There are many must-see attractions in New York City, but without a doubt, one of the best is the Staten Island Ferry. That’s because the ferry is totally free and provides possibly the best views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline.
Since 1810, there has been regular ferry service from Manhattan to Staten Island. While it started out as a private operation, today, it’s part of the city’s public transportation system.
Believe it or not, it’s actually the world’s busiest passenger-only ferry route!
Most tourists board the Staten Island Ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park. This terminal features a large waiting room and a few places to grab a quick bite to eat. There are also large windows that provide a nice view over the Upper New York Bay.
Depending on the time of day, ferries depart between every 20 minutes to every hour. They run 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. If possible, I’d advise avoiding ferries during the morning and afternoon rush hours as they are much more crowded and the experience won’t be quite the same.
Without a doubt, the highlights of riding the Staten Island Ferry is the chance to get a quite close view of the Statue of Liberty and the excellent views of the skyline of Lower Manhattan.
When traveling to Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty will be on the right side of the boat. It’s also worth noting that while the statue is visible from boats going in both directions, it is much closer to the route taken by ferries going to Staten Island.
To the best of my knowledge, all ferry boats offer some sort of outdoor space for visitors to enjoy the views. However, how much space is provided depends on the boat being used and the season.
For example, on my November journey, windows were added to enclose more parts of the ship, so the only outdoor space available was the rear deck of the boat. If more than a few people were enjoying the view, it would have been a bit of a challenge to find space.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to plan ahead and pick a specific boat for your journey.
The interior of the ferry boats varies depending on which boat you are on, but they are all rather utilitarian in their seating options. For amenities, the vessels typically have a small snack bar serving a selection of food and drinks if you want to get a snack while on the water.
The Staten Island Ferry traverses the five miles between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island in about 25 minutes and docks in St. George, New York on the northern tip of Staten Island.
Even if you plan on heading straight back to Manhattan, you are still required to exit the boat and then reenter it through the terminal. Typically, there is enough time that there shouldn’t be an issue reboarding the same ferry and heading straight back.
For those that want to explore the area around the terminal a bit, there are great views of the city from North Shore Waterfront Esplanade just outside the terminal. In this area, you’ll also find the island’s September 11 memorial, a large selection of stores at Empire Outlets, and the stadium for the minor league Staten Island Yankees.
It’s also a short walk to the fantastic National Lighthouse Museum, or you can pick up buses or the train to get to destinations more inland.
To return to Manhattan, simply reboard the ferry at the St. George Terminal for the free ferry ride back. Once again, the ride is excellent, though the views of the Statue of Liberty aren’t as good since the boat is further away.
Without a doubt, riding the Staten Island Ferry is one of the best free things to do in New York City. Even better, it’s a great way to get an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty without actually having to pay to visit it, and it offers a chance to explore a bit of Staten Island.
Don’t miss this ferry ride while exploring New York City.
Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out the National Museum of the American Indian.