Posted: 3/24/2023 | March 24th, 2023
I love New York City. I’ve spent so much time visiting and living here. To me, it’s the beating heart of the world. There is no language spoken or food eaten that you can’t find here. And there’s a never-ending stream of things to see and do. You can never be bored in this city.
Whenever I want a deeper dive into a place, I take a walking tour.
And when it comes to walking tours, NYC has it all.
Free tours, history tours, pub crawls, food tours, ghost tours — there are a ton of walking tours around town.
My favorite company — in NYC and abroad — is Walks. They began in Italy in 2009 but quickly expanded to other countries and cities in Europe. Then they made the leap over the Atlantic, offering guided tours in New York City, Niagara Falls, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC.
While their tours aren’t free, they are super insightful and balance having fun with learning.
In New York, they run a handful of offerings, including a tour to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty.
As someone who studied history in college (fun fact: family came to America via Ellis Island) this tour was especially interesting to me.
And, after taking it, here’s my review:
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour Review
“Welcome to the real door to America,” our guide said when he opened up the front door to the vast Registry Room. Here, up to 6,000 immigrants per day got their first taste of their new life in America.
Between 1892, when the 27-acre island first opened in New York Harbor, and 1954, when it closed, the Registry Room received over 12,000,000 immigrants, who quickly became new Americans.
The tour group met at 8:15am on the southern tip of Manhattan. There were 14 of us plus our guide, Nicola, an Italian-born former criminal lawyer who said he had been fighting the mafia in his native Florence before he wisely decided on a career change. He soon shepherded us toward the ferry for our half-day stroll around Liberty Island, home to the iconic Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.
As we walked there, Nicola regaled us with tales about the founding of New York City, how it ping-ponged between the Dutch and the British, and how 35 percent of Manhattan today is on landfill.
When we got to the ferry in lower Manhattan, there was a huge line to board the boat. But Nicola led us around the army of tourists, much to their annoyance, and we got right to the front of the line. I don’t know if Nicola was just being a seasoned and bold guide or if it has something to do with the fact that Walks and the boat company Hornblower are both owned by City Experiences — perhaps giving Walks the extra privilege of skipping the lines.
Whatever the case, having to not wait with the masses to board the boat was worth the cost of the tour.
Once on the ferry, Nicola directed us to sit in a very specific spot, which we were able to get thanks to the fact that we were the first people on the boat. This gave us an awesome view of the NYC skyline.
After about 20 minutes, you get off the ferry on Liberty Island and stroll the front of the Statue of Liberty where, when the weather is nice, you get to learn about the history of the iconic statue and how it came to be placed here.
When we were on Liberty Island and Ellis Island, Nicola was a wealth of information. He mentioned this was his 1,144th tour of the islands. He dropped some amazing facts that I’d never heard before, including these three gems:
- The statue, which was officially erected in 1886, was originally being considered for Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. But then someone with a sense of vision for the future realized that Manhattan’s growing skyline would one day completely dwarf the statue and eclipse its majestic presence. After considering placing it in Central Park, they eventually chose the island that would later be named Liberty, partly because you can see it from various points around New York Harbor.
- When the statue arrived from France in 1885, there was one important aspect they had not considered: a pedestal. After scrambling to find funding and a designer — they went with the same architect who designed the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the pedestal was ready a year later and, soon enough, Lady Liberty was standing tall.
- On Ellis Island, they not only had to register the 6,000 or so new immigrants per day but also screen them for diseases. There were only two doctors on staff at one time on the island, so you can imagine how long it took.
After that, you get about 40 or so minutes on your own to wander the island, check out the Statue of Liberty Museum, have a coffee or bite to eat at the island’s cafeteria, and browse in the gift shop.
Overall, this tour to be the perfect primer about the island, immigration during this time, and the Statue.
Should You Take a Guided Tour of Ellis Island & the Statue of Liberty?
Even if you’ve been to NYC and sent the statue from afar, one of the most impressive sights in the city is seeing the statue close up. You get a different angle and perspective on the statue and the one striking thing you’ll notice while on Liberty Island is that the statue is not standing tall; she’s actually walking, “Marching toward the future,” as our guide said.
Now, you can do a self-guided, DIY tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on your own for the price of admission ($31.50 USD). And that’s fine if you just want to walk around on your own, look at things, and not exactly know the significance of them.
But, if you want to walk away with a deeper knowledge of Liberty and Ellis Islands, this Walks tour is invaluable. Its cost starts at $69 USD, but is very much worth the price.
While it’s amazing to see the statue up close, the real highlight of the tour was our guide. There was just so much nuance and context his expertise added, which made all the difference in terms of value.
I’ve long been a big advocate of guided walking tours. And I’ve also long been a fan of Walks and have taken many of their tours in Europe and beyond. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour did not disappoint.
It also reaffirmed for me how much better of a travel experience one has when opting to fork out a bit more money for a guided tour. You learn more. You walk away more appreciative of the place. You put money in the pocket of a local tour guide. And you might just meet some friendly travelers along the way.
Tips for Your Ellis Island & Statue of Liberty Tour
Here are a few quick tips to ensure you make the most of your visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty:
- Wear comfortable footwear. You’re going to be on your feet for at least 4 hours. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and suitable for walking around.
- Check the weather. If it’s going to be cold, bring a jacket and scarf. If it’s going to be hot and sunny, bring a hat and water. Rainy? Don’t forget an umbrella!
- Avoid the weekends. Everything is busier on the weekend, so try to visit mid-week if you can.
- Ask questions. Your guide is a wealth of information. Make the most of it by asking any and all questions you have. There are no bad questions on these tours!
New York City has an endless abundance of attractions and things to do. It’s also a pricey metropolis. But you likely won’t regret spending a little more for a guided tour. You’ll go home with a few more interesting stories and facts to tell and have a much more insightful, memorable experience.
Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to New York City!
For more in-depth tips on NYC, check out my 100+ page guidebook written for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel in the city that never sleeps. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on- and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.
Book Your Trip to New York City: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Three of my favorite places to stay in the city are:
If you’re looking for more places to stay, here my complete list of favorite hostels the city. Additionally, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood guide to NYC!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Need a Guide?
New York has some really interesting tours. My favorite company is Take Walks. They have expert guides and can get you behind the scenes at the city’s best attractions. They’re my go-to walking tour company!
Want More Information on NYC?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on New York City for even more planning tips!