Lower Manhattan is rife with US history. The area has hosted some of the nation's most significant events, including the first inauguration of President George Washington and the founding of America's first bank (now the Museum of American Finance). Start out with a weekday tour of Federal Hall, where the first session of Congress took place in 1789, or City Hall, the oldest building of its kind in the nation still serving its original municipal function. History buffs will further enjoy seeing President Washington's old stomping grounds, Fraunces Tavern, where period rooms, paintings and exhibits explore the tavern's importance to Revolutionary America. Within the tavern are a variety of rooms for eating and drinking: the Porterhouse Bar (with a small bites menu), the Dingle Whiskey Bar (lots of Irish whiskeys) and the Tallmadge Room, where you can eat American grub while surrounded by photos of past patrons.
Other aspects of American history can be gleaned by visiting the National Museum of the American Indian, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which can be viewed up close on a Statue Cruises tour; best to purchase tickets in advance. The iconic symbol of freedom can also be seen for free from Battery Park, a 25-acre green space at the base of Manhattan that offers views of New York Harbor.
The area is also known as the seat of American finance, and no visit to Lower Manhattan would be complete without a trip to Wall Street. (Wall Street Walks and The Wall Street Experienceare two tour options for those with pecuniary interests.) While the New York Stock Exchange trading floor is closed to the public, the bronze Charging Bull sculpture at nearby Bowling Green Park, symbolizing financial health, is always available for a photo op. For those looking to shop, Century 21 is stocked with bargains. Expect to pay 40-to-70% below retail prices for designer duds.
Many visitors will want to pay their respects at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The memorial is a moving tribute to those lost on September 11, 2001: twin reflecting pools, located in the footprints of the Twin Towers, afford quiet moments for contemplation. Located underground, the museum tells the story of the City's response to the tragedy through exhibitions and video installations. Meanwhile, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the United States, now soars above the site.
A great place to take a break is on Stone Street, one of the City's oldest paved thoroughfares. There you'll find charming establishments, many inside restored brick buildings, including standouts like Harry's Café & Steak, Beckett's and Stone Street Tavern.
For waterfront views, there's plenty of outdoor seating at P.J. Clarke's on the Hudson, located on the west side (in Battery Park City), close to cultural hub Brookfield Place and the Hudson River. Across Manhattan, the South Street Seaport affords visitors the chance to learn about the City's seafaring past, along with shopping, dining and other entertainment opportunities adjacent to the East River. (Visit southstreetseaport.com for event listings.)
Sunset is the perfect time for a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which you can catch at the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan. Along the 30-minute trip from Manhattan to the City's southernmost borough, you will be treated to skyline vistas (and a free view of the Statue of Liberty). When you get to the island, you'll be in St. George, a neighborhood that offers plenty to explore. For theater, comedy and music try the historic St. George Theatre; if you're visiting during the summer, take in a minor league baseball game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees (the Single A affiliate of the New York Yankees). Nearby attractions include Fort Wadsworth, a 226-acre public park that was once a military stronghold, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, an 83-acre complex that houses gardens and historic buildings.
If all the sightseeing leaves you famished, Staten Island's restaurants offer some delicious fare. For classic Italian dishes made by nonnas—Italian grandmothers—try Enoteca Maria. Ruddy & Dean, meanwhile, specializes in juicy, dry-aged steaks. Other worthy spots include Cajun-Creole eatery Bayou, celebrated pizza tavern Denino's and seafood spot Blue.
Next: Day 3—Downtown Brooklyn, BoCoCa and DUMBO