Lower Manhattan is the southernmost part of the island of Manhattan. Geographically, it is usually defined as the area south of 14th Street. Lower Manhattan is bounded by the Hudson River to the west, the East River to the east, and the New York Harbor to the south. It is the location of the center of business for Manhattan, and by extension, for New York City.
The term Lower Manhattan is not exactly interchangeable with Downtown Manhattan. The latter may mean a different area to different people. People from the Bronx will regard any place in Manhattan as downtown. Within Manhattan itself, the term downtown Manhattan usually refers to places south of 14th Street. This is the official definition as appearing in Manhattan’s tourism literature. Some people however refer to places south of 23rd Street as downtown, whereas others mean the area south of Canal Street.
Lower Manhattan was the earliest part of the island to be developed. This can be traced to the construction of Fort Amsterdam in 1625. The site is now occupied by the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House. Many of the oldest historic buildings of New York City are located in this area.
Visiting Lower Manhattan
- Lower Manhattan Sights & Attractions
- Chamber of Commerce Building
- South Street Seaport
- St Patrick’s Old Cathedral
- South Ferry
- Eat & Drink
- Getting There
- Things to do in Lower Manhattan
- Battery Park
- Museums and Galleries
- Castle Clinton National Monument
- Museum of Jewish Heritage
There are numerous subway trains that can take you from different parts of New York City to Lower Manhattan. Coming from the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, you can take the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 trains. From Brooklyn, you can take the A and C trains; from JFK Airport, take the A train; from Queens, the J and Z trains. From New Jersey, you can take the PATH subway trains.
The history of the island of Manhattan is intertwined with the story of the birth and growth of the United States. Conveniently for visitors, much of Manhattan’s rich history is confined to a small walkable area around Wall Street.
From the center of American capitalism to the site of the first presidential oath of office, lower Manhattan is brimming with history. Visitors often flock to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, located in the harbor and reachable by ferry, but many don’t realize the fundamental importance this tiny area had on the very origin of the country.
Battery Park runs along the southern edge of Manhattan, affording views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the former Coast Guard operated Governor’s Island, now turned over to the city and open to visitors on summer weekends. The once-neglected Battery Park has received a good deal of attention in the last few years with a rebuilt promenade and new plantings. The park’s centerpiece is newly renovated Castle Clinton, once the site of armaments protecting the harbor. Nearby is the new ferry building for the Staten Island ferry, which provides a scenic free ride across the harbor.
Just north of Battery Park, at the foot of Broadway, is Bowling Green. The Alexander Hamilton US Custom House sits at one end of this small plaza, currently housing the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. Back then in the center of a thriving New York colony, Bowling Green played its part in the American Revolution. In 1770, the British government erected an egregious 4,000-pound gilded lead statue of King George III in the plaza. New Yorkers grumbled about it and finally got their revenge when on July 9, 1776, a pro-independence mob tore it down. At the far end, the famous Charging Bull sculpture signals the entrance to the Financial District. It had been installed in 1989 in front of the New York Stock Exchange, but the artist did not have the city’s permission and it was removed. An outcry led to its installation in a permanent home at Bowling Green. The now-iconic bull is now a genuine tourist attraction itself. Little do they know bankers have been known to rub the bull’s balls for luck.
Across from the Stock Exchange building, Federal Hall is the site where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States, though the original building is no longer standing. It was also the home of the first U.S. Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. The current structure is a beautiful example of Greek revivalism, which opened in 1842 as a Customs House that was part of the US Sub-Treasury. Freshly renovated, the building now serves as a museum with exhibits on New York’s role in the early days of the Thirteen Colonies. Free tours are available several times a day.
Back on Broadway, to the north, is the iconic Woolworth Building, which is unfortunately closed to visitors. Across from it is City Hall Park and New York’s City Hall, now cut off from visitors due to security concerns. At the northern edge of the park is the Tweed Courthouse, which now houses offices and a school. The stunning Municipal Building sits across from City Hall, most well known now for its many marriages. Nearby is also the entrance to the pedestrian walkway taking you over the Brooklyn Bridge.
A few blocks north is Foley Square with its imposing United States Courthouse, as well as several other courthouses. Nearby at the corner of Duane and Elk Streets is the newest historical marker, the African Burial Ground, which was uncovered during a construction project. Dedicated in 2007, this memorial pays tribute to the many Africans, free and enslaved, who died in anonymity.
The tour of lower Manhattan history rightfully ends at what was once the symbol of downtown’s power, not to mention the source of much controversy in the 1970s. The World Trade Center was long considered a boondoggle since it was built by government agencies not covered by the city’s building codes and was a financial disaster for years. Eventually, the city adopted the buildings and they came to symbolize all that was great and powerful about America. The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 was a shock to the psyche of the nation and Ground Zero, as it has been referred to in recent years, has attracted tens of thousands of people every day.
Lower Manhattan Sights & Attractions
Lower Manhattan is best known around the world as the site of the former World Trade Center, where the new One World Trade Center is now under construction with expected completion in 2014. The Lower Manhattan area has one of the latest concentration of corporate headquarters in the United States, and is still an important nerve center for the economy of the country and the world.
Chamber of Commerce Building
The Chamber of Commerce Building is a historic building in Manhattan, New York City. It houses the New York Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 1768. The historic structure was built in 1901 in the Beaux-Arts style. The architect was James Barnes Baker. Located at 65 Liberty Street, on the site of the former Real Estate Exchange building. In 1991, it became the International Commercial Bank of China. The building has columns on its façade. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Reserve ticket with monument pass to the pedestal of Statue of Liberty (you can no longer go up to the top) is $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $11 for kids with audio tours or $12/10/5 without audio. Ferries leave from Battery Park in New York and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. Plan to spend five to six hours to visit both islands or about three hours for just one.
At the foot of Wall Street is the Episcopalian Trinity Church, actually the third incarnation of the church, built in 1846. Its graveyard is the final resting place of many historical figures including Alexander Hamilton. You can take a tour of the church every day at 2pm (additional tour follows the 11:15am mass). Tours and admission are free. While the film National Treasure seemed to indicate there was a huge underground vault full of gold under the Trinity Church, no evidence has yet emerged that this is in fact true.
Broadway at Wall Street
Hours: 7am – 6pm weekdays, 8am – 4pm Saturdays, 7am – 4pm Sundays.
Trinity Churchyard – 7am to 4pm on weekdays, weather permitting. During the summer, the churchyard remains open until 5pm. 8am – 3pm Saturdays and Holidays, 7am – 3pm Sundays
A short walk north on Broad Street brings you to Wall Street, home to the iconic New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. The street itself is heavily guarded these days yet has managed to be revitalized with residential buildings and new upscale shops including Hermes and a gorgeous branch of Tiffany’s located in a former bank building at 37 Wall Street.
26 Wall Street
Hours: Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm, closed holidays
Federal Reserve Bank
But gold there is, if you know where to look. The most important of the twelve U.S. Federal Reserve banks is located at 33 Liberty Street. The building’s distinctive fort-like architecture was designed by the firm of York and Sawyer, who used the palaces of Florence, Italy for their inspiration. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has a vault that lies 86 feet below sea level and is said to have more gold than any other bank in the world, including Fort Knox. The bank holds approximately 7,000 metric tons of gold bullion (valued at roughly $200 billion as of August 2008) on behalf of nations around the world and does not even charge for the privilege! Free tours, held several times a day from Monday to Friday, gets you into the vault where you can just about touch the gold. In the lobby, there is a free exhibit of coins from throughout history as well as some fun interactive exhibits on counterfeiting and monetary policy.
33 Liberty Street, (212) 720-6130
60-minute tours are given Monday through Friday, except bank holidays, at 9:30am, 10:30am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm and 3:30pm. To accommodate for security screening, arrive 20 minutes before your tour. The tour is free, but space is limited to 30 people and online reservations are required in advance. Tours book up about a month in advance in peak periods so plan accordingly. Photo ID required to enter the building. No appointment necessary to visit the coin exhibit.
The Fraunces Tavern Museum, spread over several buildings including the original Tavern building, houses exhibits dating from the Colonial Period.
East of Broadway is Fraunces Tavern, possibly the most famous tavern in the country. In colonial times, taverns were much more than bars – they were central meeting points for people and they played a key role in the American Revolution. Built in 1762 and originally called the Queen’s Head, the tavern hosted meetings of the first New York Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Liberty. It was also the site of George Washington’s famous farewell message to the troops in 1783. In January 1975, the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN added to the building’s history by setting off a bomb that killed four people. The Fraunces still operates to this day as a bar and restaurant, though it is unclear how much of the original building’s interior remains true to history.
54 Pearl Street (Corner of Broad St)
Bar and Restaurant: Website
Reservations (encouraged, especially at lunch) via phone, 212-968-1776
Open Mon – Sat 12pm to 5pm, Adults $4, Seniors and Kids under 18 $3.
Governor’s Island has acres of parkland and bicycling paths, as well as former forts built to protect the harbor from the English. The island is open to visitors Friday to Sunday in the summer only. http://www.govisland.com
Ferries depart from the Battery Maritime Building next to the Staten Island Ferry Building
Ferry hours: depart on the hour from Manhattan (Friday 10 – 3pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm) and from Governor’s Island on the half-hour (Friday 10:30am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:30am – 7pm) Ferry and Admission are free, free bicycle rentals on Fridays.
African Burial Ground, (Website), corner of Duane and Elk Streets, open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm. Free admission.
South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport is a recreational area of shops, restaurants and nightlife in Lower Manhattan. The area has marvelous views of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge. It has some of the oldest buildings in downtown Manhattan, including many early 19th century structures. The old buildings in South Street Seaport have been restored, and are now given a new life.
The South Street Seaport historic area is where Fulton Street meets the East River. In the area was a 19th century building known as Schermerhorn Row. For decades it was neglected, and was threatened to be torn down. However, through public support, efforts were made to safe the historic buildings. Eventually all the buildings in the neighborhood was saved and the area turned into a recreational precinct.
Many of the buildings in the area have long and interesting histories. The Bridge Cafe, for example, claims to be housed in a former brothel. The former Fulton Fish Market building was also given a new lease of life in 2005, when it was turned into a restaurant.
St Patrick’s Old Cathedral
The St Patrick’s Old Cathedral, at 260-264 Mulberry Street, between Prince and Houston Streets, in Little Italy and near Chinatown, in Lower Manhattan, New York City, was the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, until the opening of the current St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1879.
Construction of the old St Patrick’s was started in 1809 and completed in 1815. It was consecrated on 14 May, 1815. The church measures 120 ft by 80 ft, and has a vault that is 85 feet high. While the new St Patrick’s Cathedral was being constructed, the old St Patrick’s caught fire. It was restored and reopened in 1868. The St Patrick’s Old Cathedral was elevated to the status of minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI on 17 March, 2010. Henceforth it is now known as the Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
The St Patrick’s Old Cathedral served as the end point for the annual St Patrick’s Day parade until 1830, after which the ending place was changed to the Church of the Transfiguration. It was eventually relocated again, and the ending of the parade is now at the front of the present St Patrick’s Cathedral.
St. Paul‘s Chapel
209 Broadway at Fulton Street
Heading back down Broadway, past City Hall Park, you will find a small stone church, St. Paul’s Chapel. Built-in 1766, St. Paul’s is the oldest continuously used building in Manhattan and also where George Washington worshipped when the city was the nation’s capital. Now it is inextricably tied to the 9/11 attacks as it sits just a block from the World Trade Center site. From here, an eight-month volunteer effort was mounted after 9/11. The chapel houses Unwavering Spirit, an interactive exhibit honoring that effort. The much-traversed graveyard behind includes graves of historically significant figures including officers who served on George Washington’s staff and a lawyer who forged the “George Washington Battle Sword” now housed in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.
Hours: 10am – 6pm Weekdays, 8am – 3pm Saturdays, 7am – 3pm Sundays.
St. Paul‘s Churchyard – 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, weather permitting. When daylight saving time is in effect, the churchyard remains open until 5:30 pm. 7am-3:30pm on Sundays.
National September 11 Museum
With the long-awaited opening of the National September 11 Museum, there is finally a memorial open to the public. The museum and its surrounding plaza provide a powerful place to contemplate the terrible events of that day. More info online.
Hours: Daily 9am – 8pm
Admission: $24, $18 seniors, veterans, college students, $15 ages 7 – 17, under 7 free; Free to all on Tuesdays 5pm – 8pm with advance reservations
South Ferry is a public building at the southern tip of Manhattan. It serves as the embarkation point for ferries to Staten Island (Staten Island Ferry) and Governors Island.
Nearest subway station include the South Ferry Subway Station, Whitehall Street Subway Station and Bowling Green Subway Station. The South Ferry building used to serve as the terminal for the elevated train lines that run up Second, Third, Sixth and Ninth Avenues. These lines are however no longer in operation since the service was terminated in 1955.
The South Ferry Building, long thought even by the locals to denote its location as the ferry terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan, was actually named after a ferry known as South Ferry. It was one of the ferry boats that carried passengers between the then New York City (now Manhattan) and Brooklyn.
Eat & Drink
Stone Street off Hanover Square is said to have been the first paved street in the city. Today it offers many dining options with outdoor seating in season. Highly recommended is Adrienne’s Pizza and pastries at Financier. Harry’s Café and Steak, located under the historic India House, both serve solid menus of American food. Ulysses offers decent tavern food and tons of beers in a faux pub setting. If you are looking for Japanese, Ramen Co. (100 Maiden Lane, enter on Pearl Street) is home to the ramen burger and bowls of delicious noodle dishes.
History has not been kind to some of lower Manhattan’s historic establishments. Delmonico’s on the corner of William and Beaver is the latest incarnation of the famed restaurant. It’s known for dependable steaks but it won’t blow you away. Fraunces Tavern may be historically significant, but these days it is just a serviceable bar with food unlikely to impress anyone.
Sadly, lower Manhattan is also plagued by every fast-food chain known to man. Luckily, there are good alternatives if you know where to look. Zaitzeff (72 Nassau Street, corner of John Street) has good grass-fed beef burgers as well as veggie burgers and turkey burgers. Alfanoose (64 Fulton Street) has some of the best Middle Eastern food in the city, all made fresh daily on-premises. The falafel and hummus platters are both excellent. If you are a coffee fan, skip Starbucks and hit the Mud Truck parked on Wall Street just west of Pearl Street. Yorganic at 3 Hanover Square serves organic frozen yogurt with organic toppings, organic juices, smoothies and snacks. For upscale cocktails visit the acclaimed Dead Rabbit (30 Water Steet, website).
Many subway lines go downtown, including the 1 to South Ferry, the 2 and 3, 4, 5 to Wall Street. To access Ground Zero, take the A, C to Chambers Street or the E to World Trade. The R station at Cortlandt is closed but expected to reopen in about a year. The PATH train operates to New Jersey.
Be aware that due to ongoing construction all over downtown, streets may be closed and trains are often re-routed late at night and on weekends. Check www.mta.info for “weekend service advisories.” And please don’t drive in the area. Streets are narrow and sometimes closed for repair, making what is already a maze that much is harder to deal with.
Things to do in Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan has much to offer the visitor to New York. Explore Battery Park or the Financial District, visit Ground Zero, take a boat trip to The Statue of Liberty.
The southern tip of the island has much more to offer than standing in the lines for the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. Rapid redevelopment has followed the events at the World Trade Center, where the continual development is a poignant reminder of the tragedy and an inspirational symbol of hope.
Riverside walks down the promenade at Battery Park provides excellent views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the New Jersey skyline, as does the free Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Street.
Money dominates this part of town, all the major financial institutions, including the Federal Reserve Bank and the New York Stock Exchange are found in a small area based around Wall Street.
Museums and Galleries
National Museum of the American Indian
1 Bowling Green Street Phone +1 212 514 3700 Nearest Subway Bowling Green
This granite palace, built in 1907, was the US Customs House until 1973. Now, three floors house over one million items of Native American history, including contemporary works of art.
Open Daily 10am to 5pm (8pm on Thursday) Admission Free of charge
Castle Clinton National Monument
Battery Park Phone +1 212 344 7220 Nearest Subway Bowling Green or South Ferry
Castle Clinton preceded Ellis Island as the immigration processing center for New York. Originally an artillery defense post, built in 1811 it soon became a fashionable 19th-century theatre.
Today, the site has a visitors’ center and is the departure point for the Liberty ferries.
Open Daily 8.30am to 5pm
Museum of Jewish Heritage
18 First Place Phone +1 646 437 4200 Nearest Subway Bowling Green or South Ferry
The museum, which claims to be “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust” stands on three floors, each with a different theme. These are Jewish Life A Century Ago, The War Against the Jews, and Jewish Renewal, and special exhibitions are added from time to time
$10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students, children 12 and under free.
Free admission every Wednesday from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m..
Sunday-Tuesday, Thursday 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m (but may vary please phone to confirm)
Closed Saturdays, Jewish Holidays, and Thanksgiving Day.