To Athens by ferry

Hudson-Athens ferry composite

By Duncan Crary

Ahead of the Rail, River, Hudson II tour this coming weekend, we have a series of posts focusing on the Hudson River this week.

Last summer, in anticipation of AOA's Rail, River Hudson trip, I made the case that "How you get there matters, because getting there is half the fun." This time around, I'll add that getting there by boat will make any location feel more exotic.

Here in the Capital Region we have a few cruise boats that offer roundtrip sightseeing and/or party cruises (like the Dutch Apple II in Albany, The Captain JP II in Troy and the The Caldwell Belle in Schuylerville). These are all great ways for the public to experience our rivers by boat. But except for special events, these local cruisers are rarely used for commuting between destinations. And while there's been a lot of talk over the years of bringing water taxis to Albany, we're still waiting to see that happen.

You don't have to go too far downriver, though, to find public water transit. For the past three years, the Hudson-Athens Ferry has been carrying people between that city and village, across the Hudson River.

Two weeks ago, I finally made it onboard with a fellow traveler from Troy. Here are a few notes from our adventure...

River Week is sponsored by: Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Albany BID, Dutch Apple Cruises, Harmony Mills, Hudson River Greenway, Nine Pin Cider, Sweet Sue's, and Downtown Troy BID.

River Week in-post ad Dutch Apple

River Week in-post ad Hudson Valley Ramble

Hudson-Athens ferry
The Hudson-Athens Ferry is owned and operated by Hudson Cruises Inc. on Water Street in downtown Hudson.

We arrive in Hudson shortly after 5:40 pm on Saturday night and make our way to the dock at Waterfront Park. The ferry departs from Hudson on the top of the hour, and from Athens on the half hour. Lucky for us, the "Spirit on Hudson" paddle boat is docked and the crew invites us on deck to purchase beers while we wait.

At 6 pm we board the ferry, purchase our round trip tickets for $12 (cash only) and set sail for Athens with a handful of other passengers. The weather is overcast so we are deprived the romantic view of the Catskill Mountains looming over the river. But we do get an up-close look at the spectacular Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. It's automated today and still guides passing ships and barges around Middle Ground Flats Island. The last civilian lightkeeper to live in the house with his family was Emil Brunner during the 1930s. Today the lighthouse is maintained by the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society which offers tours in conjunction with the Hudson-Athens Ferry.


As we approach the village of Athens the Stewart House and its weeping willow trees beckon to us. We hop onto the dock and soon we're exploring on foot. First, we make our way up Second Street taking in the charming architecture along the way.

village of Athens from river

village of Athens 1

village of Athens 2

Soon, we pass the Athens Cultural Center and peer through the window at the current exhibit, Taking Root: Caniskek and the Meeting of Two Worlds, which runs until July 26.

Hudson-Athens Athens Cultural Center

Our first stop is Crossroads Brewing Company for dinner and a pint. The pub and brew house are located on the first floor of the restored Brooks Opera House, which was built in 1893. As we enter, the hostess asks if we have reservations, which we do not, but she's able to accommodate us at the last free high-top table in the bar area. Except for a few spots at the bar, the place is full so I recommend calling ahead to make reservations for dinner on the weekends.

Hudson-Athens Crossroads Brewing

I order the Brick Row Red Ale to drink with the Local Lamb and Ale Meatballs ($10) and a cup of vegetable soup ($3). My friend has the Black Rock Stout and the Greene Burger, which is a homemade veggie patty of seasonal greens, beans, roasted peppers, and brewed barley, with a side of fries ($12). Pints are $5. Everything is excellent and the staff is incredibly friendly.

Hudson-Athens Crossroads interior backlit

On the wall is a photograph of the former, much larger Hudson-Athens Ferry, which I am told carried people and cars. It ran in the early 1900s until 1935, when the Rip Van Winkle Bridge opened, connecting Catskill and Greenport.

Hudson-Athens old ferry photo in Crossroads

After dinner we head back to the Stewart House for a nightcap. But before going inside we stop to check out the River Garden Bar across the street. There are benches throughout the large patio area, with other seating around the open-air gazebo bar. This outdoor bar wasn't serving at the time of our visit, but it's motivation for me to return to Athens soon.

Hudson-Athens River Garden Bar

Hudson-Athens Stewart House

The Stewart House is a 9-room boutique hotel in a restored 1883 inn. On the first floor is a northern Italian bistro and a cozy bar where we settle in for another round of beers. Presenting a Hudson-Athens Ferry ticket will either earn you a discount at the bistro or your second drink free at the bar -- this offer, and the great live music, were enough to entice us to stick around until the final return ferry of the night at 10:30 pm.

Hudson-Athens Stewart House bar

On our return voyage, the darkness of the cloud-covered night inspires me to tell my friend about the famous Hudson-Athens Ferry scene in Stephen Spielberg's 2005 adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. If you haven't seen this movie, the part featuring Athens, New York (as itself) is worth it alone. In the scene, a beleaguered Tom Cruise and his two children are traveling upstate by van attempting to evade the alien invaders. When they arrive in Athens, the village is mobbed with desperate people heading toward the ferry (which is a much larger car ferry in the film). Without spoiling too much, I'll just say that the ferry encounters a submerged, gigantic Martian tripod.

Fortunately, our voyage passes without incident and soon we're back on land in Hudson. On our way home, my friend and I both agree that the whole experience felt like we were in a faraway land. It's the ferry ride that creates the effect, like a magical punctuation mark that segments our trip in the way no car ride ever could.

Service on the Hudson-Athens Ferry is only on Friday and Saturday nights, from 5-10:30 pm, Memorial Day weekend through September, and occasionally at other times during special events.

Duncan Crary is a collaborator on AOA's Rail, River, Hudson! event.

More River Week
+ Hopping islands in the Hudson River
+ Odd and notable creatures of the Hudson River
+ What's your favorite local body of water?

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