Seeing the Statue of Liberty in person is one of the most anticipated events on almost everyone’s first trip to New York City, but it’s one of those sights that some consider a bit disappointing in real life. It’s a hassle to get out to the island where the statue is located, and you know exactly what it’s going to look like when you get there. Still, there is obviously something special about Lady Liberty and thousands of tourists visit her every day.
Standing 46 meters tall on top of a 47-meter pedestal, the Statue of Liberty was famously given to the United States as a gesture of friendship by France in 1886. It stands on its own island in New York Harbor called Liberty Island, and for tourism purposes it’s combined with nearby Ellis Island.
Visiting the statue
The only way to reach Liberty Island is on a ferry that also visits Ellis Island, run by the Circle Line Ferry company. The ferries depart from Battery Park near the southern tip of Manhattan, but also from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. All ferries leave the dock and head to the Statue of Liberty where some passengers get off and others get on, then they go to Ellis Island for the same routine, and finally back to their original dock. You can visit only one, the other, or both, and spend as much time in each place as you like, but the cost for the ferry is the same regardless.
What you can see
Since September of 2001, the inside of the statue itself is closed to visitors and is scheduled to stay closed indefinitely. You can visit the 10-story pedestal and the museum on the ground floor, but only if you’ve made a reservation in advance. Only 3,000 passes are available for each day, and about 15,000 people visit Liberty Island daily, so most people are condemned to only seeing the exterior.
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Liberty Island is a national park, and park rangers do give free tours of the island, without reservations. There are also helpful signs placed at various points on the island that inform visitors about the building and the history of the monument. You can get some great photos from the island, but you should try for the free reservations for the pedestal and museum if you know you are coming at least two days in advance.
When to visit
Not surprisingly, lines for the ferries can get very long, especially on weekends and during summer. Visiting on weekdays and as early as possible is the best way to cut down your waiting time.
Security is very tight
For some strange reason, the security before getting on the Circle Line Ferry is airport style. Bring as little with you as possible, and be prepared for a thorough shake-down.
Hours: Ferries leave about every half hour from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and are the only way to visit the statue.
Admission: Free, but ferry tickets are $12 for adults, $9.50 for 62+, and $5 for ages 3-12, and include the Statue of Liberty as well as Ellis Island. Check out this Statue of Liberty Discount to avoid the ticket lines.
An alternative to the ferry
To be honest, if you don’t have a reservation for the museum, the whole ferry experience is quite a hassle for a good photo. Instead, you can take the Staten Island Ferry, which is free and leaves from a dock very near the Battery Park Circle Line Ferry terminal. The Staten Island Ferry cruises right by the Statue of Liberty in each direction. If all you want is to see it up close and take a good photo or two (like the one at the top of this page, for example), this is ideal. You can get off the ferry in Staten Island if you like, but you can also just stay on board for the 20-minute ride back to Manhattan.