Wall Street is known around the world as the home of, and common collective name for, the stock trading industry in the United States. In one sense, Wall Street can be used to describe the entire part of Manhattan or the entire industry, but for the visitor Wall Street is a real street and a fascinating chunk of the city.
A bit of history
It had been the common theory that Wall Street was named after an actual wall that stood in the area where traders would gather to exchange goods, but a new theory suggests the name comes from the Waals, which is the name the French-speaking Walloon people who now occupy southern Belgium, and made up most of the settlement in the area in the early 1600s, call themselves.
This was New Amsterdam in the early 1600s, and a wall was later constructed on this spot that marked the northern border of the settlement on Manhattan at the time, but the British dismantled that wall in 1699. In 1792 a group of traders formed what would eventually become the New York Stock Exchange.
The New York Stock Exchange
The largest stock exchange in the world by dollar volume is located at 11 Wall Street. The trading floor is commonly seen on television, and tours from a gallery overlooking the floor used to be popular with visitors, but since September 2001 those tours have been discontinued until further notice.
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Other stock exchanges
Wall Street is also the headquarters of other stock exchanges in addition to the famous NYSE. The NASDAQ, American Stock Exchange, New York Mercantile Exchange, and the New York Board of Trade are all located on this small and thin street, but none are open to the public. The NASDAQ has a visitor’s center with a snazzy light show on the side of the building in Times Square, but trades are actually made electronically so there is no trading show to see.
Visiting Wall Street
Since the tours of the New York Stock Exchange are no longer offered there is less of a direct reason to visit the area, but it’s still an interesting part of Manhattan and there is still a lot to see. The architecture is mostly from the Gilded Age and is quite impressive. Many of the largest financial firms in the world are still located on or very near Wall Street so during the day on weekdays the area has quite an electric atmosphere.
There is the famous Charging Bull statue that used to be located just in front of the NYSE, but now it’s a few blocks off Wall Street at Bowling Green and Broadway.
Wall Street itself is very thin and closed to traffic, and you’ll find a heavy police/security presence there virtually around the clock. This part of the city is fascinating partly for its concrete jungle aspect. The buildings are tall and the streets are narrow so the area gets very little sunlight at any time.
Don’t go at night
This area is packed with both traders and tourists all day during the week, but at night it’s quite a different story. This is the deadest part of Manhattan in the evenings. There are a few bars and restaurants that are open well into the evening, but the fun has moved elsewhere by the time 6 p.m. rolls around. On weekends during the day the area is pleasant enough and crowded with tourists, but the traders are all elsewhere so the atmosphere is very different.
Other attractions near Wall Street
One reason Wall Street is worth your time is that it’s a short walk from many other good sights.
- Ground Zero holds a morbid curiosity even though there is almost nothing there, and it’s also just about a 3-minute walk from the corner of Wall Street and Broadway.
- Trinity across Broadway was built in 1846, but looks even older. Several prominent American historical figures are buried in the small cemetery next to the church.
- Fulton Fish Market no longer sells fish, but it is a good shopping and strolling area.
- Century 21 is a famous discount clothing store a short walk from Wall Street.