Lower Manhattan is a part of NYC that should not be missed!
We share the top 20 things to do in Lower Manhattan - many of which are free - so if you are on a budget, we've got you covered!
We also list things to do at night, or with kids, as well as places to eat and sleep.
- Top 20 Things To Do
- Free Things To Do
- What To Do At Night
- Family-Friendly Activities
- Where To Eat
- Where To Stay in NYC
- Other Things To Do In NYC
Disclosure: We think you should consider our free tours, but we have also provided other options. While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.
Some of New York City's most iconic sights are in Lower Manhattan (also referred to as Downtown Manhattan).
Lower Manhattan covers the area south of 14th Street between the East River and Hudson River and includes several NYC neighborhoods.
Here, we cover the part of Lower Manhattan known as the Financial District, though don't let the name fool you.
Lower Manhattan is more about historic buildings and gorgeous views than it is about money.
Many of the activities are free and for those that aren't, you can find discounts get discounts with one of NYC's tourist attraction discount passes.
1. Take In The Sweeping Views From One World Observatory
The “Freedom Tower”, officially called the One World Observatory, is currently the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.
The views from the 100th and 101st floors are breathtaking.
See our post on how to visit One World Observatory (“Freedom Tower”) for a preview of what to expect and how to get discount tickets.
2. Discover Wall Street's History
Wall Street is synonymous with the history of finance. There really was a wall here in colonial times!
At the intersection of Wall Street and Broad Street, three historic buildings face each other. Of course, there is the New York Stock Exchange, a National Historic Landmark.
Across the street diagonally is Federal Hall, the site where George Washington was inaugurated.
Then there is the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company building which was the site of what could be called the first domestic terrorist attack in America.
In 1920 a cart of TNT was set off killing 33 people. You can still see pockmarks from the explosion on the side of the buildings. Truly a fascinating intersection!
3. Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
A sight that is synonymous with New York City, Lady Liberty may already be on your ‘must-see’ list.
She is arguably the main reason tourists are in Lower Manhattan to begin with because the ferries to Liberty Island and Ellis Island depart from here.
Our post on visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island goes over ticket options and advice on the best times to go so you can plan a perfect visit!
4. Explore Lower Manhattan On A Pay-What-You-Wish Sightseeing Tour
You can see the best of the Financial District in two hours by joining us on our pay-what-you-wish Lower Manhattan guided walking tour.
Our guides are extremely knowledgeable and also entertaining.
We have other pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours that include Lower Manhattan and other locations.
5. Visit The Beautiful 9/11 Memorial and Museum
The 9/11 Memorial is both a remembrance of those who perished that day but also a symbol of perseverance.
The grounds are peaceful and are accessible 24 hours a day every day.
The magnificent cascading fountains, built into the foundations of the Twin Towers, are like nothing you have seen before.
Next to the memorial is the National September 11 Museum. A visit can help put the events of 9/11 in perspective.
Our guide on visiting the 9/11 Memorial explains how to find it, the best times to visit, and what sights are nearby.
6. Walk Across The Brooklyn Bridge
This National Historic Landmark is perhaps one of the most memorable experiences one can have in NYC and it is completely free.
The entrance to the pedestrian walkway is in Lower Manhattan. End your day in Lower Manhattan with a walk over the bridge into Brooklyn Heights.
7. Ride the Free Staten Island Ferry Day or Night
This free boat ride in New York Harbor is one of the best free things to do in NYC.
You will get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan.
You also pass the Statute of Liberty so if you aren't planning on visiting Lady Liberty, you can still get great photographs from the ferry.
Read our post on taking the Staten Island Ferry to find out the best times to ride to avoid crowds.
8. Admire Trinity Church's Beauty Inside and Out
This Anglican parish was first established on this site in 1697 under charter by King William III.
Since that year, 3 different structures have stood here housing Trinity Church.
The current church building, a National Historic Landmark, houses some of America's oldest and most beautiful stained glass.
You can also see free musical performances here. Read more about this church's history from our post on Trinity Church.
The current church building houses some of America's oldest and most beautiful stained glass.
You can also see free musical performances here. Read more about this church's history from our post on Trinity Church.
9. Get Some Good Luck From The Charging Bull
This is one of the most photographed sights in NYC - and one of the most touched!
Most people pose with the bull's front side, but there is a myth that touching the bull's most private parts at his rear end brings financial good fortunes!
He appeared mysteriously on December 15, 1989, in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Read more about the Wall Street Bull's fascinating history.
On March 8, 2017, the Charging Bull was joined by a smaller, but just as fierce bronze statue, "Fearless Girl".
She was dropped in front of the overly-masculine bull to raise awareness about the importance of gender diversity in corporate leadership.
She has since been moved to a spot across from the New York Stock Exchange.
10. Relax in Battery Park
Battery Park is located at the tip of Manhattan where New York City was born!
You can find incredible vistas of the New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
There are many monuments to soldiers, explorers, inventors, and immigrants. Our guide to Battery Park covers all the great sights to see in the park.
11. Play At Governors Island
Governors Island is a small recreational vehicle-free island just 7 minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan.
It is open in the warmer months. You can ride rental bikes, and kayak for free, have a picnic and visit the various playgrounds.
For all the details on visiting, read our post on Governors Island.
A tourist discount pass affords you discounted entry into most of NYC’s most popular tours and attractions.
Several attractions and activities listed in this post are included in various tourist passes.
Below is a list of the most popular Lower Manhattan attractions and activities included in many of the tourist passes you can buy.
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
- One World Observatory (Freedom Tower) *offered only by The Sightseeing Pass
- 9/11 Museum
- 9/11 Tribute Museum
- South Street Seaport Museum
- The Skyscraper Museum
- Museum of American Finance
- Museum of Jewish Heritage
- Fraunces Tavern Museum
- Bike Tours and Rentals
- Hop-on, Hop-Off Bus tours
- Several boat rides and cruises
- Walking Tours of Wall Street, the Underground Railroad Walking Tour, and the Hamilton Happy Hour Tour
- Liberty Helicopters
- And more!
Note: There are many different passes, so you might want to read our post comparing NYC tourist passes to see which one, if any, is best for you.
The Downtown Culture Pass is ideal for those of you who plan on visiting many of the museums and sights mentioned in this post.
13. See The City Lights From A Night Cruise
For gorgeous views of the city in a relaxing environment, consider a night cruise.
There are many choices, including dinner and jazz cruises, sailboat sunset rides, and cruises around the Statue of Liberty.
See all the options from our night boat tour comparison post.
14. Marvel At The Oculus
The space-age-inspired Oculus is a stunning architectural structure. This is a must-see for photography buffs!
It's also a great place to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. Read more about The Oculus.
It is also a transportation hub that connects the New Jersey PATH trains to the NYC Subway.
For some help with navigating the subway, check out our post on using the NYC subway.
15. Gaze At The Former U.S. Customs House's Beaux-Arts Splendor
Housed in the exquisite Beaux-Arts for Customs House, the National Museum of the American Indian is an amazing and free museum.
Its collection features over 700 Native American objects from across the continents.
Public tours for adults and families explain the exhibitions and the architecture of this beautiful building.
For more information on tours, times, and exhibits, check out our in-depth post on this museum.
Find out about other free museums in NYC.
16. Stroll Around South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport consists of two blocks of cobblestone streets and restored 19th-century two-story buildings located next to the East River.
17. Tour The Woolworth Building
The Woolworth Building is one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in NY.
You can take a tour of this neo-gothic gem also once known as the Cathedral of Commerce.
The tours are highly rated, so don’t miss out on a chance to see this spectacular building and learn its history!
18. Go To The Museum Of Jewish Heritage
This excellently curated museum honors the victims of the Holocaust by examining Jewish traditions, achievements, and religious faith, thus keeping the Jewish people’s legacy alive today.
Visit their website for more information.
19. See a Concert
While most of the major venues in NYC aren't in this part of town, there are some pretty popular theaters and lounges in Lower Manhattan.
If you're interested in seeing a concert, check to see who is playing at the following locations:
If you don't mind going to Midtown Manhattan, you might also want to consider heading to Madison Square Garden, as they frequently host some of the biggest musical artists in the world!
20. Enjoy Stand-up Comedy Shows in Greenwich Village
Although most people consider Greenwich Village its own little neighborhood, it is technically part of Lower Manhattan, and there are a lot of interesting activities to enjoy in the area.
One idea is to head to the Greenwich Village Comedy Club for some stand-up comedy. Although they don't always attract the biggest comics, you never know what could happen!
Keep an eye on the Greenwich House Theater schedule as well, because they usually host at least a few notable comedians or other performers each month.
TIP: If you're already planning to get a New York Sightseeing Pass, it's worth noting that this service includes a 20% discount on tickets at Greenwich Village Comedy Club.
Below are highlights of free historic sites, attractions and small enclaves within Lower Manhattan
Keep in mind that other activities mentioned throughout this post, such as riding the Staten Island Ferry, the 9/11 Memorial, and walking the Brooklyn Bridge are all free.
For an exhaustive list of free activities in New York City, see our post, Free Things to Do in NYC, and/or watch the video below.
World Trade Center
Visiting the World Trade Center is in our top 20 list above.
Though some sites require a paid ticket, other parts are free all the time, or free during certain days/hours.
The 9/11 Memorial is always free to visit, as is St. Paul’s Chapel.
The National September 11 Museum requires a paid ticket, but on Tuesdays, they offer free admission.
Entrance to the museum is free if you purchase a tourist discount pass.
Chinatown, Little Italy and SoHo
These three amazing enclaves within Lower Manhattan are worth exploring.
Chinatown's narrow curvy streets and colorful signs in Chinese make it a great destination. You can find a bunch of amazing dishes for about $1!
Though Little Italy is getting smaller every year, its main street, Mulberry Street has lots to offer in the way of both history and culinary delights.
SoHo has a great mix for all interests. Gorgeous cast-iron buildings, contemporary art galleries and shopping for all budgets.
If you would like to take a guided tour of these neighborhoods, join us for our free SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown Tour.
Federal Hall National Memorial
George Washington was inaugurated here, and the original building here was the nation’s first capital.
A visit here won't take long, but it is worth a quick look.
The interior of the building is handsome and the exhibits are small but well done, such as the John Peter Zenger Display, celebrating the birth of the Freedom of the Press.
See our post on Federal Hall for a full description of what you can see inside and on their schedule.
City Hall Tours
New York’s City Hall is the country’s oldest city hall that is still used for its original purpose, as a seat of local government.
Both the Mayor and the City Council work in City Hall.
City Hall is one of the greatest architectural achievements of that era and offers free guided tours.
The High Line
One of the most popular free attractions in NYC is the High Line, a fantastic public park built on an abandoned elevated train track.
The park is 1.45 miles (2.33 km) long and runs parallel to the Hudson River. The architecture surrounding the park is stunning and the views are outstanding.
The High Line’s southern entrance is in Lower Manhattan, just next to the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Learn all about the High Line.
Federal Reserve Bank of NY Tours
This is one of the 12 regional Reserve Banks of the Federal Reserve System.
One function of this location is “gold custody” - this is where the gold is kept!
Tours are completely free, but getting tickets isn't easy. We explain how to go about getting tickets here.
Canyon of Heroes
The section of Broadway from City Hall to Battery Park is known as the “Canyon of Heroes.”
It is along this stretch that ticker-tape parades were born.
As you walk along Broadway, look down and you'll see inlaid granite strips on the sidewalk.
They list the names of significant historical figures such as politicians, accomplished athletes, pioneers of air and space travel, and local sports teams.
In preparation for the war of 1812, this round fort was built at the southernmost tip of Manhattan in what is known then as The Battery.
The fort and its cannons were never used, and now it is a landmarked outdoor museum with replica cannons.
Castle Clinton National Monument is especially fun for kids to see.
There is a small but quite interesting exhibit room with documents, maps, and photographs.
African Burial Ground National Monument
This is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground for both free and enslaved Africans in North America.
Both the adjacent interactive visitor center and the outdoor memorial highlight the significant role that enslaved people played in building New York City.
It is also a Historic Landmark. Find out more from their website.
Lower East Side
History, hipsters and delicious food are what the Lower East Side is all about!
It’s a fun neighborhood to hang out in and do some people-watching and snack-grabbing.
Our free Lower East Side Food Tour is filled with history and scrumptious foods.
City Hall Subway Station
Unbeknownst to most New Yorkers, there is an abandoned but accessible subway station - the old City Hall Station.
It was the very first subway station in NYC, opening in 1904 and closing in 1945.
Paid tours are offered through the Transit Museum, but there is a way to see the station on your own for free.
NYC Municipal Archives Visitors Center
Located in a stunning Beaux-Arts building, the Visitor Center's exhibitions showcase special items from the archive collections that cover many topics in New York City’s history.
Perhaps it's not a typical tourist destination, but it is free and interesting for those who love history. Check their website for hours.
For more suggestions for free activities throughout the entire city, see our post, Free Things to Do in NYC.
Many activities included throughout this post can be enjoyed in the evening and night as well as during the day.
Below are activities we think are special to experience at night (though daytime is fine as well!)
See our post, Things to Do at Night in NYC, and watch the video below for more activities you can enjoy when the sun sets.
Take a Night Tour
In a city that never sleeps, you can find all kinds of tours running in the evening. Just see our post, New York Night Tours to find the different tours out there.
From April through October, we offer our 9/11 Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge Night Tour.
You can also use our GPS-enabled tour of Lower Manhattan.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
As noted above, the Brooklyn Bridge can be walked over 24 hours a day.
You can use our detailed post on Walking the Brooklyn Bridge to make the most of this unforgettable experience.
We don't recommend walking too late in the evening.
In the warm months, you will likely find many other people on the bridge with you as late as 10 pm.
Ride the Free Staten Island Ferry
Not only is the Staten Island Ferry free, but it also runs 24 hours a day!
For those on a budget, skip the night cruise and hop on the ferry for an incredible ride.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
The memorial is open into the early evening hours. Its massive twin fountains lit up at night are a sight to see.
The 9/11 Museum is open daily until 8 pm with the last entry at 7 pm. Admission is free on Tuesday evenings.
One World Observatory (Freedom Tower)
Located at One World Trade Center, the views from the observation deck are just as spectacular at night as they are during the day!
It is the tallest building in the United States, and its observation deck is taller than those at the Empire State Building, Summit One, The Edge, and Top of the Rock.
Most of the year, the Observatory is open until 9 pm (with the last entry around 8 pm).
The closing time between Dec. 21 - and Jan. 3 is 8 pm.
See our post for more information.
See a Movie at the Regal Cinema
This movie theater complex is so good that nearly 500 people have reviewed it on YELP, where it is rated 4 out of 5 stars!
Comfy seats that recline, a good selection of films for people of all ages, and Cheetos popcorn make this a destination when you are in Lower Manhattan.
Check what’s playing here.
So many of the activities mentioned above throughout this post are family-friendly, like going to the top of the Freedom Tower, going to the Statue of Liberty, and riding the free Staten Island Ferry.
Below are places that are suited to families.
This video is for things to do with kids at any time of year.
This museum celebrates the history of the skyscraper and its place in New York City throughout its history.
You can see small-scale replicas of some of the city’s most iconic skyscrapers. There are also changing exhibits and a family program.
It’s quite inexpensive to enter - just $5 for adults and $2.50 for kids. See their website for details. * Admission is FREE through July 2022!
Boat Rides and Cruises
There are boat rides and cruises for kids of all ages and comfort zones.
You can also take the family on a large sailboat/schooner and travel the way New Yorkers did in Colonial times.
For a slower pace, sit back and enjoy the popular Circle Line.
For those on a tight budget, the best bargain for you and your kids is a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry.
Learn about the many options from our post, Boat Tours and Cruises in NYC.
One World Observatory ("Freedom Tower")
Your kids will be mesmerized by the unbelievable view from this 1,776-foot (541 m) skyscraper.
While related to 9/11, the Freedom Tower doesn’t delve deeply into the tragedy, but rather the workers who helped build the tower.
See our post on visiting the Freedom Tower to plan your trip and learn how to save money on tickets.
Visit the World Trade Center
There are several components to the World Trade Center, including the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, but they are not well-suited for young children.
Though the memorial grounds are lovely and your kids may marvel at the fountains, you know your children best and what they can handle or not.
This 9/11 Memorial guide for families is worth a look.
There is an excellent kids' museum in nearby Chelsea, the 9/11 Ground Zero Museum Workshop.
Known as the “Kid-Friendly 9/11 Museum”, due to the deliberate absence of any graphic imagery, this museum and workshop gently introduce children to the events of 9/11 with the use of interactive exhibits.
Take a Bike Ride Along the Esplanade
The Esplanade runs along the Hudson River all the way from Battery Park to the southern boundary of TriBeCa at Chambers Street.
It’s a manageable distance for younger riders and you can continue to ride around the rest of Lower Manhattan for the period of your rental.
There are also bike tours of Lower Manhattan. Find out about tours and bike rentals here.
South Street Seaport Museum
This small, unique museum has both exhibits you can look at and some you can board!
Tickets to the museum include guided tours on both the 1885 cargo ship Wavertree and the 1907 lightship Ambrose, weather permitting.
At Pier 16 you can see the entire museum fleet of 5 historic ships and vessels. Our post on the South Street Seaport has more information.
Fraunces Tavern Museum
This is the only Manhattan museum that is dedicated to Revolutionary War history.
Fraunces Tavern was where George Washington bid farewell to all of his officers in 1783, at the end of the American Revolution.
Though small by museum standards, the history that took place there is immeasurable.
Downstairs is an actual tavern where you can dine! See our post about Fraunces Tavern Museum for details.
Battery Park Seaglass Carousel
Music, art, glass, and steel, all come together in this magical journey of the sea. This carousel contains 30 different types of giant glowing fiberglass fish.
The Carousel is open 7 days a week. See our post on Things to Do in Battery Park to find out open hours and ticket prices.
Revolutionary War History Tour
This tour is well-suited for children interested in history, in British-occupied pre-colonial New York.
Learn more about the famous historical figures you already know such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton as well as lesser-known but just as important patriots like John Jay.
Tours run at 10 am Wednesdays, Fridays, 11 am, Saturdays, 12 pm Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. $40 per person. You can book tickets here.
Playgrounds and Parks
There are many great green spaces and playgrounds and recreational fields in Battery Park City (BPC), on the west side of Lower Manhattan.
There is Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, filled with expansive jungle gyms and swinging bridges.
Tear Drop Park is a small gem of a park for younger kids, you can find sandboxes, waterworks, rocks to climb, and a slide.
Designed to let your child’s imagination run wild, the park is less structured than others but has all a kid needs to play. Sand, water giant foam blocks, crates, wagons, and more.
Find out about more playgrounds in NYC from our post Things to do with Kids in NYC.
Go Ice Skating in the Winter
Seasonally, there are two ice skating rinks in Lower Manhattan: one at the South Street Seaport and the other at Brookfield Place.
Fraunces Tavern boasts a full selection of craft beers as well as an excellent whiskey selection (with a special whiskey tasting room). There is also a full food menu of “colonial-style” cuisine, including Chicken Pot Pie, a favorite of George Washington.
In the 1650s, when New York was still Dutch New Amsterdam this street was ‘Brouwer Sraet‘, one of the earliest streets to be paved with cobblestone, hence its renaming to Stone Street. There are many bars and restaurants along this small street that have outdoor dining in good weather. See a list of restaurants here.
Located to the west of the World Trade Center, you can find the wonderful Hudson Eats Food Hall with 14 restaurants including Blue Ribbon Sushi, Chop’t, Dos Toros Taqueria and more.
A few suggestions are Cowgirl Seahorse, casual Mexican that’s kid-friendly, Ambrose Beer for a beer and a lobster roll and the Paris Cafe, one of NYC’s oldest pubs (1873) serving gastropub cuisines like steak, burgers, salads and amazing fries!
You can find many familiar food shops, like Shake Shack, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and more as well as semi-upscale cuisines like Eataly and Epicerie Boulud.
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW YORK CITY
There are many hotels in Lower Manhattan that cost under $200 a night, though that depends on the season. Take a look at some options here.
Take a listen to our NYC Travel Tips podcast episode on where to stay in NYC. You can get our podcast wherever you get your podcasts.