Maybe your visit to New York isn't complete without a trip to the peak of the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock observation deck ($25 apiece), but you can get city views that are almost as awe-inspiring while saving your cash for a good dinner or Broadway show.
Here are a few of my favorite free New York City views:
1. Staten Island Ferry
|Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry|
It's no secret that the free ferry is just as popular for Staten Island commuters into New York City as it is for tourists who want an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty without paying for a ferry directly to Liberty Island.
However, the ferry is also good for great views of Lower Manhattan. For the best views of both Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty on the way to Staten Island, quickly grab a spot outdoors next to the railing (if you're facing the ferry, these spots are on the right, closest to the pier). These spots go fast, although you can often squeeze in a photo with a polite "excuse me."
Returning from Staten Island, go to the far end of the ferry for the best Manhattan views.
2. Governors Island
Pros: The free ferry trip to Governors Island is shorter than the one to Staten Island, plus there are departure points from both Brooklyn and Manhattan (right next door to the Staten Island Ferry). Cons: It's basically only available on summer weekends.
But if you do go to Governors Island, you can snap great photos of Lower Manhattan without the Staten Island Ferry crowds.
3. Brooklyn Bridge Park
In my book, the most gorgeous views of Lower Manhattan come from Brooklyn Bridge Park. At night, the skyscraper lights just twinkle in the East River, plus the Brooklyn Bridge is practically on top of you. How much more New Yorky can you get?
Bonus: The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is on the park's Fulton Ferry Pier, and Grimaldi's pizzeria is nearby.
4. Owl's Head Pier and Shore Road Promenade
|Manhattan at twilight from the promenade|
A visit here doesn't make much sense for a visitor with limited time in New York -- it's a good 45 minute subway ride from Manhattan -- but it holds a special place in my heart since these spectacular views are in my very own neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
Owl's Head Pier is a popular fishing spot that juts into New York Bay at 69th Street in Brooklyn. Bring a zoom lens and take fantastic photos of the Statue of Liberty and, of course, Lower Manhattan. Then take a walk along the promenade south to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. You'll also get good views of Staten Island, and probably several ships -- mostly cargo, but the occasional cruise, as well.
Note: There are various places along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens that also have great free views, and I'm sure there are great vantage points along the Hudson River in New Jersey. I'm just not familiar with them. Explore!
On Monday: They may not be free, but I also have a list of the best very, very cheap New York City views!