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A Complete Guide To New York’s Ellis Island

February 13, 2023 By CityPASS

If you are ever in "The Big Apple," you may want to visit perhaps the most famous symbol of America, the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island. Ellis Island, also located in New York Harbor, is where millions of immigrants first came to America from around the world in search of a better life. You can take the ferry to Ellis Island and to the Statue of Liberty.

Are you searching for an Ellis Island visitor guide? Let's take a closer look at the history of the famous Ellis Island and then dive into some of the best places to see while you are there.

Uncovering the History of Ellis Island

Ellis Island is a historical landmark, formally the United States' largest immigration reception station. It is located between New York and New Jersey at the beginning of the Hudson River in New York Harbor.

The island got its name from Samuel Ellis, the merchant who owned the land in the 1770s. At the turn of the 19th century, in 1892, it became the immigration station for around 12 million European and Asian immigrants coming to live in the U.S.

People left their old lives in countries across the globe for various reasons. Many were escaping poverty, fleeing political corruption or famine, or searching for religious freedom.

Ellis Island was the starting point for many people in America. Many immigrants decided to stick around and make New York and New Jersey their homes. Others moved on out West looking to build their new lives.

Today, you can visit the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration and learn more about Ellis Island's history.

5 Ellis Island Must-Sees

In 1976, Ellis Island opened to tourists and visitors thanks to the National Park Service (NPS). As a result, it is a symbol of the large-scale national immigration that has played such a significant role in American culture.

The Ellis Island Foundation works hard to preserve the history and beauty of the two American icons: Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. But don't forget there are other exciting parts of Ellis Island that you should experience while in New York City.

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

The National Museum of Immigration is a three-story building in the renovated Main Hall complex. This is the location where the screening of immigrants took place. Doctors would check the immigrants in the Registry Room when they first arrived in the United States.

Visitors can come here and immerse themselves in the history of immigration to the United States through a vast collection of photographs and historical records. You can walk into the building through the original main entrance baggage room right off the ferry — just like the immigrants did when it was the station. The baggage room still features some old luggage from that period.

American Family Immigration History Center

Located on the museum's first floor, the American Family Immigration History Center is a massive database of resources. Over 65 million records exist of the people who passed through Ellis Island and into the United States.

You can research your family history and find records. Some of the information you can find includes the ships specific individuals arrived on and the answers they provided to the questions they were asked on arrival. According to the NPS, around 40% of the United States population can trace family roots back to Ellis Island. Research assistants can help you with family research at the center. The records are also available online.

The Great Hall

Located on the museum’s second floor is "The Great Hall,” or the Registry Room. The Registry Room was where immigrants waited for legal and medical examinations. This was to see if they could come into the country according to immigration law. The area has been restored to replicate how it was in the early 1920s. You can peruse photographs of it over the years from the balcony.

Next, you can explore the "Through America's Gate" exhibit. You can see a restored version of the "Hearing Room," where a Board of Special Inquiry hearings took place. Immigrants detained at the time could speak, as could friends or family members. Ultimately, around 20% of the people the Board of Special Inquiry judged were not granted permission to enter the U.S.

On the other side of the same exhibit, you can see every step of the process people underwent when they arrived at Ellis Island.

Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is the iconic symbol that often comes to mind when anyone mentions New York City or "freedom." You will need tickets to see the crown or the pedestal, as both are very popular. If you want to go to the top and visit the crown, you will have to walk to the top because there is no elevator. However, once you reach the top, you can enjoy the captivating view.

If you are not interested in climbing to the top, you can visit the pedestal, which is halfway up the statue. It still offers a great view of New York City.

Another choice is to get a general admission ticket, which gives you access to Liberty Island but doesn't allow entrance into the statue. If you are okay with seeing it but not going into it, this choice will be best for you.

Statue of Liberty Museum

Recently opened in 2019, the Statue of Liberty Museum offers guests interactive galleries that paint the history of the Statue of Liberty. In addition, they have a 10-minute movie that features a virtual fly-through of the statue. The images also tell the story of how the statue became a reality.

The engagement gallery offers guests an intricate experience of how the statue was designed and built inside the studio. Then, before you leave, you can catch breathtaking views from the museum's roof deck. You can also go to the inspiration gallery and add your self-portrait to a digital collage called "Becoming Liberty."

Making the Trip by Ferry

You can only get to Liberty Island and Ellis Island by ferry. You can ride from Liberty State Park in New Jersey City or Battery Park in Manhattan.

Only one company offers ferry rides and has legitimate tickets to the islands and museums. Statue City Cruises offers various experience tickets depending on whether or not you want to tour the inside of the Statue of Liberty. If you wish to visit the statue inside, you must purchase your tickets in advance.

Visit Some of the Most Legendary Attractions in New York With CityPASS® Tickets

As you can see, some critical parts of American history exist in New York Harbor. If you are visiting New York, CityPASS® tickets can help you save money. You can compare the different ticket options and decide which package best suits your trip to New York.

Whether you are planning to see three top attractions in New York or have enough time to see ten, traveling with CityPASS® tickets will save you money so you can do more when you visit.

New York City Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in New York City, we recommend finding lodging near New York City's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

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