Liberty Island and Ellis Island are two small islands located in the Upper New York Bay close to Manhattan. The two islands used to be known as the Oyster Islands – named after the oyster beds that covered them and provided a source of food for the Lenape people who lived in New York before the European settlers. Some hundreds of years later Liberty Island was named after the Statue of Liberty, which was placed on the island in 1886. Ellis Island became known as the gateway to New York for millions of immigrants, who passed through the inspection station on the island between 1892 and 1954.
Nowadays, Ellis Island is home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which also includes the American Family Immigration History Center. Liberty Island and Ellis Island have both become popular destinations for visitors in New York City.
Getting to Liberty Island & Ellis Island
Visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will make for a great day trip when you’re staying in New York City. The easiest way to get to the islands is to take a Statue Cruises ferry from Battery Park on the southernmost tip of Manhattan. This ferry will take you to both islands and back again to Battery Park. To save time, book your tickets in advance through the Statue Cruises website. You may select the date you wish to ride and choose between different types of tickets. A regular ticket includes limited access to the Statue of Liberty Monument, while a Crown ticket allows you to go up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty. A regular ticket costs $17, while a Crown ticket will set you back $20.
A Statue Cruise ticket also includes access to Ellis Island. Keep in mind that security for visiting both islands is very strict, so be sure to read the security guidelines on the Statue Cruises website before your visit! To skip the lines for the ferry at Battery Park try to come early in the day.
Explore the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island
The first stop on the ferry from Battery Park is Liberty Island. For a great photo op, pick a spot on the stern (rear side) of the boat when the ferry departs. You’ll have a great view of Lower Manhattan and the chance to capture the Manhattan skyline in one picture! When the ferry is well underway walk towards the starboard (right) side of the boat to get the best view of the Statue of Liberty as the ferry approaches Liberty Island.
Once you get to Liberty Island you have the chance to walk around the island with an audio tour and enjoy the views of the harbor. You can even pack a picnic at home to eat on the lawn beside the Statue of Liberty. Do keep in mind that you’re not allowed to bring any food or drinks inside the Statue itself. You’re allowed to bring a camera into the Statue, but no camera bag or tripod. Luckily, there are lockers on the island where you can store your stuff. When you enter the Statue of Liberty you’ll first get to see the pedestal of the Statue from the inside. Here in the lobby you’ll also find the Statue’s only restrooms, so make use of them before starting the climb to the top! To get all the way up to the crown of the Statue you have to climb 393 steps. The view from the crown is absolutely worth it.
Marvel at the Immigration Museum and Wall of Honor on Ellis Island
When you’re done exploring Liberty Island you can catch a ferry to Ellis Island. This time try to get a spot on the port (left) side of the boat to take some great pictures of the Statue of Liberty as the ferry passes it. As the ferry approaches Ellis Island you’ll immediately spot the beautiful brick towers of the Immigration Museum, which used to be the Main Immigration Building. When the ferry docks it’s only a short walk to the museum entrance, which is marked by a pretty glass entrance walkway.
In the entrance hall of the museum you can pick up a free audio guide that will take you on a tour through the different galleries. The tour starts at the impressive Great Hall of the building where the immigrants were processed. Today the Hall is almost completely empty, with the exception of two big American flags hanging from the walls. It’s not difficult to imagine what sense of awe the room must have inspired to newly arrived immigrants. From the Great Hall the tour takes you through different exhibitions chronicling daily life on Ellis Island, and the exhibitions put a face to the millions of immigrants who passed through the walls of the building. The tour ends at the American Family Immigration History Center, where Americans can access passenger records of ships that came to New York and Ellis Island to find records of their family.
After the tour of the museum you can enjoy a snack at the museum restaurant, which also has an outdoor terrace. From the terrace you get an amazing view of the harbor. Next to the terrace on the easternmost point of the island you’ll find the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. The names of some 700,000 American immigrants are inscribed on this wall, supposedly making it the world’s largest wall of names. From this side of the island you’ll also have an amazing view of Manhattan, so be sure to take some pictures! When you’re done exploring you can take a ferry back to the city.
If you’ve still got some energy left when you get back to Battery Park, walk through the amazing area surrounding the park: Lower Manhattan. There’s a lot to see and do here, so have a look at our Tour of Lower Manhattan to narrow down the things you want to see.
Get Another Look at the New York Harbor
If you’ve fallen in love with the views of the New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry for free to see the harbor from the water again! The Staten Island Ferry departs from Battery Park every day of the week.
Alternatively, you can also choose to stay at this 2-bedroom apartment in Battery Park, which offers splendid views of the New York Harbor and Lady Liberty. Also have a look at our vacation rental apartments in New York City, which you can rent short-term for an amazing holiday in the city.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Have you ever visited the Statue of Liberty?
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