Lower Manhattan Itinerary
by Michael Hsu, 06/22/2011
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Lower Manhattan may be the heart of the financial world, but it's also becoming one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the City—and not just from 9 to 5. Its narrow, winding streets, rich sense of history and proximity to the water give it a distinct charm that you just won't find anywhere else in New York. Whether you're a gourmet, a shopaholic or an architecture buff, Lower Manhattan has something for you.
Start your journey at the nexus of Manhattan's downtown municipal offices, shining examples of the City's grandest buildings. The Tweed Courthouse (now home to the Department of Education) isn't open to the public, but from the lobby you can catch a glimpse of its famous octagonal rotunda, whose shape is echoed by the etched- and stained-glass skylight above. Free tours of this neoclassical gem are offered weekly. Be sure to make reservations online in advance of your visit.
From the top of the courthouse steps, you have a sweeping view of two early-20th-century skyscrapers in the Beaux-Arts style: the Emigrant Bank Building, directly across Chambers Street, and the Surrogate's Courthouse, to the right. At the end of the block, on Centre Street, stands McKim, Mead and White's Manhattan Municipal Building, one of the largest government offices in the world. Stroll under its central arch, inspired by Rome's Arch of Constantine, and swing by the CityStore to pick up official NYC memorabilia you can't get anywhere else, like official New York City Department of Parks & Recreation signage and genuine taxicab medallions.
Walking south along Centre Street, you'll see City Hall, which opened in 1812, on your right, but the best view of its French Renaissance–inspired facade is from the paths of City Hall Park. While you're there, take a tour of the interior (advance reservations are required, but tours have been temporarily suspended due to rehabilitation work on the building; they will resume in September), then check out the 27 sculptures that are scattered throughout the park as part of Sol LeWitt: Structures 1965–2006, which will be on view until December 3. The park's fountain, lit by gaslight, is a great place from which to take in the iconic Woolworth Building, which towers above the park from across Broadway. (Alas, visitors without business inside aren't allowed to enter the building.)
A couple of blocks south on Broadway, just past Vesey Street, you'll find St. Paul's Chapel. Dating back to 1766, it's the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan. In September, the church's Bach at One series, a weekly service performed by the Trinity Choir and Trinity Baroque Orchestra, resumes from its summer hiatus. The church also hosts Prayers for Peace daily at 12:30pm—a service that started after September 11.
The 9/11 Memorial, recently opened at the site of the World Trade Center, is a contemplative, inspiring place to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. The memorial features two reflecting pools, fed by America's largest man-made waterfalls, in the footprints of the former Twin Towers, and, when completed, will be surrounded by more than 400 oak trees. The ongoing construction at the new 1 World Trade Center is also visible from the site. Admission is free, but advance reservations are required. For more information, visit 911memorial.org.
Heading back to Broadway and walking south to Wall Street will bring you to Trinity Church, a spectacular example of Gothic Revival architecture (tours of the church are offered on weekdays at 2pm). From there, walk down Wall Street, which is now closed to vehicle traffic, to see the iconic New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The NYSE no longer allows visitors (although it does host events); for an in-depth understanding of what goes on in there, visit the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of American Finance, just down the street. It features exhibitions on all things economic, from the history of money to an explanation of the contemporary financial crisis.
Most savvy shoppers know there are bargains galore at Century 21, a few blocks north. For a singular shopping experience, stop by Tiffany's on Wall Street, across the street from the museum. Housed in a restored 1907 Beaux-Arts building, this relatively small outpost (compared with the Midtown flagship) brilliantly blends old and new, with the sleek (optical glass accents, an Ingo Maurer–designed sculpture made of metal mesh and crystal teardrops) contrasting with original architectural details, like ornate cornices and marble walls.
If you're looking for a pick-me-up, there are plenty of dining options nearby. While Eataly uptown may be getting all the buzz for its authentic Italian fare, a handful of eateries in Lower Manhattan have been bringing la dolce vita to the area for years. Barbarini Alimentari has a café on one side and, on the other, a specialty Italian foods market with a salumeria, a cheese counter and staples from the old country. Acqua serves simple but stellar pizza and other Italian classics.
Wine bars don't get much cozier than Bin No. 220, where the owners (a couple) have broken down the wine list by each of their favorites. You can also get cured meats, cheese plates and pressed sandwiches there. And for a great brunch splurge, try Wall & Water, on the third floor of the Andaz Wall Street hotel, where offerings like seared Hudson Valley foie gras with fried egg and brioche will kick your morning routine up a notch. (For more great local eateries, check out our Lower Manhattan dining guide.)
As dusk approaches, it's a great time to head to the water—the South Street Seaport at this hour turns magical. Throughout the summer, the Seaport Music Festival presents free concerts every Friday at 7pm, while on July 16, the inaugural 4Knots Music Festival presents seven hours of free music, featuring The Black Angels, Titus Andronicus and Davila 666. The Seaport Museum New York, meanwhile, shines a spotlight on NYC's rich maritime history, exploring such topics as trade and immigration.
You can wrap up your day with a relaxing twilight sail on the Clipper City schooner, which departs from the seaport's Pier 17. This old-world vessel takes you on a smooth journey around the bay, providing sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and the glittering Manhattan skyline.