Northern Manhattan in a Day

Photo by Jeff Gunn

Washington Heights and Inwood historic and scenic gems

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The very northern tip of Manhattan is the greenest, wildest part of Manhattan, with hills and huge rock outcroppings, which make it picturesque. It’s where Peter Minuit purchased the island from the local Lenape tribe, for the bargain price of $24 in trinkets, way back in the early 1600s. And its Colonial, Revolutionary and Gilded Age history make it one of the more fascinating parts of any visit to NYC.

But I’m biased. I grew up in Inwood, at the extreme northern tip of the island, north of better known Washington Heights.

You’ll need a day to explore, and that’s without visiting all of the high spots, including exploring the two great city parks that dominate the area.

Inwood Hill Park sprawls across a bit less than 200 acres, with hiking and biking trails, a nature discovery center funded by entertainer and conservationist Bette Midler, and the only remaining natural wetlands/marsh in Manhattan, populated by an impressive variety of waterfowl. And the view across the Hudson River to the soaring granite cliffs known as the Palisades is not too shabby, either.

A few blocks from the park’s southern edge you’ll find the the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum. It’s the last remaining Dutch farmhouse in Manhattan, filled with furniture and furnishings from the 1700s, and uniforms of the Hessian troops who occupied it briefly.

Dyckman Street is the neighborhood’s main street, and a culinary outpost with a definite uptown vibe, with chic wine bars and restaurants.

Ft. Tryon Park includes the highest hilltop on Manhattan island, so there are winding, tree-shrouded trails. The southern end features a formal garden, The Heather Garden, and spectacular views of the George Washington Bridge that feels close enough to touch. Most visitors, though, miss this because of the park’s best-known feature, The Cloisters.

Now a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters is filled with more than 5,000 Medieval treasures, including the iconic Unicorn Tapestries, in their own gallery. There are concerts and even a Medieval Fair in warm weather months.

The Hispanic Society of America showcases the largest collection of Goya and Velasquez paintings outside of Madrid, along with other examples of 3,000 years of Spanish and Portuguese artifacts, from the Bronze Age to modern fabric design.

A few blocks away is Trinity Church Cemetery, where you’ll find the graves of John Jacob Astor and Clement Moore. There’s an annual Christmas Eve service here that includes the reading of Moore’s iconic poem, A Visit from St Nicholas.

Little Red Lighthouse is famous from the children’s book written about it. It dates from the 1880s, and once warned ships away from the rocky Hudson River shore. Now, it’s a popular picnic spot, and NYC’s Urban Park Rangers give tours.

Hamilton Grange was the country home of founding father Andrew Hamilton, back in the days when this part of Manhattan was still farmland. Now part of the National Park Service, and enjoying a new popularity with visitors thanks to the hit Broadway show about his life and times.

The Morris-Jumel Mansion is named for two of the families which have owned this elegant home since it was built in the 1700s. Furnishings and guided tours bring alive all their histories and those of some of their guests, including George Washington.

One guess who is buried in Grant’s Tomb. Civil War general and US President Ulysses S. Grant is buried here with his wife, Julia. A National Historic Site, there’s a small museum, and National Park Rangers give tours.

Riverside Church, on a hilly knoll overlooking the Hudson, houses the world’s largest carillon. Take a tour of the tower for a knock-out city view.

All that history and sightseeing will make you hungry. No worries. Broadway, from Inwood to Washington Heights to Harlem, is dotted with small, family owned restaurants and cafes.

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