This post is a summary of the various free (and almost free) option for you to get out on the waters of NYC. If you are considering taking New York boat tours, but are hesitant about the cost of a harbor cruise, then this post is for you.
Though none of these options are “official” boat tours, each offers guests incredible views of the New York skyline, Statue of Liberty, Governors Island, and more. And if you are looking for other ways to save during your trip to NYC, then check out our extensive budget guide to visiting New York and our definitive guide to free (and almost free) things to do in the city.
If you’re not keen on traveling by boat but still want a great view of the water, consider visiting one of NYC’s beaches or taking one of our “name your own price” walking tours that include sites along the river such as our Lower Manhattan Tour, Brooklyn Heights Tour, or our All in One Downtown Tour.
Budget Tip: If you are planning on purchasing the one of the New York City tourist passes, most have boat tours included in the price. Read our post to see if one of New York tourist passes are for you.
This may be the best known “secret” in the Big Apple. This is a free commuter ferry. It just so happens that this ferry offers one of the best views of the New York skyline including a pretty close look at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Riding the ferry after our Lower Manhattan Tour is a great way to spend half a day without spending half your budget!
The ferry departs Lower Manhattan and takes approximately 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, where you could get off and explore or just get back on and return to Manhattan. The ferry departs from Whitehall Terminal. The Staten Island Ferry operates 24 hours a day, so consider making this also a fantastic thing to do at night for a sparkling view of the city.
This is the cheapest boat ride in NYC, after the free Staten Island Ferry. This is also a commuter ferry and costs the same as a subway, just $2.75 one way. The East River Ferry connects Lower and Midtown Manhattan making stops in Brooklyn and in Queens along the way. In the summer, the ferry also goes to Governors Island, located just near the tip of Manhattan.
From start to finish a ride is about 45 minutes. Riding the ferry will give you great views of Lower Manhattan, the Freedom Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge (you ride right under it), the Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and a lot more. Read our East River Ferry post for all the details, schedules, stops and how to buy your ticket.
This ferry service runs from Wall Street Terminal to Red Hook in Brooklyn. It’s free on weekends and $5 on weekdays. If you make at least a $10 purchase at IKEA, then your weekday ride is free. It’s a great way to get to Red Hook Brooklyn and back without taking the subway.
Okay, so this option is definitely not a boat tour… but, it’s an awesome idea and it’s free! The Downtown Boathouse, one of the organizations that run the the kayak rides is an all volunteer organization. Donations are accepted. They have four locations: Pier 26, Governors Island, Pier 40 and Pier 96. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse also offers free kayaking, where you can kayak underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
Perfect for a more adventurous soul, Village Community Boathouse offers guests the chance to participate in completely FREE community rowing sessions after dusk from April – November. On Sundays they also an additional rowing session at noon, as well as a variety of other activities intermittently throughout the year. During the winter, guests can join in for a free boat building lesson.
There are many other boat tours and lunch/dinner cruises available that have upfront fees. Many of these companies offer combo tickets that combine boat, bus, museum, even helicopters all for one discounted price. Read our post comparing the different New York City boat tours/cruises and the combo ticket options.
If you are planning on purchasing the one of the New York City tourist passes, most have boat tours included in the price. Read our post to see if one of New York tourist passes are for you.
Another way to save on paid boat cruises to to check discount sites like Groupon to see if there are any deals available. Lastly, you can look at Viator to see what tours they have on offer. You can often combine boat and bus tours.