Julia’s Guide to New York Part 1: Lower Manhattan
Here’s my guide for the first-time visitor to Lower Manhattan.
Begin at the southern tip of Manhattan, on the reclaimed land known as Battery Park City. Walk across Battery Park until you see Castle Clinton (the large circular fort) and get tickets for the Statue of Liberty – I’d advise an early start as the queues can be long, even out of season. Take the Circle Line cruise, get off at Liberty Island and have a close-up shot with the Statue. You can go up inside the crown but you need to pre-book tickets which have limited availability. When I last visited, the exhibition inside explained the technology behind creating the structure. Book tickets ahead of time at www.statuecruises.com
The second stop on the Circle Line cruise is Ellis Island. Temporarily closed after damage sustained by Storm Sandy’s flooding, it has now reopened. This fascinating museum tells the story of immigration to the USA, focused on the migrants that came through Ellis Island. You can imagine how scared some of them would have been as they stood in the hall with its huge arched windows. Some of the pictures are haunting and it’s definitely worth hiring an audio guide to hear the stories. Allow at least a couple of hours to absorb the information – more if you’re a history buff or genealogy fan.
If you’re not bothered about seeing Lady Liberty close up, you can take the Staten Island ferry from right next to the South Ferry subway building. It’s free and runs every 15 to 30 minutes. You get the same amazing view of southern Manhattan and Battery Park from the back of the ferry without having to pay, or queue. The platform at the rear of the ferry is small, so wait by it when you board to be sure of a good spot on the left as you look back to Manhattan and across to the Statue of Liberty.
On your return to Battery Park, walk across the park to the Skyscraper Museum, tucked away opposite the Museum of Jewish Heritage on its western side. Lots of people don’t know about this place but it has some interesting exhibits of skyscrapers within Manhattan and a main exhibit that changes regularly. Check for current exhibit details at www.skyscraper.org
Head over to Bowling Green subway (green line) back towards the South Ferry station – you’ll see a sculpture crafted from 9/11 debris. Walk north up Broadway and you’ll soon come across the Charging Bull sculpture the centre of the street – worth a brief photo and you sometimes get street performers or musicians hanging out here.
Carry on up the street until you get to Wall Street and take the obligatory pictures of the New York Stock Exchange and opposite, Federal Hall. You get a cool view standing next to the statue of George Washington and looking out over the street. Now head north towards Fulton Street and turn down the street heading for South Street Seaport. It’s worth noting that there’s a TKTS booth here which often has shorter queues than its better known counterpart in Times Square. The old fish market and seaport building are undergoing renovations but there are a range of pleasant eateries in and around this area which makes a good spot for a lazy lunch. If you want something quick and on the run, I love Ruben’s Empanadas – a little taste of Latin America right in downtown. The shops in the Seaport itself aren’t up to much but there are a few good places in the side streets around it.
Stroll off lunch with a walk along the East River boardwalk until you are just short of the Brooklyn Bridge – it makes for a good view. You may wish to head up onto the bridge itself – you need to walk at least halfway across to you get a true feel for the bridge’s amazing architectural quality. Alternative views can be had by taking a yellow water taxi across to Brooklyn and view Manhattan’s skyscrapers from the east. Note that water taxi fares in summer are cheaper because in winter you have to buy a day pass.
Backtrack along Fulton Street and head for the tiny church of St Paul’s Chapel at 209 Broadway. There’s an interesting set of exhibits commemorating 9/11 here and if you walk around the back, you find the Liberty Bell in the churchyard. Take the road to the right of the church and cut across to the junction of Liberty and West Streets for the entrance to the 9/11 memorial. There’s no need to pre-book tickets anymore now that the museum is open – all the security checks now take place inside the museum, which is worth a visit. You can also see the Freedom Tower which is finished but at the time of writing, even the lobby was off-limits to visitors. Your final stop just a few steps up from the memorial site at 233 Broadway is the Woolworth Building; built in 1913 and once the tallest building in the world.
My choice of dining in Lower Manhattan is at Fraunces Tavern, located at 54 Pearl Street. Hop on the subway and travel a few stops to go back in time – this is the place where George Washington bade his farewells to his officers back in 1783. Fittingly, there is now a museum of American Revolutionary War history in the building. The bar has an extensive menu of over 130 craft beers and ciders, hosts live music at weekends and the food is good too.