By Tim Donnelly
At the New York Groove, we believe in seeing the whole city, and that means getting yourself to all five boroughs any way you can. The best way to do that in the summer time is obviously by water. It’s faster than biking and the exact opposite of being trapped in the still, thick air of an underground subway station.
For just $16 (maybe even less if you hustle for transfers), you can visit all five boroughs by boat in a single day, ripping around New York City’s waterways like a yacht-owning sicko. But you don’t need to invest in risky undersea tourism ventures or even hire your own crew: the NYC Ferry system makes for a perfect way to take all five boroughs by sea.
The following is a guide on how to do this using a weekend ferry schedule. You can do it other days of the week too but this is the math we’ve done for you.
Start at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 (DUMBO Fulton Ferry) at noon to make sure all your crew and passengers are accounted for. If you have some time to kill while waiting, the High Tide bar on the dock is right next to the ferry stop and is a pretty place to have a drink. A single cocktail here will cost you more than this entire day of boat rides (not including tip) so choose wisely.
Boat 1: Take the 12:42 pm East River Line ferry (bound for Wall Street) to Wall Street.
Spend a few minutes here and wait for the Soundview Line ferry. This does not count as the Manhattan stop! You’ll get to that later. This is a layover. Don’t even leave the dock.
Boat 2: Take the 1pm Soundview Line ferry (toward Ferry Point Park). This is the longest boat ride of the whole day at about 50 minutes. Settle into this one and really soak in the changing skyscapes of the city’s east side and the Brooklyn/Queens west side, from the glowing, glittering skyscrapers of midtown, under nearly the entire collection of East River bridges (including the Hell Gate, the namesake of another very good publication), the lightly spooky Mill Rock, and past the low-squat buildings of Rikers Island and the Vernon C. Bain Center, New York City’s only floating prison barge that “temporarily” opened 31 years ago.
Get off at Ferry Point Park, the end of the line: You are now not only in the Bronx, you’re in one of the most fun-to-say neighborhoods in New York City: Throgs Neck. The neck of Throgs. It's named after the Throggmorton family, who were killed by the Lenape following frequent provocations by New Amsterdam colony leader William Kieft.
Ferry Point Park’s biggest highlight is its view. From this edge of park, bibbed by a short beach, you get an under-appreciated perspective on the skyline. The park itself isn’t near a ton of other things to do, so this would be a good spot to take a break, roll out a picnic and enjoy the tranquility on this northeast lip of the city jutting out into the East River. If you need to go to the bathroom and are feeling like ruining some golfers’ days, the holes of the Trump golf course are just a short walk away.
Boat 3: Take the 2:40 Soundview Line (toward Wall Street) to 34th Street where you soon will transfer to the Astoria Line. This still doesn’t count as Manhattan, wait for it!
Boat 4: Take the 3:25 Astoria Line (toward East 90th Street) to Astoria.
Get off at Astoria. Hello Queens! The Socrates Sculpture Park is a few minutes’ walk from the ferry landing and worth the visit in basically any kind of weather. Spend an hour here contemplating large-scale sculpture and climbing in/on some of it. The park is also bordered by a few cafes if you need a bite, including a full service dog and human restaurant called Château Le Woof.
Boat 5: Take the 4:39 Astoria Line ferry (toward Wall Street) from Astoria to Roosevelt Island. This is a quick ride, only 8 minutes. But guess what? When you get off the boat, you are finally in Manhattan.
Roosevelt Island is one of the East River isles that are a part of the borough of Manhattan, and it's often overlooked both by tourists and long-time New Yorkers. The two-mile sliver of land that was once home to a smallpox hospital and mental asylum is now a tidy and quiet oasis in the middle of the city. It’s home to Four Freedoms Park and a lighthouse built in 1872.
It’s also where to find to one of the best views on this whole trip. Head up to the Panorama Room atop the Graduate Hotel to see what we mean. This is a semi-fancy cocktail bar (drinks in the $18 range, seafood towers on the menu, things of that nature). But there are some cheaper drinks on the menu or you can also just make your way up to the balcony to take in the view and leave. The view is, in fact, panoramic, with the Queensboro Bridge and tramway on one side and the whole city wrapping around it.
Boat 6: Take the 6:03 ferry from Roosevelt Island to Wall Street (or, depending on the time of year, stay longer and watch the sunset from the Panorama Room. Boat scheduling is easier from here out).
Boat 7: Walk about 10 minutes from the Wall Street ferry landing to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and take the next Staten Island Ferry, which is free, always, and runs every half hour. Staten Island has its detractors but no other borough offers you such a magnificent free boat ride as its grand entrance. The ship passes so close to the Statue of Liberty you could practically whisper deep apologies about America in her ear. If you go later in the year, you could hit the sunset on this boat.
Once you get off the boat, congrats: you’ve taken all five boroughs by sea.
Staten Island has a small collection of things you can do within a short walk of the ferry, including catching an independent league FerryHawks baseball game, seeing a show at St. George Theatre or shopping at its many outlet stores. Our pick is to celebrate at a nearby dive, Steiny’s Pub, a short walk from the terminal. Steiny’s is your standard old-school neighborhood dive, the type of which are disappearing in the inner-boroughs. You might meet even meet another salty sailor or two.
- NYC Ferry tickets cost $4 each, plus $1 if you’re bringing a bike. Ferry times are subject to change but we worked with the current published schedules. If you’re setting out for a full day on the high seas, make sure to double check the day’s schedules on the app (not the website) before you go.
- Ferry tickets are good for 120 minutes after you activate them. You may spend less than $16 because of this. Get the ferry app to save you time, and you won’t lose track of your tickets either.
- The NYC Ferry boats have snack bars, with draft beer and wine and things to nosh on. The concession stand on the Staten Island Ferry is the lowkey best dive bar in town.
- Mix and match these routes as you please. If you use this guide, tag us!
Special thank you to friend of the Groove Callie Farnsworth for drafting this itinerary.