As someone who has lived in downtown NYC all my life, I will proudly admit that I have never been to the Statue of Liberty. New York has so much more to offer than the numerous places heavily advertised on every other blog. On your way to the same attraction everyone else sees, you might zoom right past one of these undetected, authentic, and often cheaper destinations. For those tired of crowded tourist hubs and wishing to see New York through a native’s eyes, here are 8 lesser-known things to do in Lower Manhattan.
1. Things to do in Lower Manhattan – Drink Matcha & Bubble Tea
Matcha, a green tea extract drink with minimal caffeine originating from Japan, is known for its vivid green color. Vendors claim it offers hours of clean, clear-headed energy and a high concentration of L-theanine that’s more antioxidant-rich than green tea. You can order hot matcha and enjoy it on your favorite park bench in Central Park during a chilly winter afternoon, or take it iced with you on a walking adventure down Mulberry Street on a sunny summer morning.
Drink one and you’ll instantly feel like a New Yorker. Many coffee shops now offer matcha lattes, but my favorite place to go is Cha Cha Matcha (1158 Broadway, 327 Lafayette Street, and 373 Broome Street). Cha Cha Matcha specializes in matcha drinks and has three locations in Manhattan, all downtown.
While on the pricier side (one drink ranges from $4 – $9), it’s definitely worth a try for the earthy, tart flavor of this unique drink quickly gaining popularity. Cha Cha Matcha Lower Manhattan offers drinks with added Chai (a cinnamony-sweet flavor, more of a concentrated version of chai tea), collagen, honey, a range of vegan kinds of milk (hemp, coconut, oat, almond), vitamins, and many more special additions outlined on the menu.
If health isn’t high up on your priority list, try bubble tea. Chains like Vivi’s, Boba Guys, and Yaya Tea all present an array of flavors like mango, milk, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, coconut, and more. The Taiwanese drink’s popularity doesn’t stem solely from the tea, but also from the crave-worthy chewy bubbles that enhance the beverage by adding texture and flavor.
The transparent, blueberry-sized, black balls, often called “boba,” are made from cassava root and adorn the drink. Their gummy-bear texture enhances the beverage and makes the flavor and experience unlike anything you have tried before. Black tea is the most common flavor, but you can also select fruit-flavored bubbles.
In my opinion, Bar Pa Tea (85 Kenmare Street) serves the most delicious bubble tea. They offer original drinks such as oreo milkshakes and delicious green tea soft serve ice creams that allow you to turn your tea into a float. Exemplifying New York’s ability to fold different cultures into city life, bubble tea is part of what makes NYC so enticing and diverse. Different cultures have even joined together to form entire sub-cities within the towering skyscrapers.
2. Explore Little Italy & Chinatown
Happy statues of pot-bellied, mustachioed men advertise their extensive menus in the culture hub Little Italy (or NoLita). Inhabited by Italian-Americans whose ancestors dreamed of owning an American business, some restaurants in Little Italy are over a hundred years old. Streets close down on select days during the summer and families can walk leisurely down the road and enjoy gelato, cannolis, and pizza.
If you’re looking for souvenirs to gift your friends and family back home, stores chock-full of mini taxi-cabs, statues of liberty, postcards, and “I Heart NY” shirts line the streets. Boutiques with dainty necklaces and trendy canvas totes can aid in disguising your tourist hat and camera so that you blend into the buzzing boulevards of the NYC lifestyle. Home to famous brunch spots, Little Italy nurtures Australian Two Hands (74 Bleecker Street, 251 Church, and 164 Mott) and Seamore’s (390 Broome) where their healthy bowls and benedicts make the wait for a table worth it.
Hop on a Citi Bike and pedal only a few blocks away to encounter the lively streets of Chinatown. Negotiations and exotic fruits beckon pedestrians. The clamor and excitement make great deals on fresh produce even more exciting. Chinatown houses delicious dim sum eateries that represent a Chinese style of enjoying steamy food around a circular table with the ones you love.
Dim sum dishes are bite-sized delicacies like shumai and dumplings served in ornate baskets or small plates. Amongst the best dim sum restaurants are Golden Unicorn (18 E Broadway), Tim Ho Wan (85 4th Ave), and my personal favorite, Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers Street). Make sure to book in advance as the wait can be up to an hour.
These Chinatown restaurants manage to stay close to their roots and resemble the feeling of enjoying a home-cooked meal at someone’s house while being widely successful restaurants and that will provide a delicious and memorable meal. Besides the food, Chinatown hides intricate flower shops down its alleyways and fabulous hairdressers for as cheap as $25 for a women’s haircut (SUPER cheap for Manhattan).
Chinatown captures the chaotic essence of New York and Manhattan while also offering cheaper ways to spend your days in the city. The food, produce, and self-care deals are amongst the many reasons New Yorkers flock there daily and why you should make sure to stop by when you’re visiting lower Manhattan attractions.
3. Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave) skirts the boundary of downtown and Midtown but should not be omitted from this list. The building appears boring and office-like on the outside, but this couldn’t be further from the truth when you realize the treasures inside. Stepping down the concrete steps and being unsure of where to look remains my favorite memory of Chelsea Market.
The flickering neon signs for sale, funky jewelry, and authentic American eateries caught my eye immediately as I wondered how I had never heard of this place before. I suggest visiting Chelsea Market just before lunch to allocate time for shopping and then enjoy the cafés and fancier eateries sprinkled amongst the shops. After, you can enjoy some fresh macaroons by La Maison du Macaron or watch your doughnut holes turn to a golden brown and iced with whatever you desire at the Doughnuttery.
4. Hudson Eats & The Oculus
Built to commemorate 9/11 and to replace the PATH trains destroyed by the attack, the Oculus symbolizes the light that shines through after the darkness of tragedy. The Oculus’ ceiling opens and allows light to fill the massive space as a memorial to the attacks on the twin towers. The structure looks like a gorgeous ivory dinosaur emerging out of the ground, a welcome sight amongst the seemingly endless skyscrapers in the Financial District.
Inside the structure, one can find high-end stores such as Gucci and Chanel. Pedestrians can travel up one level to encounter an entire food court, called Hudson Eats. Not your average food court, at Hudson Eats customers can bite into hot pockets of meat and veggies at Northern Tiger and indulge in fast food without the guilt at Skinny Pizza.
Afterward, you can enjoy a world-famous Sprinkles cupcake in flavors like banana and chocolate marshmallows. Step outside to hear the echoes of laughing children on the ice rink in early winter as they clutch onto ice penguins for balance. Seafood restaurants surround the scene and look out into the water and an immaculate garden updated with gorgeous flowers every month. No one can deny that hot dogs and pretzels are NYC delicacies, but as you sit at one of these waterfront restaurants with your family, you’ll see the other side of New York illuminated by the sun disappearing behind the East River.
⇒ Philadelphia is one of my favourite cities in the USA and it’s only 90 minutes by train from NYC. Check out my posts on the most Instagrammable Things to do in Philadelphia and some fantastic Philadelphia Food Tours.
5. Go Thrifting
Everyone knows about shopping on Broadway, but not many know about the sustainable and urban culture of thrifting in NYC. If you’re up for a bit of a dig around, you can find some unique items that sell for a fraction of the price. Cure Thrift Shop (111 E 12th St) and Vintage Thrift Shop (286 3rd Ave) offer New Yorker approved goods that also donate their profits towards a good cause.
Cure donates their proceeds to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes and Vintage Thrift Shop donates their profits to hot meals for the homeless. Looking to avoid stores teeming with mainstream clothing in favor of something more environmentally friendly? Add these thrift stores to your must-visit list of things to do in downtown Manhattan.
6. Do some reading in a Classic Lower Manhattan Book Shop
If you’re someone who loves to read, pop into McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street). After being enveloped in that new-book-smell you encounter a table of carefully curated new and notable novels that finds your new favorite book for you, without the hassle. Go downstairs and you’ll find thrillers and children’s books as well as a long, inviting, oak table where you can dive into the manilla pages while snacking on a fluffy croissant. A downtown treasure, McNally’s honors great literature that people of all ages can appreciate.
7. Exercise your Creative Side
Into visual arts? Look no further for a store to satiate your creative needs! Blick’s intimidating array of professional materials shines against the polished hardwood floors. Blick also sells crafts that everyone at any age can enjoy, like labyrinth games with a ball and a maze, or a small puzzle that makes a New York slice of pizza. Blick beautifully balances serious art supplies and fun activities that anyone can use to create.
Showfields (11 Bond Street), branded as “the most interesting store in the world,” provides a space where the most innovative companies come together to create an interactive and modern space where products are able to be tried and tested by consumers. The store features companies such as Swell water bottles, Quip toothbrushes, Tap (a contraption you put on your fingers that enables you to type without a keyboard), the therapeutic candle company Skura, the sports bed Eight Sleep, and so much more. This store reminds me of the hustle constantly present in NYC and makes me appreciate how much the city evolves over time as new ideas can be brought to life every day.
Maybe you’re scouring the internet looking for places to go and tired of touring the quintessential NYC destinations and museums. Or maybe you’re a local like me and for something unique to do in the city. Either way, don’t let the lure of traditional tourist destinations distract you from an authentic and unforgettable downtown Manhattan experience.
How to Get to Lower Manhattan
The closest of the New York City airports to downtown New York is Newark. JFK and LaGuardia are also good options, just a little farther away.
There are no direct trains from Newark Airport to Lower Manhattan. However, there are several options to get to Lower Manhattan from Newark Airport. There are train services from Terminal B which will take you to Broadway-Lafayette station. The journey takes about one hour. Newark has a bus that takes 30 minutes to get to the Port Authority Bus Station. From there connect on the subway. Or a taxi will take about 20 minutes in good traffic.
The best way to get around Lower Manhattan is to walk! Or take the subway if you’re getting weary. New York City is best explored on foot.
Where to Stay in Lower Manhattan
There is a myriad of gorgeous downtown hotels to call a home away from home during your visit to Manhattan. These hotels are the perfect places to return to after a long day of walking (the main form of exercise in NYC), where one can collapse into a luxurious bed and wake up feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next day’s itinerary.
CitizenM is a Dutch chain is renowned for its art installations and swanky furniture. This brand has two locations in Manhattan. The midtown location is smack dab in the middle of bustling Times Square, while the downtown location on 189 Bowery encapsulates the urban, relaxed feeling that downtown NYC oozes out of its avenues and alleyways.
CitizenM’s features include a canteen open 24/7. During the day, it serves all three meals as well as a coffee and then morphs into a hub for cocktails and dancing in the evening. If you prefer to enjoy your dinner with a side of that famous NYC skyline, then you will devour CitizenM’s rooftop bar that features floor-to-ceiling windows atop the tallest building in the neighborhood.
For those looking for a pampered experience, The Crosby Street Hotel is known for its “fresh contemporary style.” The Crosby Street Hotel sits right in the heart of SoHo, arguably the most desirable location to live in all of Manhattan. This hotel has an even cozier atmosphere than CitizenM.
The Crosby Street Hotel offers a guest drawing room, a sandstone fireplace, and deep, sumptuous sofas that look out onto a leafy garden sanctuary that is rare for New York. The Crosby hosts afternoon tea with delicate bites in the sculpture garden. It is easy to imagine yourself taking a drawing class while munching on some frosted tea cake and then curling up in front of the fireplace with a new book. Stay in other high-end hotels for a home away from home, but The Crosby Hotel creates a sanctuary away from home.
Lower Manhattan Tours
If you’re short on time and looking for unique things to do in downtown NYC it is often a good idea to take a guided tour to get a feel for an area. Here are some of the most popular options for tours in Lower Manhattan:
⇒ Explore Lower Manhattan by Bike as well as the Brooklyn Bridge
⇒ Guided Walking Tour of Lower Manhattan downtown as well as the Brooklyn Bridge
⇒ Secrets of Downtown Walking Tour
⇒ A range of Lower Manhattan Tour options from a local company
⇒ Or take a self-guided tour as written by one of my favourite travel bloggers and an ex-New Yorker, Practical Wanderlust
Who Paid for What in this Post
As Ava lives in NYC she covered all of her own costs associated with creating this things to do in downtown nyc post. However, this post does contain affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and end up making a purchase we will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure that you knew!
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Ava Andrews has lived in New York City all her life.. She loves anything to do with writing, reading, and volleyball. She has published numerous articles for her school’s paper and continues to explore different mediums of writing in her free time.