15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Manhattan

Written by Jenny Hart
Updated on
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Downtown Manhattan has to be one of the most exciting downtowns to visit in the entire United States. A sub-district of New York City and sometimes called Downtown New York or Lower Manhattan, there’s an incredible vibe in Downtown Manhattan that’s not found anywhere else on earth.

Downtown Manhattan perches on a peninsula with the Hudson River to the west, the East River to the east and New York Bay to the south. Founded in the early 17th century by Dutch fur traders the district has developed over the ensuing centuries from a simple rustic fort to be one of the world’s most prominent cities.

A globally recognizable skyline and the world’s most iconic statue are just two of the features which make Lower Manhattan outstandingly special. But believe it, there are plenty more including all of these best fifteen things to do in Downtown Manhattan. Don’t miss out on doing any one of them, they’re all exceptional.

1. Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island FerrySource: Diego Grandi / shutterstock
Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry is the classic and most economical way to see the Downtown Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty from on the water.

The free ferry service departs from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal on 4th South Street in Lower Manhattan and sails across New York Harbor to Staten Island at regular thirty-minute intervals twenty-four hours a day.

Don’t miss doing the ferry ride twice. Once in the daytime and then again after dark when the amazing Downtown skyline and the US’s 1st Lady are illuminated. Avoid commuter rush hours to guarantee enough elbow room for taking photos.

Related tour: Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island Small Group Tour

2. One World Observatory

One World ObservatorySource: f11photo / shutterstock
One World Observatory

There are many observation decks in Downtown Manhattan, but the One World Observatory in the One World Trade Center on Fulton Street is a whole new experience.

Zoom up one-hundred and two floors in under a minute in one of the center’s Skypod elevators then step out into the vertigo-inducing, glass-walled observation deck to take in the fantastic panoramic views of Downtown Manhattan and beyond.

The deck occupies three stories of the building and offers multimedia presentations in the Freedom Theater, has a Sky Portal with a replica map of the streets of Manhattan and serves high-end cuisine in the One Dine restaurant.

Admission tickets must be purchased online before visiting the One World Observatory.

Book online: New York One World Observatory: Skip-the-Line Ticket Options

3. Battery Park

Battery Park, ManhattanSource: pisaphotography / shutterstock
Battery Park

Battery Park is a twenty-five-acre public-use green space in Lower Manhattan and the perfect spot for a stroll while viewing the Statue of Liberty from a distance.

The park, which nestles between Manhattan’s waterfront and the high-rises of the financial district, is full of memorials and statues including The Sphere by Franz Koenig which was transferred from the tragic site of the 9/11 disaster.

Don’t miss taking a spin on the Seaglass Carousel while in Battery Park. The multi-colored, fish-themed amusement is a magical fantasy ride for those who are still big kids at heart.

Included in: Lower Manhattan Tour: Wall Street & 9/11 Memorial

4. National September 11 Museum

National September 11 MuseumSource: Pit Stock / shutterstock
National September 11 Museum

The National September 11 Museum on Greenwich Street in Downtown Manhattan is a museum dedicated to those who lost their lives in the catastrophic events which occurred in the financial district in 2001.

The memorial occupies the site of the Twin Towers which were destroyed on September 11th and consists of two one-acre reflecting pools and a waterfall surrounded by swamp white oak trees.

The National September 11 Museum exhibits a moving display of the chronological events leading up to and after the disaster with artifacts, audio histories, and images.

Related tour (top rated): Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial Tour & Optional 9/11 Museum Entry

5. Brooklyn Bridge Walk

Brooklyn Bridge WalkSource: Dirk M. de Boer / shutterstock
Brooklyn Bridge Walk

One way to realize the immensity of Downtown Manhattan is to walk to the middle of the famous Brooklyn Bridge and view the district from there.

Part of the New York landscape since the late 19th century, Brooklyn Bridge is a third of a mile long, has six traffic lanes and stretches over the East River connecting Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn.

The pedestrian walkway is above the traffic lanes and can be accessed from City Hall Park on Center Street.

Or go by bike: 2-Hour Brooklyn Bridge Sightseeing Bike Tour

6. McSorley’s Old Ale House

McSorley's Old Ale HouseSource: littlenySTOCK / shutterstock
McSorley’s Old Ale House

Take time out from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Manhattan with a pint of ale in the oldest bar in New York City.

McSorley’s Old Ale House hasn’t changed much or undergone any major renovations since it first opened on East 7th Street in 1854. As much museum as bar, the walls are plastered with original posters collected over the decades, its shelves are stacked with eclectic collections of memorabilia, and there’s sawdust scattered on the floor. While the choice of ale is limited to light or dark, the one thing McSorley’s Old Ale House isn’t short of is atmosphere.

7. Manhattan Helicopter Tour

Manhattan Helicopter TourSource: dade72 / shutterstock
Manhattan Helicopter Tour

Undoubtedly the most exhilarating way to see Downtown Manhattan is by taking a helicopter flight over the district.

Flights depart from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport to fly past the Statue of Liberty before heading out to Ellis Island then back over Lower Manhattan’s famous landmarks including the Empire State Building, Times Square and Central Park.

Standard flights last between twelve to fifteen minutes and are an unforgettable, once in a lifetime, experience.

Book online: New York City Helicopter Tours

8. Empire State Building

Empire State BuildingSource: TTstudio / shutterstock
Empire State Building

While the Empire State Building may no longer be New York’s tallest building, the 1930’s art-deco skyscraper still ranks in the top ten and no other tower, no matter how high, can compete with its iconic appeal.

The Empire State Building is on New York’s 5th Avenue. As well as being a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, and no visit to New York or Lower Manhattan would be complete without seeing it.

Skip-the-line: Empire State Building General & Skip-the-Line Tickets

9. Westfield World Trade Center

Westfield World Trade CenterSource: The World in HDR / shutterstock
Westfield World Trade Center

To go shopping in style in Downtown Manhattan visit the Westfield World Trade Center mall on Greenwich Street. The two-story mall is part of the World Trade Center and the biggest retail space in the district.

Browse over one hundred and twenty outlets many with designer names like Boss, Dior, and Longines as well as numerous, more affordable brand-name stores. When it’s time for a respite from retail, take a rest break in any of over forty restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.

10. Whitney Museum Of American Art

Whitney Museum of American ArtSource: ARTYOORAN / shutterstock
Whitney Museum of American Art

The Whitney Museum Of American Art on Gansevoort Avenue in Downtown Manhattan is a museum dedicated to exhibiting American art in multiple forms.

The museum’s permanent collections of 20th and 21st-century works contain over twenty thousand distinct pieces ranging from paintings to sculptures which are displayed alongside temporary exhibitions from lesser known artists.

11. Rockwood Music Hall

Rockwood Music HallSource: Feast of Music / Flickr
Rockwood Music Hall

There’s nowhere better to rock the night away in Downtown Manhattan than at the Rockwood Music Hall on Allen Street.

The Rockwood Music Hall is a venue with three stages offering several nightly live performances from well-known and up and coming artists. The bar’s décor is basic bare brick and dark wood with the addition of some mood lighting, but what draws the crowds is the great music.

Some shows are cover-free others require entrance tickets to be pre-purchased so check the website for details before arriving.

12. Chinatown

Chinatown, ManhattanSource: Tupungato / shutterstock

Visit Lower Manhattan’s lively Chinatown for a complete change of culture. The neighborhood is one of the largest Chinatowns in New York and buzzing from dawn to well past dusk.

Explore the streets strung with banners daubed with Chinese characters and traditional red lanterns to find diverse boutiques, dim sum and noodle restaurants, fish and food markets and lots of after dark dive bars. Chinatown is chaotic but fun.

For a fascinating insight into the history of the Chinese population in Manhattan visit the Museum of Chinese In America on Chinatown’s Center Street.

Suggested tour: 2-Hour Little Italy and Chinatown Walking Tour

13. Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar

Cull & Pistol Oyster BarSource: Cull and Pistol / Facebook
Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar

For a fresher than fresh seafood dinner in Lower Manhattan dine at the Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar on 9th Avenue.

The restaurant is located next to the Lobster Place Seafood Market from where they source the majority of their fish and shellfish.

The Cull & Pistol offer a daily raw bar stacked with oysters, clams and the odd sea urchin or two. For cooked, try the Lobster Bake or Lobster Pho. They’ll all leave you wanting second helpings.

14. The Wall Street Experience

The Wall Street ExperienceSource: Tutti Frutti / shutterstock
The Wall Street Experience

Wall Street in Downtown Manhattan is a name synonymous with the US stock market and the base for many of the big financial institutions which shape the economy of the country.

To discover its secrets, meet an insider guide on Broad Street and go on an informative walking tour of Wall Street. The insider guides know how it all works, what happens when and who’s responsible for what and tell some interesting anecdotes about Wall Street’s most historic moments.

Tours last for around ninety minutes. It’s recommended to wear low-heeled walking shoes as some of the streets are paved with cobbles.

A walking tour of Wall Street is included in the New York City Explorer Pass

15. Goldbar

GoldbarSource: Goldbar / Facebook

There are some things that could only happen in New York, and the Goldbar is one of them. The Goldbar on Downtown Manhattan’s Broome Street is a cocktail bar – nightclub which brings true meaning to the word extravagant.

The Goldbar’s decadent décor of gold skulls, crystal chandeliers and ceilings gleaming with gold leaf is about as lavish as it could possibly be. The two and a half thousand square foot club doesn’t stint on quality music either, and there are top DJs spinning nightly.

The Goldbar, just like Downtown Manhattan, is twenty-four-carat class.

15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Manhattan:

  • Staten Island Ferry
  • One World Observatory
  • Battery Park
  • National September 11 Museum
  • Brooklyn Bridge Walk
  • McSorley's Old Ale House
  • Manhattan Helicopter Tour
  • Empire State Building
  • Westfield World Trade Center
  • Whitney Museum Of American Art
  • Rockwood Music Hall
  • Chinatown
  • Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar
  • The Wall Street Experience
  • Goldbar