Roosevelt Island Tramway NYC

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 NYC

Views of Roosevelt Island | ©Clay Leconey

The Roosevelt Cable Car is not one of the most popular tourist attractions for travellers visiting New York, but it has a lot of charm and offers beautiful views of the city. It's also a very economical ride because you only need a Metrocard to ride, the same card you use to travel by bus or underground.

Why take the Roosevelt Island cable car?

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

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

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

I recommend it if you want to

  • Complete your visit to the Upper East Side.
  • Get new views of Manhattan.
  • See 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's a very quiet place to go for a walk to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. There are several small parks on Roosevelt Island to add to the list of the top 10 parks in New York, as well as overlooks by the water that are perfect for taking some great photos of your trip and letting the kids play outside if you're travelling as a family.

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Roosevelt Cable Car ride ticket prices

On the Roosevelt Island Cable Car| ©Dan Gold
On the Roosevelt Island Cable Car| ©Dan Gold

A single ticket to ride the Roosevelt Island Cable Car costs $2.75, the same as a single ticket to ride the New York underground.

If you plan to use public transport regularly to get around the city, I recommend you buy the MetroCard, a rechargeable card valid for the underground, bus and the 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 charge of $1. Otherwise you just have to select the option "Recharge your card" and enter the balance you want.

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

If you want to know more about the Metrocard, the article New York Subway Guide tells you everything you need to know about the card and how to get the most out of the New York Subway.

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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

As the Roosevelt Island Cable Car is a means of transport connecting Roosevelt Island to Manhattan, my advice is to avoid rush hour when New Yorkers use the Roosevelt Island Cable Car to commute to and from work. So avoid going up between 7am and 9am and between 5pm and 9am.

Each cabin holds about 100 people, so if it's crowded and you can't get up close 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 on board, the cabin slowly rises and you 'll get a bird's eye view of the city- the cars look like miniature!

As the cable car travels along, it follows the Queensboro Bridge and flies over the East River. Behind the bridge you'll see the skyscrapers of Downtown and the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Closer to the bridge you can see the spires of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

Roosevelt Cable Car schedule

  • Sunday through Thursday open from 6:00 am to 2:00 am.
  • Fridays and Saturdays it operates from 6:00 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.

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 where the entrance is.

The cable car runs every 7 to 15 minutes depending on the time, so you won't have a long wait.

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 compulsory for all passengers.

Is it safe and does it stop?

Yes, this transport system is one of the safest in existence. Don't worry, it is rare for the cab to stop in the middle of the journey.

Isabel's Traveller Tip

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

Is there another way to get to Roosevelt Island?

From the Roosevelt Island jetty| ©Alex Simpson
From the Roosevelt Island jetty| ©Alex Simpson

Yes, Roosevelt Island can be reached by underground from both Manhattan and Queens. The underground 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 connections between New York's boroughs and to relieve congestion on the underground. However, it is also a fun adventure for tourists. You can also opt to take a cruise to see the architecture of Manhattan, either way you'll be able to see the Big Apple skyline.

If you want to know more about this mode of transport, check out my article A Practical Guide to the New York Ferry where I tell you everything you need to know about its routes, schedules, prices and more.

Book a cruise to see Manhattan's architecture

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

Roosevelt Island sightseeing| ©Dan Gold
Roosevelt Island sightseeing| ©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 your tour of this area of New York. Despite its small size, it has some tourist attractions that are well worth a visit and you can even get some great panoramic views of Manhattan with your camera.

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

Also, next to the cable car stop there is a free red bus called the Red Bus that travels around the island and 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. You can check the timetables and stops here. You can track the Red Bus when you're on Roosevelt Island via the NEXT Bus app.

Roosevelt Island north to south tour

  • On the north side of the island stands a small lighthouse called the 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 waterside lookouts and parks. Roosevelt Island is quiet and the contrast with bustling Manhattan is striking.
  • In the centre 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 centre.
  • Around the church on Main Street there are several restaurants, cafes and a few supermarkets where you can pick up a bite 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 to be the sixth oldest farmhouse in New York. It was built in 1796 for the Blackwell family, who owned the island for a long time and first gave it its name. Today it is a small museum that tells the history of the island through exhibits, pictures and documents.
  • If you continue south, after crossing the Queensboro Bridge at the bottom, you'll find the buildings of Cornell University's technology campus, which opened in 2017. The site was once home to a prison ( Blackwell's Island Penitentiary) and a hospital ( Goldwater Memorial Hospital) that cared for the chronically ill.
  • As you move on you will come to an esplanade surrounded by silence where the island's wildlife roams freely. Here you will be able to take a good photo session of the Manhattan skyline. You will see several skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the United Nations building along the East River. This area is also home to the Roosevelt Island public baths.
  • The next stop is Southpoint Park. Here you will find a building known as the Strecker Memorial Laboratory, which was once used as a morgue and pathology lab but is now used as an underground substation.
  • Nearby is a cat sanctuary, where children can peek inside to meet these cute little animals. By the way, on Roosevelt Island you'll find several playgrounds where the kids can play at their leisure. One in the Main Street area and another in The Octagon.
  • Then you'll see the remains of the Smallpox Memorial Hospital, a centre that once cared for smallpox patients. 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 come to 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 obligatory, you can get in for free.
  • It's quite a beautiful park with a great view of the Manhattan skyline. Also, looking east and towards Queens, you'll see Gantry Plaza Park and the Pepsi sign- a spectacular view of a unique 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.

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How to get back to Manhattan from Roosevelt Island?

Back to Manhattan| ©Hellotickets
Back to Manhattan| ©Hellotickets

To get back to Manhattan you can choose to use the underground, the ferry or the cable car again. If you took the cable car to Roosevelt Island, a good idea might be to take the ferry back for a fun boat ride on the waters of New York. If you're travelling 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 heads south towards Midtown Manhattan and Wall Street. Upon arrival you can continue your tour of the city and take a tour of Lower Manhattan, Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial.

If you want 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.

Book a tour of Lower Manhattan, Wall Street and 9/11 Memorial