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Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor
Liberty Island

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

France presented the Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi statue to the United States in 1886 as a gesture of friendship and to mark the U.S. centennial. Her classic Roman design is based on Libertas, ancient Rome's goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression and tyranny. Shattered shackles sit at her feet.

What's special: The 305-foot statue (from the base to the tip of the flame) was the first sight that 12 million European immigrants saw after difficult voyages across the Atlantic from the late 19th century until the advent of transatlantic jet travel.

One thing you didn't know: The statue was a working lighthouse for 16 years; the light from the crown could be seen from 24 miles away.

Best way to see it: If you want to land on Liberty Island, you must buy a ferry ticket. Through Dec. 31, purchase them through Circle Line (866-782-8834, http://www.circlelinedowntown.com; $12 plus service fees). Statue Cruises (877-523-9849, http://www.statuecruises.com) takes over ferry service Jan. 1. Upon purchase, you'll get a timed pass, which enables you to visit the statue's museum and pedestal observation level; timed passes aren't needed if you just want to see the grounds and immigration museum.

Don't want to spend the money? Take the free Staten Island ferry across the harbor from Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan to St. George on Staten Island.

What to expect: Although a set number of timed passes are available each day, it's unpredictable how crowded the island will be, because visitors aren't required to depart on a specific ferry. Ferry tickets need to be purchased well in advance, especially for weekend visits and if you want to go into the statue. The ferries, which depart from the pier in Battery Park or from Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side, aren't too crowded, but go early in the day if you want to visit neighboring Ellis Island, which is included in the ticket price.

Unfortunately, you can no longer go to the top of the statue. Officials closed it after 9/11 and have said it has remained closed because of a lack of an evacuation plan. You'll have to settle for a quick peek up her robes, to check out her internal structure, designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.

Where to eat: Grab a snack at the Liberty Island concessionaire. Or tote along your own goodies; they're allowed on the ferry and at the statue.

More info:212-363-3200, http://www.nps.gov/stli.

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