A Walk for Everyone: The Lower Tip of Manhattan Island
By Vicky Schippers
Everyone has heard the phrase, “New York City is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
For me, a longtime New York City resident, it’s the only place I would want to live. That’s because no matter where you are in this energetic city, you are surrounded by diversity, a sense of history, and more to experience than any one individual could ever hope to accomplish in a lifetime. Boredom never enters the equation.
Here’s a case in point. I live in Brooklyn Heights, an area directly across the East River from lower Manhattan. For a little exercise, all I need do is walk (or jog, or bike, or rollerblade) across the Brooklyn Bridge and then around the southern tip of Manhattan.
The entire excursion –- with something for everyone from singles to families to seniors — takes from one to three hours, depending on how many stops along the way you choose to make. Its beauty is that even making zero stops, all of your senses will be doing double duty along the way.
For those already in Manhattan, a good place to start is at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge where, at One Centre Street, you can crane you neck to see the classically designed Municipal Building with its gilded spire, built in 1915 by famed architects, McKim, Mead and White.
Next head half a block to Chambers Street and turn left. On the corner is the old New York County Courthouse, or as it was more widely known, the Tweed Courthouse, or as it was most widely known, Tammany Hall.
Even though the name Tammany Hall conjures up scenes of municipal corruption and graft, the building has been restored to its former 19th century opulence and offers free tours during the workweek.
Funky Chambers Street
Continue toward the Hudson River on Chambers Street, a venue that feels distinctly honky-tonk. Here you can find New York City knickknacks and paraphernalia including the usual array of baseball hats, t-shirts, and backpacks. Chambers Street is also home to several funky restaurants — with no reports of food poisoning that I am aware of.
As you approach West Street, you’ll see the home of the annual spring Tribeca Film Festival off to the right. After you cross West Street, you enter Battery Park City. Here is the Hudson River flanked by an esplanade, as sublime as Chambers Street is…. not sublime?
This entire area was under water 30 years ago. Much of the landfill comes from stones carried from the excavation site of the World Trade Center and sand pumped from the Hudson’s bottom.
The briny odor leaves no doubt that you are near the sea, but to really rock your senses, take a look back at the buildings that ring the park, mostly luxury condos. Between the brine and the skyscrapers, you know you aren’t in Kansas.
A Plethora of Activities
Your stroll will now take you south to the extreme tip of Manhattan Island, around it, and back to where you started with plenty of opportunities to stop for rest and refreshment.
You will pass the newly constructed base for New York Waterway, boat taxis that shuttle commuters back and forth to their Wall Street offices and also offer tours of lower Manhattan.
On your left are playgrounds, lush grassy spots for lounging, sunbathing, and flying kites. Directly across the river is the New Jersey shoreline with its historic Colgate clock plainly visible.
As you walk, rollerblades, and bikes whoosh past, but don’t worry. The walkway is broad, and good manners prevail. The motto is, pedestrians come first. And those pedestrians are a New York City polyglot, especially on weekends – large Orthodox Jewish families, as well as Asian, Hispanic, and African–American groups, plus everyone in between.
At this point, the Hudson is full of kayaks, sailboats, cruisers, and all manner of river traffic, including the occasional ocean liner making its way to a berth farther up the Hudson. The landscape also provides a visual and aural bonanza for horticulturalists, with its ever-changing seasonality in plantings.
You now arrive at the North Cove Marina, home to yachts visiting from far-flung ports and sailboats that belong to the Manhattan Sailing School. This is the ideal place to stop for a bite and a little indoor shopping in the Winter Garden with its over-the-top Palm Court.
The Winter Garden was the first building to be reopened after 9/11 and has enough restaurants, indoors and out, to satisfy any craving. Take the time to walk up its broad staircase. At the top, visitors can view the footprint of the World Trade Center, where work continues daily, if slowly, on rebuilding the site.
Ringing the Winter Garden are outdoor cafes and waterfalls and, depending on what’s going on in the city — US Open, World Series — giant movie screens that project the action.
Now continue south on the Esplanade where you have an excellent view of the Statue of Liberty. On your left is the Museum of Jewish Heritage and on your right, you are likely to see entire families gathered to fish in the now relatively clean river.
New York City’s First Immigration Center
The Esplanade curves left and ends at Battery Park where Castle Clinton is located. The castle is the remainder of a fort build in 1811 and was the first point of entry for immigrants before Ellis Island opened. Battery Park is also the drop off point for boats traveling to Ellis Island and the newly reopened Statue of Liberty.
Crossing Battery Park you pass The Sphere, a huge piece of metal that was removed from the charred remains of the World Trade Center and today commemorates those who died with an eternal flame.
On to the East River
Now head for South Street on the far side of Battery Park. Keeping skyscrapers on your left, follow South Street around the island’s southern tip. The East River will be on your right with the Brooklyn Bridge directly ahead.
Walk past the base for Lady Liberty Helicopter Rides and if you have the time, take a six- to eight- minute spin over the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ellis and Governors Islands.
A few steps from the helicopter base is the South Street Seaport whose pier houses shops, restaurants, and an old sloop, the Peking. Directly across South Street is Fulton Street, an extension of the Seaport with plenty of ongoing street action, including jugglers, magicians, and break-dancers.
Wall Street Walkway
From here, it is a good idea to cross Water Street, make a left and double back four blocks to Wall Street. Since 9/11, much of this formerly busy financial hub as been closed to vehicles, leaving a good chunk of the street a pedestrian walkway.
Walking toward Broadway, where Wall Street ends, you pass Federal Hall on your right, the site of our country’s first capital and George Washington’s inauguration. Continue on a bit further to the corner of Broad Street and you arrive at the New York Stock Exchange, which has been closed to visitors since 9/11 but remains a tourist favorite.
Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel
At the corner of Wall Street and Broadway is Trinity Church, one of the city’s most venerable places of worship. Take a few minutes to locate the headstones of Alexander Hamilton, William Bradford, and Robert Fulton in the graveyard.
Continue along Broadway where at the corner of Fulton Street stands St. Paul’s Chapel, Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use. Located directly across from the World Trade Center, St. Paul’s was a central site for volunteer efforts after 9/11, and the chapel maintains a moving exhibit about those heartbreaking days.
Back to Square One
As you proceed along Broadway back towards Chambers Street, you will have a good look at City Hall where New York City’s major conducts daily business.
Here is a small park with a lovely fountain, a place to rest before getting on with the rest of your day. At this point you could walk back to the Hudson and instead of going south, go north. But that is probably another walk, for another day.
52 Chambers Street; nyc.gov/html/artcom/html/tours/tweed.shtml
New York Waterway
Manhattan Sailing School
Museum of Jewish Heritage
36 Battery Place; 646-437-4200; mjhnyc.org
Lady Liberty Helicopter Rides
Pier Six & East River; 212-967-6464; libertyhelicopter.com
26 Wall Street; 212-825-6888; nps.gov/feha/
St. Paul’s Chapel
209 Broadway; 212-602-0874; stpaulschapel.org
Vicky Schippers is a retired financial and grant writer. She writes for a number of newspapers including The Christian Science Monito. In addition to freelance writing, she works as a volunteer tutor and doula.
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