Which NYC Boat Tours Are Best?

This post compares New York City boat tours and cruises to help you choose the best one, including hop-on-hop-off tourist cruises, dinner cruises, sailboats and more.

 

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NYC BOAT CRUISES

These cruise options are typically short, sweet and focused on specific areas of the city. 

Tourist cruises will require you to arrive at a specific time. 

 

NYC Tourist Boats

 

Many of these choices are included for free or at a discount on the New York Pass, City Pass or Explorer Pass.

Read our guide on whether a tourist discount pass is a good fit for you. 


CIRCLE LINE CRUISES 

Probably the most popular of the cruise service companies, the Circle Line offers 3 different main sightseeing tours around Manhattan, as well as a number of themed tours, such as a sunset tour.

Cruises run daily and run from 1 – 3 hours in length.  

Sightseeing commentary is provided throughout the tours and there is a bar onboard where guests can purchase drinks. 

All Circle Line boats leave from Midtown Manhattan, 42nd Street on the Hudson River.

 

 

The cost of the trip varies depending on which cruise you select.

However, Circle Line Cruises are included for free on the New York Pass, Explorer Pass, and City Pass, so guests can really save money by taking advantage of one of the tourist passes!  

This company currently has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews).

Although there are some negative reviews, an overwhelming majority of customers felt that the views and commentary provided on their cruise were excellent. 


Liberty Cruise

This 1-hour cruise (which is also referred to as the Statue of Liberty Express) covers the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the One World Trade Center.

 

Circle Line Liberty Cruise Route Map

 

This cruise gets very positive reviews.

Included for free with the purchase of many of the tourist discount passes.

This cruise is also included at no cost with the purchase of any multi-day Big Bus hop-on-hop-off bus ticket


Landmark Cruise 

This 90 min cruise focuses on Lower and Midtown Manhattan, with the highlights being the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge.  

 

Circle Line Landmark Cruise Route Map

 

This cruise also gets very positive reviews.

Included for free with the purchase of any of the tourist discount passes


Best of NYC Cruise

This 2.5-hour cruise circles around the entire island of Manhattan and includes commentary on the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem, and Yankee Stadium, among other things.  

This is their flagship tour.

 

Circle Line Best of NYC Route Map

 

This cruise also gets very positive reviews.

This cruise is also included for free with the purchase of the New York Pass and the NYC Explorer Pass, both tourist discount cards.  

 


CITY SIGHTSEEING NEW YORK

This company offers a 90-minute Skyline Cruise that departs from Midtown Manhattan on the Hudson River and travels south, past the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. 

This is actually their hop-on-hop-off cruise, but in this case, you just wouldn’t get off.

 

Hop-on, Hop-off Boat Tours NYC

 

With an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews), it’s clear that the cruises offered by City Sightseeing are pretty popular.

Negative reviews tend to focus on poor customer service, but there are several comments from happy guests suggesting that this isn’t a very big problem.


Skyline Cruise

This 90-minute cruise is the only non-hop-on, hop-off boat tour offered by CitySightseeing.

It can also be booked as a night cruise.

 


HORNBLOWER

Predominantly a dinner and jazz cruise company in New York City, Hornblower also offers a 1-hour sightseeing tour called the International Sightseeing Cruise that includes views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty.  

This tour departs from South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan.  

Hornblower offers a free app that can be downloaded at home or at the pier that has an audio tour for the ride in 9 languages.

International Sightseeing Cruise

At 3 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews), Hornblower has the lowest review rating on our list.

Even so, there are far more positive reviews than negative, indicating that most customers enjoy this cruise ship.

Those who didn’t enjoy their experience complained that their boat is getting old and the seating isn’t as comfortable as it once may have been. 

 


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HOP-ON, HOP-OFF FERRY SERVICES

A hop-on, hop-off ferry allows you to travel by water around the city at your leisure.

The main advantage of this service is that you can use it whenever you wish within operational hours.

 

Hop on hop off nyc boat cruises

 

You won’t be required to arrive at a specific time and plan your day around this boat tour!

Many of these ferries are free with tourist discount passes.


NYC – CITY SIGHTSEEING CRUISE

Unlike their single trip sightseeing cruise, this is a hop-on, hop-off service with several terminals.

This boat makes stops at South Street, DUMBO, the World Financial Center and Midtown. City Sightseeing also offers twilight and night tours.

 

Hop-on, Hop-off Boat Tours NYC

 

They also offer a rainy day guarantee, which allows you to use your boat ticket at a number of popular indoor attractions.

The entire route takes 90 minutes if you do not get off. 

The cruise service is also included for free with the purchase of the Sightseeing Pass and is included in their multi-day bus passes.  

It is also part of the Big Apple Package, which also includes a helicopter ride and 2 days of hop-on-hop-off bus service for $244/person.


Schedule

Ferries run between 9:45 am – 3:45 pm, daily. Tours depart at the following times:

  • Pier 78 in Midtown Manhattan  – 9:45 am, 11:45 am, 1:45 pm, 3:45 pm
  • Brookfield Place Terminal in Lower Manhattan – 10:20 am, 12:20 pm, 2:20 pm, 4:20 pm

Reviews for this hop-on-hop-off cruise are generally very favorable. Although there were a few complaints, the majority of reviewers were very happy with their trip.

The only significant complaint was about how infrequent the boats run.

 


NEW YORK WATER TAXI 

Like their competitors, New York Water Taxi offers hop-on-hop-off boat service that takes 90 minutes in total to complete.

 

New York Water Taxi

 

 However, you are free to jump off and explore the city at your own pace, hopping back on whenever you wish at several stops throughout the city.

NYWT offers 6 piers to explore compared to the 4 offered by City Sightseeing.

Although this isn’t technically a boat tour, they do provide recorded narration describing some of the sights you’ll see on the cruise.

 

New York Water Taxi Route Map

 

This company runs about as frequently as similar services.

With a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews), New York Water Taxi might even be more popular than their competition.  


Ticket Costs:

Free with the purchase of the Go Card Explorer Pass or Build Your Own Pass.

 


EAST RIVER FERRY 

This commuter ferry is the most economical choice for hop-on-hop-off service.

As the name suggests, this ferry service rides the East River and is a commuter boat, with single ride tickets costing the same as the subway – just $2.75.  

 

 

 

If you’re looking for transportation that will allow you to enjoy a self-guided tour of NYC, this could be one of the most affordable options.

Despite the fact that they aren’t a cruise company, the East River Ferry actually has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor.

Most passengers are very pleased with this affordable service, indicating that the ferry is an easy way to get around the city.

Find out about the many NYC ferries, by reading our visitor’s guide to riding NYC ferries.

 


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NIGHT AND DINING CRUISES

This section covers evening cruises and we have a special post dedicated to dinner cruises.

There are a lot of different dinner cruises to choose from in New York City. Some offer better meals while others focus more on entertainment.

Whether you’re interested in hearing some great live music while you drift along the water or you want to wine and dine a loved one with a truly romantic experience, there are several great options to choose from.

If you’re curious about which cruise will best fit your desires, please read our post covering the best dinner cruises in NYC.

In this post, we provide a list of the best dining cruises in the city based on 5 different criteria: lowest price, best dinner, best music, most romantic and best specialty cruise.

We also include information about how to save money on these services with tourist passes and discount sites, making it easier to get a good deal on your dinner cruise.

 


Circle Line

This company offers a 60-minute Statue by Night Tour. See the Statue of Liberty after dark!

Cruises depart at 7:30 pm (19:30) from Pier 16/South Street Seaport (map).

Harbor Lights Tour

There is also a 90 min Harbor Lights Tour which departs just before sunset so you can enjoy the skyline while the sun goes down!

Departs at 7 pm (19:00) from Pier 81 (map).

This cruise is well-reviewed (read the reviews).

Included for free with the purchase of the New York Pass and the Explorer Pass.

Statue by Night Cruise

 


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NYC SPEEDBOATS

There are 2 speedboat companies, which offer guests a bit of a thrill ride as well as a tour!

These speedboats are usually a huge hit with families. If the typical boat tour or cruise doesn’t sound like fun, consider this alternative instead.

 

 

Although most of these services are not included on tourist passes, there is at least one speedboat cruise that is offered for free with an attraction pass.


THE BEAST 

Operated by the Circle Line company mentioned above, the Beast travels at 45 mph (73 kph) and gets within 100 feet of the Statue of Liberty.

This boat tour service has earned a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (see the reviews).

Very few people have left negative reviews, indicating that this is a pretty fun experience. 

Included in both the Explorer and Build Your Own Tourist Passes.


RIB New York

A new and incredible way to experience the New York City skyline by riding a RIB. This “Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat” is safe, exciting and perfect for sightseeing.

If you’re interested in a RIB ride in NYC, this company also provides high-speed cruises around the city.

With speeds of up to 50mph, there’s a good chance that you’ll get splashed while seeing such popular sites as the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, The World Trade Center and more.

This boat will also slow down near popular landmarks to give guests the opportunity to take photographs.

This service is offered through the New York Sightseeing Pass.

 


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NYC SAILBOAT CRUISES 

If you’re not in the mood for the usual cruise or a ferry ride, consider the more traditional route with a sailboat trip.

These services will allow you to sail around the city and go wherever the wind takes you.

 

 
Ticket prices are a bit higher than some of the other options on our list, but you can also enjoy some of these services for free with various attraction passes.


Manhattan by Sail 

New York Sail boat

Manhattan by Sail has 2 different types of boats including the Shearwater and Clipper City, and each runs a huge variety of tours.

Sailing adventures include trips near the Statue of Liberty, NYC Skyline sightseeing and sunset outings around the city.

Manhattan by Sail is a good option for those using a tourist pass, as several different attraction passes include this service.

Much like their competitors, Manhattan by Sail has received respectable reviews with an overall score of at least 4½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here).

Guests note that the prices are very reasonable and they provide excellent service. Customers also report that it’s pretty easy to get around on the boat despite there often being pretty big crowds.


Classic Harbor Line 

There are 3 types of boats available, including the Luxury Yacht Manhattan, the Schooner Adirondack, and the Schooner America 2.0.

Each offers different tours of surrounding sites, as well as a brunch option. You can expect sails at sunset, around the Statue of Liberty and providing views of the NYC skyline.

Reviews for this service are pretty good, with most people giving Classic Harbor Line at least 4 ½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here).

The only complaints anyone seemed to have were that the boats can get crowded at times. Aside from those issues, most people report that the views are spectacular and the service is excellent.

 


FREE NYC BOAT TOURS

This section is a summary of the various free, and almost free, options for you to get out on the waters of NYC.

Though none of these options are “official” boat tours, each offers guests incredible views of the New York skyline, Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, and more.  

 

 

1. Staten Island Ferry 


Budget Tip: If you are planning on purchasing the one of the New York City tourist passes, most have boat tours included in the price. Read our post to see if one of New York tourist passes are for you


This may be the best known “secret” in the Big Apple. This is a free commuter ferry.

It just so happens that this ferry offers one of the best views of the New York skyline including a pretty close look at the  Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The ferry departs Lower Manhattan and takes approximately 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, where you could get off and explore or just get back on and return to Manhattan. The ferry departs from Whitehall Terminal.  

The Staten Island Ferry operates 24 hours a day, so consider making this also a fantastic thing to do at night for a sparkling view of the city. 

Riding the ferry before or after our Lower Manhattan Tour is a great way to spend half a day without spending half your budget!

We also offer this tour as a GPS-enabled audio tour.

 

Wall Street to Whitehall

 


2. East River Ferry 

This is the cheapest boat ride in NYC, after the free Staten Island Ferry.  This is also a commuter ferry and costs the same as a subway, just $2.75 one way. 

The East River Ferry connects Lower and Midtown Manhattan making stops in Brooklyn and in Queens along the way.

In the summer, the ferry also goes to Governors Island, located just near the tip of Manhattan.

 

 

From start to finish a ride is about 45 minutes.

Riding the ferry will give you great views of Lower Manhattan, the Freedom Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge (you ride right under it), the Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and a lot more.

Read our East River Ferry post for all the details, schedules, stops and how to buy your ticket.


3. Water Taxi IKEA Shuttle Ferry 

This ferry service runs from Wall Street Terminal to Red Hook in Brooklyn.

It’s free on weekends and $5 on weekdays. If you make at least a $10 purchase at IKEA (lunch?), then your weekday ride is free.

 

 

It’s a great way to get to Red Hook Brooklyn and back without taking the subway.


4. Free Kayaking

Okay, so this option is definitely not a boat tour… but, it’s an awesome idea and it’s free!  

The Downtown Boathouse, one of the organizations that run the kayak rides is an all-volunteer organization. Donations are accepted.

They have four locations: Pier 26, Governors Island, Pier 40 and Pier 96.  

The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse also offers free kayaking, where you can kayak underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

 

Kayaking-in-New-York-City

Photo Courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse


5. Village Community Boathouse 

Perfect for a more adventurous soul, Village Community Boathouse offers guests the chance to participate in completely free community rowing sessions after dusk from April – November.  

On Sundays they also an additional rowing session at noon, as well as a variety of other activities intermittently throughout the year.

During the winter, guests can join in for a free boat building lesson.

 


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About the author

Born and raised just across the Hudson River in NJ, Stephen became a licensed NYC tour guide in 2010 and has led and organized thousands of tours since then.

He has researched and written dozens of articles with insider NYC tips, and created a podcast, titled "NYC Travel Tips & Hacks".