As a local New Yorker, I have spent the last 10+ years walking the ins and outs of the city. During this time, I have continued to explore different attractions, activities, viewpoints, and neighborhoods all over NYC.
Taking into consideration everything I have learned over the years, I put together this holistic NYC self-guided walking tour. It takes you along a Lower Manhattan walk, a Midtown Manhattan walk, and then ends up by Central Park. You can decide to stick to one long route combining the two, or just opt for one or the other.
Throughout the Lower Manhattan and Midtown Manhattan routes, this self-guided itinerary will have you seeing many of the top highlights that NYC has to offer.
Read on to learn more about the walk and how to see the city for yourself!
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1) NYC Self-Guided Walking Tour Details
Experiencing the city on foot is by far the best way to go about exploring NYC. As you head from one highlight to the next you will be able to really get to know different neighborhoods along the way.
When it comes to the full route, we are going to start all the way at the southern tip of the city at Battery Park, and then head up to Central Park from there. Breaking up the route into two is Union Square, located at 14th Street. The Lower Manhattan route heads from Battery Park to Union Square, while the Midtown Manhattan route goes from Union Square to Central Park.
During the walk up there will be many attractions to embrace as you get to see a little bit of everything that the city has to offer.
Here are some helpful metrics about the walks, followed by a list of helpful things to know.
Lower Manhattan Route
- Starting Point: Battery Park
- Ending Point: Union Square
- Distance: 4.5 miles / 7.2 km
- Duration: 2 hours (walking only)
Midtown Manhattan Route
- Starting Point: Union Square
- Ending Point: Central Park
- Distance: 4 miles / 6.4 km
- Duration: 2 hours (walking only)
Lower + Midtown Route
- Starting Point: Battery Park
- Ending Point: Central Park
- Distance: 8.5 miles / 13.6 km
- Duration: 4 hours (walking only)
Who is the Long Route For: the full downtown and midtown route is meant for those people who have a more limited amount of time to spare and are in the city for the first time. By taking part in this entire self-guided tour, you will be able to see so much in a single day & fully take advantage of your time.
Shorter Routes: if you want to take a shorter tour, I have broken out the route between a Lower Manhattan walk and a Midtown Manhattan walk. The two routes are nearly identical to one another in terms of mileage. You can do them over the course of two days, or just pick which one you are most interested in.
Stops: be aware there are spots along the way, which you can stop and visit for a longer period of time. Whether that be an observatory deck or a museum, there are several opportunities that will extend the day. Take this into consideration as you plan your route.
Central Park: the final stop of the day is going to be Central Park. While you can just take a quick walk around the southern end of the park, you may want to consider a separate Central Park self-guided walking tour. This will of course add additional mileage to the day, so be sure to factor that in as well.
Bus Tours: if you happen to want to opt for a guided tour at a faster pace, feel free to check out some of the best NYC bus tours.
2) Route Map & Directions
Below is a Google Maps view of the route from beginning to end. You can see that this is not just a straight-line up Manhattan. Instead, you will be going in and out as you stop by some top highlights along the way.
From a direction standpoint, it should be simple enough to just type in your next destination on Google Maps (or another navigation app), and follow the walking route provided. There are a couple of caveats here, which I will point out throughout this overview.
3) Lower Manhattan Walking Tour
Whether you are opting for the full walking tour or just want to focus on downtown, we start the route at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park.
First up is Battery Park, also known as just The Battery. The park/neighborhood makes up the southern tip of Manhattan island and is a great place to take in some panoramas.
Since it is located at the tip, this is where you will be able to take in views over New York Harbor, where the Hudson River and East River meet up.
While the park is beautiful on its own, it is really the waterside walkway that makes it special. All around the edge of the park, you will find views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Governors Island, New Jersey, and more.
This is also right near the Staten Island Ferry and the departure point for ferries to the Statue of Liberty.
Spend some time walking along the area, before continuing northbound out of the park and into the Financial District.
Perhaps the most famous sculpture in New York City is the Charging Bull in the Financial District. This bronze piece of art weighs over 7,000 pounds and comes in at 11 feet tall!
The bull was built by an Italian immigrant artist named Arturo Di Modica. He built it as an ode to Wall Street and the optimism of financial growth.
Today, the bull sits on Broadway just north of Bowling Green. Plenty of tourists flock to the bull to take photos and enjoy this massive piece of Wall Street history.
It should take just about 5 minutes from the Battery Park waterfront to reach the bull and the surrounding Financial District.
Learn More: Check out this 4 Day NYC Itinerary to help you plan a longer trip
New York Stock Exchange
As you continue northbound through the district, it is just another five minutes or so until you reach the New York Stock Exchange at 11 Wall Street.
Within the building, there is the famous NYSE trading floor. It used to be one of the (if not the most) chaotic trading floors in the world before electronic trading really took over.
While visitors cannot go inside the exchange itself, they are able to take in the views of the iconic landmark & its columns from the outside.
From the NYSE, you can continue northwest towards the next stop at the Oculus. Here you will find one of the more unique pieces of architecture in NYC. This giant white structure is home to a transportation hub and mall.
Before going inside, you can enjoy the views from the outside and admire the design. From there, head into the Oculus and walk through it all. There are many shops, food options, and more sprawled throughout the complex.
You can exit the Oculus from the top floor on the western side, which then opens up into the 9/11 Memorial Pools.
9/11 Memorial Pools
As you make your way around this memorial, you will see the two large pools that symbolize where the original Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.
It is a humbling experience walking around the memorial and seeing the names etched into the pools’ exterior. Nearby is also the 9/11 Museum. If you have the time and are interested in learning more, the museum is an extraordinary place to visit.
For an elevated view over the memorial, head to Liberty Park on the southern side of the pools.
One World Observatory
Rising up 1,776 feet above the ground is the new One World Trade Center. The building was completed in 2014 and is one of many new buildings built around the area since 9/11.
While you can just take in the view from the outside near the Memorial Pools, you can also head on up to the very top floors. Here you will find the One World Observatory, Manhattan’s only downtown observation deck.
From the top, there are 360-degree views of the NYC skyline and outer boroughs. Depending on your overall route for the day, you may be able to take an hour to enjoy the top before continuing onwards.
Just opposite One World Trade is Brookfield Place and the Hudson River. After spending some time within the city streets, you can head into Brookfield Place, where you will find shops, food options, and restrooms.
This can just be a quick pitstop, as you then head outside of the building and begin to walk all along the Hudson River waterfront.
Hudson River Park
Next up is a relaxing walk up Hudson River Park. In its entirety, the park runs from Brookfield Place all the way up to 59th Street. For the purposes of this walking tour, you will get just about a mile of waterfront to enjoy before heading back into the city streets.
Be sure to exit Brookfield Place on the waterfront, and then simply follow the path that hugs the river. You will first pass by Rockefeller Park before the promenade takes a turn and then continues past Pier 25 and Pier 26.
Pier 26 is one of my favorite piers in the city as it has its famous tide deck, lawn chairs, kayaking, and swinging benches to enjoy.
From there it is northbound until you reach the Pier 35 walkway. You can check that out for some of the most underrated views of the downtown skyline and Statue of Liberty.
Next up is SoHo, the shopping center of NYC and one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods. Be sure to pay close attention to your navigation here as it is easy to take a much longer and less scenic route.
Cross over the West Side Highway near Pier 35 / Canal Street. Once across the street head north for a block to Spring Street. Once at Spring Street, just continue eastbound until you reach the heart of SoHo.
There is really a never-ending assortment of shops around the SoHo neighborhood. Everything from large designer brands to small boutiques, there will be something for you to find.
SoHo can get crowded with people so just be aware of the busier sidewalks and the hustle & bustle of NYC.
In addition to the stores, SoHo also has its fair share of art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. So, if you are in the mood to take a break at some point, you will have plenty of options.
Washington Square Park
After enough time strolling through SoHo, make your way up into the Greenwich Village neighborhood. There is always something going on in the streets of Greenwich Village as you make your way into NYU (New York University) territory.
The focus area of the Village is Washington Square Park. Here is where the famous fountain and arch can be found. All throughout the park will be an endless array of entertainment, hangout spots, music, and more.
I find the area to be one of the most diverse spots in NYC as you can really find a little bit of everything happening at once. There is no dull moment in Washington Square!
Union Square Park
From Washington Square Park, you can continue northbound for 10 minutes as you soon reach Union Square Park. The park sits right on 14th Street, which unofficially marks the ending point of Lower Manhattan.
While the park itself is not too vast, the outer walkways of the park are what people come here for. Throughout the week there are farmer’s markets and artist’s markets that line the area. In addition, you will always find a game of chess or backgammon to play with a local.
Depending on your overall itinerary, you can end your NYC self-guided walking tour here or you can continue northbound as you take part of the Midtown Manhattan route.
Brooklyn Bridge Note: if you would like to include the iconic Brooklyn Bridge on your walking route, feel free to start your day in Dumbo. From there, make the walk across the bridge and into downtown Manhattan. This would add around 2 miles to the overall route.
4) Midtown Manhattan Walking Tour
For those who want to continue onwards (or who simply want to take part in the Midtown Manhattan self-guided walking tour), we begin the journey at Union Square.
From Union Square, head up Broadway for a half mile until you reach Madison Square Park.
Madison Square Park
Located between 23rd Street and 26th Street is Madison Square Park. The park marks the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, where the famous Flatiron Building can be found.
While not that large, the park offers some scenic walking paths to make your way around as you take in views of the Empire State Building out back.
The famous Eataly supermarket is also located on the outskirts of the park and can make for the perfect spot to have a food or drink break.
Empire State Building
Just 10 minutes north along Fifth Avenue is the Empire State Building. You will begin to get a glimpse of it as you make your way up before the full building comes into view.
This is without a doubt it is one of New York’s most iconic skyscrapers and is a highlight of the skyline. While you can just take in the view from down below, you can also head on up to the top.
The Empire State Building has two observation deck floors – the 86th-floor outdoor deck and the 102nd-floor indoor deck. During a visit, you can opt to just go up to the 86th floor, or you can buy a ticket for both.
It is also the only observation deck that offers select sunrise hours, for those that want to see the city come to life to start your day.
Bryant Park / New York Public Library
Another 10-minute walk northbound along Fifth Avenue is the New York Public Library building. When it comes to libraries, this is one of the most beautiful out there.
You can walk around the various floors taking in the architecture, and checking out different rooms. Once all done inside, make your way outside, where Bryant Park is located.
The Bryant Park lawn area is one of the best in the city. During the winter months, it is transformed into a market, ice skating rink, and holiday-themed restaurant. During the summer, you can find various events such as yoga and movie nights taking place here.
Learn More: Check out the list of 100 things to do in NYC!
Grand Central Terminal
Now, once you leave Bryant Park, it is time to make a detour to the east as you walk a couple of avenues toward Grand Central Station.
Grand Central is one of the transportation hubs in NYC. In addition, it is also one of the most photo-worthy spots both inside and out.
The reason behind this is because of how beautiful the architecture is, most prominently its main concourse. The concourse comes in at 35,000 square feet with 125-foot ceilings (the windows themselves are over 60 feet tall!).
Attached to Grand Central is also another observation deck – SUMMIT One Vanderbilt. This is going to be a much more interactive and artistic experience compared to the other decks around the city.
The famous Chrysler Building also stands tall right next to Grand Central, so you are sure to see it up close and personal during a visit.
Once all wrapped up near Grand Central, retrace your steps 10 minutes westbound to the next stop at Times Square.
While I am not the biggest fan of Times Square, I certainly see the reasonings for people to visit the area during an NYC trip. There is no place in the city like it, with its giant billboards, bright lights, and constant entertainment all around.
The Times Square area is quite large spanning from 42nd Street up to 50th Street give or take. The intersection of 7th Avenue and Broadway is where you will find most of the action, but there really is something happening on every corner.
From Times Square, head a couple of avenues eastbound, where you will soon come across Rockefeller Center.
At Rockefeller Center, there is a complex full of buildings, plazas, dining options, NBC Studios, and the famous Christmas tree (during the holiday season of course).
It is a scenic area to walk through as you have fountains lining the promenade up to the main plaza itself. During the winter the plaza is transformed into its iconic ice rink for all to enjoy.
Another highlight is the Top of the Rock observation deck, which is one of my favorites in the city. From the tri-level deck, you will get some of the best-unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline.
It is now time to slowly end your self-guided walking tour as you make your way northbound to Central Park along Fifth Avenue.
While it is just 10 blocks away, you can stop at a few additional highlights near Rock Center.
The St Patricks Cathedral is located just across the street from the center. It is one of the most well-known cathedrals in the city and can be visited as part of a guided or unguided tour.
Another nearby highlight is the Atlas Statue, a figure from Greek mythology. The statue stands at 45 feet in height and weighs 15,000 lbs.
From there, you can continue up 5th Avenue, take some breaks at some shops, and arrive at Central Park South right near the Plaza Hotel.
Without a doubt, Central Park is one of my favorite destinations to visit in NYC. The park is one of the most famous in the United States (and the world) and has plenty of New York photo spots to enjoy. I am there nearly every week or so, strolling the paths and taking photos.
As you may imagine, there is just so much to see all throughout the 843 acres of Central Park. Some of the fan favorites of Central Park include:
- The Pond
- Wollman Rink
- The Mall & Literary Walk
- Bethesda Fountain & Terrace
- The Lake
- Bow Bridge
- The Ramble
- Conservatory Water
- Loeb Boathouse
- Belvedere Castle
- The Reservoir
- Among plenty of others!
Now, if you want to get more than just a glimpse of Central Park, you will need to add extra mileage to the overall day. In my opinion, the park deserves at least a half day to fully appreciate what it has to offer.
You can check out this self-guided walking tour of Central Park for a step-by-step overview. Similar to this article, I will walk you through how to see the park through long (or shorter) loops.
Other highlights near Central Park include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim, and Frick Collection museums on the Upper East Side. You can also find the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side and a great shopping/dining center near Columbus Circle.
5) Walking Tips
Before you head out for your self-guided NYC walking tour, note a few helpful tips & tricks to get you started.
Comfortable Shoes: since you will be on your feet a bunch, wearing comfortable walking shoes is essential. Try to avoid flip-flops or dressy shoes as those are not ideal for city walking.
Food/Water: you should have no issue finding food & drinks along the route. Restaurants, food carts, take-out spots, and more are frequent throughout the city.
Bathrooms: there will be some public restrooms along the route too. If you are having trouble finding any, many coffee shops or bars have restrooms that you can quickly run into.
Dress Accordingly: be aware of the weather for the day you are taking the tour. You will be outside for the most part so the weather elements will be at play. That could mean shorts and a T-shirt in the summer or a warm coat in the winter.
Directions: as mentioned earlier, Google Maps (or simply leveraging the map above) will best direct you from one attraction to the next. If you want to take a walking break / skip an attraction, then simply hop on the subway as you see fit.
No matter if you opt for the Lower Manhattan walk, Midtown Manhattan walk, or a combination of the two, this self-guided tour is sure to bring you to the top attractions in the city.
If you have any questions about the tour, feel free to add them below. Also, don’t forget to check out the other New York itineraries and guides up on the site.
Have fun out there and safe travels!