My nephew once asked me if he could come stay with me in New York City because he’d heard it was the city that never sleeps. Although he was undoubtedly fixated on this expression’s more literal connotations, I understood what he meant because I, too, have been fascinated and downright smitten with NYC ever since I was a young girl.
It’s easy to be captivated and even overwhelmed by the City’s the endless opportunities to explore, sightsee, get lost, and be entertained. It makes total sense that first-time NYC visitors trying to plan out itineraries only a couple of days long are daunted by the task.
Truthfully, most NYC visitors only scratch the surface by visiting popular spots like Times Square, the Empire State Building, and Central Park. I’d like to highlight a Lower Manhattan 2-day itinerary that includes some well-known spots, as well as some quieter spots, you may not realize are right under your nose. This is not a hurry-up-and-cram-everything-in itinerary, but rather a get-to-know-Lower-Manhattan itinerary.
Let’s head south, shall we?
How to Explore Lower Manhattan like a Local
The Brooklyn Bridge is my all-time favorite NYC landmark. No visit to Lower Manhattan, or to NYC for that matter, is complete without walking across the Brooklyn Bridge’s elevated pedestrian promenade to admire the East River, the city skyline, and, of course, the bridge itself. The history of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built is an incredible story and I could elaborate at length on the bridge’s engineering and the dramatic plot twists that took place during its construction.
But for the sake of keeping with the theme of the post (we only have 2 days after all!), just ponder over the epic task it was to undertake such a project before electricity and power tools and try to wrap your head around the Brooklyn Bridge being totally built by hand! The stone towers with their pointed Gothic arches and the geometric designs of the cables make for great photo opportunities, especially in the morning light.
After your stroll across the bridge, walk through City Hall Park, cross Broadway, and head down Vesey Street to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. You will notice historic Trinity Church, which served as a place of refuge for workers and volunteers taking part in the 9/11 recovery efforts.
Head toward the World Trade Center for a visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, opened to the public since the spring of 2014 and still a new sight for many New Yorkers. The North and South Reflecting Pools are the original footprints of the Twin Towers. Names of the victims are inscribed into the surrounding ledges. The museum entrance is located between the 2 reflecting pools and is another must-do while visiting Lower Manhattan. The museum is incredibly well-done, serving both as a tribute to those lives lost and as an educational center about the events of that day.
The museum is highly emotional and does have early exits if you wish to leave specific rooms or areas. You can avoid waiting in line by purchasing a timed-entry ticket online before your visit. Even better is to get a discount at up to 6 NYC sights with a CityPASS. The museum suggests the subject-matter may not be suitable for children under 10 years old. Depending on your pace, the museum visit could take upwards of 3 hours.
You’ll undoubtedly be hungry after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and visiting the 9/11 Museum, so head back towards Broadway and City Hall Park to catch either the “R” or “6” Train uptown to Canal Street, a.k.a Chinatown.
When you’re blissfully stuffed from authentic Chinese food, wander through Chinatown, do some shopping, find some delicious (and hard to find!) Asian fruits, and take in the ambiance of the chaotic foot and vehicle traffic.
TIP: Want an NYC Do and Don’t? Skip Little Italy. Opt instead for some authentic Italian bites on Day 2. Keep reading!
If you can, meander off-the-beaten-path down Mott St. to find the iconic streets, Pell and Doyers. Film and TV crews used these quiet streets for numerous scenes in TV shows and movies. Nom Wah Tea Parlor is still open after nearly 90 years and Tings Gift Shop sells trinkets you can only find in Chinatown. Don’t be fooled by the calm, though. Doyers Street used to be infamous in the 1930s for its Chinese gang murders and its secret alleys to help gang members escape.
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No exploration of Lower Manhattan is complete without a visit to Greenwich Village. Take the “1” Train south to Christopher Street. Stroll down Grove Street and to Bedford Street. You’ll notice these narrow streets are quieter and lined with houses. Among these streets, there are countless not-to-miss places! Here are a few.
At the corner of Grove and Bedford Streets, you’ll find the building used for exterior shots of the Friends apartment building.
Before heading down Bedford Street, take a look at one of the oldest houses in NYC, made with a wooden frame, which today is not permitted by modern day building codes.
Then, walk further on Grove Street and find a collection of Federalist style row houses and the secretive Grove’s Court.
Head back to Bedford Street and turn right to find 75.5 Bedford Street, a.k.a the narrowest house in NYC, at just 9 feet wide! It was once the home to several celebrities, including Cary Grant.
The next stop is Bleecker Street, so I hope you’re feeling hungry! Bleecker Street is its own Little Italy and actually much better if you ask me! You could do your own food tour on Bleecker Street alone.
Taste the rice balls at Faiccos’s Italian Specialties.
Save room for a slice of pizza or 2. Visit Bleecker Street Pizza for a margarita slice Food Network named “best pizza.” Then, pass the old Italian church on the corner of Bleecker Street and cross over 6th Avenue on your way to Macdougal Street.
At 111 Macdougal Street taste an artichoke slice at the aptly named Artichoke Pizza. You simply cannot leave Greenwich Village without tasting it! The artichokes are chopped up super finely or pureed and mixed with a creamy, cheesy concoction of pizza heaven. The crust is doubled for extra crunchiness.
At this point, you’ll be good and stuffed so walking off some calories is certainly in order. Walk north to the southernmost entrance to the High Line, at Gansevoort and Washington Streets.
The High Line is an elevated, urban park built on old freight railway tracks. It runs from this southernmost point up to 34th street on Manhattan’s far west side. There are plantings and gardens along the old rail tracks, as well as art installations, exhibitions, events, and food and drink carts along the way. Anytime is great for strolling in NYC’s parks but in the fall, the foliage colors are vibrant and spectacular.
Take in the views. Stop to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the park with the busy city streets just below you. If you walk the High Line to the end, you’ll be back in midtown at 34th street. Glimpsing the iconic NYC skyline from above would be a great way to finish the day. Time it right to see the views from the Top of the Rock. The views are best at dusk when the city’s lights are just beginning to sparkle.
Is this an exhaustive list of all the things to see and do in Lower Manhattan? Of course not! That would be nearly impossible in the city that never sleeps. Hopefully, though, you end your visit to New York City feeling content at having explored Lower Manhattan like a local.
Have you been to Lower Manhattan? How have you felt like a local in a new city?
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