Downtown NYC: The Ultimate Traveler’s Checklist

A trip to Downtown NYC is an emotional journey, especially if you haven’t been here since before 9-11-01. While some iconic buildings remain (the Winter Garden, Trinity Church), everything you thought you knew about lower Manhattan is history. The whole landscape has been so transformed as to be unrecognizable.

Once the new World Trade (Freedom) Tower was built, it began a building boom in lower Manhattan. New life, both commercially and residentially, is still being breathed into this area of New York day by day.

Downtown Manhattan is more than just a hub for financial institutions, Manhattan businesses, and Wall Street traders. This area south of 14th Street is also a rich tapestry of romantic experiences. With scenic spots like Battery Park City and historic landmarks such as the 9/11 Memorial and City Hall, couples will find a treasure trove of intimate moments waiting to be discovered.

Looking for more weekend getaway ideas? Here’s our roundup of Romantic Getaways In New England.

9-11 Memorial Pools NYC
9-11 Memorial

Best Things to Do in Downtown NYC

VISIT: 9-11 Memorial & Museum

One of the most moving and somber landmarks in the United States, the 9/11 Memorial near the World Trade Center, offers couples a moment to reflect and appreciate the preciousness of life and love.

Twisted steel beams, rubbled stairways, other artifacts from the buildings, rescuer paraphernalia, and oral histories of witnesses and survivors will no doubt jolt you back in time. Still, the serenity of waterfall pools, framed with the victims’ names, allows for quiet contemplation as visitors pay their respects to the families and friends whose lives were changed instantly.

New York Transportation Hub

SEE: World Trade Center Oculus

The multi-billion dollar World Trade Center Oculus, designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava to look like a dove taking wing, is a must-see in downtown Manhattan.

Be sure to go inside to see New Yorkers and visitors bustling around the large concourse. During the holiday season, you can also shop for cool gifts at pop-up kiosks – a great last-minute option if you’re heading out of town on a train to visit friends and family.

WALK: Hudson River Park and Esplanade

Five miles from Battery Park City to 59th Street, this beautiful riverfront walkway brings you past marinas, piers, and sports complexes (Chelsea Piers) south.

TOUR: Ellis Island

Take a ferry from Battery Park and experience the sense of journey and arrival that so many have felt before. As you explore the Ellis Island Museum and the Great Hall, the emotionally charged atmosphere gives you the chance to reflect on the narratives of love and family that shaped America.

The island also provides stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline, creating perfect photo opportunities that capture the essence of love and freedom. This visit offers a profound, sentimental experience that adds depth and historical context to any visit to the city of New York.

TOUR: The New York Stock Exchange

Located in the heart of the Financial District, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is a symbol of the bustling energy that makes New York City so captivating. During your tour, you can witness the adrenaline-fueled trading floor in action and gain insights into the complexities of global finance.

Sharing this educational experience can be a unique bonding moment, giving both of you a new perspective on the city’s influence on the world stage. After the tour, take a leisurely stroll along nearby Wall Street and relish the quieter, historical aspects of the area, rounding out an engaging and unconventional romantic date.

Union Square

VISIT: Union Square

Union Square, often bustling with farmers’ markets, street performers, and political rallies, has its own unexpected romantic corners that beckon couples. Its well-manicured park offers a serene escape from the city’s hustle, providing an inviting space for intimate conversations on park benches or leisurely strolls along its pathways.

The square’s charming cafes and boutiques are perfect for a laid-back afternoon date. As the sun sets, the area comes alive with twinkle lights, setting the mood for romance. Whether sharing an artisanal coffee or engaging in a couple’s chess game on the public boards, Union Square offers a versatile and vibrant setting for creating memorable romantic moments.

Strand Street Bookstore interior

SHOP: Strand Street Bookstore

The Strand Book Store, located near Union Square, is a haven for bibliophiles and a charming spot for couples who share a love for the written word. This iconic bookstore boasts “18 miles of books,” offering a vast and eclectic selection that ranges from rare first editions to contemporary bestsellers.

You can discover hidden literary treasures, participate in book readings, or simply enjoy the quiet atmosphere together by roaming the labyrinthine aisles hand-in-hand. The Strand provides a unique, intellectual backdrop for a meaningful, shared experience that’s hard to replicate anywhere else, making it a particularly enriching romantic destination.

Catch a Show at the Jazz Club

For couples seeking a night steeped in music and intimacy, the Blue Note in Greenwich Village is an essential experience. This world-renowned jazz club offers a cozy and dimly lit atmosphere that sets the stage for romance, enhanced by the sultry notes of live jazz performances. The close proximity of the tables to the stage ensures that you’re enveloped in the music, making it easy to get lost in the melodies while enjoying a cocktail or a fine meal.

EXPLORE: South Street Seaport

Located where Fulton Street meets the East River, South Street Seaport is a historic area where cobblestone pathways and 19th-century architecture coexist with modern shops, eateries, and entertainment venues. As a bustling waterfront district, South Street Seaport provides a rich maritime atmosphere, featuring a range of dining options from seafood to international cuisine, as well as boutique shopping and a variety of cultural events.

The area also boasts stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline, making it an ideal place for a romantic walk or a leisurely afternoon spent exploring the essence of New York City’s maritime past.

Restaurants in Downtown NYC

South Street Restaurants:

  1. The Fulton – Situated right on the water, The Fulton by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten offers couples a fine dining experience with a nautical twist. The restaurant’s expansive windows provide panoramic views of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, setting a romantic mood as you indulge in fresh seafood and inventive American dishes.
  2. Barbalu – This cozy Italian restaurant offers an intimate dining atmosphere perfect for a romantic date night. With a menu featuring handmade pasta and Italian classics, Barbalu provides an Old World charm amid the bustling environment of South Street Seaport.
  3. Seaport Food Lab – The Seaport Food Lab is a unique culinary pop-up experience located in South Street Seaport, featuring a rotating roster of acclaimed chefs from around the world. This experimental kitchen serves as both a stage for culinary innovation and a dining destination, offering limited-run menus that showcase each chef’s creative approach to cuisine.

Downtown NYC Restaurants That Locals Recommend

This being New York City, there’s a good restaurant on every block.  Pressed for time and $$?  Grab a burger and incredible fries at Shake Shack.  Craving some of the best BBQ (albeit upscale) this side of Ole Muddy?  Try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke in the Battery

The prices are not as sky-high as the view at ONE Dine, the restaurant bar at the top of the Freedom Tower (One World Trade).

Conrad Hotel NYC Lobby
Conrad NYC Lobby

Hotels in Downtown NYC

STAY: The Conrad Hotel – Near One World Trade Center

There are several qualities that make a hotel great, and the Conrad Hotel NYC– a Hilton brand – has all of them.  First, aesthetics: the Conrad is a Modern-Art knockout. Second, service: hotel staff seem to be hired with the kind of proud, friendly, and I’d go so far as to say sweet personalities that can’t be taught. Finally, location. In the shadow of the new World Trade Center and a scant block from the Hudson River within view of the Statue of Liberty, the Conrad is surrounded by poignancy and beauty. 

All-suite modern-furnished rooms hush in harmonious earth tones: wooden louvered shades and built-ins, granite grey drapes, sand-hued travertine floors and showers, and backlit mirrors. Ask for a river view. Center yourself while watching barges and boat traffic slip by Jersey City skyscrapers.

Here’s one of NYC’s hidden secrets. An 11-screen multiplex cinema is a mere escalator ride up from the Conrad Hotel lobby. Yes, the “never crowded” Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 (the go-to theater for New Yorkers who hate standing in line uptown) can be accessed from this very hotel.

In season, hit the hot rooftop bar, Loopy Doopy (named after the LeWitt installation in the lobby). It serves up its own specialty, Prosecco & Ice Pops, with a – take your pick – Lime Margarita, Pina Colada, Appletini, or Morello Cherry popsicle plunked right into the bubbly.

It’s the perfect summertime accompaniment to the Statue of Liberty and Hudson River views.

Marlton Hotel guest room

STAY: The Marlton Hotel – Greenwich Village

Near Union Square, The Marlton Hotel offers couples an intimate retreat infused with a sense of Old World romance. The boutique hotel exudes Parisian charm with its ornate woodwork, vintage chandeliers, and elegantly furnished rooms featuring velvet headboards and clawfoot tubs.

The intimate scale of the hotel ensures a personalized experience, allowing for quiet moments away from the city’s hustle. Its atmospheric cocktail bar and café are perfect spots for an intimate date night or morning coffee without even leaving the premises. With its historic allure and modern comfort, The Marlton provides an idyllic setting for any romantic getaway.

More Romantic Getaways In New York City

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  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

1 thought on “Downtown NYC: The Ultimate Traveler’s Checklist”

  1. We lived and worked in Manhattan on September 11th. We’ll never forget that day. We just visited the September 11 Memorial last month – the first time in over 10 years since we’ve been back to lower Manhattan. I’m really glad we were able to return and put closure on the experience. Thanks for sharing your photography!

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