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7 things to see from the water while sightseeing in New York City

The Hudson River and East River form the two sides of Manhattan’s peninsula.  To the south, the Upper Bay separates New Jersey from New York and offers tourists looking for something different a chance to see Manhattan, Jersey City, Brooklyn and other boroughs from the water.

Historically, New York has been a major seagoing city for all the United States history and is still an active and important port for commercial, recreational and military ships and boats. Many of New York’s most iconic landmarks are located on or adjacent to the water. The views of Manhattan’s skyline from the water, whether you are on a ferry, a commercial touring boat or a private vessel, are breathtaking.

Touring the waterfront

Although walking or bus tours of New York and its waterfront attractions are popular, seeing the city from a boat gives you a new perspective on many of its attractions. The most popular New York landmark, Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, can only be accessed by water, but it is not the only one.

Governor’s Island, located between Manhattan and Brooklyn, is accessible from May through September, via public ferry. The 170-acre island was used as an army base during the early part of the 20th century and, later, as a Coast Guard base. A small part of the island is administered as a national monument while the remainder of the island is host to historical buildings, public parks and plays host to cultural and recreational events.

Ellis Island was the initial debarkation point for over 12 million immigrants into the United States. Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island was the busiest immigrant inspection station in the nation. For thousands of families interested in genealogy, Ellis Island has become a key step in tracing their familial lines. Ellis Island is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and can be accessed through the same ferry that services Liberty Island.

Other islands in Manhattan include Roosevelt Island, Randalls/Wards Islands, Roosevelt Island and others. Although most of them have little tourism, they all have interesting histories and deserve a visit.

Waterfront parks and attractions

The number of waterfront parks in NYC is staggering. In Manhattan alone, the Battery Park, Hudson River Park, Swindler Cove and the South Sea Seaport will keep you busy for days.  

Waterfront parks give you relaxing views and are lovely places to walk and explore while taking a break from the concrete and glass that makes up the majority of Manhattan’s vistas. Feeling the grass under your feet and seeing the rivers, unobstructed with buildings, can calm your soul and keep the cabin fever at bay if you live there, but for tourists, they act as a reminder that Manhattan started in the same way that most cities did.

Getting around

By far, the most popular waterborne tours are the ones that include a cruise to the Statue of Liberty. Since most of the waterside attractions in New York City are contained in a relatively small area, many of these cruises will allow you to see these attractions at one time. Granted, going ashore can be problematic at many of the smaller ones, but it can give you an overview of what you can see if you want to explore further.

No trip to New York is complete without visiting the Statue of Liberty and by taking a cruise of the harbor, you can see much more of the city than you could by being stuck on shore.

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