Updated: May 21, 2015
Downtown Manhattan Walking Tour Map - New York GuideOther New York Walking Tours:
- Greenwich Village Walking Tour
- Brooklyn Heights Walking Tour
- Chinatown Walking Tour
- Plus handy New York City Neighborhood Map
New York City ToursFor more than a century, downtown New York has been a site used almost exclusively for business, with residential housing moving always further and further north. But it wasn't always that way. For more than 200 years almost every citizen of New York lived and worked at this cramped end of the city. Today, though, when you go downtown you often find yourself walking in the shadowed canyons of skyscrapers, active and noisy during the day, but quiet and deserted at night as workers head for home. In the last decade there has been more and more residential development going on downtown, but for the most part, this is an area to be visited and explored during the day. Let's start by looking at a map that compares today's Manhattan with the Manhattan of 400 years ago. The outline on this map shows the actual outline of lower Manhattan in 1650, in the days before landfill. Everything west, south, and east of the blue outline was water. The 3 main thoroughfares in 1650 were Broadway, Broad Street, and William St., though known by different names. In fact Broad Street was a canal going almost all the way to Wall St., reminding these Dutch settlers of their home canals back in Amsterdam. Pearl Street was along the waterfront, named for the coloring of the oyster shells Native Americans dumped there. The defensive Fort Amsterdam was situated next to the Bowling Green where the Custom House now stands. And Wall Street was, of course, an actual wall stretching just over half a mile from west to east, sealing off the city from the lands to the north.
Below is the detailed Google Map that shows the walking tour (we'll have some zoomed-in, close up maps below to show more detail). This is an interactive map - you can drag it around, zoom in and out, switch to satellite or street view to see what the buildings look like, click on the blue markers to see what they highlight, or click the VIEW LARGER MAP link at the bottom to open this map in a larger, separate window. We will cover 300 years of history as we walk from Battery Park up to City Hall and over to South Street Sea Port. First off, the details on this walk. It is just over 2.4 miles in length -- there is a lot to see, but it is all flat and makes for a pretty easy 2 hour walk. We'll start at Bowling Green and finish at South Street Seaport, which is a good place to have lunch or grab an early evening drink or dinner, so plan your start time accordingly. Print out this webpage and map and take it with you. If you follow the detailed walking instructions below and keep an eye on the map for reference, you should be fine.
So let's get started. First, find Bowling Green on the map. You'll see the green Battery Park at lower left -- Bowling Green is the little triangle area just above and to the right (it's kind of hidden by 3 of those blue markers - you can also see the close up map below). You can take the 4/5 subway to the Bowling Green stop, or take a cab to get there. That's where we start our walk.
START -- BOWLING GREEN:
Somewhere nearby the famous $24 trade for Manhattan took place... Bowling Green (photo at right, looking towards the Custom House in the back, Wall St. Bull in the front) served as a public park area in the early years of the colony. Broadway, that world-famous New York street, starts right here and heads north. A statue of King George was placed here in 1770, but it was torn down by patriots in 1776 and turned into bullets for the Revolutionary War. The fence around the green, however, is original material from the 18th century.
At the north end of the triangle you'll find the famous Wall Street Bull statue. Also known as the Charging Bull, it seems like this statue has been here forever, but it has been around since only 1989. An Italian artist (Di Modica) created it independently and left it one night in front of the NYSE, but it's permanent home is here by Bowling Green. To the right of the Bull is the curved building at 26 Broadway, the 1922 headquarters building of Rockefeller's Standard Oil. Take a glance up Broadway -- the ticker tape parade was invented here in 1886 at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. In 1927, the parade for Charles Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic dwarfed even the parades of WWI that celebrated the homecoming of the war heroes.
From the Bull, WALK DOWN BROADWAY 1 BLOCK HEADING TOWARDS BATTERY PARK:
Across Bowling Green behind the bull is the US Custom House. Built in 1907 (used to be in different location), now the National Museum of the American Indian, this was an important building in the 1800s when most tax revenue came from customs on imported goods (the Custom Office moved to the World Trade Center in 1975). New York was always the commercial capitol of the US, but when the Erie Canal (1825) connected The Great Lakes and Midwest to New York via the Hudson River, more than half of all the goods coming in and out of the US flowed through New York City. While facing the Custom House, TURN RIGHT and walk one short block along Battery Place to Greenwich St. Look up Greenwich Street.
(Here's a close up view of the map to show you where you should be...)
ELEVATED TRAINS - BEFORE THE SUBWAY:
Imagine a miniature locomotive chugging along on tracks 20 feet above you. There are no signs of it today, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s (the first subway opened in 1904), parts of Manhattan were served by mass-transit train cars running on elevated tracks (the last elevated track was taken down in 1955). The first line began in 1870, running along the west side on Ninth Ave. and Greenwich Street. But before long, downtown was also included in the loop, with tracks following the outline of old Manhattan -- coming down Trinity/Greenwich here, past Bowling Green, curling around the Battery, and heading back up Water Street. These tracks were normally 2-3 stories off the ground, often placed above a sidewalk area, nearly touching the buildings along the side.
CROSS THE STREET AND ENTER BATTERY PARK. Walk about 50 yards until you come to the WTC Sphere. The mangled bronze-colored sphere used to sit in the plaza at the base of the World Trade Centers. Recovered from the wreckage of 9/11, it now rests here..
Turn to your right and walk towards the round brick structure you see - Castle Clinton. This building was completed in 1811 - and at the time it was on a small island connected to the mainland. Over time, landfill created most of the area that is now Battery Park. Before Ellis Island, this fort was used as an immigrant processing site. Today, it is the site to buy tickets to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Head through the Castle and out the other side and enjoy the view of New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty is straight ahead, off to the right a bit. Looking out at the Statue of Liberty, most people don't know that the hand and torch were sent first in 1876 (it was a gift from France), but since the US was mired in a depression and couldn't afford to set up the entire statue, the hand sat by itself on a pedestal in a bizarre display at Madison Square for 4 years. Facing the harbor, TURN LEFT and make your way through Battery Park towards State Street and Whitehall Street (see map). Along the way you'll pass the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Optional stop if you have an hour to spare. The ferry (free!) will take you across the harbor here, past the Statue of Liberty, to Staten Island. On the other side, just get off and reboard and it will return you right here. Great views of the Statue of Liberty.
TURN LEFT UP WHITEHALL STREET, go up 1 block to Pearl Street. TURN RIGHT on PEARL STREET. Walk 1 block and cross Broad Street to Fraunces Tavern (on your right). As you cross Broad Street -- look up it. Broad Street was a canal in the 16th century Dutch settlement, that stretched nearly to Wall Street. Pearl Street here was the original shoreline, so the area on this side of the street (south) comes from landfill. Samuel Fraunces opened his tavern in a 3 story mansion here in 1762. The building here is a restoration done in the early 1900s, but marks the site of the original Fraunces Tavern, frequented by George Washington, among others. There is a museum upstairs. Washington delivered his farewell speech here to his officers after the Revolutionary War ended.
Continue along Pearl Street and make a left up Coenties Alley, which turns right into Stone Street. Now a quaint, cobblestone alley lined with small restaurants, this was supposedly the first paved road in New York -- today it is pedestrian only traffic. It has been preserved as an historic district since 1996 and has been cleaned up considerably in the last 10 years. Many of the buildings date to the mid 1800s, built after the fire of 1835. At the end of Stone Street, make a LEFT TURN ONTO WILLIAM STREET. Walk up William and pass Beaver St. and Exchange Place, then TURN LEFT ON WALL STREET.
On your right is 40 Wall Street, the old Manhattan Company Building. Built in 1930 (in just 11 months), the Manhattan Company Building (now the Trump Building - believe it or not, he bought it for just $8M in 1995) competed with the Chrysler Building for the title of tallest building. However, the Chrysler's secret spire added more than 180 feet to it's height, topping the 927 feet of this building. The patina green pyramidal top makes this one an easy one to spot from a distance. Continue along Wall Street until you see the large pedestal (on your right) with a statue on it.
This is Federal Hall (built 1842). George Washington was sworn in here as the first President of the United States (1789) -- that's his big statue you see up there. Built in Greek Revival style, this building replaced the old City Hall (also known as Federal Hall) that occupied this site. The Custom House occupied this building before moving down by Bowling Green. Turn around and face the other side of the street, away from the statue. Directly across the street is 23 Wall Street - JP Morgan Bank (on the corner, a beige colored 3 story building). In 1882, Thomas Edison turned on the electricity for JP Morgan -- this was the first electrically lighted office in the world. Note the diminutive size of this building among it's skyscraper neighbors -- this was a sign of the wealth and power of the House of Morgan -- even on this expensive downtown real estate, they had no need for a huge fancy building, and there was no sign out front -- you just knew who it was. If you look closely at the limestone facade of the building half a block down to your left, you can still see signs of damage from a bomb that exploded here in 1920. Some unknown person left a horse-cart here filled with explosives, killing 38 people - the first terrorist attack on Wall St., though most today are unaware of it. Today, 23 Wall Street is connected to the 42 story tower behind it, forming a condominium complex. A rooftop garden and pool is planned to sit on top of this historic building, you can probably see some trees on top. Sadly, as of October 2012, there was a large Halloween store filling this historic building - progress?
Just across Broad Street is the New York Stock Exchange -- you can't miss it (see photo at right -- go up behind the statue and look around, the Morgan Bank is just to the left, while US flag adorns the NYSE). The beautiful neo-classical facade (looks like a Greek temple) you see replaced a much more mundane original back in 1903. The NYSE began here in 1792, when traders met under the legendary buttonwood tree out in front. There used to be daily free tours here (weekdays) -- cancelled since 9/11. Stay on Wall Street and cross Broad Street. The first building on the right is 14 Wall St - Bankers Trust Building. JP Morgan once lived on the 31st floor here, but this building is best known for it's pyramidal top that is meant to resemble the famous Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world (built in 1912), better seen from the water than from the foot of the building.. Continue along Wall Street until it ends at Broadway (-- you'll see the brown spire of a church at the intersection ahead, see photo below..).
Staring at you from across the street is Trinity Church. This is the oldest church site in New York, though not the original building. This Gothic Revival church dates from 1846, though the original was built in 1699 (one burnt down in 1776, another collapsed from snow in 1839). Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton (inventor of the steam engine and first Brooklyn Ferry) are buried in the churchyard. It was the tallest building in the city when built. It's open to the public -- feel free to walk inside and quietly enjoy the scenery.
While facing the Church, TURN TO YOUR RIGHT and walk up Broadway. Two buildings up on your right is the Equitable Building (between Pine and Cedar Streets). This was the largest building in the world when built in 1915. A year later, zoning laws required tall buildings to have setbacks as they got higher to prevent this cliff-face design from creating towering concrete canyons. TURN LEFT DOWN CEDAR STREET, walk 2 blocks and TURN RIGHT on GREENWICH STREET. You're right near the old World Trade Center site now. On your right is the Ten House Fire Station. This station was first to respond to the 911 attacks. Look for the 50 foot memorial carving along the front that commemorates those brave firefighters lost that day. Walk a few feet up to Liberty Street. Just across the road is the construction site of what used to be the World Trade Center. The two massive towers were destroyed by terrorists crashing airplanes into them on Sept. 11, 2001 (this is how I remember the WTC from the 1990s).
Make a RIGHT TURN ON LIBERTY then LEFT TURN ON CHURCH. This area around the World Trade Center should be open to foot traffic. Go 2 blocks up Church Street and TURN RIGHT on DAY STREET, then LEFT ON BROADWAY. Walk up Broadway one block, cross Fulton, then stop in front of St. Paul's Chapel on your left (ignore the path marked on the map that goes east on Fulton -- we'll come back to that in a few minutes). Built in the 1760s, St. Paul's is oldest public building in continuous use in New York, and one of the few pre-Revolutionary buildings to survive all of the large fires of the late 1700s and 1800s. George Washington was here when the chapel opened and attended regular services here. More recently, the chapel served as a rest place for rescue workers after the 9/11 tragedy, and its fences were covered with memorial photos and missing person notices in the days following.
Turn around and look directly across the street. Though long gone, an American institution began here when PT Barnum opened his American Museum at the corner of Ann and Broadway in 1842. For 25 cents admission, it was part freak show (the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng got their start here..), part museum, part zoo (he had a live beluga whale and live hippo on display), part lecture hall. But it was all about promotion and entertainment. It became a "must-see" location for locals and tourists alike. In its 20+ years of operation, more than 30 million visitors passed through their doors (that was about the entire US population!). There were balloon rides and fireworks launched from the roof and a massive beacon light that flashed up and down Broadway -- Barnum was a master of getting attention! It burned down in 1865 and Barnum soon moved onto the circus business that he is most famous for.
Stroll another half block up Broadway. Big buildings line the left side of the road here, but it used to be the John Jacob Astor Home - The richest man in America used to live at this site. Astor began as a fur trader but built his fortune buying and selling Manhattan real estate (yes, it was a booming market even 300 years ago!). The fancy Astor House Hotel sat here later (built 1836) and was considered the finest hotel in NYC for more than 20 years. The trees and park you see in the middle of the street is part of City Hall. This triangular plot of land was the Commons in the old days, and marked the northern edge of town. The Declaration of Independence was read here in 1776. Today it ranks as the oldest City Hall in the US. The body of the slain Abraham Lincoln made its way down Broadway in a carriage and he lay in state at the foot of the stairs here in 1865 (Ulysses Grant did as well, later). The much taller, ornate building behind it is the Municipal Building (see photo at right), which houses the government for the entire 5 borough area.
Look up at the towering building on your left, just across Barclay Street. That's the Woolworth Building, built in 1913. This neo-Gothic building was another contender for tallest building when it was built in 1913. At more than 790 feet, it temporarily claimed the title when completed, beating out the Met Life Tower. There used to be an observation deck on top, long closed. Feel free to take a peak into the lobby. Turn around and face the City Hall area again. The road here that veers off to the right from Broadway is called Park Row. This used to be Newspaper Row (from late 1800s to early 1900s), a street lined with all the major newspaper publishers (right in the heart of the action, with City Hall just across the street!). The building with the twin cupola towers at the corner of Broadway and Park Row is the Park Row Building (photo at left). Built in 1899, this 391 foot tall building was the tallest in the world (we've heard that a few times now...) for about 10 years. Check out the distinctive double cupolas that grace the top.
OPTIONAL: If you want to do a Brooklyn Bridge walk later, this is where you start. Just walk up Park Row towards the right and follow the pedestrian signs for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Now turn around and walk back down Broadway two blocks to Fulton Street. TURN LEFT DOWN FULTON STREET. Walk 6 blocks down Fulton until you get to Pearl (this is the longest, "blank" part of our walk... just keep moving!) Fulton Street is named in honor of legendary steamboat inventor (or rather, steamboat perfector), Robert Fulton. Fulton's first commercial steamboat traveled between NYC and Albany on the Hudson River, while the Fulton Ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn opened in 1814 -- there is a Fulton Street on the Brooklyn side as well that lines up with where the ferry landed (the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, obviating the need for a river ferry..). In 1880, to protect downtown NY from the seething masses above, Fulton St. was marked as the Dead Line -- any known thieves or crooks spotted below this line could be arrested on sight. Today the street takes you down to South Street Sea Port, our final stop.
Near Pearl and Fulton is 257 Pearl St, long ago site of Thomas Edison's first plant (1882) for generating electricity to power lights in lower Manhattan. Edison was sitting at 23 Wall Street with JP Morgan, who was his first electric customer, when he first turned on electricity for New York. Of course Edison's company would one day become GE - General Electric. Keep going down Fulton -- as you cross Pearl the South Street Sea Port plaza (photo above) will begin to open up for you. On your right is Schermerhorn Row (photo at left). Built in 1812, this is a block of remaining historic counting houses -- integral to the business of New York shipping, they handled distribution and warehouse duties. At the time, these were built on landfill sticking out into the river (Pearl Street was the original water line). Today this is a delightful area to stroll, eat, or shop in the South Street Seaport area. Keep walking under the FDR overpass and you'll get down to the waterfront and the official South Street Sea Port. The East River harbor and docks were the home to almost all of the shipping traffic in and out of Manhattan in the early centuries. The waterfront was lined with hundreds of docks, packed full with ships. Today, there is plenty of shopping and dining. If you have time, consider taking either a Circle Line boat tour here, or ride The Beast for a high-speed ride around New York Harbor. Walk down to the end of the pier and look to the left to see the Brooklyn Bridge. Go inside and do some shopping or eat or drink, take some time to explore and enjoy the Sea Port.
That's the end of our walk. It's easy to catch a cab here to go wherever your next destination is. The closest subway station is 6 blocks back up Fulton (2/3 train) -- and just beyond that 3 other train stations.