What to Do: Lower Manhattan
For many visitors, Lower Manhattan, the southern tip of the island, is a place to pass through enroute to the ferries to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. We'll get to those attractions a bit later, but while you're in the area there are also some interesting things to see and do apart from waiting for the boat.
The first thing to do is to make sure you arrive-the red line number one subway train that you'll most likely take splits. It is unique in New York in that at a certain point it is broken into two trains, one that zips off to Brooklyn and the other which is what you want to go to Battery Park to get on the boat for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. There are signs posted in all the cars explaining what to do.
Be sure to check our page on riding the subway, or, if you miss the split and end up in Brooklyn anyway, stop by an Internet cafe and check out our page on Brooklyn and make the best of it.
South Ferry Station
You'll exit the subway at the South Ferry Station. Just follow the crowds out to Battery Park in most cases. Keep an eye out for the Staten Island Ferry terminal. If you have some time, the Ferry is free and gives you one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, all for free.
If you decided to pass on the ferry to Staten Island, you'll wind your way into Battery Park, something of a destination of its own. There is a nice set of playground equipment, and a fair amount of room to run around. There are many, many souvenir venders with the kitschiest I Love NY stuff you have every seen. If you feel the need to not avoid them, bargain aggressively. There are also people on stilts dressed up as the Statue of Liberty who, for a fee, will let you take their picture. Some smaller kids were scared by this unfamiliar spooky giant, and others ran over, forcing Mom and Dad to either pay up or duke out an ugly parenting moment. Plan ahead.
The pathway along the water's edge is perfect for strolling but keep an eye out for errant roller bladders who zip by. You can easily find public toilets, water fountains, benches and snack sellers in the park.
Another highlight for older kids is a blackened and torn piece of metal sculpture rescued from the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and now on display in the park.
Leaving Battery Park and heading uptown, you will first come to a small park named Bowling Green. The place has some interesting history that your kids won't care about, but does have a nice fountain. The park is devoted to office workers having lunch, and so is not very kid-friendly. It does have free Wi-Fi access for um, older, kids.
Museum of the American Indian
Across from Bowling Green park is a huge building, actually part of the Smithsonian chain, that used to be New York's Customs House and is now the Museum of the American Indian (we love irony-Bowling Green is supposedly the site where early white dudes bought Manhattan from the Indians for $24 worth of beads.)
The Museum is free, air conditioned and has clean toilets and drinking water, but otherwise is geared toward older visitors or folks really into Indians in an archeological/art history sort of way. Those expecting drama and cowboy movie adventure will not find it. If you can sneak in for a moment, parents will be treated to an awesome rotunda, with a beautiful skylight and magnificent Depression-era ceiling murals depicting New York's maritime past.
Further uptown you'll come to Trinity Church, one of the oldest in the US, dating to 1697. The church is still active, so you may not be able to enter at all times, but the graveyard adjoining it is always open. Among the most famous inhabitants is Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the treasury. The whole site is worth a visit if you or your children are into early American history, probably a pass if you are not.
Hang a right at the church and follow the wagon loads of police and anti-terror forces to Wall Street. The Street and the area around it are closed to vehicles, meaning easy walking and stroller pushing for us non-Al Quaeda parents. You cannot get inside anything since 9/11, but the stock exchange has a H-U-G-E American flag that is worth photographing, and across the street (marked) is the site where George Washington took his oath of office to become our first president.
If the kids are old enough to understand money, the area is a nice place to explain the market to them. A real-time stock ticker runs alongside the building and if you own any stocks, you might be able to pick out your estate going up or down.
You will no doubt pass by the Bull, the famous statue symbolizing positive markets on the rise. Everybody gets their picture taken here. Be advised the bull is anatomically correct.
Assuming you are making money, there are plenty of restaurants and delis in the area. What is not easy to find are toilets; a lot of places allow customers only or even claim to not have a place. Keep an eye out for McDonalds and KFC, who have toilets and generally are not pigs about allowing you to use them (and here's more info on Manhattan restaurants).
World Trade Center
It is kind of alongish walk further uptown and over a few blocks to the World Trade Center site, but for kids old enough to undertand, a perhaps necessary journey.
The site itself, at least of late 2008, is pretty much mostly a construction zone. Signs on the fence give a minute-by-minute account of what happened here. People clump together at the fence, looking in to what is in one sense nothing but a large work site, but looking in as if to squint a bit to see, well, something.
Despite all the rhetoric and cynicism and politics that followed those days since September 11, 2001, it is hard to stand on that sidewalk on a bright summer's day and not think of ghosts in the still blue skies overhead. Peace.