Staten Island Ferry

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A view of the skyline of Lower Manhattan is a much-sought after highlight for many people’s trip to New York City. However, tours on the Circle Line or even the Ferry to Ellis Island can be expensive and time consuming. Those looking for a quick and inexpensive way to get the best views of the Big Apple are better off traveling on the Staten Island Ferry, one of the last and best free attractions in New York.


The Staten Island Ferry runs between the southern-most tip of Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal and the St. George Ferry Terminal in Richmond Terrace on Staten Island. These two destinations, in essence, represent the same two spots which the ferry has docked each day in its over 300 years of service. Today, the Staten Island Ferry refers to seven different vessels, five of which are making trips on any given day. The service runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, just like the city’s subway system. However, unlike the subway, riding on the ferry is free.

Beginning back in the 1700s, ferry service between Manhattan Island and Staten Island has been an NYC staple. At first, private individuals used twin mast sail boats, also known as “periaugers,” to shepherd passengers from one dock to the other. In the early 19th century, motorized boats began to make the 5.2 mile journey between the two ports, and eventually steam powered ships. Throughout this time the ferry and its operations were owned, in part, by the powerful Vanderbilt family.

Once Staten Island experienced its first major population boom in the 1850s, the need for more comprehensive and regulated transportation between the “heart” of New York, which at the time was limited to Lower Manhattan, and the outlying area of Staten Island increased. When Staten Island officially became a part of New York City in 1898, the ownership and operation of the ferry transferred to the city’s Department of Docks and Ferries, an early version of the New York City Department of Transportation which still operates the ferry today. The Staten Island Ferry has been a municipal New York Service since 1905.

Since its humble beginnings, the Staten Island Ferry has featured prominently in popular culture, serving as a backdrop for several television shows and movies. It is most famously featured in the opening credits of the Late Show with David Letterman and in the opening sequence of the movieWorking Girl. It has also had a role in the plots of shows that range from Sex in the City to I Love Lucy. As well, it has starred in some half a dozen documentary films about Staten Island and the ferry itself.

Main Attraction

Taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry takes about 25 minutes each way and is 100% free of charge to all pedestrians. As of September 11, 2001, the ferry no longer accepts automobiles. The cost alone makes a trip down to Whitehall Terminal a great and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon. In addition, the views of the Lower Manhattan skyline along with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island are among the best the city has to offer. Riders even have the option of taking bicycles on board and storing them in designated areas for easy transportation on the Staten Island side.

Because it’s a free, un-ticketed service, The U.S. Coast Guard requires riders to disembark once they reach their destination and re-board for their return trip. However, doing so allows visitors staying in Manhattan the opportunity to spend some time in the fascinating outer borough of Staten Island. Staten Island is home to some great New York attractions including the Alice Austen House, St. George Theatre, and Staten Island Zoo.

The Ferry operates 24 hours a day as well, leaving riders the option to stay as late as they like on Staten Island. This means that the Staten Island Ferry generally makes 109 trips and transports over 60,000 people each day. During weekday rush hour, ferries run every 15-20 minutes, with 30 minute intervals between boats at off-peak and weekend times, and 60 minute intervals during the late night.

Why It’s a Must-See

There is a lot that the Staten Island Ferry has to offer New York City visitors. In addition to providing great views of Manhattan at an incredibly reasonable cost, the Staten Island Ferry represents a staple of NYC life for many of its locals. Among the 21 million passengers who use the Staten Island Ferry each year, majority are daily commuters and Staten Island residents. This allows visitors to interact with New Yorkers on a different level than in other places and experience the “Manhattan” lifestyle in a new way. Taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry is a truly unique, special and typically-New York experience.