A visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum is a must-do at least once with your kids. Here's how to make the most of your visit to these iconic, historic landmarks.
Ellis Island opened its doors Jan. 1, 1892 to immigrants looking to plant their roots in America, the land of promise. Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through those doors in search of freedom and opportunity. A few decades before, French political activist Edouard de Laboulaye saw the prospects of hope in America and decided to create a landmark to symbolize its independence from Europe and friendship with France. Initially called the “Liberty Enlightening the World,” the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York Harbor on Oct. 28, 1886, marking the entrance of the “gateway to America.”
A visit to these two historic landmarks (they’re not just for tourists!) is a must-do with your kids at least once. Here’s how to make the most of it.
Statue of Liberty
The original torch, which was replaced in 1984, is on display inside the Liberty Island Museum, located in the statue’s lobby.
Your first stop should be the Liberty Island Museum, located in the lobby of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, which chronicles how the U.S. and France worked together to build our iconic symbol of freedom. Free park ranger-guided tours of the island are offered daily for all ages and meet at the Liberty Island Flagpole. Free self-guided audio tours are also available, including a children’s audio tour for ages 6-10, narrated by the friendly voice of Marty the Muskrat.
Kids ages 4 and older can hike up to the Statue of Liberty’s Crown.
All ages can visit the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, but you must be at least 4 feet tall to climb up to the crown. There are 146 steps up the double spiral staircase from the pedestal to the crown and no elevator, so comfortable footwear is a must. Reserve your tickets for either or both of these excursions online at StatueCruises.com or by phone: 877-523-9849. Pedestal tickets are included in the price of your general admission tickets, so this might be the best bang for your buck ($18; $14 seniors; $9 children ages 4-12; free for children younger than 4). The Crown is worth the extra $3 per person, but you’ll need to reserve your tickets a few months before your visit. Four tickets can be reserved per household up to six months in advance.
The Great Hall at Ellis Island is where immigrants stood in line to get into the United States.
Families can take ranger-guided or self-guided tours through the three floors of Ellis Island Immigration Museum exhibits, where they can learn about immigration history and watch a 30-minute documentary called Island of Hope, Island of Tears. There is a special interactive exhibit for kids called Ellis Kid, which helps youngsters imagine what it was like to be a newcomer to our country.
A children’s audio tour, narrated by Molly the Falcon, is available for free. Ellis Island also offers a special Hard Hat Tour ($25) of the old Hospital Complex for ages 13 and older. The 90-minute tour goes through the Laundry Building of the hospital and shows the infection and disease wards, autopsy room, and more.
The Treasures from Home exhibit is closed due to damage by Hurricane Sandy, but is tentatively set to reopen by the end of the year. A new gallery about immigration after 1945 opened in March and includes interactive elements such as story booths that continue to share the stories of immigrants in this country.
The American Immigrant Wall of Honor features the names of families who immigrated to Ellis Island.
Planning Your Visit
The most popular time to visit both islands is between Easter and Columbus Day. They are both open year-round, though, so visit sometime between October and April for a less-crowded experience.
Both sites have a Junior Ranger Program, recommended for kids ages 7-12. All activity booklets can be downloaded at nps.gov/stli. Completed booklets can be exchanged for a badge at the Information Desk.
During the summer, Liberty Island has a Symbol Search program, where kids go on a scavenger hunt to find the different symbols that make up the Statue of Liberty and learn about what they represent. Ellis Island has two summer programs for young visitors: a puzzle station, which features a mental exam that some immigrants had to complete when trying to enter the United States; and a game similar to charades called At the Marketplace, where kids try to order food without speaking, helping them understand the difficulty many immigrants had communicating in a foreign land.
Annual events include National Park Week, a nationwide event that takes place in April. Ellis Island and Liberty Island will celebrate in 2015 by hosting a scavenger hunt and other activities. Founder’s Day on Aug. 26 will be celebrated with a Liberty Island scavenger hunt to find the National Park Service badge.
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty can only be accessed via boat, courtesy of Statue Cruises. Ferries depart from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ every 20 minutes. All tickets can be purchased at StatueCruises.com or by calling 877-523-9849. Ferry tickets include general admission to both the Liberty Island Museum and Ellis Island Immigration Museum. If you’re visiting both sites in one day, plan to board an early ferry.
Address: Ferry departure points: 1 Battery Place, Manhattan; 1 Audrey Zapp Drive, Jersey City, NJ
Hours: Daily, 8:30am-4:30pm, year-round
Price: $18; $14 seniors; $9 children ages 4-12; free for children younger than 4
For more information: 212-363-3200; nps.gov/stli or nps.gov/elis; statuecruises.com