Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">Markusnl/</a>.

New York City's New Downtown: 10 Years in the Making

What to See in Lower Manhattan: New Hotels & Hot Restaurants
By Beth Collins

In the wake of 9/11, New York City's Lower Manhattan was like a ghost town. Scores of businesses shuttered, and new ones didn't dare to move in.

Now 10 years later, downtown Manhattan is on the rise, thanks to an influx of restaurants, hotels, tours, and attractions that are drawing visitors from all over the globe.

In town to see the new 9/11 Memorial? Be sure to also check out these milestones and highlights of a neighborhood that continues to reinvent itself.

Photo Caption: The skyline of Lower Manhattan was forever changed by 9/11. Photo by Markusnl/
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York City.
Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
The 9/11 Memorial Opens
No visit to Lower Manhattan would be complete without a visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (the Memorial portion opened Sept. 12, 2011; the Museum is slated to open a year later).

The Memorial -- designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker, whose vision was chosen over more than 5,200 other entries in a design competition -- features 30-foot-tall waterfalls cascading into twin reflecting pools in the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Each pool is surrounded by bronze panels inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks. More than 400 swamp white oak trees fill the plaza around the pools, creating a green roof for the museum below.

The museum's exhibits are sobering, as expected -- the photographs, audio and video tapes, personal effects, and memorabilia will be somber reminders of the horrors of the attacks of both 9/11 and Feb. 26, 1993. But they're also inspiring. It's impossible to hear the accounts of heroism, sacrifice, and survival and not leave with a sense of hope.

Where: World Trade Center

More Info:; admission is free, but donations are encouraged. Advance visitor passes are required for entry to the 9/11 Memorial.

Photo Caption: The long-awaited National September 11 Memorial & Museum honors the victims of 9/11.
Hop On / Hop Off service from the New York Water Taxi.
Courtesy New York Water Taxi
New Sightseeing Tours Showcase Lower Manhattan
New York may be the Big Apple, but in some ways it's more like an onion -- peel back the top layer and you'll find another layer, and another, and yet another. To get beyond the surface in Lower Manhattan, take one of the many tours that have popped up in the past decade.

On the 5½-hour Freedom Comprehensive Tour, you'll get admission to the 9/11 Memorial; visit memorials to firefighters, police, and victims of the attacks; and board a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (, from $59). Note: the pedestal and interior of the Statue of Liberty closes in Oct. 2011 for a yearlong renovation project; Liberty Island will remain open to tours during this time.

The two-hour Heroes of the World Trade Center walking tour focuses on the historic day in September 2011 and includes stops at the WTC Tribute Museum, St. Paul's Chapel, the American Express Eleven Tears Memorial, plus stories of heroism and sacrifice during the attacks (, from $30).

If you'd prefer a tour with a broader range, take New York Water Taxi's Hop-On, Hop-Off Harbor Cruise. In addition to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the tour gets you access to everything from Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge (, $27.50).

Photo Caption: The Hop On, Hop Off service from the New York Water Taxi hits most of the major tourist landmarks.
Guest room at the Duane Street Hotel, New York City.
Courtesy Duane Street Hotel
Duane Street Hotel Offers Affordable Luxury
Finding a posh hotel room in Manhattan for less than $300 is no small feat. Narrow your search to a stylish room, throw in a TriBeCa zip code, and your options dwindle to, well, one that opened in late 2007.

The 46 rooms at the Duane Street Hotel have loft-like 11-foot ceilings, soothing cool-blue color palettes, slate and marble bathrooms with rain showers, and beds with pillow-top mattresses that will become your best friend after a day on your feet in the city.

But it's the little touches that give Duane Street Hotel an identity all its own, particularly the Scholastic Children's Library, where guests can check out bedtime stories to read to their little ones, and -- our personal favorite -- hand-made marshmallows in flavors like lavender and thyme, delivered to your room on a sleek stainless-steel cart that looks like it's straight from MoMA's design collection. The sweet concoctions come from Metaphor, the hotel's Asian-fusion restaurant with renowned chef Jehangir Mehta at the helm.

Where: 130 Duane St.

More Info:, rooms from $269

Photo Caption: A guest room at the Duane Street Hotel, New York City
Gild Hall, New York City.
Courtesy of Thompson Hotels
Wall Street Gets an Affordable Boutique Hotel
Not so long ago, the only hotels in Lower Manhattan were characterless affairs that catered to the Wall Street crowd. That all changed when Gild Hall opened its doors in the Financial District in 2010. The boutique hotel has 126 rooms with tufted leather headboards and plaid flannel throws, and the soft-lit bi-level Library Bar has shelves of hardcover books and leather sofas that practically beg you to sink into them and sip a scotch, neat. The restaurant, Libertine, has an English tavern vibe and solid pub fare. Somehow all this comes at a shockingly affordable price -- rooms start at $199.

Where: 15 Gold St.

More Info:

Photo Caption: The Thompson Suite at Gild Hall, New York City.
Locanda Verde, New York City.
Courtesy Locanda Verde
Locanda Verde Brings Fine Dining Downtown
The pedigree behind Locanda Verde is impressive -- Robert DeNiro, TriBeCa's most famous booster, is a partner, and Andrew Carmellini (who cut his teeth at Cafe Bouloud and A Voce) heads up the kitchen. But the food is why diners have been raving since the restaurant's 2009 opening.

At first glance, the menu reads like your standard Italian trattoria (crostini, antipasti, pasta, secondi, contorni), but look closer and you'll begin to see that there's more to the dishes than what your Italian grandmother might whip up. A fava bean crostini is served on prosciutto rather than an ordinary Italian loaf. Instead of the tried-and-true tomato-basil-mozzarella combo, local tomatoes are served with watermelon and smoked ricotta. The bolognese on the pappardelle is a white sauce, not the expected meaty red affair.

Don't leave without trying at least a couple of pastry chef Karen DeMasco's desserts. Her creations change depending on what's in season, but you really can't go wrong -- just close your eyes and point at random, and you're sure to land on something spectacular.

Where: 377 Greenwich St.

More Info:, entrées from $16

Photo Caption: Foodies are drawn to Locanda Verde in New York City's Financial District.
The Wine Gallery at SHO Shaun Hergatt.
Rob Cuni
Enjoy More Fine Dining at SHO Shaun Hergatt
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when Shaun Hergatt opened his eponymous restaurant, SHO Shaun Hergatt, in the heart of Wall Street in 2009. After all, the area has never been known for its happening scene, let alone its innovative cuisine. But it didn't take long for the skeptics to come around. The chef brings Asian fusion out of the trends-gone-wrong realm and into the world of truly inspired cuisine.

The prix-fixe menu changes with the seasons, but always offers a window into Hergatt's creative culinary mind. The ingredients are painstakingly selected, the flavor combinations are complex without being complicated, and the presentation makes you feel like you're eating off an artist's canvas. The décor -- deep reds, dark woods, and low light -- only enhances the experience.

Where: 40 Broad St.

More Info:, prix-fixe dinner $75

Photo Caption: The Wine Gallery at SHO Shaun Hergatt
Shake Shack burger and drink at Shake Shack in Battery Park City, New York.
Courtesy William Brinson
The Shake Shack Empire Expands
Chef Danny Meyer earned his spot among New York City's culinary elite -- not to mention a heap of Michelin stars -- with high-end restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. But it's his casual burger joint, Shake Shack, that has emerged as the crowd favorite. The original location opened in Madison Square Park in 2004, and it proved so popular that Meyer has since opened 13 additional Shacks, including the Battery Park City outpost in early June 2011.

The new shack features the same all-natural burgers, hot dogs, and fries Meyer is famous for, and the location -- just blocks from the World Trade Center site -- makes it the perfect spot to grab lunch after visiting the new 9/11 Memorial. Lines can get long, especially on weekends, so try to get there at a slightly off time -- either late morning or mid-afternoon. Be sure to treat yourself to a concrete, made with creamy frozen custard and packed with toppings like gooey caramel and candy bars.

Where: 215 Murray St.

More Info:

Photo Caption: Shake Shack burger and drink at Shake Shack in Battery Park City, New York
Water Taxi Beach at South Street Seaport, New York City.
Tom Fox
Water Taxi Beach Adds Seasonal Fun
They say you can find absolutely everything in New York, but beaches? Thanks to the New York Water Taxi Company, yes. The company launched its first Water Taxi Beach on Long Island City in 2005 and followed up with two more, including one at South Street Seaport in 2009.

The sand is trucked in, and no one actually swims in the water, but that doesn't mean the beach doesn't have the same laid-back summer vibe its more tropical counterparts are so famous for. Of course, this being New York, the beach isn't so much about lounging on towels as it is about enjoying the scene -- a beer garden with waterside picnic tables (the South Street Seaport location is now known as the Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club), beach-worthy food like fish tacos and slices of watermelon, and games like pool, ping-pong, and foosball. Be sure to stay past sunset, when the lights on the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges make for spectacular views.

Though the original Long Island City location has since closed, there's still plenty of room at the Governors Island location -- about 300 tons of sand are spread over 20,000 square feet.

More Info:; the Governors Island location closes in late September; the South Street Seaport location remains open until late October

Photo Caption: Water Taxi Beach draws a crowd at South Street Seaport, New York City.
New Amsterdam Pavilion, New York. Photo by <a href="" target="_blank">leonelponce/</a>.
Architectural Whimsy Arrives in Battery Park
Half the fun of visiting the New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion, at the Peter Minuit Plaza in the Battery, is viewing the white Corian and glass structure from different angles, trying to pinpoint exactly what it resembles. A giant paper crane? An alien spaceship? As it happens, the inspiration for the building was windmills and tulip petals -- both nods to the Netherlands, which gifted the building to honor 400 years of friendship with the United States.

Though the building has been finished since 2009, it officially opened in May 2011. The 5,000-square-foot space serves as one of Lower Manhattan's major gathering spots and offers organic fare from Merchants Market. Go at sundown to enjoy river views while sipping a glass of wine.

Where: 10 Battery Pl.; at the Peter Minuit Plaza, just outside the Staten Island Ferry entrance

More Info: 212/248-0707; lunch, $6-$10

Photo Caption: Marvel at the architectural genius of the New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion in Battery Park. Photo by leonelponce/
Taxi passing the Tribeca Film Festival Opening Ceremony.
Courtesy Tribeca Enterprises
The Tribeca Film Festival Brings Back the Crowds
In spring of 2002, Robert DeNiro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff launched the Tribeca Film Festival. The goal was two-fold: to bring independent film to a wide audience, and to help revitalize Lower Manhattan. It was a risky move -- the events of 9/11 were still eerily fresh in people's memories, and the area felt deserted -- but it paid off. The first year, the festival drew 150,000 people and brought a much-welcome boost to TriBeCa. Now in its 10th year, it attracts about 3 million people and brings in $600 million each spring (April 18-29, 2012).

In addition to films, the Tribeca Film Festival features Q&As with directors and actors, panels with filmmakers, and the hugely popular Family Festival Street Fair. Some tickets to the films can be bought on site, but your best bet is to book in advance on the website.

More Info:, tickets from $8

Photo Caption: The red carpets at the Tribeca Film Festival Opening Ceremony.