How to Visit Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum in New York

Set aside some time during your visit to the Statue of Liberty to see the neighbouring Ellis Island, known as the "Island of Hope and Tears".

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

9 min read

How to Visit Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum in New York

View of Ellis Island | ©Andi M

Just 10 minutes by ferry from the Statue of Liberty is Ellis Island, the famous gateway to the United States that millions of immigrants crossed in search of a better life in America and that you've seen so many times in the movies.

Visiting places like the Immigration Museum, The Great Hall, The Wall of Honor or the Ellis Island Hospital will give you a better understanding of a very interesting chapter in the history of the United States and the names and stories of the people who helped build the country. In this post we review some of the most outstanding places to see on Ellis Island. Take note!

The best option

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Tour with Ferry

Enjoy a ferry ride with stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

Take a tour aboard a cruise ship with a tour guide. Visit the Statue of Liberty and tour Ellis Island with included admission to the Liberty Island Museum and the Immigration Museum.

With this boat tour you'll be able to enjoy two obligatory visits if you're in the Big Apple: Liberty Island and Ellis Island. In addition to relaxing on the water, you'll have the opportunity to tour the islands, visit the museums on each one and learn with a guide about the stories behind each of them.

You can choose between two options: a more comprehensive tour of approximately 4 hours with a guided tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island, or a basic tour of about 30 minutes around Battery Park, with audio guides to tour the islands.

The most complete option

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and 9/11 Memorial Tour

See three of New York's most iconic sights and travel by ferry.

Visit the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the 9/11 Memorial with an expert guide. You'll learn about the monuments and museums that keep alive the history of hundreds of thousands of American citizens.

This 5 hour guided tour will give you the full experience. You will travel by ferry to the Statue of Liberty, one of the country's icons and the first stop for all European immigrants arriving across the Atlantic. Then you'll visit Ellis Island and learn about the history of all those who once struggled to achieve the American dream, and finally you'll tour the 9/11 Memorial and delve into the history of one of the most tragic moments in the history of the country with an exponential impact on the world.

Learn about the history of immigration in the United States

Ellis Island Immigration Museum| ©Lenny Spiro
Ellis Island Immigration Museum| ©Lenny Spiro

Entering the Immigration Museum is the most important part of a visit to Ellis Island. The building is located on the north side of the island and is divided into several floors that cover the phenomenon of immigration to the United States through different historical periods up to the present day.

To serve so many people, this huge immigration centre was built and divided into several floors that served different functions within the immigration process. Today they look very different from how they did over a century ago but walking through the halls it is easy to imagine the bustle, chaos and confusion that many foreigners felt within these walls when they disembarked at Ellis Island after a long ocean voyage.

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What to see at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Ellis Island Immigration Museum|©Pablo Díaz
Ellis Island Immigration Museum|©Pablo Díaz

On your tour of the museum you will see:

  • First floor: the ground floor where the Luggage Room is located, the space where new arrivals would check in their belongings upon disembarking. Here you can see a lot of old suitcases with which people used to travel to Ellis Island. It's a curious sight to see, especially compared to today's lighter and more easily transportable luggage.
  • First floor: here you will find the most striking part of the visit, The Registry Room (also known as "The Great Hall") and The Hearing Room, the two rooms where the medical check-up and the legal interview that determined the entry or expulsion of these immigrants from the United States took place, the most crucial moment of their journey!
  • Third floor: Finally, you will see The Dormitory Room, the place where immigrants who were temporarily detained for various reasons spent the night. The dormitory had a capacity for about 300 people who slept on bunk beds that could be raised to convert this space into a waiting room for the rest of the day.

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How much time do I need to tour the Immigration Museum?

Immigration Museum|©coco&bambú
Immigration Museum|©coco&bambú

As you can see, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is quite large and can take several hours to explore in detail if you're really interested in the subject. However, remember that the last ferry to Battery Park and Liberty State Park leaves at 5:15 PM so keep an eye on the clock.

Practical info

  • Address: Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY 10004.
  • How to get there: By ferry from Battery Park or Liberty State Park
  • Hours: Open daily Monday through Sunday from 9:30 AM to 4:45 PM. Closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
  • Price: From €20

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Be amazed by the size of The Great Hall

Ellis Island Great Hall| ©Mark
Ellis Island Great Hall| ©Mark

Inside the Immigration Museum, one of the most famous spaces you've probably seen in the movies on many occasions is this huge room located on the first floor of the Immigration Museum called The Great Hall. This is where new arrivals to Ellis Island were gathered so that the authorities could proceed with their medical inspection and legal registration in order to check that they met all the requirements to enter the country.

Today it is just a large empty room where silence reigns today, but in its day it used to receive 5,000 people a day who impatiently waited here for their turn to be examined. Only 1% of immigrants were denied access.

One of those foreigners who came to the United States in pursuit of their dreams, Spanish architect Rafael Gustavino, was commissioned to rebuild the entrance and vaults of The Great Hall.

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Marvel at the exhibits at the Immigration Museum

Ellis Island Immigration Museum Exhibits| ©Lotte Meijer
Ellis Island Immigration Museum Exhibits| ©Lotte Meijer

The Immigration Museum's exhibits will give you the context you need to understand the importance of the immigration phenomenon in the United States and its impact on the country's present.

During your visit, I recommend that you don't overlook them and spend some time with them, as all the exhibits are presented in an educational and entertaining way with explanatory panels, infographics, videos and photographs. Whether you go with children or if you are not a big fan of museums, I can assure you that you will have a very entertaining time.

Sections of the Immigration Museum

  • In the first section you will find the exhibition Journeys: the Peopling of America 1550-1890, which deals with immigration from colonial times to Ellis Island customs.
  • The second section through The Ellis Island Experience 1890- 1954 deals with the period of the great waves of immigration to the country through the exhibitions "Peak Immigration Years" and "Through America's Gate". You'll see what the admission process was like, the requirements to be met and their role in building what is now America.
  • The final section Journeys: New Eras of Immigration 1945-Present looks at the phenomenon of immigration in recent times and it is very interesting to compare it with the old method, seeing the enormous differences in the process.
  • There is also a room dedicated to the Restoring a Landmark exhibition which tells the story of the building itself.

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What collections can I see at the Immigration Museum?

Ellis Island Immigration Museum Collection| ©David Cornforth
Ellis Island Immigration Museum Collection| ©David Cornforth

One thing that will really stand out during your visit to Ellis Island is the collections housed at the Immigration Museum about the events that took place here a little over a century ago.

Strolling through its halls you'll see a multitude of real personal items that these people brought with them from their countries of origin (such as photographs, letters, passports, inspection cards, boat tickets, suitcases, etc.) that help us reconstruct their stories and understand the multicultural roots of the United States from the very place where it all began. It's a fascinating experience not to be missed!


  • Treasures From Home: for the emotional content this exhibition presents as it is made up of many of the objects that these families brought with them from their home countries and to which they attached a personal value great enough not to leave behind: bibles and prayer books, family documents and photographs, crockery, traditional costumes and much more. All of these things were donated to the National Park Service by the families who came to the country.
  • Silent Voices: which explains the period after Ellis Island was closed as an Immigration Centre in 1954. A period of neglect that was immortalised by the cameras of many photographers before restoration work began in the 1980s. To see inside the exhibition some of the original furniture and fixtures in the same state as they were found before the building was restored as if time had stood still is a sight to behold.

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See The Wall of Honor

Wall of Honor at Ellis Island| ©Nicola's Picture
Wall of Honor at Ellis Island| ©Nicola's Picture

Outside the Immigration Museum and overlooking the Lower Manhattan skyline you'll find the Wall of Honor, a memorial where the names of thousands of immigrants who came to Ellis Island in search of a better future and who helped build the United States are engraved.

The curious thing is that The Wall of Honor is not a finished memorial, as descendants of those immigrants can still pay tribute to their ancestors by adding their names to the walls in exchange for a donation to The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

Take some time to take some photos of the beautiful scenery from here and to look up the name of one of your ancestors if you know they emigrated to America. Perhaps their name is mixed in with many famous people who did so in their time, such as the writer Isaac Asimov, the actor Bela Lugosi or the painter Max Ernst.

Search for your ancestors in the Ellis Island archives

Ellis Island Records| ©Antxoa
Ellis Island Records| ©Antxoa

If you know that one of your relatives emigrated to the United States in the past, in addition to checking out The Great Wall, you can take advantage of your visit to Ellis Island to look through the documents and perhaps find their name in the database of The American Family Immigration History Center.

You'll find it on the first floor of the Immigration Museum and it has a whopping 65 million immigrant arrival records stored in the Ellis Island archives.

In case you're looking for a clue to find out more about your family tree, this might be the place to start your research! However, you can also access the database online through The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation website.

Discover the abandoned Ellis Island hospital

Ellis Island Abandoned Hospital| ©Allison Meier
Ellis Island Abandoned Hospital| ©Allison Meier

On the south side of the island and opposite the Immigration Museum is the Ellis Island Hospital, the place to which immigrants suffering from symptoms of illness were sent after undergoing a quick medical check-up at The Great Hall. In fact, it is estimated that at least 10% of all immigrants arriving at Ellis Island ended up in this hospital.

The building is now abandoned and in ruins but can be visited on a guided tour. During the tour a guide takes you through the different departments and rooms that are open to the public. You can see the laundry, the infectious and contagious diseases wing, the kitchens, the morgue and the autopsy room, among other things.

Enjoy the views of Ellis Island

Lower Manhattan from Ellis Island| ©Reinhard
Lower Manhattan from Ellis Island| ©Reinhard

Take advantage of your visit to Ellis Island to enjoy a different perspective of the views of New York from this enclave on the Hudson River. You'll be able to add to your collection of new photos from your trip and especially from this exciting visit.

Pay attention to your surroundings and get your camera ready because during the tour of Ellis Island you will be able to see:

  • The Statue of Liberty with "Lady Liberty" standing imposingly to the south with her torch lighting up the world.
  • The Lower Manhattan skyline full of skyscrapers including the One World Observatory.
  • Liberty State Park in New Jersey and Battery Park in Manhattan.
  • Governor's Island National Monument and Park.
  • The Hudson River in all its splendour.

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