New York City is the most populated metropolis in the United States and the number one tourist destination in America for foreigners. It should come as no surprise that there are tons of things to do! Lower Manhattan is easily the most wheelchair accessible part of this borough, and you’d be amazed at how much you can do in just a long weekend. Here’s my suggested and fully wheelchair accessible itinerary for a 3 day visit to Lower Manhattan.
Arriving in New York City
If you are flying into New York City, you will be arriving at either JFK Airport or LaGuardia Airport, both in the Queens borough of New York City.LaGuardia is slightly closer by geography to lower Manhattan. However, traffic can be the great equalizer, and I would plan for at least a 90 minute drive in each direction between the airport and your hotel. There are accessible taxis available at both airports, but I highly recommend making a reservation ahead of time using SuperShuttle. They had accessible vans with electric lists and are considerably less expensive than taking a taxi.
While LaGuardia may be physically closer to lower Manhattan, there are more direct flights from around the country into and out of JFK Airport, giving you more time on the ground. Because you could be flying from anywhere, I will design this itinerary around three relatively full days, with plenty of time for wandering around, and also arriving early in the morning on Friday and departing in the evening on Sunday.
Where to Stay
Fortunately, there are several good hotels in lower Manhattan with wheelchair accessible rooms. While most American hotels that are designated as accessible have considerably more room than typical hotel rooms, this isn’t necessarily the case in New York City. ALL hotel rooms are smaller in New York City, unless you’re spending over thousand dollars a night for a suite. I personally stayed at the Holiday Inn Manhattan-Financial District, and I really enjoyed it. I had a queen-sized bed and a bathroom with a roll in shower. I did have to ask for a stand-alone shower chair because there was not a fold-down bench attached to the wall. Space was a little tight, but I did have room to maneuver and turn around, and there was space on both sides of the bed for my wheelchair. I also really liked that there were multiple outlets everywhere. There is an attached restaurant with good food and good prices, and I was able to get room service breakfast for less than $15. That’s unheard of in New York City! If you prefer another hotel, I would select one close to the Oculus or the Wall Street area so you can be centrally located in Lower Manhattan.
Some Tips Before Getting Started
Make sure you have a fully charged battery each morning. Some days will have you rolling more than others, but it’s always a good idea to have as much juice as possible. If anything, bring your charger with you so you can load up on battery power during a meal.
New York City weather can sometimes be fickle. If you go in the summer, it’s going to be extremely hot and humid, so make sure you bring water and you have a way to cool off if necessary. In the spring and fall, you will need layers that you can easily add or remove. And I just would not recommend going at all in the winter!
Either purchase all your admission tickets ahead of time online to save a considerable amount of time waiting in line to purchase them at the ticket desk, or you can purchase The New York Pass, Which will either give you free or steeply discounted entry to dozens of museums and attractions.
This itinerary can — and should — used in conjunction with my blog post about over a dozen wheelchair accessible things to do in Lower Manhattan. This will provide you with a much more detailed description of most of the places you will see on this itinerary.
Starting Point – Wall Street Walking/Rolling Tour
I always like starting my visit to a new city with a brief tour so I can bearings. This fully accessible walking tour of the Wall Street area through Wall Street Walks only lasts 90 minutes and starts 11 AM or 2 PM. You’ll get to see the exterior of the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall, Trinity Church Cemetery (where Alexander Hamilton is buried), and the famous bronze two of the charging bull. You’ll also learn cool stuff about the very beginnings of Wall Street, the stock exchange, and our financial system. The last stop on the tour will be right across the street from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
Stop Two – National Museum of the American Indian
Being the self-centered American that I am, before I visited this museum, I thought it would be all about Indian tribes in the present-day United States. Boy, was I wrong! Many of us tend to forget that America includes both North and South America, with Central America in between. As such, this beautiful museum inside the former US customs house contains fascinating exhibits about Indian tribes all the way from Canada and Alaska, through the United States, into Mexico, and out through the Amazon and South America. Do not make the mistake of skipping the kids exploration section. I learned more in those two rooms than I did anywhere else in the museum. The wheelchair accessible entrance is at street level directly to the right of the steps that lead to the main entrance.
Stop Three – Lunch at Gigino at Wagner Park
Between museum visits, treat yourself for a fantastic Italian lunch at Gigino, which has spectacular views from its floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the Statue of Liberty. It’s directly west of the national Museum of the American Indian along Battery Place.
Stop Four – Museum of Jewish Heritage
You may not be Jewish, but a considerable chunk of New York City is. Beginning on May 8, 2019, this museum will host a multimillion dollar exhibition dedicated to Auschwitz and the Holocaust. Hundreds of artifacts will be on display, and it will be one of the largest such exhibitions outside of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and Auschwitz itself. Make sure to purchase tickets ahead of time as entry will be timed.
Last Stop – The Skyscraper Museum
Even if you’re not an architecture geek like me, this cute little museum is worth a visit — just make sure that you’re in town on a Wednesday through Sunday when the museum is open. It’s only one floor of exhibits, but you will learn all about the history of New York City’s skyline, as well as the world’s tallest skyscrapers. It’s fascinating to see all the architectural innovations and tricks used in buildings around the world, and there are some great short films showing the history of how New York’s skyline grew from the ground up.
Starting Point – 9/11 Memorial and Museum
You’ll begin your day at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I would highly recommend splurging on the early entry private tour for $65, which will get you in the museum at 8:15 AM before the museum officially opens at 9 AM. If you just want to purchase regular entry, buyer to get ahead of time and make sure you get there for entry right when the museum opens to avoid larger crowds. For many people, visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum will be an extremely emotional experience. I have deliberately placed this activity at the very beginning of the day so as to hopefully lighten your mood as the day progresses. I would dedicate no less than three hours to visiting the museum, and 30 minutes to viewing the outdoor memorial and pools. I would also recommend revisiting the pools either early in the morning before the museum opens or at sunset when there’s no one around and you can get better pictures.
Stop Two – One World Observatory
One World Trade Center, also known as Freedom Tower, is home to the 360° panoramic view of Manhattan and the surrounding area known as the One World Observatory. Freedom Tower is right next door to the 9/11 Memorial, and you can access the front of the building fromThe west side of the building. When you purchase your tickets, you will select a window or specific time for entry. You can also pay $20 extra to arrive whenever you like. I would base your entry time depending on what kind of tour or arrival time you want for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Plan on spending approximately two hours here.
Stop Three – Lunch at Liberty Park
You can’t visit New York City without eating street food, and a hot dog is the best way to eat like a local. There’s a beautiful little spot directly across the street from the 9/11 Memorial called Liberty Park, and it’s pretty new. There’s a ramp to access the upper level on Greenwich Street, and food carts can be found everywhere in the area around lunchtime. take the time to relax and enjoy the view of the Memorial Plaza and Freedom Tower in the background. Also make sure you get a look at Koenig’s Sphere, a sculpture that used to be located in between the two twin towers, and while severely damaged, somehow survived the attack. It was moved to Battery Park for several years, but was recently relocated to Liberty Park.
Stop Four – The Oculus
The architectural masterpiece called The Oculus actually houses almost a dozen subway lines and over 50 stores, but you’d never know it from the outside. It’s the entrance to a huge underground shopping mall that takes the place of the mall formerly located there prior to the 9/11 attacks. This is a great stop to get some pictures, wander around and do some shopping and people watching, or just relax while checking social media and taking a breather.
Stop Five – The FDNY Memorial Wall
The Fire Department of New York Memorial Wall is a very short roll directly southwest from the Oculus on Greenwich Street. The Wall, which contains a huge bronze plaque and a photo memorial, is dedicated to the 343 members of the NYC Fire Department, as well as volunteer firefighter Glenn J. Winuk, who died on 9/11. It’s located at FDNY Engine 10 Ladder 10, directly across from the World Trade Center site, the station that lost the most firefighters that day.
Stop Six – The Berlin Wall
A short roll to the west on Liberty Street will take you to section of the Berlin wall, located right in Lower Manhattan. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, pieces were divided up and sold. Four of these pieces reside in New York City; one of the pieces stands in a garden near the United Nations building, a section sits at the entrance of the Intrepid Air and Space museum, and one between the Gateway Plaza, the North Cove Marina, and the World Financial Center. This piece is on the Battery Park City Esplanade, across from the New York City Police Memorial.
Last Stop – Dinner at Parm
It’s a short roll just to the north along the water past the North Cove Harbor with great views of the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I highly recommend having a nice, inexpensive, and traditional Italian dinner at Parm, which is casual and totally wheelchair accessible. Make sure you try the meatball appetizer!
First Stop – Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
No trip to New York City is complete without a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. To avoid the biggest crowds, I would suggest taking the very first ferry from Battery Park at 9 AM. The ferry stops at both the Statue and Ellis Island, and the museum there is completely wheelchair accessible. The inside of the Statue, unfortunately, is not. Make sure you buy your Statue Cruises ferry tickets well in advance as they sometimes sell out months ahead of time during the busiest times of the year. I would dedicate at least three hours for this visit.
Second Stop – Lunch at Pier A Harbor House
It’s a very short roll from the ferry pier to this charming dockside restaurant. it can get crowded and there is no traditional table service (you order at the counter and they just bring your food out), but there’s no better place to find some really fresh seafood and relatively cheap eats in this part of the city. On a nice day, it’s great to sit outside and watch the ferries coming and going, as well as other boats in the harbor.
Third Stop – Battery Park
Battery Park is a particularly huge, but there are so many cool things to see here. On your way around the lower curve of Manhattan to the Northeast, you’ll see several war memorials, gardens, and even a beautiful carousel. Stop for a bit to do some people watching or grab an ice cream cone.
Fourth Stop – The Seaport District
Currently this is a really cool area to grab a bite to eat or do some shopping, but the history of the Seaport District on Fulton Street goes back to the 18th century. The cobblestones are there to prove it, but it shouldn’t be too hard on your wheelchair as the sections can be avoided using the sidewalks. You can reach it heading Northeast from Battery Park along Water Street. if you’re up for an early dinner, grab a bite outdoors at 10 Corso Como for some great people watching.
Last Stop – Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
Yes, there’s a chance that right before sunset, the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway will be somewhat crowded. However, the views of the neighboring Manhattan Bridge and the skyline to the left and right of you at that time of day are absolutely stunning. It can be tricky to find the starting point on the Manhattan side, but you can use the map in this post. You can also use this Google map for directions to the pedestrian walkway from the Seaport area. You can do some souvenir shopping on your way up the bridge, as there will be several vendors with tables to your right. Be careful with the cyclists, as there is one lane for pedestrians and the other one for people on bicycles. Be patient, as you kind of have to roll with the flow of the people in front of you. If you’re low on battery power, you can turn around at the first pylon (where the crowd really thins out, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can go 1.3 miles all the way to the other end and then head back.
I hope you enjoyed your visit to Lower Manhattan using my itinerary!