With its labyrinthine subway system, yellow cabs shuttling along its busy streets and forest of skyscrapers, it is easy to forget that New York City was, and still is, a harbour city. Beyond the iconic Staten Island Ferry, a number of smaller boats busily take passengers around Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Avoid the snarling traffic and subway delays and explore by water instead.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the city’s rivers and bridges from the observation levels of One World Trade Center. An elevator carries you up to the One World Observatory in 47 seconds, while a video plays recounting New York’s growth from marshy island to mega-city.
Walk east on Fulton Street to the South Street Seaport, its entrance is marked with a memorial to the RMS Titanic. Visit the free South Street Seaport Museum to learn about the city’s nautical past. For lunch, order a burger—wagyu beef, turkey or vegan—from the Tuck Room at the base of Fulton Street.
Get a sense of New York Harbor’s size by taking the ferry to Rockaway on Long Island. Leaving from Pier 11 at the base of Wall Street, the 55-minute ride passes under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and near colourful Coney Island before turning into Jamaica Bay, with its panoramic view of Manhattan—The Emerald City—on the horizon.
Leaving Pier 11, ride the Astoria route up the East River to the Long Island City terminal. Debark and explore Gantry Plaza State Park, a riverside promenade and recreation area—think basketball courts and playgrounds.
Board the ferry and continue to Astoria. Take a self-guided tour of Socrates Sculpture Park, with its creations made from industrial materials, before grabbing lunch at Sweet Afton—the Fried McClure Pickles are a must-try. Spend your afternoon at the Museum of the Moving Image and its exhibit dedicated to the puppetry magic of Muppets creator Jim Henson.
Wander the nearly 60 acres of Astoria Park, located between the Hell Gate and Triborough bridges, before heading for dinner at Antika on nearby 30th Avenue to share a family-sized plate of pasta or thin-crust pizza.
Board the South Brooklyn or East River ferry and visit Governors Island, home to more than 50 historic buildings, like Castle Day and Castle Williams. Enjoy a tomato and watermelon salad or a lobster roll at Island Oyster, an outside restaurant with amazing views of lower Manhattan.
Take the East River ferry across to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and ride one of the carved horses at Jane’s Carousel before continuing up river to Greenpoint to see the iconic, 50-foot neon Pepsi-Cola sign.
The Beekman Hotel, a short walk from Pier 11, is full of 19th-century charm, from wrought-iron railings to marble mosaics. Sip cocktails named after famous writers—such as Truman Capote and F. Scott Fitzgerald—at The Bar Room, then head downstairs through a secret entrance to The Alley Cat to dine on roasted shishito peppers, miso-boiled shrimp and soy-braised short ribs.
Need to Know: How to Navigate the NYC Ferry System
NYC Ferry operates six routes along the East River, with two new ones that serve the Bronx and Lower East Side launching this summer. A one-way fare is US$2.75, with transfers valid for 90 minutes once you start your trip. You can take your bike on the ferry for an extra US$1. Tickets can be bought on board, or at ticket booths on the piers. Service to Governors Island runs on weekends through the summer starting in late May.
The ferry service has an app that allows you to buy tickets, which are scanned when boarding, and provides service disruption alerts.