Since it was first gifted to the United States by France in 1886, the Statue of Liberty has served as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy, a welcoming emblem to newcomers from around the world. The monument, along with its sister site Ellis Island, continues to receive huge groups of “huddled masses” to this day, with an estimated 4.5 million annual visitors to the two landmarks combined.
However, on May 16—the same day that the long-awaited Statue of Liberty Museum is unveiled on Liberty Island—commercial guided tours will be banned at some of the site’s most popular areas, including the famed observation deck on the statue’s pedestal, the National Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island, and the new Statue of Liberty Museum itself.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), which runs both sites, the large crowds of visitors who arrive on commercial tours daily cause a variety of problems, the most prominent being the obstruction of pedestrian traffic flow. NPS spokesperson Jerry Willis told the New York Times that the ban on commercial tour guides in various areas of both sites stems from a need to combat “mounting overcrowding and conflicts with National Park Service programming and operations in the interior spaces on both islands.” These issues, he continued, have “severely degraded the visitor experience in the park.’’
NPS officials say that commercial guides will still be permitted to conduct outdoor tours on both islands, as well as inside of the Statue of Liberty’s lobby and mezzanine—but not on the observation deck. Additionally, commercial tour guides can lead “a brief site orientation” for groups on the first floor of the Ellis Island Museum from November through March as well as during periods of inclement weather.
The NPS will continue to offer its own ranger-led tours of both sites. These tours are included in the price of a ferry ticket with Statue Cruises, the official line that provides transportation service from Manhattan’s Battery Park to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. (One ferry ticket grants access to both islands—see fees and passes here.)
In 2018, New York City received a record high of 65.2 million visitors. Presumably, the move to limit tour groups at two of the city’s most well-known sites comes in response to this rise in tourism. Still, it should be noted that once visitors to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island hop off of the Statue Cruises ferry, they are free to explore the grounds on their own (although advanced tickets are required to access the statue’s pedestal and crown). >> Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to New York City