On a much smaller scale than both Midtown and Uptown, Downtown Manhattan has a more villagey, community-centered feel and each of its different neighbourhoods are distinct and unique in their own right. Arguably the most famous, or at least most recognised, of its areas is the financial district and in particular Wall Street. At the start of the millenium the twin towers would have been the icon that everyone related too but sadly this is no longer the case. Today though, a whole new complex is being built as well as a 9/11 memorial and museum which attracts huge numbers of visitors from all arond the world. In terms of the neighbourhoods, Italy and China each have their own patch while Chelsea (galleries), Greenwich (gay scene), TriBeCa (trendy celeb spots), SoHo (independent shopping, food), Meatpacking (nightlife) and CanDo (residential, family, waterfront) each has its own charm. The 'real' New York, away from the hubbub of the tourist areas, Downtown is a hive of activity which must not be missed at the expensive of the usual guidebook itinerary.
Aside from simply wandering from one district to the next and taking in the different atmospheres of each one, there are a few specific things which we recommend you do whilst Downtown. If the weather is decent then take the Staten Island Ferry, dubbed the greatest free ferry ride in the world, and sail right past the Statue of Liberty. Alternatively, there are other boats you can take from the South Street Seaport. Another way to see Downtown, as well as the rest of Manhattan and across to New Jersey, is to take helicopter ride from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. Several companies offer flights of varying lengths and distances and it's a stunning experience, although one that is rather expensive. Back down on solid ground, make sure you take a stroll along the High Line, a disused railway track that is now a beautiful walkway leading to Midtown. A longer walk, but just as spectacular is across the Brooklyn Bridge - it is one of the best ways to get a different perspective on Manhattan, looking back on it from afar. Finally, head right down south and do a loop of the tip of the island, past Battery Park and round to the piers.
The most recent attraction in Downtown Manhattan is probably its most frequented. The 9/11 Memoiral, which remembers those who lost their lives in the attacks against the twin towers, is a free-to-enter space with a soon-to-be-opened musuem. Although there is no charge to get in, visitors still need a ticket. Not far away is Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange which is worth seeing if only to experience the rush of the most important financial centre of the world. Then there are several museums which are worth visiting: the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the National Museum of the American Indian, the New York City Fire Museum and the New York City Police Museum.
Although not a huge culture in the UK, tipping is expected in the United States. It is usual to add 15%-18% on to your restaurant bill, while taxi driver expect around 15% too. If you are staying in a hotel, leave a few dollars for the chamber maid. You should also remember that the prices for most goods do not include sales tax. Do not be surprised therefore if there is a difference between the price on the label and the price at the till.
The same rules apply here as they do in the rest of the city and the country really. Avoid choosing topics of conversation that coul dbe contoversial such as politics or religion and never talk about money, especially with people you have just met. Personal space is an important part of society so make sure you respect this. Don't bother trying to drive around in your own car as firstly walking is more pleasurable and secondly it is not easy with the one way systems etc. Taxis are a cheap way to get around as is the subway. You'll see a lot of Chinese-run souvenir shops along Canal Street especially. Don't buy counterfeit goods from these places as you can get into a lot of trouble with the authorities if you are caught.
Downtown is without doubt the best area to find food. With the exception of the financial district, you'll find places open all week long and whatever it is you're looking for in terms of cuisine, you'll come across it. From world class fine dining experiences brought to you by the world's top chefs from tiny street foods places, every price point is represented and you can take five minutes or five hours for your meal, whatever you feel like. While you will probably find the best Chinese fare in Chinatown, the same cannot be said for Italian food in Little Italy; in our opinion the best restaurants are to be found elsewhere as the area has become too touristic. You'll find lots of small cafés serving speciality coffee and great cakes and cupcakes as well as a growing number of organic places. The Meatpacking district has a fair amount of French places to eat while there are a growing number of meat restaurants popping up all the time. Restaurants are becoming more and more conscious about where their produce comes from and many will now tell you exactly where they source their ingredients - many even now grow some or all of them themselves! Wherever you choose to eat though, a buzzing, vibrant atmosphere is all but guaranteed.
Like in the rest of the States and the city, prices of many goods are cheaper than they are at home. So, you might want to think about bringing an empty suitcase with you to fill up with branded clothing, electrical items and toys for the kids. As for something specifically from Downtown, there isn't much, but the classic I heart New York t-shirt would be a good start!