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There’s nothing more impressive than standing in the busy streets of New York City, gazing up at the buildings as people move around you.

Except, of course, seeing the city from the water.

Seeing New York City from a boat allows you to skip the traffic, avoid the lines, and see the bigger picture of the incredible New York skyline.

Whether you’re an introvert at heart or just looking for a different perspective, here is what you should see from the water in NYC.

Sights to See From the Water in NYC

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is the obvious choice when it comes to seeing New York City from a boat. Lady Liberty is one of the most recognizable statues in the world.

It served as a beacon of hope to weary travelers entering the United States, a sign of great things to come for newly immigrated individuals and a warm welcome home to New Yorkers. Now, it is one of the most popular tourist sites in New York and a bucket list item for many.

While you can see Lady Liberty from the shores of Lower Manhattan, or while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, to truly appreciate her splendor, you’ll want to be on a boat. You can catch the Staten Island ferry for free.

NY Statue of Liberty

Photo by Celso FLORES

The Brooklyn Bridge

Speaking of the Brooklyn Bridge, here’s another iconic New York City must-see. Tourists from around the world flock to walk across the 134-year old connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Featured in countless movies and television shows, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most recognizable bridges in both the pop-culture and engineering world.

While walking, biking or driving across the bridge offers an amazing view of the river and towering suspension works, sailing underneath gives a whole new appreciation for the engineering behind this gargantuan span.

Brooklyn Bridge

Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil

The Met Cloisters

The Met Cloisters are a lesser known NYC attraction. Located along the Hudson River in Northern Manhattan, the Cloisters are a tribute to medieval European architecture, with rebuilt French abbeys, Gothic architecture, and gardens spanning over four acres of land.

The Cloisters are considered an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum of ArtWhile touring the Cloisters by foot can be a unique, immersive experience, removing yourself and viewing the expanse from the water is breathtaking.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island goes hand in hand with the Statue of Liberty. Serving as the gateway to the United States for over 12 million immigrants over a span of 60 years, Ellis Island was the first stop for many travelers after seeing Lady Liberty.

While most of the land on Ellis Island belongs to New Jersey, it is still considered a New York tourist site. Today, Ellis Island serves largely as a museum.

It’s large, brick buildings are in varying levels of reconstruction and renovation and showcase different architectural styles, including art deco.

If you opt not to stop in and tour the island, or if you’re short on time, be sure to sail by and take a look at where so many stories began.

Ellis Island

Photo by Sue Waters

The Skyline at Night

If historic sites aren’t your cup of tea, consider taking a sunset cruise and watching the lights of the iconic New York City skyline. 

To truly appreciate the city that never sleeps, you have to see it after nightfall.

If you thought seeing the Brooklyn Bridge from the water would be incredible during daylight, imagine seeing it lit up in the darkness.  And what better way to appreciate the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building than from afar?

In recent years there have been a few proposals to dim the city’s lights, so be sure to see the skyline as is before things change.

Brooklyn Bridge, Downtown Manhattan, and One World Trade Center, blue hour

Photo by John Cunniff

Setting Sail

Whether you decide to take a Liberty Cruise in New York City or hit the Hudson in a kayak, seeing the city from the water offers a new vantage point on a classic tourist destinations.

In the Big Apple, there are endless things to see and do but perhaps nothing quite as magical as seeing the city from the water.

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

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    30 Comments

  1. The Brooklyn Bridge has been my favorite for decades- as has the Chrysler Building. (I’m not forgetting the Statue of Liberty or one you didn’t mention- Governor’s Island.)
    And, the perspectives of on land and on water, of daylight and nighttime truly help one enjoy the views.

    • The Brooklyn Bridge is one of my favorites too! And yes, you definitely have to admire the Chrysler Building.

      I really enjoyed taking the Staten Island ferry for both day and nighttime views of the skyline and Lady Liberty – definitely a different perspective once the sun sets!

  2. I would much rather see this from the water than getting street views. I’ve always wanted to see Lady Liberty, but only got a glimpse from a freeway as we whizzed by on our way to MA. That was quite a trip. Valley Forge until noon, Liberty Bell in mid-afternoon, and Boston area by midnight. Once we reached our destination we were able to sleep in one place for two weeks. We didn’t stop in NYC. The kids were in the car with me and I wasn’t wild about taking them off the freeway after seeing someone urinate on the freeway wall as we drove by. Thanks for giving me a different perspective on this great city.

    • Definitely a much different perspective when you’re looking out from the water as opposed to street level views.

      If you head back to NYC catch the staten island ferry for awesome views of the Statue of Liberty – it’s free and it’s a great way to take in the skyline too 🙂

      Sounds like a great trip though to Boston – a city I haven’t yet been to, but would love to sometime soon.

  3. A number of years, I did get a boat ride around New York City, and I saw many of those sights. It really was quite amazing and beautiful! I would definitely recommend that people enjoy a cruise around the city that never sleeps.

    • Fabulous Alice! Glad you had a wonderful time on the water in NYC – cruising, especially at night, is such a fabulous way to enjoy one of the world’s most famous skylines!

  4. I hadn’t thought of seeing NYC from the water. A new perspective on the city for sure! The Met Cloisters sound intriguing. Do you get the chance to get off the boat and explore the Cloisters or just view them from the water?

    • Glad we could inspire some new ideas then Arienne! You can definitely visit the cloisters by land too – on a separate trip to a boat ride though as most are a continuous sightseeing cruise which doesn’t stop for land excursions.

      Highly recommend both though, you could view it from the water and then take time later to visit and explore the grounds 🙂

  5. I remember visiting Statue of Liberty and Ellis island many many years ago – it was fun. Yes, I remember the New York skyline crystal clear in my head from the waters. I saw them only during the day, but I can imagine how beautiful it would be at night. Same would be true for Brooklyn bridge.

    Met Cloisters is something I never knew about – would definitely like to visit it as and when I am in New York again.

    • Glad you had a fabulous time in New York on your first trip Anu 🙂 The skyline is certainly a memory which lasts a lifetime!

      Glad we could tell you about the Met Cloisters – perhaps an excuse to plan a return trip at some point!

  6. My grandson lives on one side of the bridge and his business is on the other. He bikes or runs across it daily! I remember when I was in Girl Scouts (over 55 years ago) our troop took a bus ride from Albany to NYC and went to the Statue of Liberty. It was also my first experience getting sandwiches from a vending machine! Funny how a post can bring back great memories from way back when!

    • Glad we could remind you of some great memories Martha! How lucky that your grandson has the opportunity to bike across one of the world’s most beautiful bridges every day!

      I actually haven’t ever gotten a sandwich from a vending machine lol I’ll have to do that on my next trip!

  7. First of all, I love water and all activities which have something to do with it! And I love boat rides, no matter whether it’s on a speed or on a slow boat. So you already caught me with your article 😀 I’m probably going to New York City next year, so I’m thankful for any tips. I didn’t know that you can take the Staten Island Ferry for free. It must feel so cool to see the statue of Lady L like the immigrants years ago. I also love to take a step back and see the skyline of a city by boat if possible. You get such a better picture of a city doing this. Thank you very much for those cool tips.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Thomas – you’ll have such a fabulous time in New York next year, especially if you love the water – there are a lot of cool activities!

      Yes, highly recommend jumping on the Staten Island ferry – it’s free, and fabulous views of both the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Totally agree that you get a better picture of the city doing this! Hard to appreciate such a view at street level, though that offers a fabulous perspective too 🙂

      Have a great trip!

  8. I’ve never been to New York and I feel a bit bad about it. I’m not a big city fan but it’s such an iconic one that it’s one of the highest cities on my bucket list. And I kind of hope to see one day all these fantastic bridges I keep seeing in TV series and movies. I didn’t know you could kayak to see the city from the water. I love kayaking and adding physical activities to my travels, so it sounds perfect.

    • I’m not a big city fan either honestly, though I really loved New York. It has a way of sweeping you off your feet and it’s very easy to get caught up in it’s particular brand of magic.

      Especially if you’re a movie / TV buff, you can take a sightseeing tour which visits all of the famous Hollywood sets and iconic backdrops. I loved it – was really fun!

      But yes, you can definitely so things like kayaking which you probably wouldn’t expect from a big metropolis normally. New York has a lot of fun and unique activities!

      Hope you have the chance to travel soon 🙂

  9. These places remind me of our recent trip to NYC for my husband’s birthday! We took the Staten Island Ferry, which we thought was a thoroughly easy and fun way to see Lady Liberty – and free! We also walked the Brooklyn Bridge – the shapes and aesthetics of this beautiful bridge were very satisfying! We didn’t get to the Met or Ellis Island, so will have to visit those places next time!

    • Sounds like a wonderful trip Hannah – what a great way to celebrate your husbands birthday! New York City is always a good idea, so the Met and Ellis Island are a great excuse to plan a return trip :D!

  10. All winners Meg! I just returned from NYC today. Heading back to the City on December 2nd for another house sit. OK, returned from NYC sounds like a far trip. But we are a 37 minute bus ride away 😉 I vibe with Roy’s take. The Brooklyn Bridge rocks and I love the Chrysler Building. Super underrated. I’d also add that you cannot see it from the water but a shot I snapped of the Wollman Rink in Central Park with buildings on Central Park West was mesmerizing. So gorgeous.

    Ryan

    • Thanks Ryan! Welcome home 🙂 Wow, what an opportunity to experience the city – a house sit, even 37 minutes out, is fabulous!

      Hope you enjoy your time – I agree with you that Wollman Rink in Central Park is one of my favorite spots. And hey, sticking with our theme of “from the water” … if you’re on the ice-rink in Central Park, ice was water at some stage right :D!

  11. Not going to NYC anytime soon, but couldn’t resist picking through your list to bring back great memories. Years ago, I lived near the US capital. Going to NYC on weekends became a habit. Never took a cruise though or visited Ellis Island (shame on me). Climbing up to the Cloisters was fun. I would add another attraction that was one of my favorites – the High Line park. It was created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan in New York City. It was a really nice place to relax on the weekend.

    • Weekend trips to NYC sound fabulous Elena 🙂 Sounds like you got to know the city really well – maybe if you do ever find yourself back you could use the opportunity to go for a cruise or visit Ells Island 🙂

      Thanks for the tip on High Line park – will have to make sure I stop by next time!

  12. I haven’t been to New York yet and all I actually knew is the statue of liberty. Although I’m not a big fan of historical sites, it would still nice to have a glimpse of ’em. The Skyline at night should be my top priority once set foot here, after all, it’s been always my dream to see the city that never sleeps! And New York always reminds me of the song about it ” I want to go to New York, New York, a city that never sleeps!” I feel like this city also got one of the best fashion icons!

    • I can definitely recommend a trip – one of the world’s most iconic cities, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint 🙂 I think you’ll probably find once you get there that you would have seen a lot of the famous buildings even if you can only recall the Statue of Liberty at the moment. Buildings like the Chrysler building, and central park feature in popular TV and movies all the time 🙂

      As does, obviously, that epic skyline! Hope you have the chance to visit soon!

  13. I’ve done the boat cruise around NYC, so have seen almost all of these things from the water. But even though I’ve been to NYC at least a dozen times now, I still haven’t walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or climbed the Statue of Liberty. Makes me want to get back to one of my favorite US cities again, even though I was just there in October.

    • Awesome Jennifer! Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is an excuse to head back in itself 😀

      Have a great time on your next trip!

  14. The New York skyline is absolutely stunning! And I agree that the best way to take it all in is from the water. A couple years back my family took a cruise to Bermuda that left from New Jersey and one of the highlights of the entire cruise was sailing out past the Statue of Liberty and the entire NYC skyline.

    I was unaware of the Met Cloisters, but after a quick google search it looks like a beautiful spot to check out by either land or water…who knew that was in New York City!

    BTW, great tip on the free Staten Island Ferry!

    • Agreed – my favorite skyline in the world! It has a certain magic to it that pulls you in. And seeing it from the water, with the reflection of the buildings, the whole skyline shimmers and shines.

      Sounds like a fabulous cruise to Bermuda, very cool that it sailed out straight past the Statue and skyline. What an awesome way to kick start the trip!

      Glad we could introduce you to the Met Cloisters, maybe something you can take in on your next trip!

  15. I regret that I didn’t take the time to experience anything from the water in NYC. I can’t believe they’re wanting to dim the lights! That puts pressure on me getting there sooner rather than later, huh? I also love the tip to hop on the Staten Island Ferry – I’m all about freebies! NYC, here I come! 😉

    • Ugh I know!!! You can’t dim the NYC lights – that’s like the most iconic part of the city – that it never sleeps! I don’t know how successful the proposals will be, but yes, I would definitely prioritize a trip sooner rather than later, just in case!

      Glad we could tip you off on the Staten Island ferry – people assume NYC is an expensive city, and it definitely can be, but there are a lot of local tricks and things to do for free 🙂

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