South Street Seaport in New York City | A Self-Guided Tour
This post is a self-guided tour will take you through the South Street Seaport area, one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in New York City. Much of the area is filled with restored 19th-century buildings along cobblestone streets. In 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum was founded to preserve many of the buildings, ships, monuments, and the overall historic area which has become a popular destination for visitors and locals alike.
While the streets hearken to the 19th century when “tall ships” and sailboats filled the river, the shopping in the area is chic and trendy. There are lots of things for visitors to do and the Seaport is a nice area to visit, especially on days when the temperatures are nice and the sun is out. The views from the water’s edge are spectacular. You can see Brooklyn as well as the majestic Brooklyn Bridge. At the Seaport, there is something for everyone in your group. History, architecture, food, shopping and of course the beautiful boats.
Insider Tip: If you are considering a Broadway show, the seaport is one of 3 locations fordiscount Broadway ticket booth called TKTS. This location is less crowded than the one at Times Square and if you are down here anyway, check out and see what shows are available! Now onto the South Street Seaport tour.
By subway and bus:
Subways – Take the A, C, 2, 3, J, Z, 4, or 5 train to Fulton Street.
Bus – Take the M-15 SBS or M-15 to Fulton Street.
Once on Fulton Street, head east until you get to the lighthouse, the starting point of this tour. (East is the direction going against the cars, and also, you can use the Freedom Tower to navigate. Walking away from the tower is heading east.
Free shuttle bus: If you are already in the Downtown area there is a free Downtown shuttle bus provided by the Downtown Alliance.
By car: Parking in the area is limited. There is a parking lot located at Front and John Streets, just one block from the museum. Another lot is available at 294 Pearl Street.
SELF-GUIDED TOUR (map is interactive, simply click on it and scroll around)
A – Titanic Memorial Lighthouse
It was built in 1913 as a memorial to the victims of the R.M.S. Titanic which struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912. The tragedy claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people, including many prominent New Yorkers. Like several of the ships docked on the water, the Memorial is a an authentic antique now under the care of the South Street Seaport Museum.
Across from the Lighthouse is a row of brick buildings. There you will find the next stop on the tour.
B- Bowne & Co. Stationers
Established in 1775 this is NYC’s oldest operating business under the same name, and they carry on the same tradition of professional printing on genuine antique printing presses.
Step inside for a true “time travel” experience back to old New York City. They have beautiful hand printed stationary for sale. Since they are also part of the museum the staff is very friendly and often willing to give a demonstration. They are open every day from 11 am-7 pm.
Exit Bowne Printers and turn right and walk north on Water St. until you come to towards Dover St. Close to Dover St. on the right hand side
C – Joseph Rose House (“The Rat House”) 273 Water Street
This small building is actually one of the oldest buildings in Manhattan still standing from colonial times. It was built in 1773, three years before the American Revolution officially began. IT was, as a family home by Captain Joseph Rose who was in the shipping industry and did global trading business in the nearby wharves. By the end of the century, he and his family moved to nearby Pearl St and in the 1860’s the house was owned by Christopher “Kit” Burns. By this time the Water St. area was in serious decline and mostly frequented by drunken sailors and other unsavory characters. Burns converted the house into a bar and dance hall that offered o diversions such as gambling, bare-knuckled boxing, and most notoriously, dog and rat fights in the basement. Rats from the piers would be collected and brought in and patrons could place bets on which dog could kill the most rats the fastest.
In 1870, the eventual founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh, waged a campaign to have the Rat Pit shut down. He succeeded. Burns, however, simply opened a new rat pit at 388 Water Street. In 1904 a fire damaged the building. Somewhat damaged, the building was a small warehouse. Seventy years later, another fire gutted the building and for 20 years it sat empty.
In 1997, a real estate developer purchased the house, at that point owned by the City. The developer paid $1 for the building! He then put $1.1 million into renovating the house and turned it into four luxury apartments. Today, apartments here sell for as much as $2 million!
Continue half a block to Dover Street. On the corner is a building that was once one of the oldest pubs in the city, the former Bridge Cafe.
D – Former Bridge Cafe 279 Water Street
The building dates back to 1794 and was New York City’s oldest commercial wood frame buildings which housed pubs, taverns, and bars over three centuries. The most recent dining and drinking establishment at the building was the Bridge Cafe. Then, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck and the building was severely damaged. The basement was entirely filled with water, and the kitchen was flooded up to four feet. The building underwent repairs for a few years, delayed by the cost to the owners. Signs of life were showing in mid-2016, but as of March 2017, the building is still lacking an open establishment.
Walk along Dover Street toward the water. After two blocks you will cross (carefully) to over South Street to the boardwalk for outstanding views of the Brooklyn Bridge.
E – Brooklyn Bridge
One of the most famous bridges in the world was the first bridge to span the East River connecting Lower Manhattan with the then City of Brooklyn. It took 14 years to build but when it was finally completed in 1883, it was a true masterpiece of engineering. At about a mile long (1.6km) it was the largest suspension bridge in the world at that time. The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by a German immigrant named John Roebling, an accomplished and renowned engineer. However, Roebling was killed by a freak accident while surveying the area to begin construction.
The project was taken over by his son Washington Roebling, also an engineer, but before completion Washington suffered a crippling injury and so a third member of the Roebling family took over. Washington’s wife Emily Roebling took over his position and became the first ever female chief civil engineer of a major construction project in America nearly fifty years before women could even vote. Today, taking a walk or a bicycle ride over the bridge is one of the most popular activities for tourists in NYC. For tips on how to make the most of your trip over the Brooklyn Bridge, see out post Walking the Brooklyn Bridge: A Visitor’s Guide
Cross back over to the other side of South Street, turn left and walk one block south to Peck Slip.
F – Paris Cafe corner of South Street and Peck Slip
On the south corner of South Street and Peck Slip is the Paris Cafe, a charming old style restaurant and pub. It opened in 1873 and is one of the oldest bars in NYC. They also claim that President Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent patron during his pre-presidency days as New York City’s Police Commissioner.
A “slip” is the water plot in between piers where boats would dock. Peck Slip was once a sort of “parking lot” for boats and also where one could catch a ferry to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Now filled in with landfill, it is blocked off from vehicular traffic. The buildings along the north side of Peck Slip and adorned with picturesque murals of the waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge.
Walk one block along Peck Slip until Front Street where you will make a left turn. Walk one block along Front Street, cross Beekman Street and on your right, you will see a shop at 206 Front Street
G – Cannon’s Walk Enter through the Cafe-Museum-Shops
To enjoy a rare few moments of peace and quiet in noisy New York City, take a walk through this small, historic courtyard surrounded by 19th-century buildings. The courtyard is nestled inside of 3 Greek Revival warehouses built in the 1830s.
Today they house the South Street Seaport Museum’s Visitor Center, its Book and Charts Store and its recreated 19th-century print shop, Bowne & Co. Stationers. It marks the location of John Cannon’s Wharf of the mid-1700s. Cannon was from Staten Island where he owned a shipping business. He expanded his business and filled in the water plots of this area to build his piers and warehouses. This courtyard is now maintained by the South Street Seaport Museum to preserve its peaceful, historic atmosphere, and you can see through the windows that you are now directly in back of Bowne Printers.
Directly across from Cannon’s Walk is the Fulton Market Building.
H – Fulton Market Building
In the early 19th century, this large brick building housed many market vendors selling a variety of produce, food products, and most famously the Fulton Fish Market which was founded in 1822. Through most of the fish market’s existence it has been one of the largest fish markets in the U.S. and in its hey-day grew to be the second largest and most important fish market in the world, second only to Tokyo. As the South Street Seaport was increasingly becoming a very popular tourist destination, in 2005 the Fulton Fish Market was relocated to Hunts Point, a large wholesale food market in the Bronx.
The building appears noticeably newer than other surrounding buildings in the area because it recently went through a two-year reconstruction project where it almost entirely torn down and then rebuilt to resemble as much as possible the old market building. The interior, on the other hand, is being redesigned to be a completely new and modern space including restaurants, bars, shopping, and entertainment venues. The Fulton Market Building is scheduled to reopen in 2017.
Walk to the end of the block and turn left onto Fulton Street where you be in a large pedestrian mall.
I – Schermerhorn Row (pronounced SKER-mer-horn)
Along this stretch of Fulton Street is a row of short buildings known collectively as Schermerhorn Row. These buildings are some of the oldest in the area, built in 1812 by Peter Schermerhorn, grandson of John Cannon (of Cannon’s Walk above). Like his grandfather, Peter was also in the shipping trade. These buildings served as offices as well as storage space for his nearby piers. In the middle of the block is the Visitor Center of the South Street Seaport Museum.
The Museum is located in a few spots spread throughout the area. Here you can purchase tickets, view an ongoing exhibition, Street of Ships: The Port and Its People, see maritime antiques and attend special exhibits about old maritime New York. Bowne & Co. Stationers, an earlier stop on this tour, is also part of the museum. The museum also includes a fleet of five historic including the 132-year-old Wavertree, a stop on this tour.
Hours: Wed-Sun, 11 am-5 pm
Prices: Admission includes the Museum building, as well as guided tours on both the 1885 cargo ship Wavertree and the 1907 Lightship Ambrose, weather permitting.
Child (2-17) $6.00
Under 2 Free
You can purchase tickets online here or at the Visitor’s Center.
From the Museum building, continue Fulton Street towards the water. Cross South Street and you will find Pier 16 and 17.
K – Pier 17
You won’t find a lot to see at Pier 17 – yet. From 1983-2012, Pier 17 had a large 2-story glass-walled indoor mall with restaurants, takeaway food and small crafts and artisan shops. It also featured in one of the best outdoor water-front spots on its outdoor terrace where you could sit down and rest your legs and take fabulous photos. It was a mainstay of the South Street Seaport and was one of the big draws for tourists and locals alike. Sadly, the damage done to the Pier building by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 led to the Seaport’s owner decision to tear down the old building and replace it with a new structure.
The new design is less maritime style and instead of wood framed, it is almost entirely a glass structure. As of March 2017, the new building has only been partially completed. Here you can see a picture of the old Pier 17 building, a architect digital image of the new Pier 17 soon to be completed, and the beautiful Wavertree ship, the next stop on the tour.
L – Pier 16 and the Wavertree
In the spring and summer, Pier 16 is generally bustling with tourists, vendors, and locals enjoying the views or a bicycle ride along the water. You can also see some of the historic boats now permanently docked here including the Lightship Ambrose (1908), and the Wavertree.
The Wavertree was built in 1885 in Southampton, England and named for the Wavertree district of Liverpool. She was one of the last large commercial sail ships made of wrought iron at a time when not only steel, but also steamships were taking over the commercial shipping industry, and is currently the largest iron sailing vessel still afloat. The Wavertree has returned to the seaport looking beautiful after a fourteen month, $13 Million renovation on Staten Island.
Tip: Public Restrooms are located Pier 16.
Pier 16 is also the departure point for some of the boat tours that explore New Your Harbor including The Circle Line, The Zephyr, and The Water Taxi. Our post Which New York Boat Tour or Cruise is Best? can help you see if a boat ride is something you might like to do.
M – Pier 15 at the Seaport
Also having undergone a revamping, Pier 15 is now spacious esplanade with two floors of observation decks, green space and benches that offer a place to relax and take in the amazing views of the East River, Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
If you are interested in taking a boat ride or cruise, you are in the right neighborhood. From Pier 15 walk south to the next pier.
N – Launching dock for Cruises and Boat Tours
This pier is the departure location for several boat rides and cruises, including the NY Water Taxi and NY Waterway dock. For all the information about getting out on to the water, our post Which New York Boat Tour or Cruise is Best? is essential to help you compare prices, tour offers, and schedules. You can also find information on free or almost free boat rides at our post, Free New York Boat Tours.
This concludes the tour and whether you decide to hop on a boat or continue exploring Lower Manhattan, we hope you enjoyed visiting this historic enclave.
for more options check YELP for many options all within a 6-block area
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
There are so many things to do in Lower Manhattan and the Seaport is a great launchpad for any of these tours and sites to visit. The Seaport is within walking distance to Wall Street, the Financial District, World Trade Center and Battery Park where the tours for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island depart. Since we love any activity that’s free, see our post about The Staten Island Ferry.
Exploring the area
Here are some of our pay-what-you-wish tours, self-guided tours and guides to historic locations and attractions.
Lower Manhattan is a great area to rent a bike as there are several bike paths in the area that are close to the river and offer wonderful off-street riding. Here is information New York Bike Tours + Rentals including locations downtown for Citibike Share.