Staten Island is one of the five boroughs within New York City and the one borough we had not actually been to before. So, wanting to spend the day on the island, in January, during a national Pandemic, left us with a select few activities. We decided to take advantage of one of New York City’s best value sightseeing opportunities — the Staten Island Ferry. We used the Staten Island Ferry to travel from downtown Manhattan to Staten Island to explore this island borough. Continue reading below to learn why the Staten Island Ferry shouldn’t be overlooked in your NYC itinerary, and how to use it.
In Staten Island, we discovered the quintessential Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Chinese Botanical Gardens. We couldn’t quite believe the pictures we saw online, so we decided to go for it! Spoiler alert, the place was incredible! We instantly felt we were back in Vietnam. So pandemic or no pandemic, we highly recommend checking this spot out.
How to Get To Staten Island
There are two options to get to Staten Island: travel by bus or car across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, or take the Staten Island Ferry. In most cases, the fastest option is likely taking the bridge through Brooklyn. However, if you are looking to save some money or sightsee, we recommend the Staten Island Ferry!
How to Get to the Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry leaves from the Manhattan ferry terminal called Whitehall Terminal and is located at 4 Whitehall Street (just south of Battery Park). We recommend taking the subway to Whitehall Terminal using:
- The N or W (yellow line) to South Ferry station: Choose this option if you are traveling from Queens or midtown Manhattan. Once at the South Ferry station, walk less than 1 minute to Whitehall Terminal.
- The 1 (red line) to South Ferry station: This is best for anyone traveling from the west side of Manhattan. Connect at major hubs such as Columbia University, Times Square, and Penn Station. Similar to the N or W, hop off at South Ferry station and walk the short distance to Whitehall Terminal.
- The 4 or 5 (green line) to Bowling Green station: This option works best for those traveling from the Bronx or the upper east side. You can also connect to the 4 or 5 from Grand Central station. When you arrive the final stop, Bowling Green station, its a short 5 minute walk along Battery Park to Whitehall Terminal.
Is the Staten Island Ferry Free to Ride?
Yes! The Staten Island Ferry is free to ride, which provides great value to locals and travelers looking to explore New York Harbor. You do not need to present a ticket to board, or use your MTA card. You also do not need to book your trip in advance. The Ferry is first come first serve, all you have to do is line up at the Ferry Port in Whitehall Terminal before the doors close.
What is the Staten Island Ferry Schedule?
The Staten Island Ferry departs Manhattan at different times, depending on the time of day and day of the week, and operates 24/7! The ferry is a 25 minute ride one way, and doesn’t stop between Manhattan and Staten Island. Effective July 6, 2020:
- On weekends: The ferry departs at the top and bottom of the hour, every 30 minutes
- During the week: The ferry has various departure time intervals depending on the time
- 6:30-7:30am & 4:00-5:00pm & 7:00-8:00pm: The ferry departs every 20 minutes
- 7:30-9:30am & 5:00-7:00pm: The ferry departs every 15 minutes
- 8:00pm-6:30am: The ferry departs every 30 minutes (Note: the ferry does not depart at midnight)
For the latest schedule, please check out the official New York City DOT Ferry & Bus Schedule. As noted in this website, you can expect to have short delays to the above schedule during winter months. To be safe, aim to take the earlier scheduled ferry to keep your travel plans on schedule.
Can you see the Statue of Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry?
You can! This is one of the best parts of the Staten Island Ferry for New York City tourists and locals alike. There is plenty of indoor seating, but outside is where the views are enjoyed unobstructed. To see the Statue of Liberty, stay on the right side of the ferry on your way to Staten Island, and the left side of the ferry on your way to Manhattan. For the best view, go to the second or third level viewing deck.
Staten Island Ferry Tips
- Every level has an outdoor area: Some areas are along the side and some are located at the front and back of the boat. We recommend wandering around to enjoy a variety of the views! You can also take in panoramic views of the Manhattan downtown skyline, as well as close up views of Governors Island (opposite side of the ferry from the Statue of Liberty).
- Avoid travel at peak times: Although a Staten Island Ferry can carry up to 5200 people, thousands of commuters rely on the ferry every day and it can fill up quickly. The terminal can be overwhelmingly busy, and you may not have access to the best viewing areas. Travel in the morning on the week, or late-morning / early afternoon during the week! arrive to the ferry terminal early to ensure you get a spot on the viewing deck!
- You must depart the ferry for roundtrips. Keep in mind that if you don’t plan on staying in Staten Island once you arrive, you will still have to depart the ferry before traveling back to Manhattan. In some cases you have enough time to run across the terminal to transfer to a new ferry home, however it doesn’t always work out. Just be prepared to way the 15-30 minutes for the next ferry to leave — don’t worry, the views are still worth it!
How to Get to Snug Harbor in Staten Island
The Staten Island Ferry will take you from Manhattan to the St. George Ferry Terminal. From the terminal, Snug Harbor is about 2 miles away. There are three convenient options to get there, which include travel by bus, taxi/ride sharing, or walking.
- Walking: While we included walking for the views of shipping activity along the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade Park, it is 40 minutes one way. We opted to pass on walking, as we planned to explore the entire botanical garden grounds by foot.
- Bus: To travel by bus, take the Sb40, which leaves a 2 minute walk from the St. George terminal at the Richmond Terrace / St. George Ferry bus stop. The bus is about 15 minutes and very straightforward. We recommend getting off at the Richmond Terrace / Sailor S H Gate stop, which puts you right in front of the entrance.
- Ride Share: Lastly, there’s ride sharing. An Uber or Lyft would be about $7-10 and 8 minutes.
We went with the bus as it picks you up right from the ferry and drops you off at the front of Snug Harbor, it really could not be easier and offers the best value!
What to do at Snug Harbor
Snug Harbor Attractions
Prior to arriving to Snug Harbor, we were under the impression that the cultural center and botanical gardens were the only attractions, but we were quite wrong! The grounds are vast, with a variety of museums throughout. There is a Staten Island Museum, a small 9/11 memorial museum and many other historic buildings. The museums are $5/person to enter.We traveled here in January during the pandemic, and only the Staten Island museum was open. Although we chose to stay outdoors, the museum is a great option we will keep in mind for future visits. Luckily, the Botanical Gardens and New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden were both open.
Snug Harbor Botanical Garden and Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Botanical Gardens are free to walk around and the Chinese Scholar’s Garden costs $5/ person. All in all, this was all very reasonable priced.
The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden was our main attraction, and we were blown away by the authenticity of the grounds. These grounds made us feel like we were back in Vietnam, not Staten Island. The entire garden area was very beautiful with intricate details. We were there in January and the Bamboo forests and garden areas were still alive. How they can keep outdoor gardens alive in January is beyond us, we are over here struggling with house plants in a controlled environment. The benefit of going in the winter was the lack of crowds. We went on a Sunday afternoon in January and nearly had it to ourselves which was also special.
If you are thinking of planning a trip here (which we highly recommend!), make sure to stay up to date on their current covid-19 precautions. The best resource is to check the Snug Harbor official website.
Where to Eat on Staten Island
Snug Harbor has a place to eat called Harbor Eats, but it is closed right now. We are unsure if this is due to the pandemic, the winter season, or both. With this said, there are still plenty of open spaces as well as tables with chairs to eat at. If the weather is forgiving, it would be very doable to do bring your own picnic. However, if you’re not looking to picnic then there are some other options. The restaurant Blue is right outside Snug Harbor and we have heard good things about it. Furthermore, outside the St. George ferry terminal is an outlet mall that has some good spots to eat. There are a few restaurants and some fast food spots. With that in mind, you can also wait until your back in Manhattan where the food options become more endless!
Overall, even with visiting in the winter, the gardens blew us away with how beautiful they are.
Similar to exploring other New York City islands, like Roosevelt Island, the natural beauty of NYC continues to inspire us!
Another perk of exploring Staten Island are the the cherry blossom trees. So, we feel visiting in the springtime would be the ultimate season to visit in — we may just have to head back for this!