This post is a guide to riding the Roosevelt Island Tram, which some might refer to as a cable car or gondola, including tips on where to board and when to go. And the trip costs the same as a ride on the subway.
The Roosevelt Island Tram provides a skyline view of the city like no other. In this section, we will provide details on the best times to go, where you can find the tram station, how to get tickets and other tips.
Best Times to Go
Your experience on the Roosevelt Island Tram is going to vary depending on when you decide to hop on. If you’re planning to go simply to visit the island or enjoy the view, there are both good and bad times to make your trip. With that said, let’s take a look at the hours of operation.
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’s available pretty much all day, visitors who are looking to experience the views or see the island may want to hop on when the crowds aren’t as big.
During weekdays, commuters will use this tram for getting to and from work in the mornings and evenings. As a result, you can expect these hours to be especially busy on weekdays.
The thing is that most commuters are traveling from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan in the morning rush hour. If you plan to roam Roosevelt Island for an hour or two, you can disregard this.
However, if you only intend to ride the gondola from Manhattan during the day and come right back, it’s best to make this round trip between the hours of 10 am – 3 pm.
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, the tram is one of our picks for free things to do at night.
With that said, it’s still possible to get good views during rush hours, but it will be crowded in one direction or the other.
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.
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 enjoy this experience without worrying about the crowds, we recommend planning a weekend outing.
If you want to see the sunset during a weekday, remember that the sun sets during rush hour approximately between November and March. During these months, we recommend planning your return trip from Roosevelt Island to coincide with sunset. Check NYC sunset times.
Where to Board? The Manhattan station of the Roosevelt Island Tram is located on 2nd Ave. between 59th and 60th Streets. The closest New York City subway stations are 59th Street (4,5,6 trains), 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.
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. 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 while you’re here.
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 which was built in the 1800’s. 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 their 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.
This is the best part. For adults, the ride costs just $2.75 each way. Those with unlimited MetroCards won’t have to pay anything. Still, at $5.50/adult, this is a great deal for a wonderful view. Below is our full list of pricing per trip.
$2.75 – Adult
$1.25 – Seniors
Free – Child up to 44 inches (112 cm). Limit 3 per paying adult
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 1940’s. 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, 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! The ride over is particularly special. It is one of very few aerial commuter tramways in North America and shouldn’t be missed!