Rising to the top on a visit to Lady Liberty

A visit to the Statue of Liberty is a highlight of any trip to New York City. The view from her crown is stunning, but so is the climb to get there, and not necessarily in a good way. Making that climb is the only way to access the very top of the statue. However, visitors who can't or don't want to take the stairs can still enjoy visiting the pedestal below Lady Liberty's feet. It's accessible by elevator and has observation points from which to enjoy the city skyline.

Visiting the pedestal

Contrary to what some visitors picture, the Statue of Liberty doesn't stand just above the ground. In fact, Lady Liberty's feet are located near the middle of the monument. The pedestal that she stands on stretches several stories into the air and contains a museum and observation decks. You can climb 215 steps from the lobby to the highest observation deck or take an elevator.

Note that this bottom half of the monument isn't completely wheelchair accessible. Visitors using wheelchairs can reach the museum, the top of the pedestal and the exterior of Fort Wood, the building shaped like an 11-pointed star below the pedestal. But the outdoor observation deck at the top of the pedestal is not wheelchair accessible.

Visiting the crown

If you're in good physical condition and manage to get crown tickets, you can make the climb to the top of the statue. There are 377 steps between the lobby of the pedestal and the top of the crown. Although you can use an elevator to the top of the pedestal, you'll have to walk the last 162 steps from there to the crown. The narrow spiral staircase can be crowded, so the walk may be slow.

The National Park Service, which oversees the Statue of Liberty, advises against the climb for people with health issues, including heart or respiratory conditions and vertigo. If you're afraid of heights or confined spaces, skip the trip to the top.

Children are allowed to visit the crown only if they're at least 4 feet tall and accompanied by an adult.

Planning your visit

Like many tourist attractions, the Statue of Liberty sees its worst crowds during summer and popular school break periods and around holidays. Weekends tend to be more crowded than weekdays, but during those peak periods, Liberty Island is still packed. Plan to visit during the morning to minimize wait times. The first ferries head to the island starting at 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m., depending on the time of year.

Give yourself several hours for the entire experience. Ferries to Liberty Island also stop at Ellis Island, so the ferry ride can take up to 30 minutes one way. Lines for ferries can be long, so Statue Cruises recommends travelers get to their chosen departure point (either the Battery in Manhattan or Liberty State Park in Jersey City) at least 30 minutes before departure. Ferries are wheelchair accessible.

You will need a ticket to access the pedestal and a ticket to access the crown, if you want to make the climb, but don't count on buying them when you get to Liberty Island. Buy them online before the day of your trip. Crown tickets are limited and often sell out far in advance. If you are able to secure crown tickets, you'll be limited to four, and you must supply the names of the members of your party. You may also buy grounds tickets if you want to visit the island but don't care about going inside the monument.

All visitors have to be screened by security before getting on the ferry. Don't bring large packages like luggage or weapons of any kind with you. Anyone who wants to visit the pedestal or crown must go through a second security check. No food, drinks other than water, strollers, backpacks, laptops or tablet computers are allowed. You may bring these things to the island, but you'll have to rent a locker at the entrance to the monument and leave prohibited items inside.

If you plan to visit the crown, bring a full bottle of water with you and wear non-slip shoes that are suitable for exercise. Visit the bathroom before you start the climb, because the monument's only facilities are in the lobby.