Great things to do in New Jersey + best views of Manhattan
The New Yorker cover from 1976, showing nothingness west of the Hudson River and Manhattan, still suggests the prevailing view of New Yorkers about New Jersey. “Be sure to take trinkets for the natives,” a Manhattan friend told me before I headed off to see some of the best views of Manhattan and to check off a list of great things to do in New Jersey.
Admittedly, I was somewhat surprised at how many really cool things there were to do in the New Jersey area that hugs the Hudson River. Apparently, I too had succumbed to Manhattan tunnel vision. From amazing views of Manhattan (night and day), to historic memorials, beautifully developed waterfront walks, expansive parks, the best access to the Statue of Liberty, and really laid-back downtown areas with street art and pedestrian zones, indeed New Jersey has it going on.
The entire area has seen a surge in development and redevelopment in the last decade or so, with visitor numbers up by nearly 10 percent in the last five years. Many businesses, including financial institutions, and their employees, moved to New Jersey after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, further spawning surging redevelopment that is making a visit to the Hudson River communities worth putting on your list of things to do while in New York City.
Focus on Jersey City and Hoboken
The first thing you should realize is that it’s not hard to get to and around New Jersey. No, you can’t just hoof it, like you can around Manhattan, but there are plenty of buses and subways if you are staying in Manhattan. Honestly, there is so much to see and do in New Jersey, including all those great Manhattan views, especially at night, you may want to consider staying there for part of your trip.
Here are a few cool things to do in New Jersey along the Hudson River in Hudson County, starting from the north and heading south:
Views of Manhattan – Hudson River Waterfront Walkway
Hoboken likes to celebrate its famous son, Frank Sinatra, so you’ll find Sinatra Drive, Sinatra Park and Sinatra Amphitheater (aside from any number of other former homes, school and favorite shops if you go looking). Sinatra Drive leads you along the waterfront.
Aside from simply magnificent views of Manhattan, the 9/11 Memorial for the City of Hoboken in Pier A Park is graciously designed and very moving in its simplicity.
Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall, Jersey City – This is the gentrifying heart of Jersey City, growing by leaps and bounds in the last 10-15 years with millennials looking for a different lifestyle but proximity to Manhattan. When visiting any city, a stroll with the locals is of course in order. This area near the corners of Grove Street and Newark Avenue is lined with restaurants, from pizza to pubs, from low to high end. When the weather cooperates, the area fills with neighbors out for drinks, walks with the kids, and visitors alike. Don’t forget ice cream (homemade) at Torico’s.
Exchange Place, Jersey City – This is a bustling waterfront area with more great Manhattan views, either from Grundy Park at its base or even from the glam rooftop terrace and bar at the new Hyatt House (once a historic bank building and lovely). The folks at the Hyatt House are extremely friendly, but keep in mind the upstairs bar is not open before lunch to snag those views.
Also at Exchange Place is the Katyn Memorial, a monument in memory of 15,400 Polish officers, intellectuals and prisoners killed in 1940 at the so-called Katyn Massacre by the Soviets. It has seen its share of controversy – with plenty for and against it.
Jersey City 9/11 Memorial – Where Grand Street intersects with the river walkway you will find another memorial, this one for the Jersey City citizens who perished in the 9/11 attacks. It is a mere twisted beam from the building but is bedecked with flowers and remembrances. If you stand behind it and face the water, you will look past the beam’s carnage to Manhattan and the site of the attack. An annual service is held there on 9/11.
Makeshift Memorial by J. Seward Johnson, Jersey City – At the same corner is another memorial related to 9/11 that is very moving in its simplicity. It is the bronze “Double Check” statue done by New Jersey sculptor J. Seward Johnson that had been at the former World Trade Center area. The bronze of a sitting man was discovered in the rubble and quickly became transformed into a “makeshift memorial” with relatives hanging notes, flowers and remembrances on it. Johnson took the statue, with all of its impromptu remembrances, bronzed them all, and welded them onto the statue precisely as he found them. It found its home here in 2005. Don’t miss it.
Colgate Clock, Jersey City – Farther down the riverfront (enjoy the views as you go) is the Colgate Clock. Honestly, we don’t quite understand this gigantic clock (its face is 50 feet in diameter) that towers over a lot of weeds facing Manhattan. It is near where the headquarters of Colgate-Palmolive had been – nearly 35 years ago. But it ticks on, since 1908. A curiosity, for sure. There are areas to sit below it if you want to enjoy the river and more city views.
Morris Canal and Park, Jersey City — Heading around the bend from the clock, you are now walking along part of the old Morris Canal. Part of the historic canal that ran through six counties. It avoided destruction and is being transformed into parks, bikeways and trails. For now, this little peninsula of a park jutting out into Hudson River along the Morris Canal basin is very local, with locals walking dogs or picnicking. But, yes, since it is on the river, you get those grand river and Manhattan skyline views again. If you want more history about the canal itself, you can read details at the Canal Society’s website. Long story short, the Morris Canal was commissioned in 1824 to carry coal from Pennsylvania to developing markets along the Eastern coast.
New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial – Korean War memorials are something that suck us in (considering my uncle was MIA in the Korean War), and I was surprised to find this one tucked at the base of Morris Canal Park. It was dedicated in 2000 to honor the memory of New Jersey veterans.
Liberty State Park, Jersey City – A total green oasis of more than 1,200 acres, the park is home to any number of things to see and do – and all those views across the river too. There is of course the Liberty Science Center, where the IMAX had a major overhaul in 2018 making it the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The expansive park itself may offer some of the best and more diverse views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, not to mention better (usually less crowded) access to Ellis Island and the statue. From a corner of the park, you are actually very close to the statue – much closer than from Manhattan.
Other than access to the popular Statue of Liberty, the park offers festivals, runs, events, boating, kayaking,…you name it.
Two particularly popular sights – again, right on the Hudson and across from Manhattan, are:
- Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial – A truly moving, simple, spectacular memorial to the 2001 terrorist attacks (see the cover photo). Two, brushed steel, twin, 30-foot walls run parallel, facing Manhattan where the World Trade Towers stood. A 12-foot path runs between the towering walls, with victim’s names engraved on them. The light at all times of day reflects off the steel, and sunrise and sunset are particularly breathtaking. Please take a moment to reflect — and remember this is not Disneyland or a playground.
- Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal – This terminal is both a deserted and ghostly skeleton of its past, as well as the hall where you buy tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty. The terminal’s old tracks and platforms closed in 1967, but they remain in place, albeit crumbling and fenced off, as an eerie reminder of the bustling past. The station is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Many immigrants that were processed at Ellis Island in fact moved through these halls and boarded trains here to take them to their new lives. Old signage remains, and you will also find interpretative history information as well as a ranger area inside the renovated terminal with information about everything New Jersey.
Grove of Remembrance, Liberty State Park – A quiet place hidden behind trees, the grove in the park was designed as a quiet place for reflection. Trees are a living memorial to the New Jersey residents who lost their lives. We found the grove a peaceful retreat that many buzzed by on their way to the Empty Sky Memorial, and the Statue of Liberty boat terminal.