The Statue of Liberty is among New York City's—and America's—most familiar landmarks: a massive copper-and-steel cast of a green lady raising a torch, clutching a tablet and donning a seven-point crown. Some tourists miss out on visiting the statue because it's only accessible by boat, set on a government-run island in the middle of New York Harbor, but it's easy to work into your trip with some advance planning. The monument welcomed generations of immigrants to the United States as they passed through nearby Ellis Island, the nation's main entry station between 1892 and 1924 (it eventually closed in 1954). Its American Family Immigration History Center contains millions of passenger arrival records and hundreds of ship pictures from the time; anyone whose family arrived in America this way, or who has just a passing interest in the nation's immigrant history, will find the museum an excellent bonus to a statue trip—or a reason to visit in its own right.
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States as a token of goodwill for America's centennial of independence (and to send a message to France's oppressive Second Empire). Historian Edouard de Laboulaye first proposed the idea in 1865, shortly after the Union won the American Civil War. He then teamed up with French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an admirer of the US, democracy and colossal monuments. When designing Liberty Enlightening the World (the statue's official name), the duo were careful not to make Liberty appear to be "leading an uprising" but rather "lighting the way, peacefully and lawfully," according to park service literature. They started construction in Paris in 1875 and shipped the completed pieces 10 years later, in 1885. On October 28, 1886, a million New Yorkers cheered the official dedication. Since then the statue has been a symbol of freedom, justice and opportunity for those who come to New York City and America.
How to get there
Statue Cruises runs the official ferry from the Battery to Liberty Island (and Ellis Island, as well). The ferry is the only way to reach the island, and generally leaves every 20–25 minutes. You can find more schedule info at statuecruises.com.
The simplest way to enjoy your time on Liberty Island is to just walk around. You can take great snapshots of the statue from the grounds and read the educational plaques scattered throughout. Inside the pedestal are multiple sightseeing levels of the base; reaching the crown requires visitors to climb 146 spiraling steps from the top of the pedestal. The views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan through the crown windows are something you'll never forget. Also in the pedestal are a few exhibits; a new museum, set to open in 2019, will include interactive displays, Lady Liberty's original torch and a green roof with a viewing platform.
You can purchase tickets online at statuecruises.com or in person at Castle Clinton in Battery Park; there are several options. The basic ferry ticket, which includes grounds entry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, is $18.50. All online tickets include "priority entry" for the ferry (read: they should get you in faster) and audio tours for both islands. When the statue is not at capacity, there are walk-up sales—but it's highly advisable to purchase tickets ahead of time.
Specific tickets are required to access the pedestal and crown (the pedestal doesn't cost anything extra; the crown is an additional $3). They are first-come, first-serve, so you'll need to book them in advance—at least two months for the crown; more like a week or two for the pedestal—and note that you cannot purchase crown or pedestal tickets on Liberty Island itself.
There are a limited number of wheelchairs available to borrow for free on a first-come, first-served basis at the statue. The departure locations and ferries are accessible to those using wheelchairs, but there is no elevator from the statue's feet to her crown.
The only attractions on Liberty Island itself are the Statue of Liberty, a gift shop and some food concessions—but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy yourself in Lower Manhattan, where the boats arrive and depart.
The area is packed with historic sites including America's first bank, now the Museum of American Finance; Federal Hall National Memorial, where George Washington was inaugurated; and City Hall, the oldest still-functioning building of its kind in the nation.
Junior Ranger Badge
Kids should check out the National Park Service Junior Ranger program, which allows them to earn a Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Junior Ranger badge during their visit by completing an activity booklet. (It's a good idea to download and print the booklet before your visit. It's popular, and the park often runs out of copies early in the day.)
The statue's official Instagram account (@statueellisnps) promotes the use of #statueofliberty, #libertyisland and #ellisisland as hashtags, from which they sometimes "regram." You can search by those hashtags for ideas of what to explore and to find particularly photogenic angles or locations in the park.
• In 1885 the statue was completed and displayed in the streets of Paris, and was briefly a major tourist attraction in its original home. It was then disassembled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to New York Harbor.
• From the bottom of the base to the tip of the torch, the pedestal and statue stand 305 feet tall. That would have made it the tallest building in NYC at the time it was built; today, it wouldn't rank among the top 250.
• The inscription on the tablet in Lady Liberty's left hand reads "July IV, MDCCLXXVI" (July 4, 1776).
• Liberty Island was formerly known as Bedloe's Island, after Dutch merchant Isaack Bedloo. It briefly came under control of the French before being handed to the state of New York and, finally, the federal government—who built fortifications on the island to protect the harbor.
• Emma Lazarus' sonnet "The New Colossus" was written as part of a fundraising effort for the statue. Eventually, it was engraved on a plaque placed inside the base of the statue in 1903.
• Bartholdi is responsible for two other statues in the City: one of Marquis de Lafayette in Union Square Park (also a gift from the French government), and one of Lafayette and George Washington just east of Morningside Park at 114th Street.
• The statue is made out of copper, and turned greenish blue because of oxidation (rust) early in the 20th century.
• The copper skin weighs more than 62,000 pounds.
• Gustav Eiffel (yes, that one) designed the interior structure to keep Lady Liberty upright. He worked on the project from 1879 to 1883.
• Americans had to pay for the pedestal, and fundraising was a challenge. Joseph Pulitzer saved the day with a six-month fundraising campaign via his New York World newspaper, which attracted mostly small donations from everyday citizens.
• Bartholdi claimed he modeled the face of the statue after his mother, Augusta Charlotte.