Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Thursday, August 5, 2021. It was updated as of Monday, May 9, 2022.
New York is a city of water, the boroughs connected by bridges and tunnels spanning the Hudson, East, and Harlem Rivers, plus New York Harbor. But those waterways are roads in their own right, thanks to the City’s extensive ferry system—and at $2.75 for a one-way ticket, a ride on one won’t cost you much more than a trip on the subway. With many ferry stops located within walking distance from a train station, they’re easy to access, regardless of where you live.
The NYC Ferry will bring you all over the city via seven different lines (soon to be eight, with the addition of the Coney Island route). These span as far south as the Rockaways and as far north as Soundview in the Bronx. A ride on the ferry—particularly on the top deck—is an experience itself, with the skyline spreading out on either side of the water and the wind whipping through your hair. So not only will it take you to some of the city’s coolest neighborhoods, but it could be the destination itself if you just want to get out on the water.
Perhaps the liveliest itinerary is the East River route, which travels between Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan and Hunter’s Point South in Queens, with stops along the way in Brooklyn and Manhattan. To get you started, we’ve put together a handy guide to hotspots at three of the most exploration-worthy neighborhoods on the route.
Ferry Landing Location:
Old Fulton St and Furman St, Brooklyn
10 minute walk from York Street
8 minute walk from High Street
10 minute walk from Clark Street
This waterfront Brooklyn neighborhood is in the shadow of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (the acronym stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”). Originally a shipping center and ferry landing, today’s Dumbo is a hub for culture, dining, and business, with art spaces like the Klompching Gallery, performing arts venues like St. Ann’s Warehouse, and restaurants like Gran Eléctrica and Cecconi’s. There’s even the Time Out Market, a large food hall in the old Empire Stores building, a pre-Civil War era coffee warehouse.
The East River Ferry docks in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a sprawling green space that stretches 85 acres along the north Brooklyn waterfront. The park offers stunning vistas of Lower Manhattan across the river, and it’s an epicenter for pretty much any outdoor urban activity you can dream of; there's a massive soccer field, beach volleyball, handball, bocce, pickleball, and basketball, plus rock-climbing walls, bike paths, and a roller-skating rink. Free kayaking on the river is also available to the public by reservation.
If you’d prefer a more low-key experience, the park has nine lawns to lounge on, natural habitats on several piers for birdwatchers to spy migrating fowl, and a variety of rotating public art exhibits.
For kids, the park is home to five playgrounds, an environmental education center, and Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s carousel that’s housed on the waterfront, between the two bridges.
There’s a wealth of restaurants and bars to pick from in the area, but we recommend skipping the lines at Grimaldi’s and Shake Shack in favor of Luke’s Lobster. Situated in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, this food stand slings authentic Maine-style lobster and crab rolls on buns slathered with lemon butter. Joining the many pizza spots on Old Fulton Street this year will be a highly anticipated second location for L&B Spumoni Gardens.
North Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Ferry Landing Location
North 6th St and Kent Ave, Brooklyn
10 minute walk from Bedford Avenue
Two stops north of Dumbo, hop off the ferry at North 5th Street Pier. You’ll find yourself in the heart of Williamsburg, one of the city’s most singular neighborhoods. Once a primarily industrial area, Williamsburg became a haven for artists and hipsters in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, many locales from the neighborhood’s past are gone, but it’s now a bustling center for restaurants like Caribbean spot Kokomo, beer destinations like Brooklyn Brewery, craft markets like Artists & Fleas, music venues like Music Hall of Williamsburg, and thrift stores like Grand Street Local.
There are also some truly unparalleled Brooklyn oddities. Chief among them is the City Reliquary Museum, a lovingly curated storefront museum that’s the go-to destination for NYC ephemera, ranging from antique subway tiles to relics of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs to a shrine dedicated to Brooklyn Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson. It’s also home to an impressively extensive collection of Statue of Liberty figurines and miniatures.
After you’ve had your fill of city history, head to another relic of Brooklyn’s past: Domino Park, a five-acre public park constructed on the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery that pays homage to Williamsburg’s industrial past. The park is built from remnants of the former factory, including a salvaged elevated walkway that offers impressive views of Manhattan to the west.
There’s also a playground, a dog run, courts for beach volleyball and bocce, and a fountain for kids to cool off on hot days.
Grab lunch at Tacocina, a stand in the park that serves the likes of roasted pork and pineapple tacos and Modelo Especial beer. Top your night off with a show at National Sawdust, a one-of-a-kind music and performing arts venue that opened in 2015; it’s dedicated to fostering up-and-coming musicians and performers, with a rotating artists-in-residence program.
Past the exterior, adorned with colorful, abstract murals by Brazilian artist collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus, you’ll find a concert space with some of the best acoustics in the city. The venue plays host to a wide variety of artists like Brooklyn composer Gabriel Kahane, Minneapolis rapper Dessa, and indie opera company Beth Morrison Projects. Check the calendar for their latest lineup of live events.
Hunter’s Point South
Ferry Landing Location
54th Ave and 2nd St, Long Island City, Queens
9 minute walk from Vernon Blvd - Jackson Ave
The northernmost stop on the East River Ferry is Hunter’s Point South on the edge of Long Island City in Queens. The neighborhood is so named because, for a brief period in the 19th century, Long Island City was its own independent city—until New York City annexed the borough of Queens in 1898. The area’s independent spirit remains today thanks to its thriving visual arts scene, as well as cocktail spots (Dutch Kills), restaurants (Chinese spot Noodlecraft), and breweries (Fifth Hammer Brewing Company).
Much like Domino Park, Gantry Plaza State Park pays tribute to its neighborhood’s industrial past in the form of a 1940s-era neon Pepsi-Cola sign that towers over the waterfront green space. The 12-acre park is named for its gantries, hulking metal structures once used to unload rail barges. In the summer, the park hosts free outdoor concerts; visit the Kupferberg Center for the Arts’ website for the current schedule.
Perhaps the best reason to visit Long Island City is MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art’s offshoot for work by current artists—one of the largest contemporary art institutions in the country. Things really get going in the summer with their Warm Up series, which features an annual outdoor installation and plenty of music.
Top your Hunter’s Point wander off with a drink at The Infamous, a speakeasy-style bar hidden in the back of men’s fashion boutique Extra Butter. Opened in 2020, the drink spot pours upscale cocktails with names like “Quiet Storm” on crystal trays. If you prefer brews, the Infamous has a variety of local and national craft beers on tap.
Whichever neighborhood you end your night in, you can look forward to a ferry ride back past the glimmering lights of the city on both sides of the river. Who needs a boat ride on the Seine through Paris when you’ve got this in the five boroughs?
Jenna Scherer is a writer, journalist, and editor whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Condé Nast Traveler, and CNN Travel. Read more of her writing at jennascherer.com.