New York City’s Ellis Island was America’s busiest immigrant inspection station for more than 60 years, from 1892 to 1954. As the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States, it processed more than 50 percent of the nation’s current ancestors. Today the island’s restored main building houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, part of the adjacent Statue of Liberty National Monument. The museum honors the US’s immigrant heritage, chronicles the island’s role in immigration history, and gives voice to the immigrants themselves.
The Ellis Island immigration station’s original wooden building burned in 1897. Following its restoration in the 1980s, the red-brick building was redone in the French Renaissance style and reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. A 45-minute self-guided audio tour leads visitors through exhibits including photos, films, archive material, and recordings. Additional audio tour options describe exhibits in more detail via in-depth interviews with historians, architects, and archaeologists. Visitors can book a private tour of Ellis Island to maximize their experience and understanding of the sight, or a combo tour of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The 45-minute audio tour is available in nine languages and included in the cost of a ferry ticket.
- An audio tour for kids aged 6 to 10 is also available in five languages.
- Pro tip: Ellis Island can be seen up close, for free, from the deck of the Staten Island commuter ferry (though passengers can’t get off at Ellis Island).
- Ellis Island and ferries to it are fully accessible.
How to Get There
Ellis Island lies off the southwest tip of Manhattan. To visit Ellis Island from New York City, catch a Statue Cruises ferry from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. The first ferry stop is the Statue of Liberty, followed by Ellis Island. The closest subway stations to Battery Park are South Ferry (1 train), Whitehall Street (R train), or Bowling Green (4 or 5 train); the M5, M15, and M20 buses stop as South Ferry as well.
When to Get There
Weather permitting, Ellis Island is open every day of the year except December 25. Ferries run from 9:30am to 3:30pm, with later departures in the summer and around holidays. Once on the island, you can stay until the last ferry departs, which changes seasonally.
Portraits at the Museum
Ellis Island hosts a number of temporary exhibits. Past highlights include New Americans: Photographs by Jill Enfield, featuring 30 wet collodion photographic prints of contemporary immigrant portraits. There is also a small glass house of immigrant portraits made from antique windows that Ellis Island visitors can enter.