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Roosevelt Island Tram - New York's Cable Car

Updated: November 9, 2023

This post is a guide to riding the Roosevelt Island Tram, which is similar to an aerial cable car or gondola.

The Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Manhattan skyline.

The tram crosses over the East River, reaching a maximum height of 250 feet (76 m) above the water!

It costs the same as a ride on the NYC subway and is open daily from 6:00 am till at least 2:30 am the following day.

As local tour guides, we think that this tram is worth your time, provided you are here for more than 2-3 days.

We often take groups for a ride here.

And, in the video below, Katie, a tour guide with us, Free Tours by Foot NYC, takes you on a virtual ride.

If you have time to spare and want to see NYC in a different and exciting way, read on!

We give you tips on planning your trip, including where to board, when to go, and how to get tickets, which happen to cost the same as a subway ride, but with a much better view!


PLAN YOUR TRIP


Best Times to Go

The quality of your experience on the Roosevelt Island Tram depends on the time you take the ride, as it is a means of transportation for locals.

It also depends on whether you are going for a quick round trip just for the views or if you are also planning to spend some time on the island.

With that said, let's take a look at the hours of operation and the best times to go.


Roosevelt Island Tram Hours

  • Sunday - Thursday | 6 am - 2 am
  • Friday - Saturday | 6 am - 3:30 am
  • There is a tram every 15 minutes except during rush hours when there is one every few minutes. The bus schedule on Roosevelt Island mirrors the Tram schedule.

Although it runs all day, visitors who want to catch the best views standing right next to the windows may want to hop on when the crowds aren't very large.

During weekdays, commuters use the tram to get to and from work in the mornings and evenings.

As a result, you can expect these hours to be especially busy from Monday to Friday.

Popular times for the Roosevelt Island Tram. Image Source: Google.

Note that most New Yorkers are commuting from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan in the morning rush hour. 

If you intend only to take a quick round-trip ride from Manhattan, it's best to depart from Manhattan between the hours of 10 am - 3 pm.

Even if you plan to visit the island for a while, aim to go between these hours to ensure that you are not in a crowded cabin.

Travelers who want to see the skyline at night should have no trouble getting a good view pretty much anytime from 7 pm - 2 am

In fact, taking the tram is one of our picks for free things to do at night.

If you can't take the ride during our suggested hours don't worry, it is possible to get good views during rush hours, but it will be crowded in one direction or the other.


Weekends

Weekend hours are a bit different because there isn't as much of a rush from commuters.

Instead of avoiding morning and evening hours, you will actually want to consider making your trip during these times to avoid large crowds during weekends.

If you want a daytime view, consider a trip in the morning before 10 am.

For excellent sunset views, head out on the tram at 7 pm instead.

Popular weekend times for Roosevelt Island Tram. Image Source: Google.

Travelers who have been on this tram before recommend taking a sunset trip for the best views of the New York City skyline.

If you want to avoid the crowded cabin so you can be right next to a window, we recommend going on a weekend to steer clear of commuters.

If you can only go on a weekday for a sunset view, note that sunset corresponds to rush hours approximately between November and March. 

During these months, plan your return trip from Roosevelt Island to coincide with sunset. Check NYC sunset times.


TIP: The tramway station is just a 6-minute subway ride from the starting point of our Central Park Tour and a 12-minute ride from the start of our Midtown Manhattan Tour, both of which can be taken anytime as GPS-enabled audio tours.


Roosevelt Island Tram Tickets

This is the best part. For adults, the ride costs just $2.90 each way.

Those with an unlimited MetroCard won't have to pay anything.

For a round-trip cost of just $5.80 for an adult, this is an awesome deal for an incredible view!

Below is our full list of costs per trip

  • $2.90 - Adult
  • $1.45 - Seniors
  • Free - Child up to 44 inches (112 cm). Limit 3 per paying adult

You can buy your MetroCard at vending machines in both tram terminals.

There are no ticket agents or ticket booths. 

We recommend that you purchase your MetroCard in advance at a subway station, as there are only a few ticket vending machines at the tram station.

You can now use the OMNY contactless tap-to-pay system at the tram turnstiles.

Be sure to read our blog post on choosing a New York City subway MetroCard which also explains the OMNY alternative to MetroCards.

For more information, make sure to check our ticket prices section and our post about how to use the NYC Metro system.


Where to Board?

The Manhattan station of the Roosevelt Island Tram is located on 2nd Ave. between 59th and 60th Streets on the Upper East Side.  

The closest New York City subway stations are 59th Street (4,5,6 trains) and Lexington Ave/59th Street (N, Q, R trains).  

The station is also within walking distance from the Lexington Ave/53rd Street Station (E, M trains).

There are several bus lines that also run up and down 2nd Ave.

We recommend using this Google map for directions to the Manhattan station of the Roosevelt Island Tram.  


Additional Tips

In addition to the best times, there are other tips and tricks to get the most out of this tram ride and Roosevelt Island itself.

The Ride is Short – This tram will take a max of 3-5 minutes to get across the river, giving you a limited amount of time to see the New York skyline.

If you want to spend more time enjoying the view of this city, consider visiting one of the observation decks in NYC.

Take The Ferry Back! - Get even more beautiful views by taking the ferry for your ride back from the island!

The East River Ferry Service has a route that runs from East 34th Street in Manhattan to Roosevelt Island and it's the same price as the tram and subway.

Not Much of a Wait – Travelers who have taken the tram indicate that there usually isn't much of a wait.

Even during busier hours, this is a simple enough service that it won't take long to get on board.

Stand Close to the Door – For the best views of the New York City skyline, make sure to stand as close as possible to the doors.

Strollers (and even shopping carts) are allowed on the trams.

These windows will be pointed in the direction of sites such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

Stop and Enjoy the Island – Although some people might just want to come here for the view from this tram, several visitors recommend spending some time on Roosevelt Island.

It may be a small island, but there are a few different things to see and do on Roosevelt Island.

Even if you only plan to spend 15 minutes there while waiting for the next tram, consider taking a look around the island while you're there.

Visit FDR Four Freedoms Park – According to some visitors, this park offers some of the most unique and interesting views in New York.

Some visitors say there is no better place to see the United Nations Headquarters. You'll find this park on the south tip of the island.

Get a Cup of Coffee – You will find a small shopping center to the north of the Tram station on Roosevelt Island.

Visitors recommend stopping in to grab a cup of coffee or even do a little shopping. You'll also find a library just north of the shopping center where you can stop and read a book.

Check Out the Lighthouse – If you're interested in walking to the other end of the island, there is a historic lighthouse that was built in the 1800s.

This could be a fun and interesting place to visit while you're on the island.

Come During Saturday Market – This island may be small, but that doesn't stop them from holding its very own Saturday Market.

This is a great place to find locally grown and created goods, and it's a wonderful place to stop by if you're planning a weekend trip.

Consider Taking a Tour – The boarding station is just a 6-minute subway ride from the starting point of our Central Park Tour and a 12-minute ride from the start of our Midtown Manhattan Tour, both of which can be taken anytime as GPS-enabled audio tours.


About The Roosevelt Island Aeriel Tramway

  • The Tram is not operated by the MTA but uses the same MetroCard System.
  • Each car holds up to 125 passengers.  About 115 trips per day are made.
  • Once the Tram lets off at Roosevelt Island you can connect with a Red Bus, which will take you around the island for 25 cents per ride!
  • You can see the full schedule for both the Tram and the Red Bus at www.rioc.ny.gov.  Go to the “Community Information” tab and select “Transportation.”
  • The Roosevelt Island Tramway has been in many films including Nighthawks (1981), Now You See Me (2013), and Spider-Man (2002).

Quick Facts About Roosevelt Island (check out our self-guided tour)

  • The total land size is 147 acres (60 hectares)
  • It was called Minnehanonck by the Lenape tribe, the island’s first residents.  The Dutch called it Varkens Eylandt (Hog Island).
  • During the British colonial era and beyond the island was privately owned.  The Blackwell family was in possession for a long time, and the island’s oldest house, The Blackwell House, is NYC’s 6th oldest house.  The island was also known as Blackwell Island for many years, even after the City of New York owned the island.
  • The island was privately owned until 1828 when the City of New York purchased it for $32,000.  Adjusted for inflation, that would be $680,242 today.
  • The New York City Lunatic Asylum opened on the island in 1839.  The asylum was often overcrowded, and at some points was at two times their designated capacity.  The Octagon Tower was built as the entrance to the asylum.  Today it is part of a luxury apartment complex.
  • There is a beautiful, Gothic-style lighthouse on the island called the Blackwell Island Lighthouse.  It was built by the City of New York in 1872 and was used until the 1940s.  The supervising architect for the lighthouse was James Renwick, Jr., who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
  • The island was called Welfare Island from 1921 to 1971.  In addition to the asylum, the island has a charity hospital and a state penitentiary.  The inmates from the prison were moved off of the island to the newly opened Riker’s Island in 1935.
  • The island was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1971, in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • The Roosevelt Island Tramway opened in 1976, and runs parallel to the northern side of the Queensboro Bridge, connecting the island directly to Manhattan.

Even though this island is tiny, it is worth a visit! 

You can see the historic Blackwell House (One of the city’s few surviving 18th-century houses), the Blackwell Island Lighthouse, and the Octagon Tower- all while enjoying great city views! 


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About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: November 9th, 2023
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