Relive Downtown Manhattan’s maritime history at the South Street Seaport Museum on the waterfront, where you can board a historic ship, go for a sail, check out exhibits, join family programs, and stroll this historic NYC district.
Just a few steps from the city’s financial bastion is the site of the original port of New York City, and what is now the South Street Seaport Historic District. In the glory days of New York‘s maritime trade industry, this district in downtown Manhattan was lined with cobblestoned streets flanking merchant posts, trade shops, and housing for seafaring citizens from all walks of life. The piers jutting out from the waterfront served as the daily port of entry for goods from all over the world.
The South Street Seaport Museum was founded in 1967 on the outer edges of the downtown waterfront. The museum is spread throughout the historic neighborhood, encompassing a working 19th-century print shop, archeology museum, maritime library, craft center, marine life conservation lab, 30,000 square feet of galleries, and the largest privately owned fleet of historic ships in the country. The neighborhood also includes a section of nearby Fulton Street, which is preserved as cobblestone and lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. A slew of newly renovated outdoor public spaces surround the complex, inviting tourists and New Yorkers alike to grab a comfy seat by the harbor and watch sightseeing helicopters whirring above the water.
Standby Faves for Kids
A walk down the wooden-decked Pier 16 offers a feast for the eyes. Enjoy an unrivaled view of the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge while making your way down the historic “street of ships.” During the spring and summer, families can step aboard the 1907 Lightship Ambrose—which acted as a floating lighthouse for ships seeking safe passage into the Port of New York and New Jersey. Explore the vessel’s decks and galleys, complete with a working “radio shack.” Download the MustSee app—available on the museum’s website—for a self-guided tour of the ship.
Stroll along nearby Schermerhorn Row, comprised of a line of 19th-century buildings used as storefronts, hotels, and boarding houses back when the seaport needed to accommodate the constant bustle of commercial activity. Check out the Visitor Service Center at Schermerhorn, where kids can enjoy rotating displays and exhibits in the lobby. An installation currently in the works will present a series of displays about the history of the South Street Seaport District, ranging from the Fulton Fish Market to transatlantic steamship travel.
The museum offers numerous workshops and family programming. Visit Bowne Printers on Water Street for a hands-on exploration of the history of the printing press. Each child gets a printed souvenir and a chance to use one of the iconic presses in the shop. Sign up in advance for the 60-minute workshop (great for ages 12 and older).
Best Kept Secrets
You don’t have to go further than the entrance to the museum to get a sense of the rich history of the area. In 1913, the year after the Titanic’s ill-fated journey across the Atlantic, the Seamen’s Benefit Society decided to erect a memorial to the victims of the shocking tragedy. The Titanic Memorial lighthouse was raised to shine over the port where the doomed ship was intended to arrive. Stop by this landmark, located on the corner of Fulton and Pearl streets, for a quick photo-op before exploring the rest of the museum’s attractions.
Don’t miss the Maritime Crafts Center on Pier 15, a must-see for budding carpenters and young woodwork enthusiasts. Watch craftspeople demonstrating traditional seafaring skills such as woodcarving and model making.
Sail away for a celebration at sea! Mini-mates can board the historic 1885 schooner Pioneer for a private sailing adventure featuring activities fit for a sailor. Kids (and adults) can learn about the harbor, help raise the sail, tie knots, stand look-out, and learn how to use navigational tools while sailing past the landmarks of the city.
Sailing is a great option for a family day out, says Ann Tuomey Depiro, director of operations at the museum. The Pioneer is also available for charters during the summer.
Families seeking a bit of a wilder ride can take the 30-minute Shark Speedboat, leaving from Pier 16, on an adventure to the Statue of Liberty. Pier 16 is also the place to book a sightseeing cruise with the Circle Line and New York City’s Water Taxi.
Parents: Know before you go!
Visit the museum’s website to see an updated list of scheduled programs and events.
The museum’s galleries at 12 Fulton Street are closed to the public until further notice.
The lobby at Schermerhorn Row is open, and the museum has put several objects on display for visitors.
Walking tours are available upon request.
When visiting the historic ships on Pier 16, guests can leave strollers at the bottom of the gangways where they will be monitored by a visitor services associate. There is no coat check.
The museum is located within a historic landmark district, so call ahead to inquire about special needs access.
There are family and handicapped-accessible public restrooms at the head of Pier 15. The museum has restrooms available for museum visitors only in the Visitor Center up a short flight of stairs.
Personal photography is allowed in the museum’s spaces, but flash photography is prohibited inside the galleries at 12 Fulton Street.
When the kids get hungry, there’s no shortage of dining options in and around the Seaport. If you’re visiting in the summer, many restaurants in the area offer outdoor seating and there are food trucks stationed on Pier 16 offering fare such as sandwiches, salads, tacos, burgers, and pizza. You can also check out the burgeoning artisanal food scene at Smorgasburg, an outdoor food festival along Fulton Street open late May through October. Offerings include Red Hook Lobster Pound, Schnitz, and Pizza Moto.
Still have some wind in your sails? The neighborhood is a magnet for shoppers, with boutiques and retail shops lining Front and Fulton streets. Pick up some stylish duds for the kids at L.O.L. Kids or head to any one of the area’s pop-up shops.
Want to Go?
Location: 12 Fulton St., Downtown Manhattan
Price: Free entry to lobby area at 12 Fulton Street. Museum admission: $12; $8 seniors and students; $5 children ages 2-11.
Bowne Print Shop: Daily, 11am-7pm
Waterfront and ships (Pier 16): Wednesday-Sunday 11am-5pm; check website for sailing schedule
Visitors Services Lobby: Wednesday-Sunday 11am-5pm
Guided Tours: The museum offers privately guided tours of the galleries throughout the year. Scheduled tours are listed on the website, and tickets can be purchased in advance online.
For more information: 212-748-8600 or southstreetseaportmuseum.org