Free Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Lower Manhattan: Where NYC Began

brick towers and suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge - from a self guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan

New York is such a walkable city; Manhattan in particular, seeing as it has so many attractions densely packed together. Check out my self-guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan to discover the best of this historic region of New York City on foot.

I previously wrote a self-guided walking tour of Manhattan that goes from the East Village to Central Park and people seem to like it – so I thought I’d do another. This walking tour will take you around the highlights of Lower Manhattan, including the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown, City Hall, the 9/11 Memorial, the Freedom Tower and the financial district including Wall Street. There’s an optional detour on the Staten Island ferry, and the tour ends with crossing the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

Follow my free self-guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan, rather than joining an organised paid-for tour. You won’t have to pay a fee AND you get to do it at your pace. That’s win-win!

About This Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan (also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York) is one of the oldest areas of the city: it’s where the city began back in the 17th century. The land was originally inhabited by Indigenous Americans, but Dutch colonists built a city here named New Amsterdam, which was later taken over and renamed by the English. It remains the financial and civic heart of the city. It is also where the original skyscrapers first sprang up in the 1910s before they were overtaken by the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in mid-town in the 1930s.

I’ve walked around this area of Manhattan a lot and have taken various routes through it. This walking tour is a mixture of several walks that I’ve done myself, picking some of my favourite landmarks in this area.

The route is 6.2 miles / 10 km and would take 2 and a quarter hours if all you did was walk it. However, of course, you’ll want to stop along the way, so I think you should give yourself several hours to do this lower Manhattan walking tour – maybe even the whole day, if you want to take it easy.

I’ve included an interactive route you can use in Google maps at the end.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.

Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Lower Manhattan – Step By Step

Start In The Lower East Side

Our Lower Manhattan walking tour starts at Katz’s Delicatessen, a legendary Jewish deli on the northern border of the Lower East Side. It’s been serving sandwiches since 1888, making it the oldest deli in New York City

Those who have been around for a few decades might remember this place as one of the many movie locations in New York City: it was used in the classic 1980s movie, When Harry Met Sally (1989), for the scene where Sally, played by Meg Ryan, fakes an orgasm.

Katz' Deli from the street - with old neon signs and people walking by
Katz’s Deli. Photo by Valentina Borghi – Beborghi

However, you don’t have to know that movie to be interested in Katz’s Deli. I’ve read that more and more of the old NYC delis are closing, so Katz’s feels even more special for still being there. Despite its fame, it has retained its original character and it is still a great place to fuel up before your walking tour around lower Manhattan.

Not really knowing what to order, I played it safe and ordered a turkey sandwich. I guess I was expecting some politely sliced meat in a sandwich, which is what I’d expect back home in the UK. But what came was a mountain of steaming hot meat, dripping with fat. It could barely be contained between the bread!  Tip: make sure you keep your ticket stub – you need it to get out!

After eating at Katz’s, head three blocks south and one block right (west) until you get to the Tenement Museum. This is a great place to learn about the experience of working-class immigrants in the Lower East Side in the late 19th century and early 20th century when they were squeezed into small tenement buildings. These days, of course, the area has been gentrified and is a pretty desirable place to live.

Little Italy

After the Tenement Museum, head west along Delancy or Broome Street until you get to Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy (as declared by the sign over the street). This leg is 0.5 miles and should take 10 minutes (non-stop).

Mulberry Street in New York City with pedestrians and traffic and a sign across the street saying Little Italy
Little Italy sign on Mulberry Street. Photo by Valentina Borghi – Beborghi

This area was named for the congruence of Italian immigrants who formed a community here in the late 19th century.  There were 10,000 Italians here at its peak population in 1910. The movie Godfather Part 2 recreates a vision of what life was like here in the 1920s.

But the Italian-American inhabitants have largely moved out into other areas and nowadays it feels more like a collection of Italian restaurants than a thriving community.  The 2010 U.S. Community Survey found that no one living in Little Italy was born in Italy and only 5% of residents identified as Italian American.

Nevertheless, if you come through on 19 September, you might catch the feast of San Gennaro, when Mulberry Street throngs with food stalls and decorations in honour of Saint Januarius, the Patron Saint of Naples.

China Town

Carrying on south for 5 minutes, by the time you hit Canal Street, the signs on the shops will have already let you know you’re in Chinatown.

street full of signs in chinese characters in chinatown, lower manhattan
Chinatown. Photo by Valentina Borghi – Beborghi

This area of Lower Manhattan has had a community of Chinese inhabitants since the last 1800s. Unlike Little Italy, this area still has a high concentration of Chinese people. It’s not the only Chinese community in NYC, but there are still 90-100,000 Chinese-Americans living here. If you want to find out more about the Chinese diaspora, the Museum of Chinese in America is on Centre Street.

If it’s not something you’re used to, the Chinese characters in the signs can feel novel and photogenic. However, my favourite part of Chinatown is off the streets. Columbus Park is a small public park in Chinatown. In the 19th century, it was part of the dangerous five points neighbourhood, made famous in the Gangs of New York (2002) movie.

Nowadays, it is a peaceful place and feels like the community heart of Chinatown. Locals gather here to meet and play Mahjong or Xiangqi (Chinese chess). It’s a great place to stop and rest – and to do some people-watching.

City Hall

From Columbus Park, head west then south on Centre Street, which will take you to City Hall Park.  You’re now in the civic centre of NYC, where you’ll find New York City Hall and the Tweed Courthouse.  This leg is 0.3 miles and should take 8 minutes (non-stop).

foundatin, trees and building spires at City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan
City Hall Park. Photo by Jimmy Woo Man Tsing on Unsplash

New York City Hall is the oldest city hall in the United States and a National Historic Landmark.

The park itself is small but there’s a pretty fountain and it is overlooked by the neo-Gothic-style Woolworth Building, which was the tallest building in the world when it was built in 1913, until 1930, when the Chrysler building was built.  

9/11 Memorial & Freedom Tower

Go south onto Broadway and then head left onto Fulton Street to get to your next stop, a major destination in Lower Manhattan: the 9/11 Memorial. This leg is 0.3 miles and should take 8 minutes (non-stop).

square memorial pool and foundatin at the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan
9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial contains two square pools that are on the footprint of the two towers of the World Trade Centre, which came down on September 9, 2001. The names of the 2,977  victims are engraved on the marble around them. Standing on the edge of the pools, I felt like the waterfalls cascading down into the sunken pools were a graceful and evocative monument to the fallen buildings and those that died that horrible day. For more of an idea about what to expect at the memorial and museum, check this post all about the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

There’s also Survivor Tree, a pear tree that somehow survived the terror attacks and was rehabilitated and planted in the Memorial in 2010.

tall glass skyscraper called One World Trade Centre
The Freedom Tower, or One World Trade Centre

In place of the two towers, One World Trade Centre was built and opened in 2014. If you have time and fancy an elevated view over Manhattan and the Hudson River, you could visit the One World observatory at the top.

Wall Street

Once you’ve paid your respects at the 9/11 Memorial, head southeast out of the park and onto Cedar Street, turning onto Nassau Street. This will soon take you past Federal Hall, which is a National Monument, and then to Wall Street, the nerve centre of the financial district and home of the New York Stock Exchange, the world’s largest stock exchange by total market capitalization. This leg is 0.4 miles and should take 9 minutes (non-stop).

large American flag stretched across the pillars on the facade of the New York stock exchange
New York Stock Exchange

Wall Street was named after a wooden stockade or wall the Dutch built to protect their settlement in the 17th century. It is a small street and feels like a narrow cavern, such is the height of the buildings along it. If you’re a fan of architecture, you might want to check out some of the old skyscrapers along Wall Street, including 40 Wall Street.

Battery Park & Statue Of Liberty Viewpoint

From Wall Street, take Broad street south and then turn right onto Water Street until you reach the park on the southernmost tip of Manhattan. This area is Battery Park and you can get a view of the Statue of Liberty from here. This leg is 0.6 miles and should take 12 minutes (non-stop).

Statue of Liberty seen across the water from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan
Statue of Liberty seen from Battery Park

Battery Park is named for the defensive artillery batteries that were built here in the late 17th century and today you can visit the remains of a 19th century fort, Castle Clinton.

If you have plenty of time, you could also detour and take the Staten Island Ferry from the Whitehall terminal.  The ferry is free and it goes back and forth between Manhattan and Staten Island, taking approx. 25 minutes each way. The ferry route passes by the Statue of Liberty – which makes it a great way to see this famous landmark without paying for an expensive tour. It’s also nice to see the view of Manhattan as you pull out of the dock. It really looks like a cluster of glass and steel trees.

Of course, you might prefer an organised boat tour to the Statue of Liberty, which will give you a much closer look.

Broadway

Whether or not you take the Staten Island detour, you will now head back towards City Hall along State Street and then Broadway. Don’t expect any theatres around here, though! Those are all several dozen blocks north.

Named for its width, Broadway is an old road that was originally a path made by Indigenous Americans. It runs for 13 miles from Lower Manhattan along the length of Manhattan, through the Bronx and out of the city all the way to Sleepy Hollow in upstate New York.

Charging Bull statue in New York's financial district, seen from low down near its head
Charging Bull. Photo by Allie Albanese, Parched Around the World

As you walk this stretch of Broadway in Lower Manhattan, you’ll pass some landmarks along the way, including:

  • Charging Bull: a famous bronze statue of a bull said to symbolise aggressive financial optimism and prosperity. The sculpture was created by Italian artist Arturo Di Modica in the wake of the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash and was originally installed outside the New York Stock Exchange as an act of guerrilla art. Between 2017 and 2018, another statue called Fearless Girl was placed in front of Charging Bull, but she was moved to a new spot outside the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Trinity Church: You might have already seen this church, from along Wall Street: it appears small, its steeple dwarfed by the surrounding buildings. And yet, it was the tallest building in the United States from 1846 until 1869, and the tallest in New York City until 1890.

This leg is 0.9 miles and should take 20 minutes (non-stop).

Brooklyn Bridge

From Park Row on the South side of City Hall Park, you can get onto the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade, a pedestrian walkway that will take you all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge into the Dumbo area of Brooklyn.

This hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge opened in 1883 as the first fixed crossing over the East River and the longest suspension bridge in the world (at that time).

brick towers and suspension cables on the Brooklyn Bridge from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn
Brooklyn Bridge Promenade

The brick towers of the bridge are iconic and walking along the bridge will give you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the views of the bridge, and, if you look backwards, of Manhattan as you get further away from it.

The walk across the bridge is quite long: 1.1 miles, so it can take 25 minutes or more. On the other side, there are even more viewpoints, if you need them, including the Brooklyn Bridge Lookout and a classic view of the bridge in between buildings from Washington Street.

If you feel like indulging in a good meal after all your exertions, I can recommend the River Café, a floating restaurant on the shore, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. It is fairly expensive and kind of formal, with suited waiters etc. However, the food is really great, the service is impeccable and the views are unbeatable.

Map: Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Lower Manhattan

Here’s a route map of this walking tour of Lower Manhattan, including markers for landmarks you’ll pass and also some places to eat.

How To Use This Map: click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the title of the map, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

In summary

I hope this self-guided walking tour has inspired you to explore lower Manhattan.  It is such a fascinating area, with a real mix of things to see and do.

If you need more inspiration for exploring New York City, check out my other walking tour for Manhattan, and also my guide to movie locations around New York.

If you like this article, I'd be delighted if you shared it!

2 thoughts on “Free Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Lower Manhattan: Where NYC Began”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and virtually following along on this walking tour around Lower Manhattan. It was fascinating to read about the different areas and their development. Not to forget the highlights in each section to look out for. The variety of cultures living next to one another and also taking the ferry around Staten Island would engage me for hours. Thanks for compiling this tour 🙂

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

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