Lower Manhattan, NY
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Lower Manhattan, NY

Escape Midtown Madness with a Pier-to-Pier Adventure in Old New York.

Downtown or Bust

The kids are begging for another trip to the big city. But you're not up for the Times Square circus (again!). Here's another option: Pile them on the subway and head 60 blocks south for a pier-to-pier adventure in Lower Manhattan.

You've got two (count -em) A-list attractions--the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island--both of which can now be seen on the same boat ride. There's also the New York Stock Exchange, where your young day traders can watch power brokers in action. And don't forget the World Trade Center. Besides the always popular bird-eye views of Manhattan, you can now ride in a virtual helicopter there.

But here's the best part: When the day's done, you don't have to schlep uptown to your hotel. Thanks to a slew of new lodging and entertainment, Lower Manhattan has become a popular spot to stay overnight.

Reward good behavior during the day with fun at night-a movie or free concert at Battery Park City, or an evening watching street entertainers at South Street Seaport. That is, of course, in between checking out all the new restaurants and shops that have sprung up from the East River to the Hudson.

Historical Doubleheader

People used to come to Lower Manhattan for The Statue of Liberty, period. Now, there's another good reason to head south: Ellis Island.

Between 1892 and 1924, some 12 million people entered the US through this immigration facility in New York Harbor. These days, the national monument and museum is a great place to teach kids about great grandma and grandpa's life in the Old World, and the hardships they encountered getting to the New World.

Better yet, you can hit the Statue of Liberty--a long-time symbol of democracy and freedom for many immigrants--and Ellis Island in the same trip. Buy your tickets at Castle Clinton, an 1811 sandstone fort, now a National Park Service visitor center in Battery Park.

The boat ride makes a loop, stopping first at Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty (you can get off), and then Ellis Island. Ferries run between the islands every 20 minutes in summer and take about 15 minutes. Tip: Boat times are posted at the Ellis Island information desk to help plan your return trip.

Position yourselves on the open rear deck or the upper deck seating area for the best photo ops, but don't let the kids climb on the rails. The boats are also equipped with bathrooms and snack bars (hot dogs are $1.75).

At the Statue of Liberty, the big attraction is getting inside the lady herself. You can do this by taking the elevator up 10 stories to an observation area in the pedestal. Or, you can get even higher by climbing 354 steps to her crown. Warning: Pace yourself. If you hike to the crown, the kids will have little energy left for Ellis Island.

In summer, the wait to walk up is at least three hours. Considering that you'll be standing in broiling sun, it's probably not worth the aggravation. But if the kids are begging, get there early (the park service officially closes the line at 2 pm).

At Ellis Island, head first to the information booth to pick up tickets for the free, 30-minute documentary, Island of Hope, Island of Tears. The film does a good job explaining why people fled Europe for the US, what their journey was like, and the challenges they faced as new Americans.

Plan a brief stop at the artifacts collection and audio listening area, where you can don a headset and hear immigrants reminisce about their experiences. But the kids are likely to be bored by all this. They'll be more interested in the Mental Testing Room on the second floor.

There, they'll see puzzles and diagrams used to test questionable would-be immigrants' mental skills. And they'll take away a shocking lesson: sometimes America liked immigrants and sometimes it didn't. And some who dreamed of coming to America were turned away at its door.

Big View

After a heavy day of visiting museums, what could be better than a trip to the Top of the World? From the enclosed observation room on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, you can see 55 miles away on a clear day.

Interactive video screens point out the main sites in each direction--the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and Newark Airport in New Jersey. In the theater, take your kids on a virtual "helicopter tour" of the city (the whole room moves).

For an outside view, take the escalator to the roof (the kids can't get close to the edge, so don't worry). If you're lucky you may be able to spot airlines and helicopters flying at lower altitudes.

Be forewarned: Plenty of folks here are happy to help you part with your money. Besides the steep admission, the cafes, gift shops and $5 photo booths on the 10th floor are geared toward tourists. (Staffers also snap your picture in the lobby and try to sell it to you later).

Taking Stock

Do your kids day trade from their bedrooms? Then they'll really appreciate seeing the place where securities change hands everyday.

At the New York Stock Exchange, they can see the action weekdays on a self-guided tour, or from the visitor's gallery. It'll be quite a thrill to witness the trading floor frenzy and see that infamous Big Board, which handles some trillion shares of stock a day.

While you're in the area, take a picture of the kids in front of a Wall Street street sign (just in case they grow up to be financial whizzes.) And while you're at it, check out Federal Hall. You'll find a large statue of George Washington commemorating his inauguration at the site in 1789.

Something Fishy

It's only a short walk from Wall Street to South Street Seaport, a cobble-stoned historic district and popular waterfront mall. (On the way there, point out the white stone pyramid memorial at the Trinity Church, where revolutionary war figure and founding father Alexander Hamilton is buried.)

At the South Street Seaport Museum, you'll learn about the history of this bustling port, which is still home to the famous Fulton Fish Market. And don't miss the three historic ships docked at nearby Pier 16 (one admission price covers all).

DASHBOARD

Type of trip: Historic, educational

Best for ages: 10 and up

Ideal trip length: Three days

Distance: Philadelphia (94 miles), Hartford (117 miles), Boston (215 miles)

Best time to go: Spring and fall for the weather. Winter for the best hotel rates. Wall Street attractions are closed on weekends, so include a weekday in your plans.

Weather: 83/68 in summer, 48/26 degrees in winter.

Lodging: From $150 to more than $400/night. For last-minute hotel deals, call the NYC & Company Hotel Hotline, 800-846-ROOM.

Squirm factor: Some to a lot, depending on the age. Older children will appreciate Lower Manhattan the most.

If You Go...

Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty. Take the ferry from Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park, 212-363-3200, 212-269-5755 (ferry information), www.ellisisland.org, www.nps.gov/stli/. Admission (for ferry): $8 adults, $3 ages 3 to 17. Admission to museums: Free.

World Trade Center/Top of the World. 2 World Trade Center, 212-323-2340, www.wtc-top.com Admission: $13.50 adults, $11 students ages 13 to 17. $6.75 ages 6 to 12. Day/night pass: $19.75 adults, $16.75 students and $10 ages 6 to 12.

New York Stock Exchange. 20 Broad St. (between Wall Street and Exchange Place), 212-656-5165, www.nyse.com. Tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis weekdays at 8:45 am (trading hours are 9:30 am to 4 pm). Admission: Free. Closed weekends.

South Street Seaport Museum. 12 Fulton St., 212-748-8600, www.southstseaport.org. Admission: $6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 students and $3 children. Closed Tuesdays through March 31.

Contact: NYC & Company, 800-NYC-VISIT, www.nycvisit.com.

Chelsea Piers

This massive, one-of-a-kind sports complex, located in former ship piers on the Hudson River, is a great place for the kids to blow off steam. You'll find bowling, batting cages, a golf-driving range, ice skating and roller skating. And don't worry about gear. You can rent anything you need on site.

Activities are priced a la carte. Or, you can pay $35 per person (sorry, no special rates for kids) for a silver passport for adults and children over 11 which includes $15 of tee time and rentals at the Golf Club, admission and rentals to the indoor and outdoor roller skating and ice rinks, five batting cage tokens (50 balls), free bowling shoe rental, and discount coupons to restaurants and retail shops at the pier.

Onsite parking costs $18 for up to four hours, $25 up to six hours. 23rd St. at the Hudson River (West Side Hwy), 212-336-6666, www.chelseapiers.com.

Favorite local spots:

  • Century 21 Department Store, 22 Cortlandt St., 212-227-9092. Save 25-75% on brand name and designer clothing (for adults and kids) as well as household items at this bargain-hunter's mecca, across from the World Trade Center. But don't believe the slogan on the door, "New York's Best Kept Secret." Get there early or be prepared to fight the crowds.
  • Lady Liberty Live, Pier 16 or Schermerhorn Row, right near the South Street Seaport Museum. Lady Liberty is one of the top-ranked street performers at South Street Seaport. You can't miss her--she dressed in green, holding the torch (and accepting tips, of course!)
  • Hudson River Park, Battery Park City. Its 5-mile-long promenade is perfect for picnicking, biking, roller-blading or skateboarding.

Local food: Hot dogs, pretzels and sugared nuts sold by street vendors.

Best souvenir: New York t-shirts and sweatshirts, foam Statue of Liberty headpieces and plastic Statue of Liberty sunglasses.

Annual Events:

  • Music at Castle Clinton, Battery Park, Thursday nights July to mid-August, The Alliance For Downtown New York, 212-835-2789, www.downtownny.com. Performances for this free outdoor music series start at 7 pm, with tickets distributed at 5 pm. The season kicks off with a concert on July 4 at 3:30 pm (no tickets required).
  • Hudson River Festival. Throughout Battery Park City (World Financial Center), June 19 to August 31, 2001, 212-528-2733, www.hudsonriverfestival.com. Music, dancing, theater, sports clinics, story hours, public art tours, nature walks, garden tours.

Traffic alert: Lower Manhattan is very congested. Leave your car at the hotel or a discount lot near the Lincoln Tunnel in midtown, and visit the sights on foot. They're all within easy walking distance. Beware of July 4th, when lower Manhattan is prime viewing spot for the fireworks display over New York Harbor. You can't get anywhere near the area without fighting claustrophobia-inducing crowds.

shim