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The best boat rides in NYC

Your family can explore city landmarks and waterways by ferry, sailboat or water taxi on the best boat rides in NYC

Photograph: Courtesy Scott Barrow/Circle Line Tours

Taking the kids to see the best family attractions in NYC can mean lots of time navigating the city via the subway, taxi or even on foot—but have you considered traveling by boat instead? We rounded up the best boat rides NYC families can hop aboard, whether you want to check out the city's coolest landmarks, hit up NYC beaches, or just get from point A to point B with ease. Looking for a longterm, on-water getaway? Check out these awesome family cruises leaving from the NYC area.

Best boat rides NYC

The Shark Speed Boat Thrill Ride

Yes, there's a longstanding rivalry between the Shark and the Beast as to which is more thrilling. If you find yourself downtown (and are dressed appropriately for getting a little wet), hop on the green and blue boat painted to resemble its deep-ocean namesake. It’s perfect for those with a need for speed, hitting up to 35mph on its trip along the New York Harbor. The 30-minute, scream-inducing thrill ride also has a splash zone for those who really want to get soaked (a.k.a. your kids). Pier 17, South Street Seaport, 89 South St  (800-220-6282, newyork.com). $17, children ages 3 to 12 $12. Ages 3 and up (must be 40 inches tall).

Circle Line Landmark Cruise

Get a view of the city like you’ve never seen with this Landmark Cruise—you’ll ride down the Hudson, around the southernmost tip of Manhattan and up the East River to Midtown before turning back to 42nd St. Learn about local US history, local landmarks and even see celebrity residences on the way over an hour and thirty minute journey. Be warned—toddlers will probably get a little restless on this cruise, but it’s the perfect length for most school-aged children. 42nd St and 8th Ave (800-220-6282, newyork.com). $25, children ages 3 to 12 $18.

Staten Island Ferry

This ferry system is one of the last remaining traces of a ferry network that transported people between Manhattan and the city’s future boroughs, long before any of our favorite bridges were built. The nine-vessel fleet offers rides to 22 million people per year free of charge, and with those rides come beautiful views of skyscrapers, bridges and more in Lower Manhattan. The trip lasts 25 minutes, so it’s a great free way to give your curious little ones a great view of the Statue of Liberty without spending a dime…well…unless you’re in the mood for snacks, in which case ice cream and snacks are available for purchase onboard. Whitehall Terminal 4 Whitehall St (siferry.com). Free.

Governor’s Island Ferry

From May 23–September 27, this sweet ferry cheaply shuttles your family shore-to-shore. At Governor’s Island, you’ll find an oasis of mini golf, bike paths and colorful art exhibits plus frequent festivals and concerts. We’d recommend bringing a no-cook picnic to avoid the added cost of buying food on the Island. Be sure to visit the Hammock Grove and FIGMENT mini golf! Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St or Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6, Atlantic Ave (govisland.com). $2, children 12 and under free.

Ikea Water Taxi

Whether you’re headed for IKEA (and the wonder that is Småland) or just want to go for a ride on this cork-like yellow ferry, the IKEA express is a one-of-a-kind experience your kids will totally dig. Running 20 minutes, this yellow boat offers two levels (an enclosed bottom level and an open-air top level) so you can get the best views of the city no matter the weather. Though it’s $5 per person Mondays through Fridays, everyone rides free on Saturday and Sunday. Pier 11, Slip A (nywatertaxi.com). $5 weekdays, weekends free.

Manhattan By Sail

Kids can fulfill their dreams of being a pirate when they hop aboard old-school schooner cruises from Manhattan By Sail. Choose from two way-cool boats, the Shearwater Classic Schooner, which patrolled the Chesapeake Bay during WWII, or the Clipper City Tall Ship, a 158-foot schooner with billowing white sails. Both welcome families for daytime sails lasting an hour and a half, with views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. The Shearwater departs from North Cove Yacht Harbor (12:30pm and 2:35pm daily) and the Clipper City departs from Slip 2 at The Battery (2:15pm and 4:30pm daily). For nighttime views of NYC, grab tickets to special sunset and twilight sails, or those focusing on the city and harbor lights, offered on select dates. Daytime sail schedule may vary, check website for sail times. (212-619-6900, manhattanbysail.com). Shearwater $45, children ages 3–12 $25, ages 2 and under $15; Clipper City $39, children ages 3–12 $17, ages 2 and under $5.

Circle Line Liberty Cruise

Youngsters will love the chance to see Lady Liberty in all her glory on this cruise that brings you within 100 feet of NYC’s leading lady. As the Circle Line Manhattan makes it’s way across the water, professional guides will sound off interesting facts about the statue, plus point out other landmarks including One World Trade Center, the World Financial Center and the Ellis Island Historic Immigration Center during the one-hour journey. With comfy seating, food and drink available for purchase, plus onboard restrooms, it’s easy to keep little ones happy. Liberty Cruises depart at 10am, 2:30pm, 4:30pm daily. Pier 83 (circleline42.com). $29, children ages 3–12 20, under 3 free (ask box office for infant ticket). Use promo code CL1945 for up to 4 adult tickets.

BEAST Speedboat

The gentle breezes on the Circle Line aren't exciting enough for your dynamos? How about 45mph blasts of icy salt spray? Kids flip for this 30-minute joyride on a 70-foot speedboat, complete with loud music and wanna-be-comedian guides. Just leave the little guys at the shore; tykes have to be 40 inches or taller to get on board. Pier 83 (212-563-3200, circleline42.com). Cruises run daily through Sept 27; 10am–6pm, every hour on the hour. $29, children ages 3–12 $23.

Audubon Summer EcoCruise

Hands-down the best thing to do as a family on a summer Sunday night, Water Taxi's Audubon naturalist–led, 90-minute eco-cruise takes seafarers to one of three locales this summer: the Brother Islands, at the mouth of Long Island Sound (July 12, 26; Aug 16); Hoffman and Swinburne islands, off the coast of Staten Island (June 28, July 19, Aug 9); and Jamaica Bay (July 5, Aug 2). You'll learn amazing things about the NYC ecosystem and see with your own eyes the kind of wildlife sanctuary a city can be. Through Aug 16: Sun 7pm. South Street Seaport, Pier 17 (212-742-1969, nywatertaxi.com/tours/Audubon). $35, children ages 3–12 $25. Ages 5 and up.

City Sightseeing Daytime Cruise

Though this sightseeing cruise is aimed at tourists, the "Hop-on, Hop-off" setup makes it easy for locals to see cool city landmarks via an efficient boat ride. Hop aboard at one of four locations: Pier 78 on the Hudson, the World Financial Center, DUMBO or Pier 11 and take your time exploring the sites at each stop before continuing to the next destination—tickets are valid for the entire day! Depending on your family's preferences, plan to check out landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Statue of Liberty and more. If it rains on your parade, swap the boat ride for one of 10 on-land attractions including the Met, the 9/11 Tribute Center and Museum of Natural History. Check website for departure locations and times (212-445-7599, citysightseeingnewyork.com). $29, children $18.

East River Ferry

This convenient ferry runs seven days per week, shuttling New Yorkers to locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Governors Island. With inside and outside passenger areas, those onboard can take in city views as the vessel makes its way to seven different locations: From 34th St in Midtown to Hunters Point South in LIC, N 6th St and Schaefer Landing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO and Wall St at Pier 11. During the summer season (May 26–Sept 30), the ferry makes weekend trips to Governors Island where families can take advantage of seasonal entertainment. Kids traveling on two wheels can roll their bikes aboard and store them in racks for a $1 surcharge, but bear in mind that rollerblades, skateboards and heelies are not allowed. Check website for boarding locations and schedules (800-533-3779, eastriverferry.com). Weekday single ride $4, all-day $12; weekend single ride $6, weekend all-day $18. Kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Ages 5 and under free, two kids max travel free with ticketed adult.

Seastreak Ferry

Making the trek to the beach for a day of family fun in the sun is made easy thanks to the Seastreak ferry. Pack up the sunscreen and beach towels, then head to the dock at either E. 35th St or Wall St in Manhattan to climb aboard—much simpler than dealing with traffic. Kids will love the 360-degree panoramic views during the ride, and climate controlled cabins, bathrooms and free wifi will keep everyone comfortable. At Sandy Hook Beach in Gateway National Park, you'll find on-duty lifeguards to keep an eye on youngsters as they splash in the waves. As if it weren't easy enough, the ferry includes complimentary shuttle service between the dock and various beaches in the area. Ferry runs daily, May through September; see website for departure schedule (seastreak.com). One-way weekday $26, ages 5–12 free; one-way weekend $26, ages 5–12 $10. Round-trip weekday $45, ages 5–12 free; round-trip weekend $45, ages 5–12 $17. Kids under age 5 free.