I’ve been asking friends and fellow bloggers for their best ideas of things to do in New York City and I have been deluged with great ideas. I decided to focus just on what you could do in a day or two in Lower Manhattan. We will start at 14th street on the West Side, work our way down to the Battery, and then back up the Lower East Side.
Table of contents: ()
- The Battery
- The Bridges
- The High Line
- Wall Street
- One World Trade
- The Oculus Brookfield Place
- Seaport District
- Trinity Church
- Russian and Turkish Baths
- New York Pass
- Where to stay
While you may think of Museum Mile when you think of New York City museums, there are some well-known ones in Lower Manhattan like the 9/11 Memorial and Museums and a couple of smaller ones you should consider visiting.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
More than one person highly recommended I visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum before my last trip to the city, My friend Mike advises that you should sign up in advance for the guided tour. “You get to crawl around the foundation of the 2 towers, many amazing artifacts. Spoiler alert, you will cry.”
I was at the 9/11 site within 4 months of the attack when the site was still covered with memorials and pictures of those who were missing and it was moving and very interesting to return to the site now that it is a memorial. The memorial is at ground level and open to the public. The original shape of the foundations of the towers of the World Trade Center have been turned into a memorial reflecting pool with the names of the victims engraved on the side.
The 9/11 museum is much more about the victims and the heroic response than the act of terrorism. If you don’t take a tour you can still save yourself some time by buying skip the line tickets ahead of time.
- Admission to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is included in New York Pass.
Whitney Museum of American Art
If you are looking for more highbrow than Lowen Brau, also near the southern end of the High Line is the Whitney Museum of American Art. This gallery focuses on 20th and 21st century American Art. The museum shares much of their collection on their website so you can easily see if it is something you will enjoy. If you like art but not this style of art, how about a street art tour on the Lower East Side instead?
- Admission to the Whitney Museum is included in New York Pass.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Numerous friends have recommended the Lower East Side Tenement Museum which is on my list of things to see. If you want to get a better appreciation for what your immigrant ancestors endured see this museum which shows the realities of tenement life on the Lower East Side.
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Moshe Huberman from The Top Ten Traveler recommends another small museum:
The Museum of Jewish Heritage, located next to The Battery, is one of the most interesting and important museums in New York City. It opened to the public in 1997 with a goal to educate people on Jewish life in the 20th and 21st centuries – before, during, and after the holocaust. However, the exhibitions focus mostly on the events of the holocaust, and the full name of the museum reflects that: Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.
The permanent exhibition contains photographs of holocaust survivors that are NYC residents and the Garden of Stones which was created together with holocaust survivors, but the main attraction of the museum today is the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” This is a powerful and emotional journey that tells the story of the most significant site of the Holocaust, from its establishment until the liberation of the camps. The Auschwitz exhibition does not just tell the story, it also presents more than 700 real objects and 400 photographs, donated by other museums and institutions from all around the world. The collection includes prisoners’ uniforms, personal items like shoes, glasses, and suitcases, an original freight train car that was used to bring people into the camp, parts of the camp’s fence, and more.
The exhibition is groundbreaking, and as it is not an easy topic to deal with, you need to be mentally prepared for your visit. However, visiting this museum, and learning about that sad part of the history of humanity is a must-do for every person.
Džangir Kolar from Dr Jam Travels recommends a stop in The Battery at the tip of Manhattan.
The Battery (formerly Battery Park) is the biggest park in Lower Manhattan at the island’s far southern tip. This 25-acre park is bounded by Battery Pl on the north, State St on the east, New York Harbor to the south, and the Hudson River to the west. Historically it was a strategic defensive point of the harbor, with a canon battery since the 17th century, so hence the name.
Under the park, there are two tunnels, Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan and the Battery Park Underpass that connects east Manhattan (FDR Drive), with the west (West Side Highway). In the district known for finance and government, this is a spot with a slower and more relaxed pace.
The biggest building in the park is Castle Clinton that soon after it was built in 1812 lost its military role. Since then it served as an immigration depot, exhibition hall, beer garden, concert venue, theater, and aquarium. Today they sell tickets for the ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Other things worth visiting would be SeaGlass Carousel and Monument Walk with 20 plus monuments (Sphere, East Coast Memorial, etc). If you have a chance, stop at this place and enjoy this green oasis.
Castle Clinton stopped being an immigration station when the flood of immigrants got too large for the structure. The immigration station was moved to Ellis Island in 1892. Because of when the Christensens came to the U.S. my great-grandfather would have cleared immigration at Castle Clinton… and possibly yours as well although many of the records for immigration in this period were destroyed in a fire in 1897.
At The Battery you can catch one of 3 different boats:
The Statue of Liberty Ferry
It may the nicest thing France ever gave us (if you consider that we bought the Louisiana purchase and that French Fries came from the Belgians). If you want to actually climb up the statue try and get on the first boat of the day.
- The Statue of Liberty Ferry is included in New York Pass.
Ellis Island Ferry
There is a pretty good chance that you had at least one family member come to the USA through Ellis Island. 12 million immigrants came through its doors from 1892 until 1954. Beverley brought to my attention that you can take a hard hat tour of the unrestored immigrant hospital buildings if you are looking for something more adventurous.
- Entrance to Ellis Island is included in the New York Pass
The Staten Island Ferry
If you want a good view of the Statue of Liberty but you don’t want to climb it, you can get a good view of the city and the statue on the Staten Island Ferry, which is free. The ferry takes about 25 minutes one way. Avoid rush hour when the ferry is packed.
A surprising number of Manhattan’s bridges are clustered in Lower Manhattan. Each of these offers a different set of walks and views.
Brooklyn Bridge Walk
At least once, when you are in the city on a beautiful spring day or fall day, you should walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It is still the prettiest of all the many bridges in New York City, and the best way to appreciate the beauty of the design is on foot, not fighting the local traffic in a car. The peaceful scene belies the difficulty of its construction. 27 people died building it. The bridge was built by a father and son team John A. Roebling and his son Washington Roebling. The bridge construction took 14 years and John Roebling did not live to see its completion after an accident at the site crushed his foot, and he died from tetanus. Washington Roebling and some workers came down with caisson disease while sicking the bridge’s caissons deep below the surface of the water. We now call caisson disease the bends.
- Walking tours of the Brooklyn Bridge are included in New York Pass.
Manhattan Bridge Walk
Megan from Your Brooklyn Guide recommends the nearby Manhattan Bridge as an alternative to the Brooklyn Bridge.
Many visitors to the city know about the Brooklyn Bridge walk, but did you know you can walk across the Manhattan Bridge as well and be rewarded with just as stunning views of the city and even the Brooklyn Bridge without the crowds? It’s funny because the construction of the Manhattan Bridge in 1901 was actually because of the crowded neighboring bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge, to help disperse the congestion. While the Manhattan Bridge isn’t as ‘pretty’ as the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s still one of the most iconic structures in NYC and, in our opinion, is beautiful in its own way.
The Manhattan Bridge Plaza, which can be found at the entrance of the bridge on the Manhattan side, has a gorgeous colonnade and arch as part of the ‘grand entrance’ to the bridge, as well as an addition made a few years after the bridge’s completion as a part of a citywide beautification movement.
Something you need to know before attempting this walk is that one side of the bridge is for pedestrians only, and one side of the bridge is for cyclists only, something we actually appreciate if you’ve ever tried to bike across the Brooklyn Bridge on a crowded day. Be sure to enter the Manhattan Bridge pedestrian walkway at the south side of the bridge and be sure not to accidentally get on the bicycle side, or you will be treated with some verbal hostility from New York cyclists.
Sean Lau from LivingOutLau makes a case for the Williamsburg Bridge as an alternative to both of those bridges:
The Williamsburg Bridge is a suspension bridge across the East River connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. Completed in 1903, it was the longest suspension bridge span in the world until 1924. Carrying lanes of roadways, pedestrians, cyclists, and even several lines of the New York City Subway, the Williamsburg Bridge is a stunning architectural feat.
However, the Williamsburg Bridge is often overshadowed by the famous Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge several streets down. It only gets a fraction of the tourists that the Brooklyn Bridge receives. Similar to Brooklyn Bridge, visitors have the option to cross the bridge on foot or bicycle, taking them from Manhattan to Brooklyn or vice versa.
While it is undeniable that the Brooklyn Bridge is more beautiful and majestic than the Williamsburg Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge is often overcrowded with tourists and cyclists. This makes it hard to enjoy the beautiful views from the bridge and the incredible experience of walking from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Though it might be an unusual thing to do in NYC to walk the Williamsburg Bridge instead of the Brooklyn Bridge, you might receive a better experience. Vibrant red hues on the exposed structural elements of the Williamsburg Bridge can be seen throughout, offering visitors a unique photography opportunity.
The High Line
The High Line may not be everyone’s favorite park in New York City, but it is at least in the running for that honor. In what may be the best idea for a park in any urban city, New York City turned an old abandoned elevated railway into an enticing walk above the city streets, a park in the sky. More and more businesses are being built to take advantage of the foot traffic from the park.
One World Trade (Freedom Tower)
Ally Gibson from Ally Travels recommends visiting One World Trade:
One of the best views in New York City can be found by visiting the observation deck on top of One World Trade, also known as the Freedom Tower. This is the tall building that stands next to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. You’ll want to book your tickets well ahead of time, as they have timed entry.
Once you check in, you’ll go through a series of security checkpoints before entering the elevators that will take to to the 100th floor. The elevator is digitally designed to show you the progression of the skyline from the early days of New York until the present day. This is one of the best-designed elevator experiences I’ve ever had, with its quick history lesson and visuals.
Once everyone is out of the elevator and greeted by one of the tour guides, the walls in front of you will part to show the majestic NYC skyline. It’s one of the most well-done welcomes that I’ve ever experienced at a popular tourist destination. From there, you’ll be guided into the main observation deck, with its 360-degree views, gift shop, and cafe. There’s no time limit, you can linger and take in the views as long as you’d like.
If you’re looking for a romantic dinner, consider making reservations at ONE Dine, the tower’s popular restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you see a proposal or two at this romantic spot.
While we may think of Wall Street as where you would find the New York Stock exchange, the name of the street comes from the wall that crossed the island from east to west at this spot marking the northern edge of New Amsterdam. The original city was all south of Wall Street.
Stop by Wall Street and see the Wall Street Bull. As a center of international finance, the city has come a long way from its start as a place to trade with the local tribes. The local culture now wears power suits. You can take a walking tour of Lower Manhattan that includes Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial.
The Oculus and Brookfield Place
When you visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, you will see a rather different-looking building called the Oculus. Lyndsay from The Purposely Lost says:
One of the best things to do in Lower Manhattan is to visit the Oculus and Brookfield Place. The Oculus, designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was created to stand as one of New York City’s main transit terminals. Underneath the World Trade Center is a sprawling series of tunnels that connect all of the various New York City subway lines to one another, and every World Trade Center complex building has an underground lobby within one of the Oculus’s tunnels. Spend some time on the atrium level, admiring the stark white steel ribs interlocking above your head to a full skylight, and catch a glimpse of One World Trade Center’s spire from the ground.
If that wasn’t enough, throughout the underground tunnels is a Westfield shopping mall. Different high-end retailers line the tunnel storefronts, extending from the hub’s entrance, underneath the 9/11 Memorial, and connecting underground to Brookfield Place, another luxury mall on the Hudson River harbor. You can spend all day wandering around underground, exploring the different shops, and dining in the different food courts. On a beautiful day, you can also sit outside in the Brookfield Place courtyard by the river and admire the view of Jersey City from across the Hudson.
Mikkel Woodruff from sometimeshome.com suggests the Seaport District is not just a place to get a bite to eat:
The Seaport District (recently formerly known as South Street Seaport) is an area of NYC in lower Manhattan that’s completely unique to any other area of the city. It’s especially lively during summer – with plenty of activities on its streets and sidewalks, including a lot of eating and day drinking. But it’s an interesting place to visit any time of year.
It’s a harbor where you’ll always see boats off its docks, whether people’s personal vessels or charter boats. You can even take a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty from here, for instance, for a special view of the American icon.
The Seaport District has been around for over 300 years and has gone through many iterations of use and invention. (Don’t miss the South Street Seaport Museum for a detailed historic look into the area.) It’s a bustling area to enjoy some shopping and dining, no matter if you’re looking for an upscale or casual meal. It has absolutely wonderful views of Brooklyn, including of the Brooklyn Bridge and skyline across the East River. It is just next to the Financial District, which is home to Freedom Tower and the 911 Memorial.
If you’d like to reach The Seaport District on public transportation, it’s easy to arrive on the subway. Take the 1 to South Ferry, or J/Z to Broad Street, the R to Whitehall Street/South Ferry, or the 2/3 to Wall Street. It’s a short walk east to the area from any of those stations.
At Trinity Church, you can see the cemetery where numerous famous New Yorkers are buried, including, notably for fans of the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton.
Russian and Turkish Baths
One of the most unusual suggestions I had was from travel writer Joshua Berman (@tranquilotravel), who recommended the Russian and Turkish Baths, which has been “making New Yorkers sweat together since 1892 – it’s a full-on experience, well worth the $36 or so daily fee, and there’s food, a bar, and a tiny rooftop when you need a breather.”
I dare you to try and have a conversation with a New Yorker of any length without once bringing up food. The food options in New York City are diverse and numerous, and here are some favorite food options in Lower Manhattan.
Beer Garden at the Standard Hotel
Right along the High Line, my friend Mark Tafoya (@ChefMark) recommends a stop at the Beer Garden at the Standard Hotel. Tucked right under the trestles that support the High Line is an open German-style beer garden in summer (glass-enclosed in winter). So after you walk the length of the High Line, earn back those calories you burned with sausages, pretzels, and beer.
Little Italy / Chinatown Food Tour
While Little Italy is not as big as it once was, it is still a great place to find a good pizza or a good cannoli. Remember to look for a cannoli that is freshly filled just before you eat it. Much of what used to be Little Italy is now Chinatown and a great way to explore both is a Chinatown and Little Italy Food Tour.
Chinatown Dim Sum
Carole Terwilliger Meyers from Travels with Carole suggests eating in Chinatown, which is always a good idea.
Originally populated by Chinese who moved on from the goldfields in California, Manhattan’s Chinatown is now the largest in the United States. Yes, San Francisco is number two. Like other Chinatowns, it is populated with souvenir shops filled with often-inexpensive items imported from China. In fact, just across Canal Street is the world-famous bargain shopping area where knock-offs of expensive designer brand items sell at prices everyone can afford.
But also, as is expected, Chinatown is filled with Chinese and other Asian restaurants. There are very few other places where you can find a dim sum parlor that features delicious vegetarian cuisine that is also kosher and uses no MSG. Here, the menu at tiny Buddha Bodai One Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant, located at #5 on historic Mott Street, also has many vegan menu choices. And it is inexpensive! So you can understand that this place is roaringly popular. Expect a wait and use it to study the menu and decide what to order. Though I’ve discovered everything is delicious, and nothing is ever left over, my hands-down favorite is the barbecue pork. Made with mock meat, it also mocks the fat and–I swear–even the bone! Don’t miss it.
And as long as we are visiting the Lower East Side, we might as well celebrate what is good about it. Fellow travel podcaster David Brodie (@brodiedavid) recommended a stop at Katz’s Delicatessen where you can get a great corned beef or pastrami sandwich.
Cronuts at Dominique Ansel
If you are looking for calories to fuel your walking around Lower Manhattan, then James Ian at Travel Collecting suggests a stop for cronuts at Dominique Ansel. This Soho bakery is where the cronut was created, so these are not only the originals, but they are also the best, according to James. Cronuts, in case you don’t know what they are, are a cross between a croissant and a donut. They have the flaky texture of a croissant, but are shaped like a donut, are filled with a flavored filling like a donut, and are covered with a frosting like a donut.
The description doesn’t do it justice – they are perfect yummy, gooey bites of utter deliciousness. There is only one flavor, but the flavors (such as strawberries and jam or spiced sweet potato) change each month, so if you have been to New York before, you will most likely get a different one on your return trip. I live a block away and get to try a new one every month! There used to be long lines snaking around the corner, but these days the lines are much shorter. The bakery opens at 8:00 am, and if you want to be there first thing, there are often short lines forming just before that. The staff often gives you a small free hot chocolate sample while you are waiting. You can probably go later in the morning and still get some, but don’t leave it until the afternoon, as they only bake a limited amount every day and almost always sell out.
New York Pass
A great way to save money on any visit to New York is the New York Pass. You can buy a 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 or 10-day pass. The pass will get you free admission to more than 100 attractions, including the ride to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and museums like the 9/11 museum.
Where to stay
Hotels in New York City range from the comfortable to the spectacular. You could stay in the modest Hotel Jane near the southern end of the High Line or celebrate that your family made it out of Ellis Island and the Lower East Side and splurge for the opulent Hotel Mandarin Oriental further north at Columbus overlooking Central Park.
There are numerous small hotels and Airbnbs in Lower Manhattan.
This post is sponsored by hotellook.com, which knows all the best places to stay in Manhattan.