Since 9/11, Lower Manhattan has experienced a resurgence and is a much more vibrant place where the young professionals who work there are living now, too. The neighborhoods still retain much of their original charm while supporting a new and diverse community that has brought a youthful energy to its classic downtown aura.
Things to do in Lower Manhattan
You won’t even have time to argue about where you are while figuring out what to do in Lower Manhattan. Here is a tour of all the lower manhattan attractions that can keep you occupied on the sprawling streets of what some might simply call “The Fun Zone.”
If you would like a day or two of instagrammable moments, both modern and classic, follow our tour of Lower Manhattan and the fun activities it offers!
Get a taste of old-timey New York
Many historically significant places and structures in lower Manhattan, some of them standing over a century, have been retrofitted and revamped to add a modern touch so if you want to step in the way back machine and get a taste of old-time New York and enjoy modern entertainment at the same time, here are a few spots to check out:
- Castle Clinton: Castle Clinton, built in 1808, stands in The Battery and actually predates Ellis Island as an immigration station. Its transformation into a modern performance venue started in 1998. The fortress rocks out with concerts from time to time.
- Battery Bikeway: This 10-mile bike path is the most used bikeway in the United States. Restored statues and tended nature envelop your journey from the Hudson to the East River.
Learn about the immigrants that built NYC
Lower Manhattan is home to the Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island, the port through which 12 million immigrants passed between 1892 and 1954. So naturally, many of them settled right here in Lower Manhattan.
But instead of visiting those tourist-drenched meccas, why not get a feeling for how those immigrants lived? Packed like sardines in tenements, actually.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum will tell you all about it. In 1992 Activist Ruth Jacobs and partner Anita Jacobson found an old building that still held leftovers of immigrants lives and turned it into a tribute to NYC’s immigrants. They refer to it as a “time capsule.” It’s grown to 2 buildings where you can experience recreated apartments from those times.
One group with a dedicated museum that aren’t immigrants are the folks who were here first – Native Americans. Before New York became an urban behemoth, Indians used the land for hunting and fishing. Explore their heritage at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Find a treasure trove of books and records
Most things can be bought online these days, so another way to time travel is to hang out in stores and browse through relics of the past, like books and records.
Music Maniacs will find tons of treats because New York being as big as it is, there is plenty of overstock and the highest concentration of collectors – ground zero if you will. Lower Manhattan, it could be said, is where records go to die and you go to dig them up! Our two favorite spots are:
- Comend: Comend is a hidden gem with friendly staff and a unique selection. They consider themselves a community space and experiment often with local artists. Cassette tapes and vinyl pressings of those experiments are available at the store.
- Mercer Street Books and Records: What’s better than browsing records? Browsing books and records! Two of our favorite activities in one convenient location, filled with obscure literature and funky wax trax.
Take a breath of nature in the city
Besides Central Park, Lower Manhattan is the most lushly natural setting to be found on the main island of New York City. Indians made great use of the land in the past, and there are plenty of spots to enjoy in the present. It’s very outdoorsy.
Start the journey to Lower Manhattan with a brisk stroll or casual amble down the High Line, a former elevated railway based on a French concept. It has been converted to a pedestrian pathway high above the streets decorated with vegetation and flora.
After picking up some literature, soak in peace at the appropriately and efficiently named Battery Gardens. These days The Gardens include a Bosque and an Urban Farm. It even hosts open Air Yoga. Can you imagine old-timey New Yorkers in those positions?
And it’s not exactly nature, but the urban jungle called Lower Manhattan provides a fantastic canvas for enterprising graffiti artists. So be sure to take a minute to stop and admire the murals!
Eat your way through Manhattan’s diverse cuisine
Mainstays Chinatown and Little Italy are two of the most distinctly New York neighborhoods. Recently they have been duking it out for territory, with Chinatown in the lead.
There’s enough to go around. Our editorial team does have an affinity towards Italian food, but the Chinese have some exotic sweets and treats you may not have yet discovered. So, we suggest Little Italy for dinner, and Chinatown, for dessert. That’s right – no cannolis!
- In Little Italy, defer to Lombardi’s, NYC’s oldest pizzeria, melting cheese since 1905. For a more traditional home-cooked Italian feast of lasagna and burrata, try Gelso and Grand – on Grand, of course – or Il Cortile from more northern Italian cuisine.
- You’ve avoided a cannoli, but you won’t be able to resist the sweet at The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory! What makes it so unique? Chinese flava! Discover peace in the Zen butter flavor.
- Or for dessert that won’t melt, try Aji Ichiban USA, which offers exotic treats like sweet pickled plum and kumquat pellets!
- Continue the immigrant studies in both these mini hoods! Chinatown has the Museum of Chinese in America, while Little Italy houses the Italian American Museum in a former bank on Mulberry.
Discover the NY comedy scene
When it comes to comedy, the farther downtown you go, the more cutting-edge it gets, safely away from the mainstream. Up-and-coming comics give funny careers a shot, while sometimes famous comedians experiment with edgier material.
These are just 2 of the notably hot comedy clubs in Lower Manhattan:
- Caveat: Hosting comedy centered on diverse topics, the shows range from stand-up to variety to burlesque themes. And their craft beer taps are almost just as diverse!
- Secret Loft: This place won’t be a secret much longer! Offbeat comedy not for the mainstream and all kinds of crazy forms of entertainment that will make you smile. And free pizza!
The action isn’t limited to specifically comedy clubs. Any night of the week, bars and other unusual spots host comedy nights.
Party like there’s no tomorrow at Alphabet City
Ain’t no party like an ABC party – the legendary neighborhood where numbers and letters begin!
Lou Reed and Madonna are among the long line of artists that once haunted these avenues where party people still kick it all night long in the best places for live music and dancing. Two spots not to miss are:
- Rockwood Music Hall: This huge and eclectic venue has three stages, some with a friendly one-drink minimum. Rockwood makes it easy to discover new bands and music.
- Lola: Formerly known as Coney Island Baby, this venue captures the grungier old vibe of Alphabet City. Great live music you can dance to with a cheap cover charge.
If we’re not too hungover tomorrow, there’s plenty more. Like speakeasies, a popular trend right now – NYC is full of them. Or a trip through Tribeca! In winter, 6 River Terrace, a Battery Park community center, offers everything from Indie Craft Fairs to Film Noir screening nights to Zumba dancing!
NYC fashion at its finest
New York’s finest fashion police are always around the corner. So you have to look great and, more importantly, authentic. That way, you don’t get treated like a tourist. So before you step out in lower Manhattan, get your outfit ready. Here are some suggestions on where to put together that fabulous ensemble for your stroll.
Lower Manhattan is the birthplace of new wave and new york punk. It was home to fashion icons like Debbie Harry. Best to follow her lead and hit some thrift shops!
You can start in upper-lower Manhattan, on 7th Street at the on-trendy auH20shop. Started by a Milwaukee native, it has plenty of 80s and 90s fashion, often for less than thirty smackers. Tokio7, also on 7th Street, is pricier and more vintage, but you will find second-hand designer duds for the extra bread.
Oh, you want to go super-stylish, and money is no object? Well, try some of the classy and sassy lower manhattan boutiques! At Angela’s Vintage Boutique on 2nd Ave., Angela actually helps you find the gems waiting on her shelves. Lower Manhattan first became famous for its quirky, avant-garde attitude, and Assembly New York on Ludlow St. reflects that vibe. It’s the perfect place to assemble your hip downtown combo.
All dressed up and need somewhere to go? Start your adventure at the top of the alphabet with an art walk! You can go classy at the galleries or trashy with the street art.
An ambitiously artistic afternoon
After a nice glass of wine in a local park, stroll through some art galleries. Try the lower east side, a neighborhood that is home to Derek Eller Gallery, 33 Orchard, and Bodega, among others. In Chinatown, you’ll find Foxy Production and Helena Anrather, who showcases emerging artists.
But more legendary than the manhattan art community is the new york street art. After all, New York City is the birthplace of graffiti! In lower manhattan neighborhoods like Little Italy and Nolita, walls have been graced by art from the likes of Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Claw Money, and Tristan Eaton.
There is even a Museum of Street Art! Well, it’s more of a staircase, appropriately located in the Bowery Hotel at 189 Bowery Street and cleverly named “MoSA,” a play on “MoMA,” or the far more prestigious “Museum of Modern Art” located uptown.
The art doesn’t stop there. No, the list of things to do marches on with the first letter of the alphabet and another form of artistic expression, architecture!
The search for skyscrapers
New York has always set the pace for modern skyscrapers. From the first boom in the middle of the twentieth century to a more recent surge in development in the last decade, lower Manhattan is a great place to admire the craft and its evolution from the past through today.
Start with the Woolworths building, one of the earliest specimens, completed in 1913. Located in upper-lower Manhattan, you can take a guided tour of this relic, unlike others that aren’t open to the public.
A modern masterpiece is the Gehry New York building, designed by Frank Gehry. Its shimmering, tubular design stands out among the crowded skyline.
Of course, the original World Trade Towers held a record while they were standing, and the replacement towers have renewed that record. But in the interim years, a tower that had previously held the record, 70 Pine St, reclaimed its crown as the tallest building in NYC. Visit the past at 70 Pine St, built in 1932, then see what the future has brought and visit the modern World Trade Complex, home of the Freedom Tower, which opened in 2014.
Why don’t you begin or end your search for fantastic architecture at the Skyscraper museum? That’s right; there’s a museum for skyscrapers too! It’s located way lower in Manhattan at 39 Battery Place and traces the evolution of the city’s architecture from tenements to towers.
This places us almost squarely in the city’s financial capital of the world. Wall Street. What to do now?
How to get lucky on Wall Street
Wall Street itself is a living museum. And it’s got an inanimate one, too – The Museum of American Finance. Fortunes are bought, sold, and traded on Wall Street daily, influencing more of our daily life than we realize. You can see where it all started in 1792 when 24 traders signed the Buttonwood Agreement at 68 Wall Street.
Besides the One World Trade Center Complex, there are many notable attractions to see while wandering around Wall Street – take a selfie with “Charging Bull,” a Black Monday prank sculpture at Bowling Greens that later got adopted by the Wall Street community.
Learn more by taking the Wall Street History and Finance Tour. It includes the homes and businesses of famous magnates like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, who made their fortunes here.
And, of course, Rockefeller Amble through the park that bears his name at 75 Battery Place, then wrap up your tour at another eye-catching statue, “Fearless Girl.” It was installed in March 2017 to celebrate women’s empowerment, right across from the Stock Exchange building. Fun Fact!: Originally, it was installed in bowling green, facing down “The Bull,” but got moved to its present spot after receiving complaints.
Tired of conducting your own tour? Check out the next section – problem solved!
The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
No trip to NYC would be complete without paying a visit to the monumental Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty, standing tall on Liberty Island, has been welcoming visitors and immigrants to the United States since 1886. This colossal neoclassical sculpture, a gift from France, remains an emblem of freedom and hope. You can enjoy breathtaking views of Manhattan from the statue’s crown or simply admire her magnificence from the ground.
Located nearby, Ellis Island is another must-visit historical landmark. From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was the United States’ largest immigration inspection station. Over twelve million immigrants passed through this gateway in search of new beginnings. Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum offers an immersive experience that narrates these historical journeys through photographs, artifacts, and personal accounts. Exploring the Great Hall, where millions of newcomers took their first steps into America, is a truly humbling experience.
Wall Street & The New York Stock Exchange
Next up is the iconic Wall Street, the heart of the global financial world. Home to the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street is brimming with history and activity. Take a stroll along the cobblestone streets, where skyscrapers stand tall and traders hurry. Don’t forget to capture a photo with the Charging Bull, a bronze statue symbolizing financial resilience and power. This 7,100-pound sculpture by Arturo Di Modica has become one of the most iconic landmarks of NYC.
Located on Wall Street, the Federal Hall is another historic site not to be missed. Known as the birthplace of American government, it was here that George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States.
One World Trade Center & 9/11 Memorial
Finally, make your way to the One World Trade Center, a beacon of resilience and hope. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, this 1,776-foot skyscraper stands on the site where the Twin Towers once stood. The One World Observatory at its summit offers awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city.
Adjacent to the tower is the 9/11 Memorial, a poignant tribute to the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, and the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. The memorial features two enormous reflecting pools set in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. The tranquil sounds of the falling water and the inscribed names of every person who died in the attacks create a moving experience that serves as a powerful reminder of human resilience.
Exploring these historical landmarks will not only immerse you in the rich tapestry of NYC’s past but also deepen your understanding of the city’s enduring spirit.
A tour for all seasons
AKA Traveling Museums! Museums on the go, perfect for an on-the-go place like NYC. NYC is a clusterfudge of tours for everything. And since so much of history happened in Lower Manhattan, there’s no shortage of traveling museums for you to join!
Can’t get tickets to Hamilton – the musical? Get tickets to Hamilton – the Walking Tour! Visit everywhere, from bars where Hamilton conspired against the Brits to the burial tomb where he and his wife Eliza rest eternally.
This might pique your interest in the Revolutionary War period. There’s a tour for that! It takes you from the first reading of the Declaration of Independence all the way through to Washington’s inauguration, along many of the original cobblestone streets the patriots traversed.
Another patriotic American period in which New York played a significant role in the Civil War. If that’s your cup of tea, there’s a tour for you too! The Underground Railroad Tour includes the site of the first slave market and a Harriet Tubman memorial.
Finally, since you already explored where the money is traded, see where the money gets made. Take a tour of the Federal Reserve! Because it makes cents.
The new history of the new New York
New York is a city that never sleeps and never stops making history. New York never loses its relevance. Besides the new WTC complex mentioned in skyscrapers, Lower Manhattan has some notable spots from recent history worth exploring.
Zuccotti Park, located at One Liberty Plaza, was “ground zero” for the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, with protestors building an encampment. Ironically, it is controlled by Goldman Sachs and has since been cleaned.
Even more remarkable is St. Paul’s Chapel on Fulton Street, affectionately called “The Little Chapel That Stood.” It was built in 1766 and managed to survive 9/11. It claims the crown of the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. Take a note from Aretha Franklin and say a little prayer while you’re there.
Want another tour that covers more modern history? Take the Financial Crisis Tour, where you visit old landmarks like the Lehmans and Goldman Sachs buildings, in which new history was made that nearly collapsed the world economy.
Too depressing for you? Go see some friends! Or rather, the “Friends” building, the facade you see in the establishing shots of Monica and Rachel’s apartment from the beloved sitcom. It’s at the corner of Grove Street with an official address of 90 Bedford Street.
Take a stroll by the waterfront
When you think of New York, you don’t always think of the waterfront. But there’s plenty to do there as well.
New York has a waterfront on both sides. On the west side, it’s South Street Seaport. On the east side, it’s Battery Park. Battery Park is an oasis of nature and art in the city, situated on grounds Native Americans used for fishing and hunting. Try the Battery Labyrinth or the Battery Woodlands for a moment of meditation.
For inspiration, take the monument walk, overflowing with monuments celebrating the achievements of many of New York’s most influential figures of history.
Finally, ride on the Seaglass Carousel, a magnificent treasure found inside the Woodlands. It’s an immersive experience that transports you to a state of underwater weightlessness.
Take a walk on the other side
Head westward next to the South Street Seaport. In opposition to the nature of Battery Park, South Street Seaport is more of a consumer experience.
At Pier 17, you have a supermall with a variety of uniquely New York shops alongside the brands you already know and love. Then pay tribute to the victims of the classic movie, er, ship known as the Titanic at a memorial built in 1913. Appropriately, it is a lighthouse.
Maybe you’re staying in a luxurious air BnB with a nice kitchen and want to make use of it. Try Fulton Fish Market for your ingredients. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
And people say there aren’t things to see in lower Manhattan! Hah! The only thing left is watching the sunset over the Hudson River. Enjoy and take some pictures!
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.