Wondering how to ride the Staten Island Ferry? Let me walk you through it, step-by-step!

The Staten Island Ferry is one of my favorite free activities in NYC, and it’s no surprise why.

The Staten Island Ferry provides some of the most amazing views of the Downtown area of Manhattan, as well as views of the amazing (and iconic) Statue of Liberty!

But catching the Staten Island Ferry can be a little confusing and intimidating – especially for first-time visitors to the city. This is why I’ve created this guide – so you know exactly what to do, and how to get onboard. I’ll cover questions like:

  • Which public transport is closest to the ferry terminal?
  • Where does the Staten Island Ferry depart from?
  • How does boarding work?
  • How long does the journey take?
  • Are there toilets and Wifi onboard?
  • Where can I get drinks / snacks?

So, if you want to take the Staten Island Ferry, then keep reading, as I talk you through everything you need to know… I’ll guide you through the whole process and give you lots of useful tips and advice along the way too.

Ellie onboard the Staten Island Ferry in NYC
Here’s me! Onboard the Staten Island Ferry. I didn’t pick the best weather for it, did I?

Important to note…

It’s important to note: Whilst this is a free ferry that helps take you a little closer to the Statue of Liberty, it doesn’t actually stop off at Lady Liberty.

You’ll get amazing views, of course, but you won’t be able to disembark at the Statue of Liberty island. The Staten Island Ferry simply shuttles between Manhattan and Staten Island, with no other stops. It doesn’t stop at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island.

If you want to stop off at the Statue of Liberty, and get really close-up, then I recommend reading my guide on the best ways to see the Statue of Liberty.

Staten Island Ferry outdoor seating
Staten Island Ferry outdoor seating

Here’s a helpful video I made about taking the Staten Island Ferry

How long does the Staten Island Ferry take?

The Staten Island Ferry takes about 25-30 minutes in each direction.

But remember, you may need to wait / queue to board the ferry on each end, so I would plan about 90 minutes in total for this activity.

How to get to the Staten Island Ferry

When getting to the Staten Island Ferry, you’ll want to get to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, which is located at the very southernmost tip of Manhattan (Downtown).

You can (of course) get an Uber or taxi to this location, but public transport in NYC is great, so getting the Subway or bus is super easy too, and both option will drop you off within a minutes walk of the ferry terminal.

Here’s the information you need for public transport, the links will take you to Google maps, which will help you plan your route easily.

Beware of scammers in this area! Once piece of advice it’s really important I give you, is to be wary of scammers outside the ferry terminal.

There are lots of people selling boat tour tickets in this area, who will deliberately look for tourists (especially confused-looking tourists). They will try and convince you to take their expensive boat tour instead of the free Staten Island Ferry, and they can be quite pushy. Just say no, and walk straight into the ferry terminal.

Whitehall Terminal for the Staten Island Ferry
Whitehall Terminal for the Staten Island Ferry

How often does the Staten Island Ferry run?

The Staten Island Ferry has been shuttling people between Manhattan and Staten Island for over a century, making it an integral part of the city’s history.

What I love about the Staten Island Ferry, is that it is (before anything else) a free form of public transport. Whilst it’s often used more by tourists during peak seasons – many locals use this to shuttle between Manhattan and Staten Island.

Because of this, the Staten Island Ferry service runs all day, every day. 24/7!

  • During weekdays the Staten Island Ferry departs every 15-20 minutes, between the hours of 6:00AM- 9:30AM and 3:30PM-8:00PM. These are the peak commuting hours, so the ferry is more busy during these hours.
  • During weekdays, at other times of the day (when demand is lower) you’ll have a ferry every 30-minutes instead.
  • On weekends, when demand is also lower, service is provided every 30 minutes too.

Where do I go / how does it work?

Ok, let me walk you through the Staten Island experience step by step. Because the experience is a little bit chaotic, it can really help to know exactly what to expect.

Hopefully, this will help you understand what to expect when taking the Staten Island Ferry, and how it all works.

And remember – it’s free! So you don’t need a ticket.

Step 1: Arrive at the ferry terminal

As I mentioned, you’ll find the departure terminal for the Staten Island Ferry at The Whitehall Terminal, located at the tip of Manhattan in the Downtown district.

Head inside the ferry terminal and head upstairs, using the stairs or escalators directly in front of you. It looks like this…

Whitehall ferry terminal NYC
Whitehall Ferry Terminal NYC

Step 2: Wait in the waiting area

When you arrive at the top of the stairs/escalators, you’ll see a large waiting room with plenty of benches and seating. Depending on when the next ferry is due, this room might be empty, or it might be full!

If a ferry is due to leave in the next 10 minutes of so, you’ll probably fin that the room is full of people already waiting to embark. If a ferry just left, the room might be pretty empty.

The waiting room area is big, and looks like this:

Staten Island Ferry Waiting area
Staten Island Ferry Waiting area when it is calm (not busy!)
Staten Island Ferry terminal when it is busier
Staten Island Ferry terminal when it is busier

Step 3: Grab a refreshment or use the toilets

This is an optional step, but if you want to grab some food or drinks, this is a great time to do so. You’ll find a few different shops in this waiting area, selling soft drinks, and snacks (like bagels, muffins and hotdogs).

So if you fancy a snack onboard the Staten Island Ferry, this is a great chance to buy something, especially while you’re waiting around.

Tip: You can also use the restroom in this area of the terminal, and the toilets are pretty clean here. I would certainly prefer using these toilets over the ones onboard the ferry.

Snack stores in the Staten Island ferry terminal
Snack stores in the Staten Island Ferry terminal

Step 4: Board the ferry

When the ferry arrives, it’ll be pretty obvious, because people will start crowding around the door, getting ready to board.

Once they open the doors, you are then free to board the Staten Island Ferry.

Tip: This part of the experience can feel a bit frantic and chaotic (even on quieter days). Don’t worry, and don’t feel like you have to push or shove your way to the front. The ferry is huge, and there is plenty of room for everyone.

Boarding the Staten Island Ferry
Boarding the Staten Island Ferry

Step 5: Picking the right spot onboard

There are a few different places you can stand when you board the Staten Island Ferry. The best places tend to be, one of the following:

Postion 1: At the back of the ferry, this will give you great views of the Downtown Manhattan skyline as you depart.

Position 2: At the right hand side of the ferry. This will give you the best views of the Statue of Liberty as you pass her.

One thing I think it’s important to remember, is that you can move around during the ferry ride and enjoy different views and angles – you’re not assigned to a specific area.

Because of this, I like standing at the back of the boat as we depart Manhattan (perfect for selfies with the city behind me!) and then I move to the right-hand side of the ferry once we get moving – so I can enjoy those Statue of Liberty views.

Tip: If you don’t get a good position on the way over, you always have the return trip too! So don’t worry too much! If you miss anything on the way there, you can prioritize it on the way back.

Ellie onboard the Staten Island Ferry
A bit windswept, onboard the Staten Island Ferry!

Step 6: Arriving at Staten Island

When you arrive at Staten Island, you’ll need to disembark the ferry (all passengers do – it’s a rule).

If you want to head straight back to Manhattan on a return ferry, you’ll need to follow the crowds around the Staten Island terminal, and wait in the boarding area for the next ferry.

Basically, it’s a short walk from the disembark area, to the embark area through the Staten Island ferry terminal. It’s super easy, and just ‘following the crowds of tourists’ is enough of an instruction, because the majority of people will also be getting the ferry right back to Manhattan too.

This is what Staten Island ferry terminal looks like:

Staten Island Ferry changeover.
Staten Island Ferry changeover.

Step 7: Board the ferry (again!)

This is the easiest part of the experience (because by this point, you’ve already boarded the ferry once in Manhattan!).

It’s pretty much the same in Staten Island when you board for the return trip. You’ll see the doors / boarding gates open, and you just follow the crowds onto the ferry.

It’s as easy as that!

Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island Ferry waiting for deaprture

How much seating is onboard the Staten Island Ferry?

So now you know the process of boarding and riding the Staten Island Ferry, you might still have a few questions.

One of those might be about seating. Of which, there is plenty, trust me.

Most tourist tend to stand up on the ferry (because the best views are some the balconies and outdoor decks). But you’ll find plenty of seating inside, if you need to rest your legs.

Does the Staten Island Ferry have good views?

Yes, the views from the Staten Island Ferry are pretty amazing, which is why it’s so popular with visitors and tourists.

Tip: If you can time your visit for a sunny / clear day, that’s going to provide you with much better photos than mine!

Whilst you won’t get super close-up to Lady Liberty, you will get to see her from the water, and with the backdrop of Manhattan. Which is pretty magical!

The best bit? You’ll most likely do a round-trip on the free ferry to the Statue of Liberty (unless you plan on stopping in Staten Island). So you get wonderful views there and back!

Read more about visiting NYC: 60 free (or cheap) things to do in NYC!

Can you get good photos of the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry?

Absolutely YES!

In fact, this is one of the best photo opportunities in the whole of Manhattan.

Not only will you get wonderful photos of the Statue of Liberty, but you’ll also get amazing shots of the Downtown Manhattan skyline too!

For the best photos, I recommend getting some shots inside and outside the ferry. The outer deck areas make for those ‘classic tourist photos’, but framing the skyline using the iconic windows of the ferry are also so intriguing and interesting!

Does the Staten Island Ferry have a cafe onboard?

Yes it does, but it’s not always open. I’ve found it to be quite unreliable.

Because of this, I always recommend grabbing refreshments in the ferry terminal before boarding instead.

Does the free ferry to the Statue of Liberty have a toilet?

Good news! Yes it does!

The Staten Island Ferry is actually a means of public transport, so you’ll find good amenities onboard, such as toilets.

Staten Island Ferry toilet
Staten Island Ferry toilet

Is there WiFi onboard the Staten Island Ferry?

If you’re visiting NYC from overseas, you might be wondering about WiFi onboard the Staten Island Ferry! After all, many of us don’t want to be paying those roaming charges, so always take advantage of free WiFi when it’s available.

Well, good news, there is free WiFi available in the ferry terminals, and on the boat itself.

When is the best time to ride the Staten Island Ferry?

As you can imagine, the Staten Island Ferry gets pretty busy. With both tourists and commuters.

Because of this, my personal recommendation for riding the Staten Island Ferry and enjoying this free ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, is to avoid rush hours and commuting hours.

  • Around 12pm – 3pm are great time to ride the free ferry to the Statue of Liberty, as the commuter crowds will be much lower than in the early morning and early evening.
  • Night-time rides are also beautiful though, and riding the Statue of Liberty can be a wonderful nighttime activity to enjoy!

Anytime after 8pm, should be slightly quieter than the rush hours between 5pm – 7pm.

In terms of weather, definitely try to pick a clear day for riding the Staten Island Ferry, if you can! The clearer the weather, the better your views!

Although saying that, most of my images in this post were taken on a cloudy and misty day – and the views and experience was still great and I loved it.

Is the Staten Island Ferry accessible?

Both terminals are equipped with escalators and elevators, and staff who are trained to help aid accessibility issues.

Service animals are allowed onboard.

Other useful information about the Staten Island Ferry…

Here are some other useful facts about the Staten Island Ferry, that might come in handy for planning your visit…

  • No smoking is allowed
  • Bikes are allowed onboard
  • Prams are allowed onboard
  • Pets are not allowed (with the exception of service animals) unless they are caged and/or muzzled.

Read more about visiting NYC: 45 fun things to do alone in NYC!

Here are some fun facts you might want to know about the Staten Island Ferry…

  1. During the holiday season, the Staten Island Ferry is decorated with festive lights, adding to the city’s holiday spirit. It’s so cute, and definitely worth checking out if you’re visiting in December!
  2. Efforts have been made to make the ferry service more environmentally friendly. Some of the newer vessels are equipped with cleaner-burning engines and emission-reduction technologies.
  3. The Staten Island Ferry has appeared in various movies, TV shows, and books. It’s often used as a backdrop for dramatic scenes or to establish a sense of place in stories set in New York City. One of my favorite appearances, is in an iconic episode of Sex and the City!
  4. The ferry is one of the busiest in the United States, with millions of passengers riding it annually. It’s a vital mode of transportation for Staten Island residents and a popular attraction for tourists.
  5. The Staten Island Ferry operates with a fleet of several vessels, including the Samuel I. Newhouse, Sr., John F. Kennedy, and Guy V. Molinari, among others. These ferries are named after notable figures and have been in service for many years.

Read more about visiting NYC: 22 famous filming locations in NYC!

Hopefully my guide to riding Statue of Liberty has been useful!

This free ferry in NYC is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty, and it’s such a great free activity to enjoy in the city too!