This is not the first time I’ve written about the NYC Ferry system here on the blog, but it is such a fun experience that I have to tell you about it again. But don’t click away! This is not the same post as last year. If you recall, last year I wrote about how amazing the South Brooklyn ferry is. And for the record, I still stand by every word of it. But if you’re ready for the next level of NYC ferry rides, you’ll want to take a ride on the Soundview ferry route. While the South Brooklyn ferry is an unconventional way to see the conventional sites of New York City, the Soundview ferry is an unconventional way to see some unexpected sites in the city—with some of the conventional attractions sprinkled in there as well.
Locals, before you come for me: I know that the ferry system wasn’t intended to be a pleasure cruise for tourists and leisurely locals; it’s supposed to be an alternate method of transport for New Yorkers. But how many New Yorkers really use ferries (except the Staten Island ferry) for commuting? We might as well put the ferries to use as a recreational activity.
Anyway, back to gushing about the Soundview ferry. The Soundview ferry takes you on a meandering 15-mile route from the Wall Street/Pier 11 dock in Manhattan to Clason Point dock in the Bronx. Along the way, the ferry stops at Stuyvesant Cove, East 34th Street, and East 90th Street, but I advise you to stay on the ferry for the whole 1hr 40-minute ride (50 minutes each way) or else you risk missing out on the best sights.
So what exactly are the sights that make this watery ride to the Bronx worth your time? As with every ferry that travels along the East River, the Soundview Ferry gives you a unique view of the buildings that make up the Manhattan skyline, from the Freedom Tower to the Chrysler Building and even the United Nations headquarters. You also get to experience the majesty of the bridges that span the East River, from the always-iconic Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan and the Williamsburg Bridges to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge and the spooky Hell Gate Bridge.
But wait, there’s even more to see along the Soundview Ferry route! As you make your way up to the Bronx, you’ll of course be passing by parts of the Brooklyn and Queens coastlines, as well as Roosevelt Island. But it’s once you get past this point where the sights start to become unusual. At this point of the ride, I recommend you sit on the east-facing side of the boat (the right-hand side) or else you’ll miss out on rare views of the Rikers Island prison complex and North and South Brother Islands, a pair of islands that have been off-limits to humans since the 1960s. If you want to learn the sad but fascinating story behind these isolated islands, I recommend listening to The Bowery Boys podcast episode #366. But the TL;DR version of the islands’ history is that they were once the site of a quarantine hospital, then a treatment center for teen drug addicts, then abandoned, and now serve as a bird sanctuary. Plus, Typhoid Mary and the General Slocum disaster survivors make brief though notable appearances.
(Here’s an idea: Set the mood for your ferry ride by listening to The Bowery Boys podcast episode while you’re on the ferry.)
Shortly after passing North and South Brother Islands, you’ll arrive at the last stop on the Bronx-bound ferry ride: Soundview Ferry Terminal/Clason Point, not to be confused with Soundview Park that lies two miles away. It’s a calming spot to relax at, with its scenic views of Westchester Creek. According to many of the reviews, it’s the perfect spot to ponder the meaning of life. And I can assure you that after this ferry ride, you’ll have a lot to ponder.
If you don’t want to get off the ferry at Clason Point (your loss), simply use the NYC Ferry app to purchase a new ticket—it’s $2.75 each way. On the bright side, you’ll get to see these sights all over again.
One additional tip for your ferry ride: If you sit on the upper deck of the boat, cover up. The sun is stronger than you think. During my time on the Soundview ferry, I burnt my back and got nauseous from heat exhaustion. Don’t be like me.
But before you go, if you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!