NYC by boat: Enjoy skyline and harbor views on a free ferry ride

New York Harbor
New York Harbor

If you're visiting the Big Apple, take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry for gorgeous skyline views of the New York Harbor. Unlike most things in New York, it's free. And Staten Island is much quieter than Manhattan, so if you feel the need to get away for an afternoon, grab a cup of coffee and head on board. You'll pass right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on the five mile journey from lower Manhattan to Staten Island.

About the Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry annually provides 20 million people with transportation between Manhattan and Staten Island. There are nine boats in the fleet, and they arrive frequently in both ports, so you shouldn't have to wait in line long, if at all. During the week, five of the nine boats transport about 60,000 passengers a day. The ferries make about 35,000 trips every year and the boats are regularly maintained and serviced so they are perfectly safe.

Ports of Call

There are only two ports of call for the ferries: St. George Terminal on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. Whitehall Street is near the "South Ferry--Whitehall St." subway station, which you can get to on the N, W and R subway lines.

When to Catch a Ferry

You can catch a ferry 24 hours a day, seven days a week (minus some odd hours for holidays). If you're in NYC with a significant other, consider a nighttime ferry ride as part of a Lower Manhattan romantic date. A ferry ride is a great family activity, too, especially for small children. Ferry personnel in orange vests are there to answer questions and point you in the right direction. If you don't want to stay on Staten Island, simply disembark and re-board when the next ferry leaves shortly after.

Waiting in the Terminals

The New York City Economic Development Corporation, on behalf of the Department of Transportation, recently renovated the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It now features large windows, high ceilings, an outdoor plaza, and glass walls, which replaced the harbor-side brick wall. You can watch the ferry approach and dock while you wait. There are public restrooms in both the Manhattan and the Staten Island terminals, as well as shops and restaurants.

The Manhattan terminal has a massive entry hall with rooftop viewing decks for great views of the skyline and waterfront. There's also 6,000 square feet of concessions, air conditioning and heating, a large waiting room, and even office space. It is a short two-minute walk from the subway station and signs clearly mark the way, so you won't get lost.

Additional Information

  • Bicycles are allowed on the ferry, although bicyclists must dismount when they board, and board on the lower level.
  • Bring your camera. The main deck is spacious and offers great photo opportunities.
  • The outside upper decks on the New Jersey side of the ferries are always the most packed. To get a better view, head to a deck on the other side, or try to board the ferry first.
  • Ferries run rain, snow or shine, but be careful when you walk on the outside decks. They can get very slippery.
  • Don't stand at the top of the stairways when the ferry docks because there is a slight jolt when it connects with the terminal.
  • If you're planning to get right back on the ferry, you'll have to de-board when the ferry docks, but you can immediately re-board as soon as all the passengers are off and the ferry is cleared by transportation personnel.

Stay nearby the Staten Island Ferry in Manhattan at the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park or the Wall Street Inn.

–Patty Hodapp, Lost Girls World

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