The Staten Island Ferry is the way most New Yorkers and visitors travel between Manhattan and Staten Island, two of the City's five boroughs. It transports 22 million people every year, according to its official website, placing it among the busiest ferry lines in the United States.
Of course, the ferry is more than a means of transportation—it is an attraction unto itself. The 25-minute voyage offers riders stunning vistas of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.
The City used to charge a small fare to ride the ferry, but now it's free—and thus one of NYC's great bargains. If you'd like to climb aboard yourself, read on for more information and tips about how to do it right.
According to the Encyclopedia of New York City, boat service between Staten Island and Manhattan dates back to 1713; it was a century later when steam-powered ferries began running the route. The City took over the ships in 1905, and they've remained an important part of the New York transit system—as well as a major tourist attraction—in the years since.
Before bridges linked NYC's islands (Staten Island, Manhattan and Long Island—on which Brooklyn and Queens sit), boats were the way people traveled from one to another. Of the ferry services that still exist, the Staten Island Ferry serves by far the greatest number of passengers.
How to Get There
Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St. (between Whitehall St. and Peter Minuit Plaza, Manhattan): Take the 1, N or R subway train to South Ferry; the 4, 5 to Bowling Green; or various bus lines.
St. George Ferry Terminal, 1 Bay St. (Staten Island): Staten Island Railway or various bus lines.
The 5-mile ride takes about 25 minutes each way, and you should also set aside some time to board, disembark and pass through security.
The ferry runs 24 hours a day. Boats leave at least every half hour on weekdays and every hour on weekends, and more frequently during busy times. Check the schedule [.PDF] and plan accordingly.
There are indoor and outdoor spaces on the ferry—and the indoor part has windows—so it's comfortable to ride year round.
You can also buy refreshments on board. Offerings include hot dogs, coffee and beer. It makes for a fun, inexpensive and creative date.
Both ferry terminals are accessible, and disabled passengers can board the ferry on the lower level, but should call ahead to make arrangements (212-839-3061); there's more information at nyc.gov.
The Whitehall Terminal is near a bevy of Lower Manhattan attractions. The Battery holds green space, the new SeaGlass Carousel and a few memorials. On its periphery, check out the National Museum of the American Indian and Museum of Jewish Heritage. Elsewhere, do a bit of a George Washington trail by heading to Fraunces Tavern Museum, where he bid farewell to his troops, and then to Federal Hall, site of the first president's inauguration. For some finance-related attractions, visit the Federal Reserve (including its gold vault!), gaze at the New York Stock Exchange and rub the statue of the Charging Bull for good luck. Grab a bite at Delmonico's—a restaurant that can trace its history back to Abraham Lincoln's patronage—or a place on Stone Street. For much more, check out our guide to the area.
Over in Staten Island, the St. George Ferry Terminal is just a short bus ride from the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. This cultural and entertainment destination (a former seamen's retirement home) encompasses a number of institutions whose diverse offerings should appeal to all interests and ages. Among them: the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Noble Maritime Collection and the Staten Island Children’s Museum. Closer to the terminal is the St. George neighborhood, which includes a September 11 memorial and the stadium where the Staten Island Yankees minor league baseball team plays. The Staten Island Museum and the St. George Theatre, too, are close to where the ferry lets out. There's also an art exhibition space within the terminal itself. For more on the neighborhood, read our complete guide.
Follow the Staten Island Ferry on Facebook for news and up-to-the-minute information on service changes.
- The ferry carries nearly 70,000 passengers per day.
- There are eight ships in the Staten Island Ferry fleet, up to five of which are in operation at any one time. Here are their names and the inspirations behind them:
- Guy V. Molinari: Former borough president of Staten Island.
- Sen. John J. Marchi: Former New York State senator.
- Spirit of America: Named in honor of the nation's resilience and unity in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The ship's keel includes steel from the WTC towers.
- Andrew J. Barberi: Respected Staten Island high school football coach.
- Samuel I. Newhouse: Businessman, publisher and philanthropist; owner of the Staten Island Advance newspaper.
- Alice Austen: Esteemed photographer and Staten Islander.
- John A. Noble: Artist whose work focused on maritime subjects, including the waters near Staten Island.
- John F. Kennedy: Former president of the United States.
- Cars are no longer allowed on the ferry, but you can bring a caged or muzzled pet.
- The highest the ferry fare ever got was 50 cents, from 1990 until 1997, when the fare was eliminated completely.
The Ferry on Screen
As a part of many New Yorkers' everyday lives—and the memories of countless visitors—the Staten Island Ferry has shown up frequently on screen over the years.
The movie Working Girl uses Melanie Griffith's morning commute as the basis for its inspiring opening shot, and the ferry for many more throughout the film. In the more recent Trainwreck, Amy Schumer rides the ferry home after a brief romantic encounter.
Meanhwhile, there's a whole episode of TV sitcom I Love Lucy called "Staten Island Ferry" in which the Ricardos and the Mertzes try to cure Fred's seasickness on board before leaving on a big trip to Europe. And in Louie, the title character follows a bully home on the ferry to his house on Staten Island. When he gets there, he realizes his tormentor has some serious problems of his own.