We don’t know about you, but we’ve been thinking about our good friend out in the harbor, Lady Liberty, lately. Making a trip to Liberty Island and/or Ellis Island with the kids is a win all around, especially in the summer: it’s fun, educational, and a great way to keep the kids active. And it’s not just for tourists: even longtime jaded New Yorkers can be wowed by both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where thousands of immigrants landed upon reaching America. We headed to both destinations with an eye for how to do them with kids, right.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are open year round, but summer is high season for visitors. Ferry service is provided by Statue Cruises. Transportation to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from Battery Park in lower Manhattan and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey begins at 8:30 a.m., with the last boat departing Battery Park and Liberty State Park at 5 p.m. daily through Labor Day. (After that, boats leave at 3:30 p.m.) You can see the full schedule here.
Pro tip: Think heading out to the islands is a bad idea in the heat? Think again! Not only do you get the cool breezes off the water, the air conditioning in both the Statue and at Ellis Island is surprisingly robust, making this day trip a great beat the NYC heat idea!
Statue Cruises is the only game in town when it comes to getting to Liberty and Ellis Islands. It’s a quick trip from Battery Park (about 10 minutes). Boats stop at Liberty Island first then make their way to Ellis Island.
Good to know: Should you need them, there are bathrooms on the boat, and a snack bar with basic drinks and food.
Pro-tip: To avoid the wait to get off the boat, make your way to the bottom level as you approach your “port”.
Do yourself a (huge) favor and buy your tickets ahead of time online. You have to pick a date and time, but having a ticket helps you avoid the long lines to buy one at Castle Clinton (pictured above), and puts you on the short line to go through security screening. Tickets are $18.50 for visitors ages 13-61; $9 for ages 4 – 12, and $14 for those 62 and older.
Thinking about going inside Lady Liberty? Pedestal and crown tickets can be purchased online at www.statuecruises.com or at the Statue Cruises ticket office inside Castle Clinton at Battery Park and in Liberty State Park. Crown tickets typically sell out months in advance, so the sooner you buy the better.
Good to know: Audio tours are included with every ticket purchase. The Audio Tours are available for the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island. The Audio Tour is available in different languages including Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.
Inside the Statue
Again, if you have your heart set on checking out the insides of Lady Liberty, you have to book well in advance. (Back in the day you could go in the torch; no longer.) It’s 195 steps to the top of the pedestal (healthy but not impossible climb) but there’s also an elevator. We did it, and it’s perhaps one of the more unique perspectives you’ll ever have, looking back at New York and the harbor.
Note: Children under 48” are restricted from access to the crown. 1 Adult must be present for each group of 4 children.
Pro tip: Be sure to check out Lady Liberty’s shadow, and look up when you’re under the base — the ceiling is transparent to allow visitors a look inside the statue. Also cool: enormous bolts found in the stairwell that literally help keep the statue in place!
What To Do & Eat
Aside from taking in the statue (either on the ground or up close), there is a museum inside the base (again, great A/C and bathrooms in there), a cafeteria, and of course, numerous places to buy souvenirs.
You can eat inside, but if it’s nice out, grab a table just outside the cafe on the shaded terrace, or bring a blanket and enjoy a picnic on the large grassy areas where people relax and take in the breezes and views.
You’ve seen the statue up close, now head to the building where thousands of immigrants were processed before moving on to New York City and well beyond to make a new life. Officially called the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, the building welcomed 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954.
Admission is included with your ticket purchase, and yet again, you’ll find bathrooms, refreshing A/C, and a cafe with seating. (Ellis Island also has outdoor seating and large shaded grassy areas for lounging.
The museum is big and rich with exhibits. You could easily spend all day here.
The Great Hall
One of the showpieces of the museum is the Great Hall, the room where those millions of immigrants were processed. The museum provides photos of how it changed over the years (the installation of benches, etc.) The vaulted ceiling is beautiful Guastavino tile, also seen in Grand Central, among other places.
The Exhibits and Experiences
To learn more about the millions of people who passed through that great hall, the museum offers lots of options. The museum’s self-guided exhibits chronicle Ellis Island’s role in immigration history. It is simple and accessible, and includes artifacts, photographs, prints, videos, interactive displays, oral histories, and temporary exhibits. It is housed in the rooms immigrants passed through as they were screened, which is powerful in and of itself — one even features graffiti scrawls on a preserved section of plaster.
The documentary film “Island of Hope, Island of Tears” chronicles the story of the island and the immigrants throughout the century, and another exhibit is a revealing and thoughtful display of the choice objects people elected to bring with them: family photos, ceremonial clothes, jewelry, a teddy bear, etc.
To see the impact of immigration as a phenomenon, check out the World Migration Globe, a radiant sphere which illustrates migration patterns around the world throughout human history.
Meanwhile, the American flag of faces is an interactive, animated display, populated with images uploaded by individuals and families, which creates a montage of the American flag.
Find Your Family or a Friend
More than 100 million people can trace their heritage back to Ellis Island and a relative who passed through there. The American Immigration History Center is an interactive area in the museum where visitors can access the passenger records of the ships that landed over 51 million immigrants, crew members and other travelers at the Port of New York and Ellis Island from 1892 to 1957. Sit down and see if you can trace your family’s origins!
Additionally, The American Immigrant Wall of Honor overlooks the Statue of Liberty behind a view of the the New York skyline. It is a permanent exhibit of individual or family names celebrating the immigrant experience. It is the only place in the United States where an individual can honor his or her family heritage at a National Monument.
If you want more, more, more, consider the hard hat tour of the island’s hospital, which is still undergoing renovation. This is a separate ticket, and features a guided tour.