The classic way of seeing New York Harbour as it should be seen, by water, is the Staten Island Ferry, which runs twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, except overnight on public holidays, and is entirely free of charge: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/ferrybus/staten-island-ferry.shtml.
The first steam-powered ferry service between Manhattan and Staten Island was operated by the Nautilus (1817).
The ferry company was purchased in 1838 by future railroad entrepreneur “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), and at the start of the Civil War it passed to the Commodore’s brother, Jacob H Vanderbilt, a leading figure in the Staten Island Railway company. Later still it was taken over by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
Staten Island, as part of the Borough of Richmond, was absorbed into the City of New York in 1898 and the ferry service was taken over by the New York Docks and Ferries Department in 1905.
It remains the responsibility of what is now the New York Department of Transportation.
Initially, the municipalised Staten Island Ferry charged the same 5-cent fare as the New York Subway, and for much of the twentieth century the ferry-fare remained the same while subway fares increased. Between 1972 and 1990 the fare increased in stages to 50 cents, still a great bargain.
Fare-collection was abolished in 1997, since when the Staten Island Ferry has been one of the best free attractions in New York.
Most tourists simply sail out to Staten Island and come straight back, but you have to disembark and re-board, so it’s worth having a drink or a meal with a distant view of Manhattan at the River Dock Café, Staten Island Ferry Terminal: https://www.facebook.com/RiverDockCafe.
I had traditional fish and chips, a well-intentioned approximation to the British national dish, with three fillets of Atlantic cod and British chips. (What the Americans usually call “chips” in England would be crisps; what the Americans call “fries” are British chips, but not at the River Dock Café.)
The beer’s good too – such as Sam Adams Rebel IPA (ABV 6.5%): https://www.samueladams.com/craft-beers/rebel-ipa.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple: the architecture of New York City, please click here.