Visiting the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is very popular with travelers coming to New York City. Especially in the summer, this can mean long waits for the ferry, but with these insider tips and advice, you can save yourself time and make the most of your visit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
Allow Plenty of Time for Your Visit
If you want to visit both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, allow 5-6 hours for your visit. For the Ellis Island Immigration Museum alone, it will take about 3-4 hours if you attend a tour.
Arrive Early to Avoid Lines
Lines for the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island are longest on weekends in the summer, but even during the week, the wait can be over an hour to get on the ferry. Plan to visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum during the week if possible and catch the first ferry of the day to avoid unnecessary waiting. The wait is often caused by the airport-level security required to board the ferry, so be prepared.
Pack a Picnic
There is plenty of space for enjoying a picnic lunch on Ellis Island. You can avoid the lines at the concession stand (as well as the overpriced, fairly mediocre food) by bringing along a picnic lunch of snacks from one of New York City's great gourmet grocery stores.
Check out "Island of Hope, Island of Tears"
Give your tired feet a break, and get a good introduction to the rest of the Ellis Island experience at one of the free movie screenings. Narrated by Gene Hackman, this film features stories from immigrants who passed through Ellis Island, as well as video footage and photographs from throughout Ellis Island's history. The session begins with an introduction from a Park Ranger, who can answer any questions you might have about Ellis Island or the State of Liberty.
Prepare for the Weather
Sunblock and water are a good idea if the weather looks warm and bright. Even on warm days, the wind can be brisk on the boat and sometimes the air conditioning can be powerful, so bringing along a sweater or jacket is a good idea.
Know Where to Go
Full-service bathrooms are available on Ellis Island, Liberty Island, and the Circle Line Ferry.
Free Tours With No Reservations Required
Free ranger-led tours are available on Ellis Island, leaving from the information booth inside the main building. These 30-minute tours offer a great overview of the Ellis Island experience and the Park Rangers are extremely knowledgeable.
Ellis Island Immigration for Beginners
It is nearly impossible to see all of the exhibits, displays, tours, and performances featured at Ellis Island during one visit, so take some time to plan carefully. For first time visitors, take the ranger-led tour, seeing "Island of Hope, Island of Tears" and choosing an exhibit or two to see.
Visit the Third Floor
Take a moment to visit the dormitory to get an idea of what life must have been like for those waiting at Ellis Island. Photo buffs will enjoy the "Silent Voices" exhibit featuring photos taken during Ellis Island's abandonment in the mid-20th century. "Treasures from Home" features items that immigrants passing through Ellis Island brought with them, all donated by the immigrants or their ancestors.
Make Ellis Island Interesting for Kids
School-age kids will enjoy the interactive play performed throughout the day. Many of the exhibits feature audio components that are interesting and engaging for children. The free Board of Inquiry hearings held several times daily offer a chance for kids to participate in the recreation of an actual board hearing. They also offer a great Junior Ranger program on Ellis Island.