The views are sweeping and breathtaking -- and more birds-eye than you can get from a helicopter. You can see New York Harbor, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Long Island Sound. As awe-inspiring as these views are, you’ll probably also want to pay your respects at the Reflecting Pools at Ground Zero, whose endless waterfalls have a dramatic effect. The 9/11 Museum is open and has been met with positive reviews. You’ll also want to visit the Oculus, a shopping center and transit hub that looks like a whale diving into the ground.
2) St. Paul’s Chapel. Built in 1766, St. Paul’s is the only pre-Revolutionary church surviving in Manhattan. George Washington attended services here. It also famously served as a relief center during September 11th and for recovery workers thereafter.
3) City Hall Park. From this park, you can see the gorgeous City Hall building, which was built in 1812. It’s in the northeastern corner and has a golden statue on top. The famous Woolworth Building, with its green roof, flanks the park’s southwestern side. You’ll have to schedule a visit in advance if you want to see the lobby. On the park’s eastern side is the more modern “New York by Gehry” -- a gorgeous skyscraper that looks like twisting metal. The park itself is lovely, and a favorite is the memorial of the city's history, a round disk built on the site of the Old Croton Aqueduct fountain. This system provided the city’s first fresh water supply, pulling from cleaner water sources far north of the city. The memorial is at the south end of the park and starts with the 1624 Dutch settlement of Manhattan. You can also get to the Brooklyn Bridge off the park’s eastern side.
4) South Street Seaport is steeped in maritime history. The cobblestone streets and brick row houses make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Fishermen once sold their catch at the Fulton Street Fish Market, which has recently been transformed into modern retail shops. Walk out onto the pier and check out Wavertree, a restored cargo ship built in 1885, and the Ambrose Lightship, a floating lighthouse built in 1908. Both are now part of the South Street Seaport Museum.
5) Walk along the East River Walkway to the Battery. You’ll pass Whitehall Terminal, home of the Staten Island Ferry, as well as the Downtown Manhattan Heliport -- stick around for a takeoff or landing. The Battery is the city’s southernmost point, and you can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from here, but the view from New York Media Boat is much better! You can, however, get a great view of Castle Clinton. This fort, built in 1808, has worn many hats -- it was the original Ellis Island, processing most of the City's immigrants until 1890. Some time after that it became an aquarium and was known as Castle Garden. Eventually it was restored to its original look and you can now walk through it. Also at the Battery is Pier A Harbor House, which was originally built in 1883 and fell into disrepair before it was renovated and turned into a restaurant and wedding venue. Stop and have a drink and some oysters. And don't forget to check out the elevator lobby, which houses a collection of beautiful Sherman Foote Denton fish prints from the New York Wildlife Commission's early 1900s fisheries reports. The 1894 map of the Hudson River Watershed is also something to see.
6) Bowling Green & the Alexander Hamilton Customs House. This beautiful park is bounded on the south side by the Alexander Hamilton Customs House. This building generally outlines the first Dutch fortress built in New York. Today it houses the National Archives and the Museum of the American Indian. Hike the steps to get a glimpse of the lobby, as well as a nice overview of Bowling Green park.
7) Walk up Broadway toward Wall Street. Everyone is staring at the Charging Bull, which sits at the head of Bowling Green Park. But two amazing buildings surround this tourist attraction. On the bull's left side is the old Cunard Line building. This is the company that operated the Titanic and Lusitania, and still operates the Queen Mary 2 today (and you can still take a ride across the North Atlantic between New York and England). Across the street is the old Standard Oil building at 26 Broadway. It was built by John D. Rockefeller in 1885 -- although it was renovated a number of times and the version you see today dates to 1921. Go inside and check out the lobby: just tell security you're there to read the plaque at the far end of the entrance hall. Don't forget, when you're back outside, to look up and see the old eternal flame at the top of the building. It's now extinguished but a thick black layer of carbon is a reminder that it used to burn brightly.
8) Wall Street. Although today it's known as the capital of capital, it once marked the northern border of the original Dutch settlement and loosely follows the path of the northern wall. Trinity Church, built in 1790, sits at the head of Wall Street. Its spire used to be the tallest object in the skyline. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, whose legacy is enjoying a bit of a revitalization thanks to a namesake Broadway musical, is buried in Trinity Church’s graveyard -- and yes, you can visit his grave. Some buildings to note when you’re walking down Wall Street are the New York Stock Exchange (the famous “Fearless Girl” statue now stands in front of it, instead of in front of Charging Bull) and the old Federal Hall. The first presidential inauguration took place on this site in 1789 -- although the current building dates to 1842.
9) Stone Street. This place feels like a European city. In the warmer months, all of the restaurants put tables outdoors and the street is packed with diners. There’s a warm and friendly vibe here that’s unique in the city. Just around the corner, at the intersection of William Street and Beaver Street, is Delmonico's, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in New York and was among the city’s first fine-dining experiences. Check out the facades of the Stone Street restaurants on William Street -- many of which are in tiny, cute, historic buildings.
10) Fraunces Tavern. Head over to Pearl Street, which was once the southern shoreline of Manhattan. On the corner of Pearl and Broad, you'll see the historic Fraunces Tavern, which is now both a museum and a restaurant. Built in 1719 as a residence, it was turned into a tavern in the 1760s and served as a headquarters for Washington during the revolution. If you don’t have time for the museum, you can check out the interior of the lower floors, which winds around into several rooms, a few of which are bars.
11) James Watson House. Head down to Water Street (which becomes State Street) and check out the James Watson House, which now serves as the rectory for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine next door. It was originally built in 1793 for James Watson, who was the first speaker of the New York State Assembly. The architect was John McComb Jr., who also built Castle Clinton, the Hamilton Grange, and many other landmarks. The home is a reminder that for New York’s wealthy merchant class, downtown New York was the place to be, especially for its amazing harbor views.