One of the most iconic symbols of American history is the Statue of Liberty, representing as it does the idea of freedom and new beginnings.
The statue stands on Liberty Island, out in New York Harbour, and was one of the first things immigrants would see when arriving in the city by boat, as they were brought to the immigration inspection station on nearby Ellis Island, which is now a museum.
You can visit both sites with Statue Cruises, who will take you from Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan, across to both Liberty and Ellis Islands. You can also catch the ferry from Liberty State Park across the river in New Jersey if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds.
We made the trip across on a beautiful, sunny – if cold – December day.
Up close, the statue was much smaller than I expected in real life. You can climb up to the pedestal or even further up to the crown, but special tickets are required, some of which must be booked up to a year in advance. We didn’t make the climb; instead we wandered around Liberty Island, admiring the statue from below before heading for the Immigration Museum.
The museum on Ellis Island retains an institutional feel; it’s all too easy to imagine what it would have been like for those arriving there after a long voyage at sea, so close to the growing Manhattan skyline, yet still a boat ride away.
But my favourite thing about the trip wasn’t the Statue of Liberty or the museum; it was actually the view of Downtown New York from across the water. The skyscrapers of the financial district are beautiful from the harbour, the walls of glass catching the light, flaring in the afternoon sun.
If you want to visit both islands, it’s best to set off in the morning as the trip can easily cover a full day. Security is tight and you will have to go through an airport style scanner at Battery Park before you board the ferry. This is a popular attraction and gets incredibly crowded; at times I felt like I was being herded around amongst the crowd of tourists as we queued to get onto the boat.
To get to Battery Park, we found it easiest to take the subway. You’ll need to take the 1 train to South Ferry; we caught it from the Times Square 42nd St station. But it’s worth remembering that after Rector St – the stop before South Ferry – apparently only the doors in the first five carriages will open. An announcement is made on the train, which seemed to baffle everyone in our carriage as we were obviously all tourists! At Rector St, all the passengers began eyeballing each other to see if anyone was going to take the lead and get off the train – which carriage were we actually in?! In the end, everyone abandoned ship en masse, hurrying for the first carriage just to be safe.
Once you leave South Ferry station, there are plenty of people selling tickets to the statue tours, as there are around most of the big attractions in New York. This means it’s impossible to get lost as they’ll make sure you head in the right direction.