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What to Do in the Financial District

January 8, 2014 - by City Guide
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The Financial District neighborhood in lower Manhattan is one of the most historic and intriguing neighborhoods in the United States. It has long been the heart of the financial industry and home to Wall Street and now features the National 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Tribute Center. It's also an around-the-clock community for working, living, and entertaining, an elegant residential neighborhood, a home to world-class cultural institutions, and a center for music, dance, and visual arts events.

One World Trade Center (the "Freedom Tower"; map) is officially the tallest building in the United States, and the 4th-tallest in the world, measuring 1,776 feet.

At the newly opened One World Observatory, guests can zip up to the observatory in 60 seconds, in state-of-the-art ‘Sky Pod Elevators’ that feature a floor-to-ceiling LED screen showing the ever evolving New York skyline. Once reaching the 100th floor, visitors can take in panoramic, uninterrupted views on the main platform; the 101st floor features three dining areas and the 102nd has a private event space that can accommodate up to 300 people. 

For the inside track to understanding how the Financial District ticks, Wall Street Walks takes visitors through the historic caplital of world finance, comprising more than 200 years of history.  

Epicerie Boulud, which sells pâté, cured meats, cheeses, sandwiches, and coffee, will move into a 2,000 square food balcony space in the Oculus, situated in the WTC's transportation hub. This will be the third Epicerie Boulud in New York, next to the original Upper West Side location as well as a new one, in the Plaza Hotel.

Eataly will open a second location (in addition to current Flatiron district location), at 4 WTC, next year.

There’s plenty of great shopping in the neighborhood. If discount shopping is on your agenda, check out the latest fashion trends (at a fraction of the price) at Century 21 Department Store. They have over 15 departments of quality designer merchandise at 40-70% off retail, including European and American designer fashions for men, women and kids. There’s something for everyone, including outerwear, handbags, European and domestic sportswear, lingerie and sleepwear, shoes, boots, and sneakers.

The area is also a bustling hub for some of the city’s top sightseeing and tour companies. Circle Line Downtown offers narrated tours of New York Harbor that include views of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and more on board the luxurious ZEPHYR. With three decks (two climate-controlled and one outdoor), ZEPHYR offers city sights with panoramic views no matter what the weather brings. Tours available on New York Water Taxi include the 1-hour Statue of Liberty Express; the Statue by Night Tour, which goes past the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and more with a complimentary champagne toast and cash bar. Both Circle Line Downtown and Water Taxi depart from the South Street Seaport. You can also capture bird’s-eye view aboard Helicopter Flight Services and Liberty Helicopter Tours both depart from Pier 6 & the East River.

The South Street Seaport district dates back to the 1600s and has grown into one of the city’s most vital commercial centers with a museum and many shops and restaurants. In the 1960s, the streets that run through the heart of it were closed and repaved with cobblestones, making it a unique place to eat, shop, stroll, and view riverfront activities.

This area is home to the New York Stock Exchange. Some other things to do: Visit Stone Street (the first paved street of Manhattan), sit in Hanover Square (a triangular public park that was once home to the New York Cotton Exchange and the New York Cocoa Exchange), or explore the architecture.

Trinity Church is Manhattan's oldest parish, first established in 1697. Tours of the church take place 7 days a week at 2pm. There is an additional tour following the 11:15 Holy Eucharist every Sunday. Admission is free.

Located directly across from the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's Chapel, an Episcopal church and Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use (1766), was home to an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry or head over to the Statue of Liberty. Dedicated in 1886, the Statue of Liberty remains one of the most universal symbols of political freedom and democracy. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum features thousands of square feet of exhibition space, movie theaters, a book shop and restaurant. The American Family Immigration History Center, operated by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, is also located there.

Battery Park is so named because it was the site of harbor defense artillery once stationed there by the Dutch, and later the British. The Battery's strategic importance is evidenced by historic Castle Clinton National Monument, once a defensive structure built prior to the War of 1812. Sold to the city by the U.S. Army in 1821, the fort became known as Castle Garden, and saw use as a restaurant, opera house, and theater. From 1855 to 1890, the castle was known as the Emigrant Landing Depot, the predecessor to Ellis Island as the gateway for immigrants arriving in the States. From 1890 to 1957, it was the original home of the New York Aquarium, now long-relocated to Coney Island.

Of course, Battery Park, with its immigrant-related history, is the point of departure for ferries to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Both national monuments have free admission, but the Statue Cruises require a fee.

Battery Park contains a number of monuments honoring explorers, soldiers, inventors, and immigrants. The most well known is the steel and bronze sculpture, The Sphere, by Fritz Koenig. This 45,000-pound piece was situated in the fountain at the World Trade Center's Tobin Plaza from 1971 to September 11th, 2001. Dedicated as an interim memorial to the lives lost in the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the bent, damaged sculpture stands next to an eternal flame.

Also notable is the New York Korean War Veterans Memorial, honoring military personnel who served in the Korean Conflict (1950-53). Designed by Welsh-born artist Mac Adams (b. 1943), this memorial features a 15-foot-high black granite stele with the shape of a Korean War soldier cut out of the center. Every July 27th at 10 a.m. -- the anniversary of the exact moment in New York when hostilities ceased in Korea -- the sun shines directly through the soldier's head to illuminate a commemorative plaque.

Among the other monuments and memorials at the Battery are a statue of Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano; the Netherlands Monument (commemorating the Dutch establishment of New Amsterdam); the Norwegian Veterans Monument (WWII); The Immigrants by sculptor Luis Sanguino (b. 1934); the Walloon Settlers Monument (designed by architect Henry Bacon to commemorate 32 Belgian Huguenot families who colonized New Amsterdam alongside the Dutch in 1624); a statue of inventor John Ericsson, who created the ironclad warship, the Monitor; and the East Coast Memorial (WWII).

Federal Hall National Memorial is a beautiful home to a number of artifacts from our nation's history, with the Bible used during George Washington's Presidential inauguration, and the statue of Washington out front. Built in 1719, Fraunces Tavern Museum consists of a colonial-style restaurant on the first floor and an upstairs museum that exhibits Revolutionary Era armaments, flags, and other art and objects. The Museum of Jewish Heritage depicts Jewish culture in the early 1900s and leads into the story of the Holocaust, telling it from the perspective of those who experienced it. The National Museum of the American Indian is home to the largest, most extensive collection of Native arts and artifacts in the world. The NYC Police Museum chronicles the history of NY law enforcement from the formation of the NYPD in 1845 to the present. Celebrating our rich architectural history, the Skyscraper Museum explores skyscrapers as objects of design and products of technology.

Dining in the Financial District: For a list of the best restaurants in the Financial District, click here.

Contributors: Alan Binenstock, Colin Carlson, Irene Ross, and Linda Sheridan

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