A Walk Through the Past in New York (2023)

A Walk Through the Past in New York (1)

Skip to contentSkip to site index

Ahead of next year’s 400th anniversary of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, the historian and author of “The Island at the Center of the World” offers a walking tour of often-overlooked Native American and Black sites.

In the 1600s, the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was situated on what is now the southern tip of Manhattan, the present location of the Financial District.
Credit...George Etheredge for The New York Times

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

  • 98

By Russell Shorto

Russell Shorto, the author of “The Island at the Center of the World” and director of the New Amsterdam Project at the New-York Historical Society, is working on a book about early Manhattan.

In the 19 years since my book “The Island at the Center of the World,” about the Dutch settlement that preceded New York, came out, I’ve changed the way I think about the history and geography of New Amsterdam, which occupied the southern tip of Manhattan Island in the 1600s.

In recent years, as the culpability of our forebears has come into focus, I’ve come to see the “Dutch” period as comprising three constituencies: the European settlement (which was only about half Dutch); the Native Americans, who were steadily displaced yet remained a force; and the enslaved Africans, who were brought here against their will but employed agency and ingenuity to their situation.

In preparation for next year’s 400th anniversary of the Dutch colony, I’m hitting the streets as I put together a walking tour that will tell a complex story of New York’s beginnings. It’s a story of settlement, conquest, peace, strife, promise, prosperity, enslavement and freedom. Here’s how you can follow.

Battery Park


A Walk Through the Past in New York (2)

The obvious start of such a tour is at the tip of Battery Park, looking into the harbor. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island speak to the city’s ideals of freedom and promise and its long relationship with the water, from clipper ships to World War II battleships to commuter ferries. But in my mind’s eye I see the waterscape incised by silent canoes. Several groups of Munsee people inhabited the wider region for centuries — a homeland stretching from Connecticut through New York and New Jersey to Delaware — and moved seasonally from the mainland to the island they called Manahatta, which translates roughly as “place of wood for making bows,” to fish and hunt.

I envision, too, Henry Hudson’s small wooden sailing vessel, the Half Moon, appearing on the horizon in September 1609, as he charted the area for the Dutch, setting in motion a historic transformation. Then, in 1624, another Dutch vessel arrived, bearing the first settlers of the colony of New Netherland.

Custom House


Cross Battery Park, which is all landfill, and you come to the original shoreline of Manhattan. The plaza in front of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House is probably where, in 1626, Dutch settlers under the command of Peter Minuit made the infamous purchase of the island from a branch of the Munsee. What each side thought was going on in this exchange is an interesting question. The Dutch knew that the Native Americans had no notion of property transfer. Both sides believed they were entering into a defensive pact. Neither could know what the coming centuries would bring. But it can’t be denied that the event was a milestone in the dispossession of Native Americans from their land.

The Custom House, which was built in 1907 from a design by the architect Cass Gilbert, occupies the site of Fort Amsterdam, the bulwark that protected New Amsterdam. By a curious coincidence it happens to be the home of the National Museum of the American Indian, whose permanent exhibition, “Native New York,” offers a primer on the Indigenous groups who have called the New York State region home, from the Unkechaug and other tribes of pre-contact Long Island to the Mohawk ironworkers who helped build 20th-century skyscrapers.


The Munsee surely had in mind a working relationship with the Dutch, who came initially to trade furs. That trade continued throughout the lifetime of the colony, but the Dutch soon shifted their attention northward, where the Mohawk, who lived along the river of the same name, had a more plentiful supply of beavers. The relationship suffered its first serious blow when Willem Kieft, a director of New Netherland, declared war on the Munsee in 1643. In attacking his colony’s business partners, Kieft acted against the wishes of his own people, and the war inflicted terrible losses to both sides. Even greater suffering came to the Native Americans as a result of smallpox, which the Europeans brought unwittingly.



That said, the Munsee are very much alive today. Through myriad treaties and swindles they were split apart, and many were relocated or simply moved — to Oklahoma, Kansas, Delaware and Ontario. Others never went anywhere. “We’re still here, 30 miles from where we were all those years ago,” Michaeline Picaro, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Munsee Lenape, in Andover, N.J., told me. She and her husband, Chief Vincent Mann, run a farm and serve as advocates for their community.

Pearl Street


Head down Whitehall to Pearl Street. Lower Manhattan is enveloped by several blocks of landfill. I find it useful to walk the original shoreline, which on the east was Pearl Street. The section on either side of Whitehall Street contained the first Dutch houses, erected in the 1620s: On the west side of the street, a row of them overlooked the East River and the wilds of what would later become the village of Breuckelen. In one of these lived Catalina Trico and her husband, Joris Rapalje, a couple of nobodies from present-day Belgium who showed up in Amsterdam as immigrants seeking work, heard of this new venture, got married, jumped on one of the first ships and made their lives here. They would have 11 children, 10 of whom lived to marry and have children of their own. Their descendants today number in the millions. I think of them as the Adam and Eve of New Amsterdam.

Pearl and Wall Streets

At the corner of Pearl Street and Coenties Slip, an outline in gray stones on the wide sidewalk marks the foundation of a building that started life as the Stadts Herberg, or city tavern. Ships arriving from Europe would anchor in the East River; then passengers were rowed to a nearby dock. Apparently the first thing everyone wanted to do after 10 or 12 weeks at sea was have a drink, so this was the most popular spot in town.


It stood to reason, then, that when the city won a municipal charter in 1653, this same building would be converted into Manhattan’s first City Hall. Here, New Amsterdam’s twin burgemeesters, or mayors, would hold sessions with their council, resolving disputes and managing their city.

Continuing to the corner of Pearl and Wall Streets, we come to the site of one of the most far-reaching achievements of that council. Stop and face south. You’re at the northeast corner of the city. To your left, imagine the East River lapping at your feet. To your right, it’s not so hard to envision the legendary wall running down the middle of the street. The wall — actually more of a fence made of planks — was built in the wake of the municipal charter, when the new city government took measures to defend the place against an expected attack from the English. It’s no accident that global finance is associated with that wall and this street.


The same Dutch who founded New Amsterdam created the world’s first stock exchange and invented many of the building blocks of capitalism, upon which New York rose.

South William and Broad Streets

From here, one might head west down Wall Street, traversing New Amsterdam’s northern border, but let’s cut down Beaver Street into the middle of the city. On South William Street in the Dutch period there stood a building that was for a time the home of the enslaved Africans owned by the West India Company. Throughout most of the Dutch period, slavery was a haphazard business in New Netherland, with Africans reaching Manhattan as “cargo” on Spanish or Portuguese ships that had been captured in the Caribbean. Those who arrived were pressed into the service of the West India Company, or W.I.C., which ran the colony.



Andrea C. Mosterman, the author of “Spaces of Enslavement: A History of Slavery and Resistance in Dutch New York,” surmises that multiple families were crammed here into one modest house. In 1659, five years before the English took over the colony, the W.I.C. decided to undertake an “experiment with a parcel of Negroes,” beginning what would become, under English rule, a major trade that would forever alter the trajectory of the American experience.

Continuing down South William and turning right, we come to Broad Street. It got its name because the Dutch had carved a canal down the middle, with roads on both sides. Later, the whole thing was paved over, and it became one of the widest streets in Lower Manhattan.


The intersection of Broad and Wall Streets is one of those spots that overload the mind with historical associations. Here is the New York Stock Exchange, another reminder of Dutch financial innovations. Opposite it sits Federal Hall, where George Washington was inaugurated as the first president in 1789. In the Dutch period this was the northern edge of the city. Just a few steps away, at Wall and Broadway, was the gate that led out of the city.

Broadway and Park Row

The southernmost section of Broadway follows the route of the Wickquasgeck Trail, named for a branch of the Munsee whose territory encompassed much of Manhattan. The Dutch adopted it as their main thoroughfare up the island. It was a busy road, plied by Europeans, Africans and Native Americans, as well as by horses and wagons. Walking up it as I did recently, hearing snippets of French, Spanish, Chinese and what might have been Tagalog, I reflected on a talk I heard recently by Ross Perlin, director of the Endangered Language Alliance. He noted that the often cited figure of 18 languages spoken in New Amsterdam almost certainly didn’t include African or Native American languages, and that, when these were added, the figure would probably have been 25 or more.

Between Liberty and Ann Streets, Broadway skirts the World Trade Center site, yet another reminder of how 17th-century concepts of free trade grew in Manhattan. As you approach City Hall Park, Park Row continues the course of the Wickquasgeck Trail as it jogs eastward then continues north.


At Broadway and Duane is the African Burial Ground National Monument, an appropriate spot to reorient one’s thinking. If the beginnings of slavery in New York were haphazard, it quickly became a hardened institution in the English period. And it grew. I’m continually amazed at our ability to will away the past. We still associate slavery with the South, yet by 1730, 42 percent of New Yorkers owned another human being, a higher proportion than in any city in the colonies except Charleston, S.C.

The city began to segregate burials in 1697. About 15,000 people were buried at this site designated for interring those of African heritage. It occupied five city blocks. Yet when digging began for an office building in 1991, the city was stunned to learn that there were human remains here. Somehow, we forgot.

Collect Pond


At Leonard and Centre Streets you come to a scruffy little oasis called Collect Pond Park. Once, a five-acre lake dominated this section of what is now Chinatown. It was spring-fed, deep and cold. A Munsee village sat on the southern shore. This was Manahatta in its primordial state.

Manuel Plaza

The last stop is a mile north. I followed the Bowery, which tracks the Wickquasgeck Trail. Manuel Plaza, on East Fourth Street, is one of the newest city parks, and a testament to the enslaved Black people of New Amsterdam.

In the era before slave codes, Black people had some rights, including the right to sue. In 1644, 11 men petitioned for their freedom and that of their wives. They won it, with conditions, and they and others were given land here, two miles north of New Amsterdam, in what became known as the Land of the Blacks. “It was more than 100 acres, a significant amount of Manhattan real estate,” said Kamau Ware, the owner of Black Gotham Experience, which gives walking tours.


But the relatively bright moment was short-lived. “It wasn’t outlawed for Black people to own land in the English period,” Mr. Ware said, but those families were stripped of their land through gimmicks, including a law that made it illegal for a Black person to inherit property.

Manuel Plaza, which sits on what was once the property of Manuel de Gerrit de Reus, a Black resident of Dutch Manhattan, is a quiet place to rest and contemplate the way our inheritances from the past are interwoven. We can trace back our ideals of tolerance, of individual freedom. They made us who we are and give us hope for the future. But they come to us bound up with their opposites, and we struggle to untangle the threads.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

Old New York on Foot. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


  • 98


Continue reading the main story


How long would it take to walk from one end of New York City to the other? ›

The entire walk might take 12 hours or more, so it's best to break up the walk into chunks. “Be willing to take some turns that you didn't plan, and make a lot of stops,” Jacobs says. “Stop and have a beer at a bar in Washington Heights, or wander into Central Park.

Is 5 days in New York enough? ›

There are ways to make the most of the limited time travelers have in New York. You need at least three days to really see the main highlights (though a “quick hits” tour could be done in a two-day NYC itinerary). However, I suggest 4-5 days to see the main sights without rushing too much.

Is 3 full days in New York enough? ›

With 3 days in NYC, you can see most of the major sights and landmarks. But to make the most of your time and money, remember your New York Pass. A lot of the activities and attractions mentioned in this post are included.

Is 4 days in New York enough? ›

The short answer is yes. I'd say 4 days is the minimum amount of time you need in NYC. With 4 days in NYC, you will be able to see the main attractions, but it will definitely have you wanting to come back for more. The city has so much to offer, especially as the seasons are changing.

What does Dumbo stand for? ›

Dumbo — an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass” — sits between the Brooklyn Bridge, Bridge Street, York Street and the East River. Some residents describe it as an island, cut off from points south by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

How long does it take to walk from the top of Manhattan to the bottom? ›

I walked from the top to the bottom of Manhattan in 8 hours, checking an item off my bucket list. The walk was a great endurance exercise, a cardiologist told me, with health benefits similar to running a half-marathon. Here's what my journey was like, and the doctor's tips for people embarking on a similar journey.

Is $2000 dollars enough for 5 days in New York? ›

Yes it's enough. Many people spend far less than that. Some people spend more. You will just have to be mindful of your expenses, especially at bars and restaurants.

How much money do I need for 1 week in New York? ›

The average price of a 7-day trip to New York is $2,057 for a solo traveler, $3,694 for a couple, and $6,926 for a family of 4. New York hotels range from $74 to $506 per night with an average of $196, while most vacation rentals will cost $250 to $610 per night for the entire home.

How much money should I take to New York for 3 days? ›

How much money will you need for your trip to New York City? You should plan to spend around $316 per day on your vacation in New York City, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors. Past travelers have spent, on average, $50 on meals for one day and $49 on local transportation.

How much spending money do I need for NYC? ›

How much money should you budget for a week trip to New York City?
Tight BudgetAverage budget
Housingfrom $630 to $700from $910 to $1400
Transportationaprox. $94from $170 to $185
Mealsfrom $275 to $460from $460 to $650
Toursaprox. $240from $330 to $650
4 more rows
Apr 4, 2022

How much money do you need to take to New York for 4 days? ›

I would say around $100 per person per day is the minimum you need to not be on a serious budget. $200 would let you be very comfortable and do pretty much anything within reason. If you purchase your Broadway ticket in advance (which many of us recommend anyway), that takes one uncertainty out of the equation.

Is $1000 enough for 5 days in New York? ›

If you plan to stay at a 5-star hotel and dine at upscale restaurants in Manhattan, then a budget of $1000 is definitely not going to cut it. However, if you book a mid-tier hotel and take advantage of the many free things to do in New York, then a budget of $1000 is just fine.

What area is best to stay in New York? ›

The 9 Best Neighborhoods in NYC for Tourists
  1. Midtown. ...
  2. Upper West Side. ...
  3. Upper East Side. ...
  4. Tribeca & SoHo. ...
  5. East Village & Bowery. ...
  6. Greenwich Village. ...
  7. Meatpacking District & Chelsea. ...
  8. Lower Manhattan & Financial District.

How long is ideal to spend in New York? ›

The best time to visit New York City is from April to June and September to early November when the weather is best and the crowds aren't as big. Summer and winter may also be good times to visit depending on your planned activities and budget.

Is it worth walking over Brooklyn Bridge? ›

Whether you're visiting the city or you live there, walking across this iconic bridge is one of the best things to do in NYC. It's fun, free, and the perfect way to enjoy breathtaking skyline and river views! A view of the Brooklyn Bridge, taken from the Manhattan Bridge (which you can also walk across).

Is DUMBO a rude word? ›

Noun. (slang, derogatory) A stupid person.

Why is Brooklyn Bridge so famous? ›

Considered a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts. It was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire. It was the first bridge to use explosives in a dangerous underwater device called a caisson.

How long is Manhattan tip to tip? ›

So we wanted to know what it would be like to indeed walk from the tippity top to the tippity bottom of Manhattan. Turns out, it's about a 14-mile (almost 15-mile) journey through multiple neighborhoods, all of Central Park, and through layers of Manhattan history.

What street is the top of Manhattan? ›

Upper Manhattan is the most northern region of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Its southern boundary has been variously defined, but some of the most common usages are 96th Street, the northern boundary of Central Park (110th Street), 125th Street, or 155th Street.

What was Manhattan originally called? ›

The Lenape, Manhattan's original inhabitants, called the island Manahatta, which means “hilly island.”

Is $100 a day enough for NYC? ›

Luckily, that isn't necessarily the case. If visitors are cautious about planning their travel, accommodations, transportation and itinerary, it is absolutely possible to visit New York City on a budget and still have a great time. Here are some tips on how to successfully do New York City on $100 a day.

Is New York expensive to eat out? ›

New York City has a reputation for being one of the most expensive dining destinations in the world. It's easy to wander into high-end restaurants without realizing it and walk away with the idea that dining out in NYC is wallet-busting.

How much do you tip in New York? ›

The customary tip of 15-20% is recommended. A 15% tip is consider common practice for average service. You should lean towards a 20% tip if you're happy with the service or dining in a high end restaurant.

What's the cheapest time to go to New York? ›


As you might well have guessed, the cheapest months of the year to holiday in NYC are from January through March. It's in these 3 months that the costs of both a flight and hotel are on average the lowest for the whole year.

How much is breakfast in NYC? ›

NYC Budget Breakfast Options & Prices

A bagel with cream cheese will cost between $3-$6. A bagel sandwich with eggs and cheese will run you around $5-$8. For a cheap, no-frills bagel with bacon, egg, and cheese, simply stop into just about any bodega. Basic coffee and croissant will set you back about $4-$7.

What are the best months to visit New York? ›

The best time to visit New York is during the fall months: late September, all of October, and early November. This is for three main reasons: The weather is fantastic. Nice, warm and cool temperatures that are perfect for strolling around outdoors.

Do I need cash in NYC? ›

Credit cards are accepted everywhere. In New York (and in the rest of the US) people that use credit cards are more common than those that use cash. In many ways, it is comparable to using a debit card. Debit cards will work at ATMs and you can pay more and more with them in restaurants and stores in New York as well.

Why is New York so expensive to visit? ›

There are many reasons why everything is expensive in New York City. Some of the key factors include the high demand for housing, high taxes, high transportation costs, and the city's status as a global economic and cultural hub.

Can you travel to New York on a budget? ›

It is absolutely possible to visit New York City on a budget. The most important aspect of saving money in NYC is planning your trip ahead of time and doing research. There are many cheap to free activities, restaurants, and places to see in New York City.

How much do you need for food in NYC? ›

According to Numbeo.com data from March 2022, groceries in New York City usually cost about $486.71 a month, per person. For the U.S. as a whole, the average is $348.34.

How much is the average meal in New York? ›

NYC's vibrant restaurant scene is a hub of the city's social life. NYC residents spend 130% more on dining out than the national average. Not only do they eat out more often, but the average cost of a full-service restaurant meal in NYC is $46.14, about $10 higher than in the rest of the country.

How much cash should I take on a 4 day trip? ›

The general consensus is that you should have $50 to $100 in cash per day for each traveler. However, this amount could vary considerably depending on where you are vacationing. Some destinations are more cash-friendly than others.

How to plan a trip to New York for 2 days? ›

What to do in New York For 2 Days at a Glance:
  1. Morning: Start your NYC in 2 days off with walking the streets of New York and visiting iconic buildings: New York Public Library. Grand Central Terminal. ...
  2. Lunch: Hot Dog Cart. ...
  3. Central Park: Bow Bridge. ...
  4. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.
  5. Evening:
  6. Times Square/Broadway Show.
May 7, 2022

How much is a trip to Hawaii? ›

How much does a trip to Hawaii cost? The average cost of a one week trip to Hawaii is $4000. Accommodation in Hawaii is the most expensive cost at an average of $275/night. Flights range from $500-$1000 roundtrip, and the average food and drink cost is almost $100/day.

What is the cheapest way to get around NYC? ›

Aside from walking, the bus or the subway is the cheapest way to get around NYC since a single ride costs only $2.75.

How do I carry money in NYC? ›

Minimize the amount of money, credit cards and valuables you carry by only taking items that are necessary for the day. Divide money between your purse/wallet and pockets. Carry your keys on your person separate from your identification. Use well-populated and well-lit streets.

How much is a beer in New York? ›

As for supermarket prices in New York, the average cost of domestic beer is $2.11, and imported beer is $3.16, compared to the national average of $2.66 and $3.33, respectively.

How long would it take to walk across all of New York City? ›

Any way we come at this problem, it looks like the answer is "yes"—you can walk down all the streets in New York City. And, indeed, it turns out there are 6,074 miles of road in NYC, which would take a total of a little over 100 days of walking.

Can you walk from one end of Manhattan to the other? ›

So we wanted to know what it would be like to indeed walk from the tippity top to the tippity bottom of Manhattan. Turns out, it's about a 14-mile (almost 15-mile) journey through multiple neighborhoods, all of Central Park, and through layers of Manhattan history.

How far is it to walk from one end of Central Park to the other? ›

Walking in 1 Direction from Bottom to Top (1 hour)

Although Central Park is 2.5 miles (4 km) long, the paths through it do meander a bit and the total amount of distance you will walk is more like 3 miles (5 km).

How long is New York City across? ›

The total area of the five boroughs that make up New York City is about 320 sq miles; the longest distance between its boundaries, from the northeast to the southwest, is about 35 miles.

How long is 1 mile in NYC? ›

So How Many NYC Blocks Are in a Mile? The average length of a north-south block in Manhattan runs approximately 264 feet, which means there are about 20 blocks per mile. But what about the lengths of the blocks between avenues? Not so reliable.

How long is a 12 block walk? ›

NYers use a standard of 1 block = 1 minute. That's for N-S blocks only... E-W blocks take about 3 minutes to walk. So, your trip should take roughly 15 minutes.

How long does it take to walk 10 blocks in New York City? ›

10 blocks (0.5 mile) takes about 10 minutes to walk. Most people walk about 3 miles per hour or 1 block per minute. Walking between avenues takes about 3 minutes.

Is it better to walk over Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge? ›

If you're visiting New York City for a short weekend break, prioritize the Brooklyn Bridge. However, if you're planning a longer 4 day New York City itinerary, be sure to consider including a slow walk over the Manhattan Bridge. Here are just a few reasons why: Walking access from Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn.

Which is better to walk Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge? ›

Accessing the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walk is easier from the Manhattan side, but the views aren't quite as breathtaking as coming from the other way. From Manhattan, the entrance begins just across from the northeast corner of City Hall Park along Centre Street.

Can you walk around Manhattan at night? ›

Safest Places To Walk At Night In New York City. Places like Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Upper East Side, Midtown Manhattan, and Brooklyn Heights are all considered fairly safe at night. Tourists want to stay in well-lit, busy areas at night to avoid pickpocketing and other crime.

What is the best walking route in Central Park? ›

Where is the best trail for walking in Central Park? According to users from AllTrails.com, the best trail for walking in Central Park is Central Park East and West Drive Loop, which has a 4.6 star rating from 2,328 reviews.

What is the famous walk in Central Park? ›

The Mall & Literary Walk | Central Park Conservancy.

Can you see all of Central Park in one day? ›

At 843 acres, Central Park is simply too big to cover in-depth in just one day, but if you want to try, a bike is essential. We suggest either choosing one section to see (either the lower or middle) or if you want to see it all, doing so in two visits.

Can you walk around New York in a day? ›

Be prepared to walk a lot and to use the NYC subway system. 2. Obviously, it is impossible to see all New York has to offer in a single day, but this should give you a good feel for the city and some of its most famous places, buildings, and landmarks.

Is New York easy to walk around? ›

New York is an excellent walking city, and getting around by foot is the best way to familiarize yourself with neighborhoods and their (sometimes subtle) divisions. Of course, sometimes you'll need to move more quickly or cover great distances, for which you've got subways, buses and cabs at your disposal.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lidia Grady

Last Updated: 06/11/2023

Views: 5954

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lidia Grady

Birthday: 1992-01-22

Address: Suite 493 356 Dale Fall, New Wanda, RI 52485

Phone: +29914464387516

Job: Customer Engineer

Hobby: Cryptography, Writing, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Calligraphy, Web surfing, Ghost hunting

Introduction: My name is Lidia Grady, I am a thankful, fine, glamorous, lucky, lively, pleasant, shiny person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.