Sometimes we forget that New York is really an island city. Tourists know this: you see them jam-packed on boats with the word “Screamer” or “Cruise” on the side. But why should they have all the fun? New York kids love boat rides too. But you don’t have to be squashed in with the masses to enjoy our harbor and rivers. Instead, take advantage of our commuter and specialized ferries, which are less crowded and a lot cheaper. Here are four ferry rides that offer a great way to explore the city and give you a break to sit back and enjoy the breeze.

East River Ferry

The East River sometimes gets a bad rap – with its unruly currents and history as a dumping ground for more than just factory runoff. But one ride on the NY Waterway’s East River Ferry will change your mind about that. Starting at 34th Street, the ferry makes stops at Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo and Wall Street. On weekends, the boat makes an additional stop at Governors Island. Within one excursion, you and the kids can hit three boroughs. How cool is that?

Why Ride: The two-tiered ferry is small enough to feel like a private boat but big enough for children to explore. Stay on the lower deck (which has both bike and stroller racks) and relax on the blue upholstered seats while taking in the view. Or venture up to the open-air second deck and let the wind blow through your hair. If the water is choppy, hang on! The kids love it when it gets a bit bumpy.

Insider Tip: Teach your kids some New York history and geography while aboard. Many of the old factories still dot the Queens/Brooklyn embankment. Point out the old Pepsi-Cola sign, the Domino Sugar Factory, and the Huxley Envelope building. Confused about the names of all those bridges across the East River? Here’s your chance to get up close with (and under) them. What kid - or parent - doesn’t love going under a bridge on a ferry?

Extra bonus: Throughout the summer, the East River Ferry is hosting “Drawn to Water,” a photographic exhibit onboard its Monday-to-Friday fleet. Featuring works by artists whose images all have a water theme, the floating show unveils a new series of photographs each month.

Cost: $4 per ride, $12 all-day pass; children age 5 and under ride free.
Terminals: East 34th Street/Midtown, Hunters Point South/Long Island City, India Street/Greenpoint, North 6th Street/North Williamsburg, Schaefer Landing/South Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park/Dumbo and Wall Street/Pier 11.
Schedule: Please check website for a full schedule.

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– Alice Perry

(Photos courtesy of Alice Perry and New York Waterway.)