New York Sightseeing From the Water

From traditional sightseeing boat tours to kayaking the Hudson River and visiting working docks in New York Harbor, see the city from a new vantage point.

New York City has a rich maritime history, not least because it is composed of a series of islands, or parts of islands—Manhattan, Staten, Long, Governors, Liberty, among others—everything but the Bronx. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the best ways to view New York is from the water.

Public Transit: Staten Island Ferry

As any die-hard New Yorker will tell you, save your time and money and avoid the long Statue of Liberty tour lines by hitching a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry. Board at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal for a 5-mile, 25-minute ride that takes you as close to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island as you can get without actually visiting.

Once in Staten Island, be sure to check out the two 2,500-gallon fish tanks at the St. George Terminal, added in February 2008. For a bite or strong coffee before heading back, turn left after exiting the terminal and walk along Bay St. to the Everything Goes Book Café, the largest used book store on the island, or the Cargo Café, which has great juicy burgers and fries.

Private Ferry Companies

Both New York Water Taxi and NY Waterway are private companies that offer commuter ferry service routes between Manhattan and points in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island; sightseeing tours and special event cruises; and private charters.

New York Water Taxi

The company also operates the increasingly popular Water Taxi Beach. Read more about it in our Alternative New York Attractions article.

NY Waterway

Vintage Schooner Pioneer

Cruise the New York Harbor on the historic schooner, built in 1885, the Pioneer. The South Street Seaport Museum offers public sails on its ship Tuesday through Sunday, with special event sailings—including a Children’s Day Pirate Sail and a fishing cruise—throughout the year. Prices start at $25 for adults, $20 for students/seniors, $15 for children 12 and under.

Kayaking New York

No fewer than three operators offer kayak tours of the waters surrounding the island of Manhattan.

New York City Downtown Boathouse

The Downtown Boathouse, an all-volunteer organization, has been offering free kayak rides to interested paddlers for 10 years. Go to any of its three locations in Manhattan on the west side along the Hudson River and sign out a kayak, paddle and personal flotation device (PFD) for a 20-minute jaunt. You must be able to swim; kayak, paddle and personal flotation device are provided. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Three-hour guided trips also are available on weekends and holiday mornings, from June to September.

New York Kayak Co.

Classes and tours are available from New York Kayak for beginners through advanced kayakers, Tuesday through Friday evenings and weekend days. Skill level is assessed before you can join the intermediate and advanced tours. Private classes also are available. Located on Pier 40 along the West Side Highway off West Houston St., classes start at $50 per hour; guided tours are at $100 for two-hour trips, $150 for three-hour trips. Kayak, paddle and PFD are supplied.

Manhattan Kayak Company

Manhattan Kayak offers more than 30 types of tours, from beginner to advanced, lasting from one hour (tourist tours) to one day (20 to 50 miles covered). Prices start at $30; private tours at $80 per hour, per person. Classes also are available. Located on Pier 66, three blocks north of Chelsea Piers, at 26th St. and the Hudson River. Kayak, paddle and PFD included.

Circle Line Sightseeing

The Circle Line is a classic way to view Manhattan by boat. The company offers a variety of tours, but be sure to take the three-hour full-island cruise if you’re familiar only with Manhattan below 96th St.—you’ll be surprised by the varied topography of the northern tip of the island. The company also offers day-long fall foliage tours during weekends in October (this year’s cruises start tomorrow, Oct. 4) to Bear Mountain. Located on Pier 83 at West 42nd St. Prices start at $21 for adults, $18 for seniors, $13 for children.

Hidden Harbor Tours

One of my favorite boat tour options is run by the Working Harbor Committee, a group of individuals who have an interest in New York Harbor and its heritage. Its Hidden Harbor Tours highlight the working aspects of the harbor and take people to such unexpected places as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Atlantic Basin, Robbins Reef Lighthouse, tug boat berths, container ports, and so forth. Each year the committee also hosts a Working Harbor Day, held on the Saturday closest to National Maritime Day (May 22. Prices start at $25.

Yacht Cruises

Even with Wall Street in a tailspin, former and would-be high rollers can still feel like Gordon Gekko on a sunset or dinner cruise on a yacht in New York Harbor. The site of the city at night, lit up like a jewel, is hard to resist for even the most jaded of New Yorkers. Choices include the World Yacht, the Spirit of New York, and the Bateaux New York (an all-glass vessel). 

Destinations: New York City

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Kayaking, Sightseeing, Boating