Getaway Guide: A Bird’s Eye View Of Manhattan

February 28, 2014 7:00 AM

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Reporting Jay Lloyd

I haven‘t had a ride like this since boarding an aerial tram at a high-elevation Vermont ski resort. And certainly have never had one with such a dramatic cityscape view. The Roosevelt Island Tramway soars over the Queensboro Bridge from mid-town Manhattan. The ride in the heated, quiet cable car offers a panoramic view of the East River, Manhattan and Queens before descending to a soft landing on the shore of Roosevelt Island. And it comes with a price tag that’s almost a “giveaway” in a city that’s not known to give away much! Here’s the deal. – Jay Lloyd

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Two miles long and appearing narrow as a toothpick, Roosevelt Island sits in the East River between midtown Manhattan and Queens. It’s home to somewhere around 12,000 people who occupy the high rise apartment houses and condos that crowd the island. Those 12,000 people need a way to get to their jobs, and the New York City social whirl. For many, it’s the high soaring tramway. But while commuters jam the tram during rush hours, visitors often have plenty of elbow room (and even seats!) during the off hours for the working crowd. These times are primetime for the tourist. The views from the tram are spectacular, and the ride is exhilarating. Two cable cars make constant runs between the Manhattan terminal and the island, so you’re never more than a few minutes away from boarding.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


If you’re looking for entertainment, dining or attractions, turn around and head back to the big island. But visitors can enjoy a stroll on the shoreline of Roosevelt Island. Some bring bicycles. There are also frequent buses that ply the streets and shores for a look at life on a unique piece of New York real estate.


The Tramway is operated by a private corporation but prices its rides to align with fares on the Metropolitan Transit Authority subways and buses. That means it’s only $2.50 each way for one of the most unique urban transit experiences. The Tramway accepts only MTA Metro Cards, which are available at vending machines in the terminal and at most subway stations. Seniors pay half price, but you must have a Reduced Fare Metro Card. It’s easy to get either by mail, or I’d recommend a visit to the MTA office on Stone Street to pick it up. The personal information that’s required from you will be more secure.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


The return trip is even more orb-popping, with the Manhattan skyline in full view. Bring a camera. The shots through a clear tram window can be spectacular, especially as you begin the landing over the Queensboro Bridge ramps carrying traffic into the Big Apple.


Avoid morning and evening rush hours. You really don’t want to get mixed up in that scrum.


As long as you’re in the neighborhood, try one of New York’s most highly regarded pizza purveyors.

Just two blocks from the Tramway, Patsy’s has a well deserved reputation for New York pizza — the kind I remember as a kid. That thin crust can stand at attention! The sauce is robust and the cheese is mellow. I paid $17 for a large pie, and it served three of us. On weekends, try to get in before noon, when the home town crowd starts lining up to get a table.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


A do-it-yourself tour of things most visitors overlook is easy from here. Use that Metro Card to hop a downtown M15 bus on 2nd Avenue to 34th Street. At the East River, get on board the East River Ferry for a scenic cruise to stops in Brooklyn and ending at the terminal on Wall Street. Within a few blocks, you can explore the financial district, historic Trinity Church, the South Street Seaport or even take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry. Nearby, you’ll find that MTA office to pick up your Reduced Fare Metro Card. Then cap off the day at one of my favorite New York Irish pubs, The Dubliner on Stone Street.

Add it all up and you’ve enjoyed some of the best sights in New York and haven’t put a dent in your purse or wallet.

Now, that’s a deal!

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