Lower Manhattan: 400 Years in One Day

Photo by Evelyn Kanter

A compact NYC walking tour through the ages

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This is where New York City began, where Dutch settlers founded the community of New Netherland in the early 1600s, where George Washington took the oath of office as first president in the 1700s, where the Stock Exchange was born in the 1800s, where F. W Woolworth built what was briefly the tallest skyscraper in the world in the 1900s, and where the world changed forever on September 11, 2001.

It’s a busy commercial and financial area, much of it with narrow streets from the Dutch grid designed for horse and wagon, not delivery trucks, so walking is the best way to get around.

Set aside a half-day walking around here, or a full day if you’ll be popping into most museums mentioned.

Start at Battery Park at Manhattan’s southernmost tip. Named for the circular battery built to protect the city from a British invasion in the War of 1812, it’s now the Castle Clinton National Monument, with historic military displays. It’s also where you can buy (full day touring) tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Statue of Liberty, NYC
Statue of Liberty, NYC

Or simply great close-up views of Lady Liberty on the free Staten Island Ferry, but do avoid the morning and afternoon commuting times. Before leaving Battery Park, check out the SeaGlass Carousel, a magical ride designed like an underwater garden.

One block west, pop into the Museum of Jewish Heritage – a living memorial to the Holocaust, which also has a lovely little garden overlooking the Hudson. One block further, the small but satisfying Skyscraper Museum chronicles their impact on local communities.

Practically next door, the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian is filled with artifacts of Native Peoples from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia. Walk a few blocks north along Broadway to the huge bronze Charging Bull statue by artist Arturo Di Modica, and rub its nose or horns for good luck for yourself, and a “bull market” charging forward for the city and world economy.

The sculpture points to Wall Street, named for the fence, or wall, the Dutch settlers built to protect them from unfriendly natives. Opposite the famous New York Stock Exchange, George Washington took the oath of office as the first U.S. President of the United States at the Federal Hall National Monument.

Wall Street is synomous with money. Wanna see lots of it? Head to the Federal Reserve Bank, which holds more than $100 Billion (yes, with a B), and the Museum of American Finance.

You can have history for lunch, too. Washington celebrated the British evacuation of New York with his troops in 1783 at Fraunces Tavern. Or head to Stone Street, said the city’s oldest paved street, closed to traffic for outdoor dining. Harry’s Café and Steak has an underground wine cellar and a Prohibition history, while Ulysses’ Folk House is known for its fresh oysters.

The African Burial Ground National Monument was discovered in 1991, during excavations for a skyscraper, revealing the graves of hundreds of slaves from the 1600s and 1700s.

Walk a few blocks along Broadway to the must-see World Trade Center, with its 9/11 Memorial Plaza marking the original footprints of the original Twin Towers; the sobering National September 11 Museum; and the sky-high observatory at One World Trade Center. Leave time for St. Paul’s Chapel, which many First Responders used as a makeshift dormitory. The World Trade Center stop may very well be your most memorable NYC stop.

National September 11 Museum, NYC
National September 11 Museum, NYC

Walk east to the Seaport Historic District, dating to the 1700s; ‘Superstorm Sandy’ flooded it with 17 feet of water but its restaurants and shops have bounded back. It’s a great place for drinks. But if you still have energy, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to its park for picture postcard images of the NYC skyline at sunset.

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