Things To Do in Lower Manhattan | A Self-Guided Tour

This post is about events and things to do in Lower Manhattan including a top 10 list as well as sections on free, family-friendly and nighttime things to do as well as places to eat.  

 

 


TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN LOWER MANHATTAN

This section covers our top 10 things to do in Lower Manhattan, many of which can be enjoyed during the day or night and most of them are free! 

Many of the items listed below are included for free or at a large discount in one of the several tourist attraction discount passes available in NYC.

 

 


1. Discover Lower Manhattan on a Sightseeing Tour

We offer several options to explore NYC’s Financial District including several pay-what-you-wish guided walking tours as well as a GPS-enabled audio tour.  

We also have a downloadable self-guided tour of Lower Manhattan you can use.

 

 

Other companies offer themed tours like an Alexander Hamilton Tour and Revolutionary Era Tour

If you prefer a tour on wheels you can take one of many hop-on-hop-off bus tours with routes that include Lower Manhattan. 

Finally, all helicopter tours of NYC depart from a heliport in Lower Manhattan.


2. Visit the World Trade Center

A major attraction in Lower Manhattan is the new World Trade Center which includes several buildings (including the Freedom Tower).

In the center is the 9/11 Memorial, which is free to visit. (Our free section below lists other free activities in NYC).

 

 

  • 9/11 Memorial – Visiting this Memorial is a moving experience and is also a good place to bring your kids to learn about history first-hand. 
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral – Located across the street from the museum and the memorial, this small chapel amazingly survived the collapse of the Twin Towers. Inside the chapel is a tribute to the 9/11 rescue workers. 
  • 9/11 Tribute Museum – This museum offers visitors a historical timeline. It honors the aftermath of rescue and recovery and shares a personal memorial tribute from 9/11 families.

3. Get a Breathtaking view from atop the Freedom Tower

The “Freedom Tower”, officially called the One World Observatory, is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. The Observatory on the 100th and 101st floors is open and is quite an amazing experience.

 

 

For information on tickets and hours, read our post, One World Observatory (“Freedom Tower”) which can help you plan your visit, as well as how to get discounted tickets.


4. Ride the Free Staten Island Ferry (day or night!)

Whether you ride it during the day or at night, you will get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. And it’s totally free!

 

 

Our guide to riding the Staten Island Ferry should come in handy.


5. Visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Lady Liberty may already be on your ‘must-see’ list. It’s important to know about ticket options, prices, and schedules in advance so you can plan for the perfect visit and maximizing your time.

 

 

See our post on visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which can help you choose a ticket type and pick a good time to go.


6. Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

This is perhaps one of the most memorable experiences one can have in NYC and it is completely free.

The bridge is walkable during the day and night, with both times offering beautiful views. Read our guide to walking the bridge.

 

 

We offer both day and night pay-what-you-wish walking tours of the Brooklyn Bridge and also have a GPS-enabled audio tour that you can use any time of the day or night.


7. Explore Battery Park

This park is located at the tip of Manhattan and has 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 has lots of information on what you will find in the park.


8. Visit the 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. It is charming, historic and a relaxing place to visit.

 

 

You can shop, eat and enjoy the incredible views of the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Brooklyn Promenade from the Esplanade at Pier 15.

There is also a small maritime museum and a seasonal ice skating rink.


9. See Wall Street

Wall Street is synonymous with the history of finance. Of course, there is the New York Stock Exchange, one of the most photographed buildings in NYC.

 

 

Wall Street is best explored with a guide of some kind, be it our self-guided tour of Wall Street or one of the many Wall Street history and finance tours.


10. Save Money on Lower Manhattan Attractions with a Tourist Pass

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 Hamilton Happy Hour Tour
  • Liberty Helicopters
  • And more!

Note: There are many different passes, so you might want to 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. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Woolworth Building Tours

The Woolworth Building is one of the most beautiful skyscrapers in NY, and you can take a tour of this neo-gothic gem.

The tours are highly rated, so don’t miss out on a chance to see this spectacular building and learn its history!


Skyscraper Museum

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 10 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.


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.


Museum of American Finance

Currently closed as of early 2019 due to flood damage. Check here for updates. 


Century 21 Department Store

Known simply as Century 21, this large department store offers deep discounts and sale prices on designer clothes and everyday brands, watches, jewelry, luggage, handbags and so much more.

The store is very crowded during prime hours, but fortunately, they stay open until 9 pm most evenings when it is surprisingly quiet. This is just another great thing to do at night in Lower Manhattan.

 


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FREE THINGS TO DO IN LOWER MANHATTAN

There are so many free things one can do in Lower Manhattan, you could spend half a day or more without spending any money (except for food). Below are highlights of free historic sites and other attractions. 

Keep in mind that other activities mentioned throughout this post, such as the riding 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 10 list. 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 also free if you purchase a tourist discount pass


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


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. 


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.


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, 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 their schedule. 


National Museum of the American Indian

Housed in the exquisite Beaux-Arts for Customs House, this museum’s 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.


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.

 

Ticker Tape Parades

 

As you walk along Broadway, look down and you’ll see inlaid granite strips in the sidewalk with the names of significant historical figures such as politicians, accomplished athletes, pioneers of air and space travel, and local sports teams.


Trinity Church

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 houses some of America’s oldest and most beautiful stained glass.

 

 

You can also see free musical performances here. Learn more about this historic site, and their services and free music, see our post on Trinity Church.


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 highlights the significant role that enslaved people played in building New York City.

Find out more from their website.


The Oculus

The Oculus inside the Westfield World Trade Center is a transportation hub that connects the New Jersey PATH trains to the NYC Subway.

It is a stunning must-see architectural structure with some great shopping and several places to grab food. See our food section below.


Castle Clinton

In preparation for the war of 1812, this round fort was built at the southernmost tip of Manhattan in what is known as Battery Park.

The fort and its cannons were never used, and now it is a landmarked outdoor museum, with replica cannons and a small but quite interesting exhibit room with documents, maps, and photographs.

Castle Clinton is especially fun for kids to see. Our post on Battery Park has more information on visiting Castle Clinton. 

Note: Castle Clinton is the location of the ticket office for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tours.


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.

 


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THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT IN LOWER MANHATTAN

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 t 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.

10 things to do any time of year in NYC

 


Take a Night Tour

In the 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 out 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, and until around 9 or 10 pm you will likely find many other people on the bridge with you.

You can use our detailed post on Walking the Brooklyn Bridge to make the most of this unforgettable experience.


Night Cruises

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.

 

 

Be sure to read our night boat tour comparison post.


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. See above for a video and more information.


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 last entry at 7 pm. Admission is free on Tuesday evenings. 


One World Observatory (Freedom Tower)

The views are just as spectacular at night as they are during the day! Most of the year, the Observatory is open until 9 pm (with last entry around 8 pm). The closing time between Dec. 21 – 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 actually reviewed it on YELP, where it is rated it 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.


Dine at Sunset at Pier A Harbor House

We have a full section below devoted to places to eat in Lower Manhattan. But we want to highlight Pier A Harbor House, for the ultimate Lower Manhattan evening out. It is located about as far down on the tip of Lower Manhattan as one can go.

The Harbor House is a historical New York City landmark, opened in 1886 and serving in several civic capacities over three centuries.

It has been meticulously restored and you have two different dining atmospheres to choose from, a casual 1st floor with outside seating along the water and formal dining on the 2nd floor.

 


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THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN LOWER MANHATTAN

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.

Be sure to see our posts, Top Things to Do with Kids in New York City and our 3-day itinerary for families for more family-friendly ideas.  

This video is for things to do with kids any time of year.

 


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, but they are not all well-suited for children, particularly small children. 

This goes for the main museum. The staff created a guide for families that is worth a look.

We provide general visitor information in our top 10 section. Below, we explain the one kid-friendly 9/11 related museum.

9/11 Ground Zero Museum Workshop 

While it is not located in the World Trade Center, this museum is worth a trip to the nearby neighborhood of Chelsea.

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. 

To find out more, visit their website.

Note: This museum is included in the New York Pass and New York Explorer Pass.


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.

On the other side of Lower Manhattan at the South Street Seaport, is Imagination Playground.

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.


The Charging Bull and Fearless Girl Statues

Your kids will love posing with the iconic Charging Bull, one of the most photographed sculptures in the city.

Then walk up to the New York Stock Exchange a few blocks north where your kids can pose with the Fearless Girl that symbolizes the fight for gender equality in the workforce.


National Museum of the American Indian

One of the top free places to visit in NYC, this is also a favorite with kids due to their imagiNATIONS Activity Center.

It is an interactive play space that lets children learn about Native American inventions and scientific accomplishments by performing their own experiments, using state-of-the-art computer simulations and solving puzzles.

Click here for more information.


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


Boat Rides and Cruises

There are boat rides and cruises for kids of all ages and comfort zones. The speed demons will love a ride on a RIB New York High Speed Boat or The Beast.

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.


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.


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.


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 rent bikes, kayak for free, picnic, and visit the various playgrounds.

For all the details on visiting, read our post on Governors Island.


Revolutionary War History Tour

This tour is well-suited for children interested in history, in British-occupied precolonial 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 10 am Wednesdays, Fridays, 11 am, Saturdays, 12 pm Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays. $40 per person. You can book tickets here.


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. See our post on Ice Skating in NYC.

Take a look at our post Things to do with Kids in NYC for more family-friendly activities.

 


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FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

Fraunces Tavern Pub and Restaurant

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.


Stone Street Restaurants

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 has outdoor dining in good weather. See a list of restaurants here.


Brookfield Place Restaurants

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.


South Street Seaport Restaurants

There are many options of where to eat in and around the Seaport area. 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!


Westfield World Trade Center Restaurants

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.

 


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Written by Courtney Shapiro