The Staten Island Ferry – A Free New York Harbor Cruise
This post is a guide to taking the Staten Island Ferry, a free ferry. We share insider tips such as the best time to take the ferry and where to stand for the best views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. This is #2 on our top 10 free things to do in NYC.
This is by far the best bargain in New York City and one of the most memorable things you could do during your trip. For more travel ideas, check out our definitive guide “Things to Do in NYC“.
The ferry is a commuter ferry that shuttles back and forth from The Whitehall Terminal at the tip of Manhattan to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island. You can even ride the ferry at night since it runs 24 hours a day!
HOW TO GET TO THE FERRY TERMINAL
The Staten Island Ferry leaves from the Whitehall Terminal, which stands on the southern tip of Lower Manhattan.
The Staten Island Ferry is FREE! Beware of anyone trying to sell you a ticket. The ferry ride each way is approximately 25 minutes. You must get off at the Staten Island side and you can join the queue to get back on the ferry, so it is possible to spend an hour for the ride back and forth.
However, depending on the size of the crowd that is waiting to go to Manhattan, you may not be able to get back on to the same ferry for the return trip to Manhattan, so plan for at least 60 – 90 minutes for your journey once you arrive at Whitehall Terminal.
When is the Best Time to Take the Staten Island Ferry?
Assuming you are starting your voyage from Manhattan, the best time to take a ride is to avoid rush hours, particularly the afternoon rush hour.
According to the Ferry’s Facebook page, the most popular weekday off-peak times are from 12 pm – 3 pm, with Wednesdays being the busiest day of the week.
If you want a less crowded ferry, we suggest that you take the ferry any weekday between 9:30 am – 11:30 am or after 7 pm. If you think 7 pm is too late, remember in the summer months, the sun sets much later.
Most people want to see Lady Liberty right away, so when you board in Manhattan, head to the right side (starboard side) of the ferry and make your way upstairs to the outdoor deck.
Stake a spot along the railing and as far to the back of the vessel that you can. This ensures that you will have the best view possible to see the Statue of Liberty on your ride out to Staten Island.
Not all ferries are identical, but the image below is of a typical vessel.
On your return trip, you might like to see the other view, so again, when you board to return to Manhattan, go to the right side (starboard side) upstairs deck of the ferry. Although, it should be a bit less crowded on the Statue of Liberty side on the return trip.
For the best Lower Manhattan views and photo-ops, you must be the back of the ferry when departing Manhattan and the front of the ferry when departing Staten Island.
One more point, you can still get good views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and other points of interest in New York Harbor from the lower decks. These decks usually don’t have outside seating, but the windows there do lower and you can get as good a photo (just not good selfies).
THINGS TO DO IN LOWER MANHATTAN BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR FERRY RIDE
Be sure to schedule you ride on the Staten Island Ferry so that you return to take our guided Lower Manhattan Tour.
If it’s not scheduled when you are there, use our self-guided tour of Things to Do in Lower Manhattan and our Lower Manhattan Audio Tour. Click here to get information on downloading our audio tours on iOS or Android.
Whether on a guided tour or just roaming downtown, there are so many things to do, you could easily spend an entire day exploring Manhattan below Chambers Street from river to river! Here are our recommendations:
Directly across from the Stock Exchange is the free Federal Hall monument. Climb the stairs and have your picture taken with a larger than life George Washington. Take a look inside. (FYI: there are public restrooms inside!)
Take advantage of being downtown and get discount Broadway tickets for that night! The ferry terminal is within walking distance of one of the TKTS booths. To see how to get discount Broadway tickets, see our post, TKTS and Discount Broadway Tickets.
This borough is often overlooked by tourists, but Staten Island has quite a bit to offer.
As shown in the video above, there are several attractions near the ferry terminal.
TIP: One secret that tourists don’t know about New York City is that Staten Island is home to some of the best pizza in the city! To find out where you can grab an incredible slice or whole pie, see our post The Best Pizza in New York City.
Self-Guided Tour of St. George in Staten Island
A – Staten Island Ferry Terminal 1 Bay Street
B – Staten Island Borough Hall 10 Richmond Terrace
Admission is FREE. Staten Island’s Borough Hall is 100 years old and serves as the seat of the Borough government. The building is in the French Renaissance style and has a beautiful clock tower. The lobby is decorated with 13 murals, measuring 6.5’ by 13’. These murals depict Staten Island history and were part of a Depression-Era WPA project. They are the largest collection of WPA artwork anywhere in New York City.
C – Esplanade and Postcards September 11th Memorial
The Esplanade, located on the Northern Shore of Staten Island, has unparalleled views of Manhattan’s skyline. If you walk along it from the Ferry Terminal you will come to the Postcards Memorial, completed in 2004. This memorial was the first 9/11 memorial completed in New York City, and is dedicated to the 275 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack. Each victim has a plaque with their name, date of birth, and where they worked at the time of the attack. The two fiberglass structures frame the location of the former towers across the river.
D – St. George Theatre 35 Hyatt Street
This magnificent 1800 seat theatre opened in 1929 as a vaudeville and movie house. During the day the lobby is open to the public so that visitors can admire the ornate interior, with its large chandeliers and grand staircases. The theatre presents a full schedule of performances at night, so check out St. George Theatre website to see the full lineup!
E – The Staten Island Museum 75 Stuyvesant Place
Admission: $3 for adults, $2 for students and seniors and FREE for children 12 and under).
Hours: Monday-Friday 11am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm; Sunday 12pm to 5pm
This museum, opened in 1881, is home to over two million artifacts. They have an extensive art collection, ranging from Ancient Egyptian to Modern art. There is a Natural Sciences collection which includes a “Cabinet of Curiosities” and exhibits of native animals.
The collection of Native American artifacts is considered to be the most comprehensive exhibit about the Native Americans of the New York area. There are artifacts in the collection that date back 12,000 years. You can also learn about the history of the Staten Island Ferry before you get back on for your return trip!
F – Staten Island Yankees 75 Richmond Terrace Summer months only! The “Baby Bombers” are a single A, minor league baseball team affiliated with the major league New York Yankees. They play in a 7,000 seat stadium that overlooks New York Harbor, so every seat is close to the action!
If you want to enjoy a baseball game at a fraction of major league prices, this is for you!! The minor league season is pretty short, so check out their calendar to see if there is a game while you are in town!
Opened in 1883 as a home for retired sailors, Snug Harbor covers 83 acres and has 20 different gardens. There is also a collection of five Greek Revival buildings, the largest group of this kind in the United States. Today these buildings are museums and art galleries, and one is the second oldest concert hall in New York City.
The enchanting gardens include the Victorian style White Garden and the Secret Garden, which has a hedge maze. There is also the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which is the only one of its kind in the country. It is designed to reflect a Ming Dynasty Garden of the 18th and 19th century.
Directions: After landing in Staten Island take the S40 bus at Gate D to travel along Richmond Terrace, less than a 10-minute ride. You can use a regular MetroCard on the bus. Tell the bus driver that you are going to Snug Harbor. To download directions click here
Admission to the grounds: FREE
Admission to the Scholar’s Garden: $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors and FREE for children 12 and under
Admission to the Newhouse Gallery: $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors and FREE for children 12 and under
Staten Island is the least populous of the five boroughs, but the third largest in terms of land size.
Staten Island claimed to have the world’s largest landfill, called the Fresh Kills Landfill. It closed in 2001, reopened briefly to receive the debris cleared from the World Trade Center site, and is now being converted into NYC’s second largest park.
Staten Island is the only borough not connected to the New York City Subway system.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon and financier of Grand Central Station, was born in Port Richmond, Staten Island, on May 27, 1794, of Dutch/English background. At 16, Vanderbilt he started his own ferry service and he was the conductor of the ferries — until he became one of the richest Americans in the 1800s.
Some of the first humans passed through Staten Island about 15,000 years ago. The first permanent settlers were a Lenape tribe, about 5,000 years ago.
The first recorded European contact with the island was by Giovanni Verrazano in 1520. He was sailing on the French ship La Dauphine and they anchored for one night. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which spans the waterway between Brooklyn and Staten Island, is named for him.
The next European on the island was Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch. The island was named Staaten Eylandt (translation: States Island) in honor of the Dutch Parliament.
Staten Island was occupied by British troops throughout the American Revolution.
Staten Island became a part of New York City in 1898, when the five boroughs consolidated. However, it was called the Borough of Richmond at the time (Staten Island is in Richmond County). It did not begin to be commonly called Staten Island until 1975.
Staten Island is the only borough without a NYC Department of Corrections major detention center.
Sailor’s Snug Harbor opened in 1833, as the country’s first home for retired seamen. Today it is a public park.
There was a movement in the 1980’s in Staten Island that favored secession from New York City.