11 Places to Visit in the Financial District (Downtown NYC)
"New York is Always a Good Idea"
I've been to New York fifteen times and still long to go back - there is always something new to discover! Check out my NYC series to read more tourist tips and advice on where to eat, where to stay, what to do in Uptown, Midtown, and, Downtown. Because Downtown has so many areas, I split this post into two. This post is specifically on the Financial District. My second post will cover eight other areas of Downtown (as listed below).
Many first-time tourists to NYC will likely spend most of their time in Midtown - only venturing Downtown to visit the Financial District. However, there is so much more to explore Downtown! I would encourage you to review my other post on Downtown too! It quickly became one of my favorite areas of New York. Away from the crowds of Times Square and Fifth Avenue are some fantastic neighborhoods that are quieter and have outstanding eateries, boutiques, and bars to discover. I understand that a first-time visitor may have their days booked up with the usual tourist items but, if you have the time (or are a returning visitor), I recommend exploring more of Downtown too!
The Financial District is at the bottom tip of Manhattan - see the NYC Tourist map if you want a good breakdown of the different areas of Manhattan. One thing to note when traveling Downtown is that it is not as easy to navigate as Uptown and Midtown. Its streets are not in a gridline/ordered by number. I heavily rely on Google maps when Downtown! Subway stations offer free wifi so you can pop into one of them to do a google search if you end up lost!
Financial District (FiDi)
Little Italy & Nolita
Lower East Side
SoHo (including Hudson Square) & NoHo
West Village (Greenwich Village)
Frequent subway trains travel directly from Times Square to the Financial District. The E train will take you from the heart of Times Square (42nd Street) direct to the World Trade Center station.
1. One World Observatory
I've visited One World Observatory on two occasions. While its views are impressive and cover a significant distance, I don't think it's quite as impressive as the observation decks in the heart of Midtown. In Midtown, you are closely overlooking the Empire State, Central Park, etc.
At the top of One World, the views are so vast that buildings simply look like specks in the distance. Also, it has no outdoor area so the glass makes it difficult to achieve good photographs (unlike at Rockefeller and The Empire State). However, there are excellent views over the Hudson River from One World - you can see the bridges and the Statue of Liberty from here (see above gallery).
Tickets are currently $38 to buy directly from its website (we used our Sightseeing Pass). I suggest going just before sunset to make the most of both daylight and the pretty night lights too. Make sure to take a walk through the impressive Westfield Shopping Center inside the World Trade Center too.
The Top of the Rock is still my favorite observation deck. However, both The Edge Observation and Summit One are newly opened and both look very impressive too!! I can't wait to visit this December, I will keep you posted!
2. 9/11 Memorial
The 9/11 Memorial is found on eight acres of the World Trade Centers grounds and offers a place of remembrance, reflection, and somewhere to pay your respect. Even with the busy streets located nearby, there is somewhat a feeling of silence and solitude here.
The beautiful site honors the almost 3k who died in the attacks. Each of their names is inscribed on the bronze surrounding the twin reflecting pools. The pools look beautiful when lit up at night - I found this a touching time to reflect. The memorial features the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.
3. 9/11 Museum
We spent so long in the 9/11 Museum that we ended up missing our ferry afterward! It is much larger than I expected and loops around in a way that you are unsure of how much space is left to cover. There are 110,000 square feet to cover!
I found the Museum unsettling at times due to such a tragedy becoming a tourist attraction - this is why I didn't take many photos inside. However, the families of those affected have permitted these items to be displayed. Therefore, I reminded myself that the museum is to pay respect and ensure their lives are not forgotten. It is a place of remembrance and honoring those lives lost.
There are some very emotional phone calls and items that people may find hard to listen to/view. Clothing, videos, photos, drawings, and even the remains of firetrucks and sections of the buildings are on display. You can see these items disintegrated from fire and broken by the atrocities of that day. It is quite a somber visit - so perhaps not a day to plan for cocktails after visiting! We were able to use our Sightseeing Pass pass for entry here.
There is another 9/11 museum -the 9/11 Tribute Museum. Here, it is not only artifacts on display; personal stories are told by people directly affected too. I have not yet visited but I can imagine it is very emotional due to the personal accounts.
Westfield Shopping Center (World Trade Center) quickly became a must-see for tourists after opening a few years ago! If you are visiting the Trade Center then you must come in here for a quick photo too. Its architectural design is beautiful! Photo's don't even do it justice - its scope and size are more impressive in reality. I prefer it in the evening when its colorful lights come on.
Brookfield Place Shopping Center is located across the road from Westfield and is another impressive architectural center. I haven't yet visited but its Winter Garden looks beautiful! It's on my list for my December trip. Both Westfield and Brookfield have many designer shops so they are not exactly budget-friendly!
5. Irish Hunger Memorial
The Irish Hunger Memorial is only a 10-minute walk from One World Trade. The memorial is close to the Hudson River. There's not much else to do in this area but, as an Irish person, it was worth a visit! It was nice to reflect on the many Irish who traveled to NYC during the famine and remember the strong links between Ireland and NYC.
The memorial represents a rural Irish landscape. It has the stone ruins of an authentic Irish cottage, vegetation, and stones from every county of Ireland. The abandoned cottage was from the 19th century - donated by the Slack family and transported from the west of Ireland! The memorial was refurbished at a cost of c. $5million and reopened in 2017. Unfortunately, due to the refurbishments at the time, I could not walk all the path to the cottage and viewing point on my visit.
On a sunny day, it is nice to grab a coffee and walk back up to Midtown from here (along the Hudson River).
6. Stone Street/Bars
If you are heading towards Wall Street, a pretty street to visit (only a 5-minute walk from Wall Street) is Stone Street. It is one of New York's oldest streets. It looks especially nice for summer evenings when you can sit outdoors on the cobbled stone street, with pretty lights hanging across the street, and enjoy food/drinks. (NB I found it difficult to find this street as it's split into two).
Also, a mere 2-minute walk from here is the famous The Dead Rabbit bar. Founded by two Irish men, it's been named Best Bar in the World and still features in the top 25.
7. Wall Street
New York Stock Exchange
Less than a 15-minute walk from One World Trade is where you will find New York Stock Exchange. Due to tightened security measures, access is not permitted to visit inside of NYSE. However, it's still a popular spot to visit - especially nice when the Christmas tree is outside of it over the festive season! Trinity Church beautifully frames the end of Wall Street. Federal Hall is along here too.
Charging Bull & Fearless Girl
The iconic bronze statue, Charging Bull, is only a 5-minute walk from NYSE. It was created in the wake of the 1987 Black Monday market crash, acting as a symbol of aggressive and optimistic rising financial prosperity. The statue is very popular with tourists and in popular culture. Another bronze statue, Fearless Girl, was installed in the Financial District in 2017 by State Street Global Advisors. I worked with them at the time and got to see the statue in our Dublin office (as well as in NYC)! Fearless Girl promotes female empowerment - especially in the finance world. It was meant as a brief installment but proved so popular that she returned to the Financial District and now stands facing off the NYSE.
Federal Hall National Memorial
This beautiful building is located on Wall Street and is composed of several different architectural styles. A statue of George Washington stands at the front of the building and is a popular spot for photos. I haven't yet visited inside of Federal Hall but, if you like politics and history, then you will likely enjoy a tour of it. The Bill of Rights was passed here and, the current museum houses artifacts from the inauguration of George Washington.
Federal Reserve Tour
I was super excited to learn that you can do a tour of the Federal Reserve and go 80 feet below street level to see its gold vault (actual bars of gold!)! Less than a 5-minute walk from Federal Hall/NYSE is where you will find the Federal Reserve. The tour is free though you will need to book it online. Tickets book up quickly so book this activity once it is available! The tour groups are small and provide a lot of history on the Federal Reserve (roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve, viewing of artifacts, etc.). Though parts of this tour were interesting, I think most people were longing to get down to see the gold! Unfortunately, during my tour, we were unable to view the gold due to activity happening in the vaults at the time! The Federal Reserve website provides some great information about the gold vault. NB, be aware if you suffer from claustrophobia because it is a bit tight in the lift (and you go very far underground in it)!
Other Financial Tours
Some other tours in FiDi that may be of interest to finance and history lovers include The Museum of American Finance - it receives great reviews but be aware that it is currently looking for a new home! Keep an eye on its website and, hopefully, it will reopen in time for your visit. The Wall Street Experience offers tours such as the Financial Crisis tour and Wall Street Insider Tour. They also receive good reviews. Uncle Sams New York is yet another tour that receives good reviews. See its Alexander Hamilton Financial District Tour for a walking tour around the Wall Street area. Also, New York City Hall offers free tours.
8. Brooklyn Bridge
I am embarrassed to say that even though I have seen the Brooklyn Bridge many times, I have not yet walked it!!! I have traveled to Brooklyn to see it too as there are great views of it from there. I'm usually in NYC over Christmas when the weather is freezing so I plan to walk it during my trip next Summer!
The Manhattan entrance to the bridge is only a few minutes' walk from Federal Hall/Wall Street. South Seaport provides some beautiful views of the bridge from Pier 17. If you intend to walk the bridge, a popular choice is to get a subway over to Brooklyn and walk it back to Manhattan. Therefore, you will be facing the NYC skyline during your walk and gain the best views of the city!
9. Seaport District / Pier 17
Seaport District is less than a 15-minute walk from NYSE/Federal Hall. It has undergone significant redevelopment and rebranding over the last few years. During the summer months, it has outdoor concerts, pop-up theatre, bands, and cinema, to name a few. There are some nice places to eat here too - I ate in Malibu Farm (Pier 17) overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.
Pier 17 is popular for its ice skating rink over the winter period - which has an incredible backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge while you skate! Especially magical in the evening when the lights are on! Seaport boasts one of the most popular smaller Christmas trees in NYC - found on one of its pretty cobbled streets!
10. Statue of Liberty
Just a 10-15 minute walk from Wall Street/South Seaport, down to the tip of Manhattan (by Battery Park), you can avail of the free Staten Island ferry. The ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal. You will likely see crowds gathering for this free ferry - it's hard to miss once you find your way down! It will take you for a short boat ride to Staten Island, which provides some good views of The Statue of Liberty. You can hop right back on a boat to return once you reach Staten Island.
Would you believe that in the fifteen times I've been to NYC, Ellis Island is another location that I have not yet visited (the shame!!!)! However, I have taken the Staten Island ferry by the statue several times. Again, this is somewhere that I would prefer to visit during the summer months to do a proper boat tour and stroll around the island (it's freezing standing on the boat in winter!). While in New Jersey, I took a bike ride along the Hudson - this also provides fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty.
When visiting the Statue of Liberty, you can do a museum tour and go up to the crown and pedestal of Lady Liberty (you will likely need to book this in advance). My mother visited the museum on one of our trips and still speaks of how emotional it was - especially personal to us Irish as so many Irish passed through here when immigrating during the famine. Click here for details on planning your trip and booking tickets to the pedestal, crown, Statue of Liberty Museum, and Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
11. Skyscraper Museum
I visited the Skyscraper Museum on one of my first trips to NYC. It's a small museum that is mainly composed of exhibitions involving reading and photos. Unless you are an architect or history lover, you may not be interested in this museum. There are some models of the city in the museum too. For those interested in history, reading, and looking at a lot of information on the construction, development, and density growth of the NYC skyline (through its buildings), this is a museum to visit!