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Ready to tour the Big Apple's new hot neighborhood?

No, not Nolita or the Lower East Side, though they certainly have plenty of appeal. Certainly not Times Square with its popular pedestrian-only areas, though you'll meet crowds of tourists there, too.

We're talking about Lower Manhattan -- the area south of Chambers Street that's surrounded by water on three sides. In 2011, a record 9.8 million tourists visited Lower Manhattan -- 800,000 more than the previous year.

Crowds have flocked to the 9/1 1 Memorial (www.911memorial.org) since it opened Sept. 11, 2011. Reserve free tickets for timed admission online; also, there are a limited number of day passes, only two per person, available at the Official NYC Information Kiosk at City Hall, the 9/1 1 Preview Site at 20 Vesey St., or the New York Water Taxi booth at South Street Seaport. On the website, you'll find helpful suggestions on talking to your children about terrorism.

A visit can't help but inspire conversation and reflection -- even among teens. "The people who were killed during the attacks not only are remembered, but even 10 years later, people find the importance of visiting and continuing to recall them as heroes," said Khaliq Sanda, one of a group of students who attend our suburban high school under the auspices of A Better Chance (www.abetterchance.org). My husband and I took seven of them to the memorial.

Once families venture downtown, they realize how much there is to see and do at the tip of Manhattan. There are more than two dozen museums, including the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (www.nmai.si.edu), the Museum of Jewish Heritage (www.mjhnyc.org) and even The Skyscraper Museum (www.skyscraper.org). There's also the site of George Washington's inauguration, Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange (www.nyse.com) and the National African Burial Ground National Memorial (www.nps.gov/afbg/index.htm). (Visit www.downtownny.com for more information about Lower Manhattan and www.nycgo.com for the latest events and hotel deals.)

Everyone knows about Wall Street and the Financial District -- more than 300,000 people work in Lower Manhattan -- but other kinds of companies are quickly moving in and they're not all in the financial services arena. At the same time, Lower Manhattan is home to nearly 56,000 New Yorkers, including many families, making the area one of New York's fastest-growing neighborhoods with restaurants and upscale shopping, including the just opened J and R Jr. (www.jr.com/jr) store, which caters to kids up to age 9 with everything from GPS-equipped strollers to kid-sized musical instruments and iPads.

Lower Manhattan now has 18 hotels to choose from, with seven more in the works. The all-suite Conrad New York is the latest and it is expected to open this month in Battery Park City. (Check www.conradnewyork.com for opening deals.)

Take the ferry from Lower Manhattan to Ellis Island (www.ellisisland.org) and the Statue of Liberty (www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm). Hop on the Staten Island Ferry for one of the best views of the skyline. Visit South Street Seaport. You're not far from Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side with its standout Tenement Museum (www.tenement.org).

Let's not forget the chance to simply walk in the park or ride a bike. There are almost 57 acres of green space here -- equivalent to 43 football fields, including Battery Park with its spectacular water views.

The day we visited was too cold and nasty for a walk in the park, so we took our time at the 9/1 1 Memorial. We stood in the pelting rain and sleet and ran our fingers over the names of the dead etched into the bronze panels -- nearly 3,000 people died in the twin towers, at the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, Pa. The Memorial also commemorates the six people who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.