You’ve probably heard of the Staten Island ferry, the free ferry that runs between Manhattan and Staten Island. This ferry for tourists and locals is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan, but there are far more ferries than this line. This post will be introducing you to the New York Ferry system, the ferries with the best views, and why you should definitely take a boat ride to enjoy the Manhattan skyline.
If you’re from somewhere, it’s funny how you just don’t do new things until you push yourself out of your comfort zone. When I was back in New York, a friend and I were in Brooklyn when we noticed the ferry to Queens at the moment that we were considering a lengthy subway ride through Manhattan back to Queens. On an impulse, we bought a ticket for the ferry only to be wowed by the sunset over the Manhattan skyline.
Although exploring Manhattan is always great, it’s even better to see the Manhattan skyline from the other boroughs. (You can click here for a round-up of the best spots to enjoy the NYC skyline on land.) There’s nothing like New York’s impressive skyline seen by boat.
About the New York City ferries
The New York City ferries are a separate transportation system from the MTA system (e.g. buses and subways). It’s run privately and you can purchase your ticket using the machines at the stops using a card. You’ll find real-time schedules and tickets using the NYC ferry app. I’ll discuss the best NYC ferry routes for views of Manhattan below!
A New York ferry ticket (one-way) only costs $2.75 as of 2019, which is a steal given that many journies pass by some of the most famous buildings in New York City! (You can also bring a bike (or a Citi Bike) if you are renting a bike for the day.) This is a separate system from the Metrocard.
You might have seen offers for New York City boat cruises, such as the Circle line Sightseeing Cruise, that will show you the Manhattan skyline from the comforts of a boat that will cruise New York harbor. You’ll find similar tours below for those looking for an extended experience seeing the New York skyline. You can definitely do this for less if you’re creative…
The New York Harbor has long been an important place for New York as its deep harbor is the reason why many Europeans were able to land in New York. The first European to see it was Giovanni da Verrazzano. Henry Hudson famously explored the harbor and headed north in the hopes of discovering a route to the Northwest Passage. The port along New York Harbor was one of the most valuable ports in the colonies.
The best New York City ferry routes to consider!
After a lovely day exploring Downtown Brooklyn’s waterfront, I ended up taking the ferry from Dumbo at the Brooklyn Bridge Pier 1 towards Astoria. Astoria is a cool neighborhood with a rich history, great craft beer, and interesting attractions if you’re interested in getting off the beaten path. (Click for my guide to Astoria) This is such a great route as you pass underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, cruise past Midtown (including the Empire State Building), and even get to see the UN building as well as Roosevelt Island.
If you’re interested in exploring more of Brooklyn, I’d recommend taking same orange line towards Astoria to get off in cool Williamsburg and even more hipster Greenpoint to explore New York’s coolest bars and shops. Both are reachable by subway, but why not take the scenic route?
Another scenic NYC ferry route is the ferry from the main ferry stop at Wall Street (Pier 11). If you’re interested in panoramic views of Manhattan and New York in general, consider taking the purple line towards Soundview. Get off at East 90th Street during the day to explore the Upper East Side, one of New York’s most exclusive neighborhoods next to Central Park, and home to many filming locations from TV shows (including Gossip Girl).
The Staten Island Ferry is free and worth taking for stunning views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. You’ll need to wait about a half hour for the ferry to return, so I’d recommend browsing the new outlet mall next to the ferry terminal for amazing deals!
The ferry system is in the process of expanding to other areas of New York that can be harder to reach by subway, including Coney Island. I’d check the official app and website for updates on construction in 2020/2021.
Other tips for taking the NYC ferries
I strongly recommend bringing a jacket as it can be quite chilly with the wind. (You can click for my NYC packing list here.) We were mostly okay, but I was glad to have a sweater with me!
If you’re into photography, I recommend looking up when golden hour will occur, so that you can enjoy the sunset over Manhattan with the best lighting for photos. This is typically an hour before sunset and due to the ferry’s motion, it will be harder to shoot sunset photos once it gets dark. A DSLR will do well, but my phone camera struggled a bit!
There’s limited seating with tinted windows (which make for disappointing photos), but you’ll find a slightly steep staircase near the back of the boat where you can climb to the top deck for unobscured views without the tourist crowds!