Circumnavigating Manhattan by boat, rare vistas of NYC

Thursday, March 26th, 2015. Filed under: Architecture Legendary Landscapes New York United States
On the Harlem River

On the Harlem River.

Have you seen northern Manhattan from the Harlem River yet? One of the best things I’ve done in New York City is to circumnavigate Manhattan by boat. It’s relaxing to escape traffic and see sides (literally) of Manhattan you’ve never seen before.

Map of New York

Manhattan is an island surrounded by three rivers. Map credit:

Manhattan is completely surrounded by water, and there are many ways to get out on the water. Easiest for visitors is to jump on one of the Circle Line boat tours that leave from their convenient midtown dock at Pier 83 at W. 42nd Street.  Their shorter tours chug down to the Statue of Liberty or Brooklyn Bridge, then retrace their path back.  Circle Line’s 2.5-hour Best-of-NYC Full Island boat cruise does not retrace any path but completely sails around Manhattan.  Delving into tranquil Harlem River scenes, surging back out on the mighty Hudson, it’s easy to imagine the experiences of early adventurers like said Henry Hudson who explored here in 1609. I’m pretty familiar with Manhattan but this tour offered views of New York I’d never seen before.

Taking Circle Line’s Full Island tour is easy–but it’s not always a done deal.  Here are some things to consider:

  • There is one low bridge under which the boat cannot pass during heavy rain or high tide. Check a NYC tide chart for the day you want to do this to get an approximate idea of which tour time you should aim for. As water levels depend on weather, I don’t recommend buying tickets far in advance. Call Circle Line for information as early as 9:30 AM the day you intend to take the tour.
  • New York CityPASS saves time and money at top NYC attractions and includes a shorter Circle Line cruise. Upgrade to the Full Island tour for a fee.
  • Don’t worry about racing for ‘the best seat’!  Wedged in by a window may not be the best spot if you want to roam around, get out on the deck to take photos.
  • Circle Line recommends you allow 45 minutes to an hour for ticket purchase and boarding.
  • Take a jacket.
  • If your boat has to turn back at the low bridge, don’t be mad. Be making plans to try again on your next trip to New York–it’s worth it!

Another Touring Tip:  New York’s oldest bridge and former aquaduct High Bridge (1848) connects northern Manhattan to the Bronx and opened to pedestrian and bike traffic in summer 2015, adding a new section to the New York City Greenway. Closed to the public for over 40 years, Highbridge Park has received $98 million in capital improvements.  Worth checking out, if you love NYC parks.

Here’s the full boat trip around Manhattan in photos:

New York Circle Line sightseeing cruise boat

I took a chance on a gloomy afternoon.

Interior Circle Line boat

The sky began to clear within minutes of leaving the Circle Line dock.

Statue of Liberty

Beautiful sky out in New York harbor.


Statue of Liberty tourists

Photo-op at the Statue of Liberty.

NYC Harbor Panorama

New York City harbor panorama. New Jersey is on left behind the Statue of Liberty. Manhattan is on the right.

Staten Island Ferry

Passing the Staten Island Ferry.

Lower Manhattan

One World Trade Center (a.k.a. the Freedom Tower) dominates the lower Manhattan skyline.

Brooklyn Bridge NYC

Most NYC boat tours stop at the Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge NYC

Circle Line’s Full Island tour continues up the East River. Here, the Manhattan Bridge.

Empire State Building Chrysler Building

Manhattan skyline seen from the East River.  Empire State Building is at mid-left, the Chrysler Building at mid-right.

East Side Manhattan

Manhattan’s East Side.

Roosevelt Tram

The Roosevelt Island Tram leaves from E. 60th Street at Second Avenue.

Deck Chilling Circle Line Tour

On the East River between Manhattan and Queens.

Wards Island New York

At Ward’s Island, the boat turns left into the Harlem River. If you watch movies and television series set in New York, you’ll know that Ward’s Island is home to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

Harlem River boat trip

Are we still in the city?

New York boat tour tourists

Dozens of bridges connect Manhattan to New York City’s other boroughs.

Highbridge Park NYC

Harlem River Drive and Highbridge Park. The decorative tower is a park landmark.

Highbridge Park Bridge

New York’s oldest bridge High Bridge (1848) will open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic in summer 2015.

Harlem Bronx bridges

On the Harlem River. Harlem to the left, the Bronx on the right.

Kids Rowing on Harlem River

The Harlem River is so tranquil that kiddies are taught rowing without lifejackets.

Rowing Boathouse Harlem

A boathouse on northern Manhattan’s waterfront.


Scenery on Harlem River

Between Harlem’s heights and the Bronx.

Graffiti Bronx

What does it mean?

Bridge View

Henry Hudson Bridge.

Hudson River

Feeling nature’s drama when we leave the sheltered Harlem River and rejoin the powerful Hudson.

Site of 'Miracle on the Hudson' Airbus A320 emergency landing 2009

The ‘miracle on the Hudson’ (2009 emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320 piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger) is all the more miraculous when you see just how fast and rough the Hudson River is.

George Washington Bridge

The doubledecker George Washington Bridge (1931) is the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.

Little Red Lighthouse at George Washington Bridge

There is a park under the Manhattan end of the George Washington Bridge, with a famous little red lighthouse.

Little red lighthouse, NYC

After the lighthouse, it’s just a few minutes back to the Circle Line pier.

Have a favorite New York memory or moment?  Leave a comment below!

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