For millions of immigrants, the first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty, growing from a vaguely defined figure on the horizon into a towering, stately colossus. Visitors approaching Liberty Island on the ferry from Battery Park may experience a similar sense of wonder.
Liberty Enlightening the World, as the statue is officially named, was presented to the United States in 1886 as a gift from France. The 152-foot-tall figure was sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and erected around an iron skeleton engineered by Gustave Eiffel. It stands atop an 89-foot pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt, with Emma Lazarus's sonnet "The New Colossus" ("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...") inscribed on a bronze plaque at the base. Over the course of time the statue has become precisely what its creators dreamed it would be: the single-most-powerful symbol of American ideals and, as such, one of the world's great monumental sculptures. Inside the statue's
pedestal is a museum that's everything it should be: informative, entertaining, and quickly viewed. Highlights include the original flame (which was replaced because of water damage), full-scale replicas of Lady Liberty's face and one of her feet, Bartholdi's alternate designs for the statue, and a model of Eiffel's intricate framework. You're allowed access to the museum as part of one of the free tours of the promenade (which surrounds the base of the pedestal) or the observatory (at the pedestal's top).
There is no admission fee for either the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, but the ferry ride (which goes round-trip from Battery Park to Liberty Island to Ellis Island) costs $18, $21 for access to the statue's crown. Ferries leave from Battery Park every 30 to 40 minutes depending on the time of year (buy your tickets online at www.statuecruises.com). There are often long lines, so arrive early, especially if you have a reserved-time ticket. There is a pleasant indoor-outdoor café on Liberty Island.
The tours are limited to 3,000 participants a day. The only way to guarantee entry is with an advance purchase of a Reserve Ticket with Monument or Pedestal Pass, which should be purchased at least a few days and ideally longer before your visit (they can be reserved up to 180 days in advance by phone or online). No tickets are sold on the island; however, tickets are sold daily at Castle Clinton Monument in Battery Park, and at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Visitors who are unable to acquire a Reserve Ticket with Monument Pass can still be issued a No Monument Access Pass, allowing them to walk around the island on the ground level without access to the statue. Approximately 240 people are allowed to visit the crown each day via a set of narrow, double-helix stairs. Tickets are available online, but are usually sold out up to three or four months ahead of the visit, so book early. If you can't get tickets to the crown, you can get a good look at the statue's inner structure on the observatory tour. From the observatory itself there are fine views of the harbor and an up-close view of Lady Liberty. If you're on one of the tours, you'll go through a security check more thorough than any airport screening, and you'll have to deposit any bags in a locker.