Insider’s Guide to Family Fun in Lower Manhattan—New York
Every New Yorker knows a secret that I’m going to share with you in two words– Lower Manhattan. If your family has vacationed in New York City, you’ve likely explored Central Park, caught a Broadway show or perhaps toured the Manhattan Zoo. But you may not have toured the Manhattan region that local families know and love. For your next New York escape–spend your time in Lower Manhattan—loosely defined as the area below Chambers Street, between the East and Hudson Rivers, but I’m including Greenwich Village here.
My family has been visiting New York neighborhoods for the last twenty years to spend time with family living in Brooklyn. They know all the best places to visit and are fantastic tour guides! Over the years, we’ve been to almost every major site, but we continue to stay in Lower Manhattan because it’s special, and here’s why:
Hotel rates in the Wall Street/Financial District are often significantly less than further north. Another reason -you’ll love the slower-paced, less-crowded neighborhoods, and on the weekends, stopping to look up is not a hazard. Each neighborhood in Lower Manhattan has a distinct personality and interesting sites to see including the newest addition: One World Observatory which opened on May 29, 2016 after more than a decade of revitalization.
We first stayed Lower Manhattan more than twenty years ago, when the neighborhood was centered around the financial district and Wall Street. During that time, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were the most recognizable buildings there. After the terrorist attacks, the community struggled to come back from the destruction, and for many years, there was a giant hole in the ground where construction continued around the clock in an effort to rebuild. Part of our motivation to stay there after September 11, 2001 was to support the businesses. Today, the area is bustling again, and the extraordinary museum honoring the perished victims of 9/11 is open to the public along with the stirring and beautiful 9/11 Memorial fountains and gardens. These are a must-see for older kids (but children younger than ten may not benefit from a visit the Museum since it requires quiet contemplation to experience it properly).
Lower Manhattan includes Battery Park City– a waterfront commons with lush gardens and strategic views of the mouth of the Hudson River. This is where you buy tickets to enter Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. If you don’t want to visit these two landmarks, you can take the Staten Island Ferry for great views of the city. Enjoy the cool breezes. It’s a nice break from touring.
But if you want an unforgettable experience, head to the Statue of Liberty (Find Your Park!). On July 4, 2009 the National Park Service reopened the crown of Lady Liberty, but even if you can’t secure one of those passes, all visitors with advance tickets can enjoy the views from the top of her pedestal (foot level) and investigate the “guts” of Lady Liberty. Inside the Statue is a museum that explains how she was built, shipped and reconstructed in the New York Harbor. The museum also has shining replicas of her face and foot. No child can resist snuggling between her green toes or caressing her smooth copper nose.
The interior of Lady Liberty is altogether unexpected—she’s made of twisted metal that supports the folds of her tunic and her limbs. Visitors take an elevator and walk up three flights of stairs to enter the viewing platform with a 360-degree panorama of New York Harbor. The ferry boats, tall ships and tugboats pass slowly by–you’ll smell the salty water, hear the seagulls crying and relish the views of the Manhattan skyline.
Plan at least a half day for a tour of the Tenement Museum on Delaney Street with teachable moments that demonstrate your kid’s good fortune at being born after child-labor laws were enacted in the United States. Four distinct tours delve into stories of families who lived and worked in these century old buildings. Your family will come away with memorable impressions of immigrants, many struck by tuberculosis or typhoid, lived crammed into sweat shops—sleeping, eating and working virtually on top of each other.
See tools the tenants used for daily living and historic documents cataloguing names and professions of the people who once lived here a century ago. Kids of all ages listen enraptured at the tales skillfully spun by Tenement tour guides. Don’t miss one of the incredibly fresh and delicious pickles sold on Delaney Street.
The Irish Hunger Memorial is a free and interesting landmark on the waterfront of Lower Manhattan. Kids find enchantment in this elevated grassy monument commemorating the arrival of Irish immigrants who came to America to escape the potato famines. First, you enter a tunnel; with audio about the famines and thought-provoking quotations written on the walls. Then wander though the authentic ruins of 19th century cottage, brought stone by stone from County Mayo. A path carries visitors upward through native grass and other greenery, to views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Another free activity to do in Lower Manhattan is walking over the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park. The view is spectacular, but the sensation of speeding cars below can be frightening—in a good way. Cyclists lay claim to one of the lanes, so when someone stops to take pictures, look out for a collision. You can walk across during the day or night, but it’s always a thrill and you’ll end up in gorgeous Brooklyn (but that’s a future posting).
Once you’ve made it to Brooklyn, check out the view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s quite extraordinary. Look for the sign that shows where the twin towers used to be. Catch one of Brooklyn’s frequent farmers markets and the gorgeous architecture of this historic neighborhood now known as DUMBO.
Save some time to explore the playful Lower Manhattan neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy. Both have their own unique charms and delicious cuisine. For ‘tweens to teens, you could include a walk among the intriguing shops of Soho with high-end, original merchandise. We love wandering in Greenwich Village to shop or dine. On hot days, everyone congregates in Washington Square Park to see the gardens, street performers and enjoy the spray of the huge fountain there.
If you have time, take a walk along the High Line. The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line. It’s elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side and runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District (check out the new Whitney Museum if you love modern art) to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. The park is beautifully landscaped with stellar views from every direction and lots of entertainment along the way.
At the end of an early evening, with your tired kids in tow, head back to the mammoth caverns of Wall Street where you can ride the elevators or gaze at the twinkling views of New Jersey and Brooklyn. Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite (be extra careful in New York hotels and always store your luggage on the luggage racks provided).
Where to Go, What to Know
Take Amtrak to Grand Central Station
Take a Bus: www.GONYC.about.com lists information on buses that service Manhattan. Children under two are free. Prices vary, traffic can affect travel time.
From Grand Central Station in Manhattan, catch the Westbound 7 Subway train to 42 Street Station. Change to the Downtown 1 or 9 Subway Train (local or express will work). Exit at Chamber Street Station for Embassy Suites or Rector Street Station for the Marriott.
Where to Stay: Families can stretch out in these comfortable, reasonably priced hotels
Club Quarters Hotel in Lower Manhattan 52 William Street, New York, NY 10005 (Off Wall Street) 212 269-6400
New York Marriott Downtown in Lower Manhattan 85 West Street at Albany Street, New York, 212 385-4900
What to Do:
Tour the Statue of Liberty- Open 9 am – 5 pm every day. Reserve ferry boat ride to Liberty Island in advance–on line at www.statuecruises.com or in Battery Park ticket booth. The tours require advance ticket purchase to enter www.nps.gov/stli . Each visitor can buy one ticket per year for entry into the crown. PS: Don’t try getting in without an advance ticket purchase. You will be frustrated by the lines. Statue Cruises is the official source for ferry tickets to Liberty Island. You may buy tickets online, by phone or in person.
- Telephone: 1-877-LADY-TIX (877-523-9849) or 201-604-2800
- In Person: At either of the two ferry departure points.
For more information, see Fees & Reservations page.
Tenement Museum-108 Orchard Street, guided tours from 10:15 am – 5 pm every day. Six different tours, one hour each. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Brooklyn Bridge– Free unparalleled views of the East River, take the J Train to Chambers Street Station or the 6 Train to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall Station. From Manhattan enter the concrete ramp on Centre Street and Park Row near City Hall.
Where to Eat:
Chelsea Market Chelsea Market is a food market in Lower Manhattan with multiple vendors selling meals, take out food, gifts, books, clothing and more.
Excellent Dumpling House. Chinatown, 11 Lafayette St. One block South of Canal 212-219-0212 11am – 9 pm daily
Doyers Vietnamese Restaurant. North Chinatown, enter a hidden alley and in the lower level of 11 Doyers Street where you’ll find a bargain restaurant serving outstanding Vietnamese food. Only accepts cash 212-513-1527
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.
So many fun places to see. Love your pix of the Statue of Liberty from angles we don’t usually see. High Line Park has been on my to-do list for a long time. Somehow I never seem to get there. Thanks for your wonderful post.