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Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York

The great unknown for mass tourism: take a ride on the Manhattan cable car for incredible views of the city

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

9 min read

Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York

Views of Roosevelt Island | ©Clay Leconey

The Roosevelt Cable Car is not one of the most popular tourist attractions among travelers visiting New York but it has a lot of charm and offers beautiful views of the city. In addition, it is a very economical ride because you only need the Metrocard to travel, the same card to travel by bus or subway.

1. Why take the cable car to Roosevelt Island?

The Roosevelt Island Cable Car | ©Patrick T Kindt
The Roosevelt Island Cable Car | ©Patrick T Kindt

The Roosevelt Cable Car is the only cable car that connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island in New York. It is a small elongated island located in the East River, once home to several hospitals and a prison but now a residential area filled with green spaces, luxury buildings, sports facilities, and even the campus of Cornell University.

The Roosevelt Cable Car is located in the Upper East Side neighborhood, very close to the southeast corner of Central Park. It is an ideal tourist attraction to complete the visit to this New York neighborhood after visiting some museums and walking its luxurious streets.

I recommend it to...

  • Round out your visit to the Upper East Side
  • Get new views of Manhattan
  • Get to know Roosevelt Island
  • Enjoy a very economical plan: the ticket is cheap and you can get on with the Metrocard

Why do I like it?

I like it because it is a very quiet place to go for a walk to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. On Roosevelt Island, there are several little parks and overlooks by the water perfect for taking some nice pictures of your trip and to let the kids play outside for a while if you're traveling as a family.

Isabel's Traveller Tip

In spring, the East River waterfront is a great place to enjoy the cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island with the New York skyline in the background.

2. When to take the Roosevelt Cable Car?

Views from the Roosevelt Island Cable Car | ©Ray SL
Views from the Roosevelt Island Cable Car | ©Ray SL

Since the cable car is a means of transportation that connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan, my advice is to avoid rush hour to go up since that's when New Yorkers use it to commute to work or to go home. So, best to avoid going up between 7 and 9 AM and 5 and 7 PM.

Each cabin holds about a hundred people so if it is crowded and if you can't get next to the windows, you won't be able to enjoy the view.

For example, you can ride the Roosevelt Cable Car at noon when you go to the Upper East Side. Once aboard, the cabin slowly rises, and you'll get a bird's eye view of the city. The cars look like miniature cars!

As you go along, the cable car will glide along the Queensboro Bridge and fly over the East River. Behind the bridge, you will see the Downtown skyscrapers and the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Closer you can see the spires of the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building.

Roosevelt Cable Car schedule

  • Sunday through Thursday open from 6 AM to 2 AM
  • Friday and Saturday it operates from 6 AM to 3:30 AM

How long is the cable car ride?

Although it may seem like the Roosevelt Cable Car moves slowly, in reality, the ride only takes 3 minutes and you'll be on the other side in no time.

3. How to get on the Roosevelt Cable Car?

Roosevelt Island Cable Car Rails | ©Clay Leconey
Roosevelt Island Cable Car Rails | ©Clay Leconey

If you are in Manhattan, you have to go to 59th Street and 2nd Avenue, that's where the entrance is located.

The cable car runs every 7 to 15 minutes depending on the time of day, so the wait will not be too long.

Once you get to Roosevelt Island you can get off for a walk around the island or if you want to return to Manhattan after the ride you will have to get off anyway, go through the turnstiles, pay again and get back on. This process is mandatory for all passengers.

Is it safe? Does it ever stop?

Yes, this transportation system is one of the safest in existence. Don't worry, it is rare for the cabin to stop in the middle of the trip.

4. How much does it cost to ride the Roosevelt Cable Car?

At the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway | ©Dan Gold
At the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway | ©Dan Gold

The single ticket to ride the Roosevelt Cable Car is $2.75, the same as it is to ride the New York subway.

If you plan to use public transportation regularly to get around the city, I recommend that you buy the MetroCard, a rechargeable card valid for the subway, bus and Roosevelt Cable Car.

The Metrocard can be recharged for:

  • Single rides (Pay per Ride)
  • Unlimited rides for 7 days
  • Unlimited rides for one month

Where and how to get the Metrocard?

To get the Metrocard you have to go to any metro station, where you will find the ticket vending machines. If it is the first time you buy a Metrocard you will have to choose the option "Get a new card" which has a $ 1 charge. Otherwise, you just have to select the option "Reload your card" and enter the balance you want.

Next you can choose the type of Metrocard: Regular Metrocard and Unlimited Ride. The last step is the payment method. You can use cash, a bank card (ATM), or a credit card to purchase the transportation card.

If you want to know more about the Metrocard, in the article New York Subway Guide I tell you everything you need to know about this card and to orient yourself and get the most out of the New York subway.

5. Is there another way to get to Roosevelt Island?

At the Roosevelt Island pier | ©Alex Simpson
At the Roosevelt Island pier | ©Alex Simpson

Indeed. Roosevelt Island can be reached by subway from both Manhattan and Queens. The subway stop is called Roosevelt Island and is on the F line.

You can also take the NYC Ferry to the Astoria neighborhood of Queens which stops at Roosevelt Island. The NYC Ferry was created to improve the connection between the boroughs of New York and to relieve congestion on the subway. However, it is also a fun adventure for tourists. After all, it is a cheaper alternative to tourist cruises and allows you to see the wonderful Manhattan skyline as well.

If you want to know more about this means of transport, in my article Practical guide to the New York ferry where I tell you everything you need to know about its routes, schedules, prices and more.

6. What to see on Roosevelt Island when you get off the cable car?

Walking on Roosevelt Island | ©Dan Gold
Walking on Roosevelt Island | ©Dan Gold

The Roosevelt Cable Car connects Manhattan Island with Roosevelt Island. As I mentioned before, you can take advantage of your visit to the Upper East Side to visit Roosevelt Island and complete the route through this area of New York.

Despite its small size, it has some tourist attractions that are well worth a visit and you can even make some magnificent panoramic views of Manhattan with your camera.

Once there you can take a walk along the island to see new views of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, as well as the skyline of the East River. You can also see the United Nations building from here.

In addition, next to the cable car stop for a free red bus called the Red Bus that travels around the island. It has several stops, so if you don't have much time to walk around the island you can use the bus and hop on and off whenever you want. Here you can check the schedules and stops.

You can track the Red Bus when you are on Roosevelt Island through the NEXT Bus app. You can get it through the Apple Store.

North to south tour of Roosevelt Island

  • On the north side of the island stands a small lighthouse called Blackwell Island Light, which was built in 1872 to point the way to the New York City Insane Asylum, a mental hospital on the island.

  • The only surviving remnant of that institution is The Octagon, a tower that has been restored and now serves as the lobby of a luxury development. It is located a few minutes south of the lighthouse.

  • Then head south along the west shore and you'll see several waterfront overlooks and parks. Roosevelt Island is quiet and the contrast with bustling Manhattan is striking.

  • In the center of the island is the Chapel of the Good Shepherd (543 Main Street), built in 1888 by the Episcopalian Church. It was restored in 1975 and is now a community center.

  • Around the church on Main Street there are several restaurants, cafes and a few supermarkets where you can buy something to eat if you work up an appetite. There is also a library and an art gallery.

  • At the corner of Main Street and East Road you will see the Blackwell House, a wooden cottage that is considered the sixth oldest cottage in New York. It was built in 1796 for the Blackwell family, who long owned the island and gave it its name at first. Today it is a small museum that tells the history of the island through exhibits, pictures and documents

  • If you continue walking south, after crossing the Queensboro Bridge below, you will find the buildings of Cornell University's technology campus, which opened in 2017. In the past, this site was home to a prison (the Blackwell's Island Penitentiary) and a hospital (the Goldwater Memorial Hospital) that cared for the chronically ill.

  • Moving forward you will reach an esplanade surrounded by silence where the island's wildlife roams freely. In this area, you will be able to take a good photo session of the Skyline of Manhattan. You will see several skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, or the United Nations building along the East River. In addition, the Roosevelt Island public baths are located in this area.

  • The next stop is Southpoint Park. Here you will find a building known as the Strecker Memorial Laboratory, which in the past was used as a morgue and pathological laboratory but today is used as a subway substation.

  • Nearby is a Cat Sanctuary, where children can peek inside to meet these cute little animals. By the way, on Roosevelt Island, you will find several playgrounds where the kids can play at their own pace. One in the Main Street area and another in The Octagon.

  • Then you will see the remains of the Smallpox Memorial Hospital, a center dedicated to the care of smallpox patients in the old days. Did you know that the architect who designed it was the same one who built the famous St. Patrick's Cathedral? His name was James Renwick Jr.

  • And finally, we arrived at Franklin D. Roosevelt Park also known as Four Freedoms State Park. At the entrance there is a ticket booth where you can make a $ 5 donation to help the conservation of the park although it is not mandatory, you can enter for free.

  • It is quite a nice park from where you have beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline. Also, looking east and towards Queens you will see Gantry Plaza Park and the Pepsi sign. A spectacular panoramic view of a particular corner of New York! You won't stop taking pictures. The park is open Wednesday through Monday from 9 AM to 5 PM. Closed on Tuesdays.

  • At the end of the tour you can take the Red Bus back to the starting point and continue exploring New York.

7. How to return to Manhattan from Roosevelt Island?

Back in Manhattan | ©Hellotickets
Back in Manhattan | ©Hellotickets

To get back to Manhattan you can choose to use the subway, the ferry, or the cable car again. If you took the cable car to Roosevelt Island, a good idea is to take the ferry back to enjoy a fun boat ride on the waters of New York City. If you're traveling as a family, the kids will have a blast riding the cable car and boat - it's an experience they won't forget!

The NYC Ferry's Astoria line stops at Roosevelt Island and on the return trip goes southbound towards Midtown Manhattan and Wall Street. Upon arrival you can continue your tour of the city by visiting the Financial District and Ground Zero.

If you would like to know more about what you can see in this part of the Big Apple, don't miss my article on 10 things to see and do at Ground Zero in New York City.