A Classic New York City Excursion: Statue of Liberty

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Some landmarks in New York City never lose their luster, and the Statue of Liberty is one of them. On a sunny day, boarding the ferry at the very southern tip of Manhattan and cruising over to see the 305-foot statue provides endless pleasure. Not only will you see the Statue of Liberty up close (and wonder about what New York must have looked like when this was the tallest structure in the city in 1886) but you will also have the opportunity to visit the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island, research your ancestry, and gain a new perspective of what Manhattan looks like from the water.

The first step is getting tickets. Unfortunately, this is one of those excursions you have to plan ahead for. If you want to maximize your time, it is best to make your reservations in advance. The ticket you purchase is actually for the ferry ($12 for adults) and this covers transportation to the Statue of Liberty, on to Ellis Island, and back to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. These tickets can be booked in advance online. As soon as you have confirmed your plans to visit New York, make your reservations for the ferry. Tickets are often sold out in advance, and if you miss this opportunity, you will have to wait in another line just to purchase your ferry tickets (if any are even available) before joining the line for the ferry.

Travelers who are planning far in advance can also inquire about tickets to go up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty (an extra $3). These are typically sold out months in advance, especially during the warm season, so if you want to see New York from the perspective of Lady Liberty herself, you must plan ahead. Some visitors rave about these views, while I personally think it’s more fascinating to see all the angles of the Statue by walking around the base.

Once you have your tickets secure, it’s time to board the ferry. Departing from Battery Park, the ferry connects travelers first to Liberty Island (home of the Statue of Liberty) and then on to Ellis Island (home of the Immigration Museum). Here you will learn that over 12 million people came into the United States through Ellis Island between the years of 1892 and 1924. One of them was my great-grandmother, carrying my great uncle (at age 2) in her arms.

During my visit to the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island, I plugged their names into a computer screen and was stunned to see the original ship manifest and other details on their arrival. If you have any ancestors who arrived through Ellis Island, you can do even further research at the American Family Immigration History Center on site. Their website also has extensive information for people who want to research their ancestry without visiting Ellis Island.

Boarding the ferry, visitors should expect airport style security. This is the cause of that long line you see winding away from the ferry terminal. There are no open liquids allowed, but don’t worry, there’s actually a pretty extensive cafeteria on Liberty Island. Here t  The cafeteria has an outdoor seating area where you can fuel up on a salad topped with grilled chicken ($9) or a classic cheeseburger and fries ($7.50). On the ferry ride over, you will hear fascinating facts about the statue, such as that it was given by the French as a gift in 1876 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the US.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of views of Lady Liberty, get back on board the ferry for Ellis Island. The Immigration Museum is up next (free to enter – but accepts donations to support their work). The best place to begin after looking around the entrance hall is with an introductory movie. These incredible images reveal what Ellis Island looked like at the beginning of the 20th century when immigrants from Europe got off that long boat ride and into the “promised land”. You can walk through the Great Hall, where immigrants waited in long lines to have their health checked and be accepted (or rejected) as new Americans.

Don’t miss the galleries upstairs that are full of crystal clear photographs of immigrants and their conditions in New York. With Italian ancestry, I was drawn to the photographs of Little Italy, depicting how these immigrants recreated a slice of home in the Big Apple. The museum closes at 6 pm, with the final ferry departing at 6:15 pm. If you spend the afternoon exploring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, you can get back on the boat right in time for sunset. If possible take a seat on the open-air deck to really soak in the views.

Spending a day savoring this classic New York attraction puts the city in context. It helped me to understand where the city came from, how much it has developed, and the diversity that helped to make it such a special place.

Practical Information:

  • There are several ways to reach the ferry in Battery Park. You can take the subway (1 to South Ferry or 4/5 to Bowling Green) or taxis from anywhere in lower Manhattan will be an affordable ride away from Battery Park (traffic permitting).
  • If possible, purchase your tickets in advance online. If you must buy tickets on the day (there is no guarantee tickets will be available) the ticket booth is located in the Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park.
  • The latest ferry you will want to take is 2 pm, to give you enough time to see the Statue of Liberty and enjoy the Immigration Museum before it closes at 6 pm. Last ferry at 6:15 pm.

Photo Credit: All photos from the personal collection of Jessica Colley.

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