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Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan

The best ways to see New York City from the water

For $2.75 a ride, ferries offer the cheapest sightseeing tour in the city, says Mike MacEacheran

Mike MacEacheran
Thursday 19 December 2019 12:04
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New York City seizes your mind. It captures your imagination and fills it with big-picture skyscrapers, blockbuster towers and cultural moments you instantly recognise from books, movies and TV shows. But if getting a handle on the city has never been easy – you hustle through crowded sidewalks, you hail a cab only to beetle through clogged streets – it’s now getting harder, thanks to the city’s record-breaking annual tally of visitors. By year’s end, up to 67 million will have passed through.

To make it easy on yourself – and to see as many supernova sights as possible – the smart solution is to board a NYC Ferry. The network has grown tenfold in recent years, with six routes and 27 vessels now connecting 21 ferry piers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The latest stop, Brooklyn Navy Yard, opened this summer. Plus, nothing says “Take the ferry” better than the price. A single ride costs $2.75 (£2). Here are some of the highlights to see along the way.

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What to see

One surefire way to see NYC’s greatest hits in a day is to begin at East 34th Street ferry landing in Murray Hill. You’ll be transfixed by a lesser-seen angle of the Empire State Building, before sitting back on deck to absorb the world’s most famous skyline while sailing south on either the Astoria (red line) or East River service (teal line). In the other direction is Roosevelt Island, home to an instantly recognisable aerial tramway, and Soundview, for the Bronx and Yankee Stadium ballpark.

The outdoor Smorgasburg Market, open every Saturday in East River Park

Cruising at speed, you’ll pass Hunter’s Point South and Greenpoint, before disembarking at North Williamsburg for Smorgasburg, the largest weekly open-air food market in the US. In summer, the Glastonbury-sized affair sprawls across East River State Park. At other times, it decamps to 25 Kent Ave, a warehouse-style office block.

Red Hook (NYC & Company)

Next up are the faultlessly beautiful Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, both a short walk from the Dumbo landing in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here you can change on to the South Brooklyn service (pink line) to discover Red Hook (NYC’s latest much-vaunted neighbourhood), or cross the East River on one of three services to Pier 11 at Wall Street. As you cross the channel, the 180-degree views of the World Trade Centre, One World Observatory and Wall Street hit the sweet spot between movie fantasy and hyper reality.

Take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry (NYC & Company)

What if you don’t want to stop there? You can always continue south, on the fabulously free Staten Island Ferry, for views of Governors Island and the distant Statue of Liberty – or ride to the laidback, feel-good vibes of the Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk on the Rockaway service (magenta line).

Where to eat and drink

Dining is hardly a complicated proposition by the waterfront. Almost all ferry landings are in striking distance of some of the city’s most in-demand restaurants and bars – making it all part of the attraction. Coffee is in the lifeblood of Manhattan and near Wall Street’s Pier 17 is the beautifully designed Ground Central Coffee Company, where dark roast drips and nitro cold brews dovetail with cookies, scones and pastries. Steps away is The Dead Rabbit, a 21st-century Irish tavern and tap-room that’s regularly voted the Financial District’s best bar. For something swankier, book a table at Danny Meyer’s Manhatta, a 60th-floor, Michelin-quality restaurant with lip-trembling views.

Dead Rabbit is regularly voted the Financial District’s best bar

Across the East River, in Brooklyn – take the Astoria, East River or South Brooklyn services – you can almost hear the queues groan while waiting in the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge. Here, locals and tourists huff and puff while waiting outside Grimaldi’s Pizza and Juliana’s, two of New York’s most perfectly seasoned pizza joints, both of which spatula out coal-fired pies. There’s a newish Time Out Market in the nearby Empire Stores building on Water Street, too, or you can hop on the next ferry to the South Williamsburg pier for streets flooded with personality-infused restaurants and coffee shops. Two to try are Sunday In Brooklyn – for breakfast, brunch and veggie salads – and Devocion, for farm-to-table roast Colombian coffee.

Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg (NYC & Company)

Later in the day, it’s easy to end up in the Brooklyn Brewery, a brisk walk from the North Williamsburg pier. For something more footloose, try Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. The micro-cannery with a track record in experimental ales is close to the Greenpoint pier.

Instagram Alley in Dumbo (NYC & Company)

Where to stay

To be close to East 34th Street ferry landing, base yourself at wallet-friendly Pod 39 (doubles from £99). Alternatively, for the Wall Street pier, opt for Andaz Wall Street (doubles from £138). Both are steps away from the waterfront, with the latter home to a beer-garden partnership with the Bronx Brewery.

Rooms at The Hoxton overlook Williamsburg’s sprawl and Manhattan

On the opposite shore, sandwiched between the North and South Williamsburg piers, is The Hoxton Williamsburg (doubles from £115), which has quickly become a focal point of Brooklyn’s counterculture movement. Highlights are quiet, capsule-style rooms with soaring East River panoramas, and a basement-level restaurant and bar with an away-from-it-all vibe.

Travel essentials

Norwegian flies from London Gatwick to New York JFK, with one-way fares from £104.90. For more info on ferry tickets and schedules, visit NYC Ferry.

For the best hotels in New York, click here.

For the best budget hotels in New York, click here.

For the best luxury hotels in New York, click here.

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