Where Fulton Street meets the East River is where you find the popular location of South Street Seaport. It is here that visitors can get a taste of New York's maritime history, all the while taking in different shops, museums, restaurants, and activities. It is definitely the place to head to if you have people with a variety of interests in your travel party, but not a lot of time to see a variety of places.
South Street Seaport is home to a fleet of ships, some of which are open to the public and permanently docked there. The Ambrose, the Waverunner, and the Peking were all built around the turn of the 20th century to serve different purposes, such as merchant ship or light-ship. All three are open to the public for viewing today. South Street Seaport also has several charters (both for private parties and groups of tourists) that leave from its piers.
The Fulton Street Fish Market still operates out of this area, though it is intended to move soon to Brooklyn. If you're a fish lover, you can visit the market in the early-morning hours when it is a bustling center of fish-commerce. For those like me, however, you'll want to avoid the market and its fishy smell (wink!).
Pier 17 of South Street Seaport has been renovated in recent years and is now home to retail spaces and restaurants. The mall here has pretty standard stores (the Gap, J Crew, etc.), but there are also several gift shops that are worth looking in for souvenirs from your trip. Also, from the top floor of the mall on the south end, you can get a fantastic view of the Brooklyn Bridge as it spans the East River. It is quite a sight to behold!
Outside of the shopping centers, there are often musical or street performers, which add to the charming ambiance of this area. Even in the cold Christmas season, I spotted a choir huddled together singing Christmas carols.
South Street Seaport is an excellent place to visit on your trip to New York City. It has so many different things to do that you would be hard-pressed to only spend an hour there. At least there is something for everyone!