Seeing NYC By Boat: Why The Water Is One Of The Best Ways To Tour New York

Thu, Sep 04, 2014

A True New York Perspective: Seeing NYC From The Water

When the original settlers saw New York City for the first time, it was quite different from what it is now. In fact, it wasn’t really New York City at all. Flash forward to immigrants traveling to Ellis Island - by then the skyline had grown extensively… but was still nowhere near the incredible metropolis that NYC is today. Throughout the years, tourists have traveled to New York from all around the world in order to view the city’s popular landmarks and other famous attractions, and it remains one of the top destinations in the world. But when it comes to seeing the city, really seeing it, many people forget to “think outside of the bus.”

Touring the city by bus is not a bad idea. In fact, we recommend it; there are a lot of great motor and walking tours available throughout the city that are well worth your time. But why not also try something different? Why not view the skyline, the amazing works of architecture, and the island of Manhattan and surrounding boroughs the way so many others in the history of NYC have? From the original settlers, to immigrants, to tourists, so many people have experienced their first view of New York from the water.

NYC view from the water

Today, viewing New York City from the Hudson or East Rivers is more than just possible, it’s exciting! There are several great options, including ferries that transport commuters back and forth to various locations along the river and guided boat tours that bring you amazing views along with history and trivia about what you’re seeing. Either way, not only do you get a unique, spectacular view of the New York skyline, but you also get to see the city in a way that connects you to the history and roots of the city and the people who made it what it is today.

Want to get an idea of what we mean? We’ve compiled a short list of famous landmarks viewable from the water, but keep in mind that nothing compares to the real thing…


The Statue of Liberty

the statue of libertyBetween 1886 and 1924, nearly 14 million new immigrants entered the United States through New York City. As they made their way to Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty (nicknamed the “Immigrant’s Statue”) was a sign of comfort that they had arrived in the land of opportunity and a fresh start. And when war tensions in the twentieth century were at an all-time high, thousands fled to the United States for refuge; further advancing the image of the Statue in the harbor as an emblem of the United States as a safe haven for the poor and persecuted of Europe.

Today, Lady Liberty's beacon still beckons, although these days it's mostly a coveted site to visitors, not new immigrants. Still, this 125 year old statue remains an iconic symbol of freedom and of America. Visitors have the opportunity to view the Statue of Liberty by water like our ancestors, or by foot. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the city for the first time.


Ellis Island

ellis islandAs we alluded to above, Ellis Island was the entrance into America for millions of immigrants to the United States, as it was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. Nicknamed the “Island of Hope, Island of Tears” due to the possibility of being denied access to the United States, it’s hard not to feel a bit somber as you approach this historic island. Those who take a boat to Staten Island or to Ellis Island itself will follow the same route that immigrants followed to the Island. Passing the Statue of Liberty, this experience on water is one not to be forgotten.


South Street Seaport

south street seaportEarly New Yorkers viewed the previous Fulton Street Fish Market as not only a place of commerce and conversation, but also a place for politics. Gangs of New York was filmed at South Street Seaport because of its pivotal historic importance in mid-19th Century New York City politics. But things have changed quite a bit since then. For one thing, it’s not really a fish market anymore (it’s now called the South Street Seaport). And the old building at Pier 17 was turned into a high-end shopping mall in the early 1980s and is currently undergoing renovations to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. Nowadays, "The Seaport" is filled with both tourists and New Yorkers alike; flocking to the shops, food trucks, and street markets found in the immediate area.

From the water, you can see the hustle and bustle from a comfortable distance, while also viewing the largest privately-owned fleet of historic ships in the country: The South Street Seaport Water Museum. It is home to a fleet of 6 ships that includes the historic 1907 lightship AMBROSE, a “floating lighthouse” that guided ships safely from the Atlantic Ocean into the broad mouth of lower New York Bay, as well as the1885 ship WAVERTREE (one of the last large sailing ships built out of wrought iron), and the 1885 schooner PIONEER, an authentic 19th Century Schooner. History on the water, literally.


The Cloisters

the cloisters nycWhen traveling to Europe was near impossible during the 1940s, imagine being able to travel to New York City instead to view a rebuilt French abbey. Believe it or not, it was possible. And it still is today! Nowadays, The Cloisters museum and gardens is one of the lesser-known landmarks of New York City. Located near the northern tip of Manhattan, The Cloisters is reminiscent of medieval Europe. Created in 1938, The Cloisters was made from pieces of five medieval French cloistered abbeys that were disassembled before being shipped to New York and rebuilt. Sprawling gardens, ornate stained glass, Gothic architecture, and internally featuring many manuscripts, paintings, and ornate dated artwork, it’s easy to see why The Cloisters is an important historic landmark. We recommend seeing it inside and out. From the water, it’s awe-inspiring to see a sprawling castle-like structure appear out of the cityscape along the Hudson.


The Brooklyn Bridge

the brooklyn bridgeThe Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most well-known bridges in both the historical community and today’s popular culture. Countless movies and television shows have been filmed on this beautiful structure spanning the East River. From Moonstruck and Spiderman to The Siege and Batman, the Brooklyn Bridge has remained a popular New York City icon to capture on film.

The bridge opened in 1883 as the world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, and the longest suspension bridge in the world (it held this title until 1903). Originally called The New York and Brooklyn Bridge, and also The East River Bridge, it was formally named The Brooklyn Bridge in 1915. The bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, and is a favorite among tourists and locals alike. Many walk, drive, and cycle over the structure, but few travel under the bridge. Viewing the Brooklyn Bridge from the water is truly an unforgettable experience, as you can see all of the architectural detail and precision that make this bridge so incredible.


We’ve only just skimmed the surface of all the amazing NYC sights you can see from the water. Circle Line offers several different cruises that make touring New York an educational, historical, and beautiful experience. Visit our site to learn more about our sightseeing tours, or book your cruise today! We’ll see you on the water.

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Tags: Things To Do In NYC, New York History