Visitors Guide to Governors Island: New York’s Most Unique Day Trip

Visitors Guide to Governors Island: New York’s Most Unique Day Trip

Looking for something unique and adventurous to do in New York in the warmer months, especially in summertime? Head to Governors Island, a fascinating spot just 800 yards from lower Manhattan. What used to be a base for the U.S. military, as well as the Coast Guard, is now New York City’s most hip outdoor playground. Fun for all ages, a trip to Governors Island is like taking a mini vacation.

A 172-acre island in New York’s harbor, Governors Island is car-free, and can be accessed by ferry from either South Street Seaport in Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn. When my family lived in Brooklyn, we used to take the ferry over with our bikes, which was all of 5 minutes. But once on the island, it was like being in another world. As Governors Island’s website says, “it is a world unto itself, unique and full of promise”. And that it is.

Ferry landing at Governors Island in New York City

What makes Governors Island so cool? To me, it’s the mere fact that for almost two centuries the island was closed to the public, as it was an army and Coast Guard base, and today you can walk around the old army buildings, historical houses, even a castle. The fact that walking or biking around the perimeter of the island gives you some of the most phenomenal views of the city and the Statue of Liberty. The fact that within the old world feel of the island there is also a modernity to it full of trendy food trucks, beer gardens, modern playgrounds and recreational activities.

The old hospital at Governors Island was fun to look at on our day trip to Governors Island

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You see, Governors Island has virtually been turned into an outdoor play space for New Yorkers looking to get out of the every day hustle and bustle. Operated by the Trust for Governors Island, the Friends of Governors Island and the National Park Service, the island is a place for sports activities, art installations and shows, on-going public programs, and several events throughout the season. There is a little bit of something for everyone, whether you’re more of an outdoorsy type, an art lover, a seeker, a wine lover, or all of the above.

Visitors Guide to Governors Island in New York, exploring the grounds

Things to do on Governors Island

First off, I recommend taking a look at a map of the island, which you can see here. There is a lot to explore, including Fort Jay, Castle Williams, food courts and food trucks, Liggett Terrace, Hammock Grove, Parade Ground, Play Lawn, Picnic Point, and the new and highly popular project The Hills.

Go Biking

Biking around the perimeter of Governors Island in New York

You can bring your own bikes on the ferry, or you can rent bikes from Blazing Saddles bike rentals. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the Manhattan ferry, closer to the center of the island, so just allow yourself the time. Available rentals include bikes, kids bikes, tandems, 4 seater surreys, helmuts and child seats.

Biking is the best way to see the island, and there is a path that takes you around the perimeter of the island where you can see all those must-have views. Some of the walking paths closer to the center of the island don’t allow bikes, FYI. There’s a lot of space to explore, so I highly recommend biking, plus it’s some of New York’s best biking paths. There is something so exhilarating about biking around the island and taking in the whole of the city from somewhere that seems so close, yet very far away at the same time.

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Hang out in Liggett Terrace and Hammock Grove

Located in the center of the island, Liggett Terrace has a food court, outdoor seating, a playground, obstacles courses and the nearby Hammock Grove. Looking out to the Statue of Liberty, Hammock Grove is a 10-acre space with up to 100 hammocks in it. Play, hang, eat, or people-watch! (also nearby is Play Lawn, with some much run-around and lounge space).

Check out The Hills

In its description of The Hills, Governors Island refers to it as an “island transformed for the future”. What exactly are The Hills? They are hills made of recycled construction and fill materials that rise 25 to 70 feet above the Harbor. The island’s “crown jewel”, the summit of the tallest hill provides onlookers with 360-degree panoramic views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan skyline.

View of the Statue of Liberty from Governors Island in New York

Also located within The Hills, is “Slide Hill”, which has 4 slides, including the largest slide in New York City (so be sure to take the kids there), as well as “Discovery Hill”, which has a permanent exhibition by the artist Rachel Whiteread, “Outlook Hill” and “Grassy Hill” where you can enjoy views atop in Adirondack chairs.

Enjoy some art

Governors island has become an amazing resource for art and site-specific instillations, exhibitions and performances, due to the vastness of the space, and the uniqueness of the island. The island’s commission program attracts artists from all over the city, and no doubt whenever you make a trip to Governors, there will be a myriad of interesting shows to see.

Eat Good Food

Crepes food truck is one of the many great foods on Governors Island in New York

Just because Governors Island isn’t connected to the rest of the city by land it doesn’t mean the food truck craze hasn’t taken over there either – oh, it has. On our recent trip we had the most delicious fresh crepes from the CREPES food truck. My veggie and mozzarella crepe was amazing. There is the Wing Lovers Food Truck, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Mi Pequeno Terruno, and Governors Beer Co, to name a few.

There are two food courts with these vendors and more, at Liggett Terrace and King Avenue Food Court (open only on the weekends).

Eating Mexican food on Governors Island in New York

For a snazzier experience head to Island Oyster at Soissons Landing. A waterfront oyster bar with cocktails and summer fare, you can sit, eat and drink while enjoying the Manhattan Skyline backdrop. There is also the new Taco Beach, another waterfront restaurant on the eastern side of the Manhattan ferry landing.

If you prefer to bring your own food, picnicking is allowed, however note no alcohol can be brought on the island – you must purchase beer, wine and cocktails from one of the many vendors.

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Go on Some Adventures

The Adventures at Governors Island zone includes the Amazen’ Maze, a Climbing Wall, and Mini Golf to be coming soon. Please note that there is also a popular zip line, however it is currently closed until further notice. You can read more about these activities, including pricing, here.

Explore Castle Williams, Fort Jay and the many historical buildings

Historical buildings against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline on Governors Island in New York

For us it was just enough to walk around these historical buildings, but should you want to tour the castle (which actually used to be an old prison) or Fort Jay, you can take a guided tour through the National Park Service. In just walking around, like us, you will come across many buildings, including old homes, a hospital, a movie theatre and more. It’s fascinating to explore and picture the island back in the day.

Take the Kids to The Yard

The Yard is a play space for kids 6 and older and is parents-free. Yes, adults are not allowed into The Yard, where trained staff help kids discover and play with things like hammers, shovels, paint, tires, wood and saws. Parents and kids under 6 are invited to go to an adventure play area nearby together.

Go to an Event

Governors Island has become known for its many events and festivals, some adult-themed, others family-style, and some a combo. Any age can enjoy an event on the island almost any weekend.

Examples of upcoming events include:

Late Friday Night (continual)– from Memorial Day weekend through September 14, the island stays open until 10.

Jazz Age Lawn Party, with live music, dancing and cocktails

Figment Festival, a family-friendly arts event

Pinknic, a rose-themed party where thousands of people descend in pink and white and drink rose all day. Sounds fabulous!

These are just some examples – make sure the check the website here for the latest in current events.

Walking around beautiful Governors Island in New York.

How to Get There and Need to Know

Governors Island is open from May 1 – October 31.

Getting to Governors Island is easy. You can either take a ferry from 10 South Street in Lower Manhattan, or from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Ferry service runs everyday from Manhattan, but only on Saturdays and Sundays from Brooklyn. See here for the ferry schedule.

Ferry round trip service: $3 for adults, free for children under 13, and $1 for senior citizens.

You can purchase tickets where you board, however arrive 15 – 20 minutes early, as lines do form.

Hours: Monday – Thursday, 10 – 6

Fridays, 10 – 10 (May 26 – September 14)

Saturdays and Sundays, 10 – 7

Governors Island is an experience like no other in New York City. It is also always changing and adding new events, programs, activities and more, so be sure to check the website before you plan your trip.

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Guide to things to do on Governors Island in New York City



  1. June 14, 2018 / 6:05 am

    What a brilliant place to escape to from the city. I’ll definitely hear this in mind when we eventually pay NYC a visit. #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:48 am

      If it’s during the warmer months I highly recommend a visit!

  2. June 14, 2018 / 7:11 am

    What a great place to explore and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. New Yorker families must love it – and good to know for visitors looking for something a bit different too. My kids would love the slide hill! #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:53 am

      It’s a great, alternative thing to do away from the crowds!

  3. June 14, 2018 / 7:33 am

    OK, you’ve officially made this look like an amazing day trip! I read other blogs about this but they weren’t nearly as detailed as this! Just love the history and how now its completely open to the public! #FarawayFiles

  4. June 14, 2018 / 7:53 am

    What great views and fun ideas. Do people live on the island? Is this the island that one takes a gondola type thingy if you don’t take the ferry? No, that one doesn’t have views of the Statue of Liberty. That may be Roosevelt Island. Anyway, this looks like a summer paradise if one wants a respite from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Cool tips. Thanks. #farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:55 am

      Yes – the gondola is Roosevelt Island – something I still need to do!

  5. June 14, 2018 / 10:27 am

    If only we had known about this gem before our NYC trip with kids. We had no idea where to look to escape the summer crowds. How the girls would have loved biking around the island while taking in those gorgeous skyline views. A great tip for a future Big Apple trip with kids. Thanks for pointing us in the right direction. #FarawayFiles

    • July 2, 2018 / 12:08 am

      You’re so welcome and thanks for the comment!

  6. June 14, 2018 / 10:35 am

    This really sounds amazing, Corey. I had no idea about it until I saw your Instagram posts. It really looks like a wonderful thing to do on a visit to New York in the summer. I love the sound of the jazz and the pink party too. #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:56 am

      I would LOVE to do the pink party some day – rose all day? – sign me up!

  7. June 14, 2018 / 10:57 am

    That sounds like such a cool daytrip! It’s so good to get out of the city from time to time. #FarawayFiles

  8. June 14, 2018 / 11:24 am

    You had me at “a place to ride a bike without the danger of being whacked by a car”. What a cool island to visit, and a great escape from New York when you need it! I’d actually never heard of Governor’s Island before, but now it’s on my list for our next trip to NY! #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:57 am

      Thanks – and yes it’s the best place to bike in the city!

  9. June 14, 2018 / 11:56 am

    What a fantastic spot – it reminds me a little of Suomenlinna which we explored in Helsinki this year except with more food trucks! Would love to spend the day biking and munching around #farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:58 am

      Can’t get enough food trucks!

  10. June 14, 2018 / 1:42 pm

    This looks like such a fun day out! I’m definitely putting in on my list… maybe we can go together?! #farawayfiles

  11. June 14, 2018 / 1:53 pm

    Looks so family friendly! Love the biking idea, my family would love it!!

  12. June 14, 2018 / 4:06 pm

    I love this! I read about it somewhere else, and I had it on my list for things to do in New York on my next trip, which looked to be the coming fall. But then plans changed, and New York is off the table. This looks so cool! #farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 11:59 am

      Oh no! Hope you make it to New York some day soon, Bea!

  13. June 15, 2018 / 9:20 am

    I love the sound of this place – and the ferry tickets are such good value! It reminds me of an island we explored when we visited Helsinki: these former military bases have been given new life.

    • July 2, 2018 / 12:07 am

      Sorry for the very late reply but my comments have been so screwed up recently and coming in at random times. I completely agree – new life to old military bases is a great thing :).

  14. June 15, 2018 / 3:27 pm

    I’ve only visited New York once and that was many years before the island opened. It sounds like a fabulous place to have on your doorstep – an oasis in the city, no wonder it’s so popular. #farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 12:00 pm

      Yes, total oasis – which in NYC is quite necessary!

  15. June 16, 2018 / 6:11 am

    Wow, it looks lovely! I’ve actually never heard of Governors Island, shamefully I’ve only been to NY once. But it looks like a nice break from the city! Thanks for sharing, I’ll keep it in mind for my next trip there 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 12:02 pm

      Thanks Jessica – many people have not heard of the island before – one of the reasons why I love it!

  16. June 16, 2018 / 8:27 am

    This looks like a great place to visit, I can’t believe I have never heard of it before. I’m not too sue when my next trip to NYC will be, but Governors Islands is definitely going on my ‘to see’ list.

    I do love to visit all the iconic places in NYC, however, it’s great to find somewhere a little different. Thanks for sharing #farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 12:03 pm

      I think it’s always good to have alternative spots to visit in NYC just to get a reprieve from all the crowds!

  17. June 16, 2018 / 9:20 am

    Oh what a fun place to be especially during spring and summer when there’s plenty of sunshine and the days are longer. I would love to explore the island on a bike and try out food from the food trucks – what a great place to while away the weekend 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 12:04 pm

      Thanks Kat – biking and food trucks are always a good idea!

  18. June 16, 2018 / 5:25 pm

    This sounds amazing Corey. I have to admit to not even being aware of Governors Island despite having visited NY a number of times. It is definitely somewhere I would like to visit in the future. #Farawayfiles

    • June 24, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      Thanks Angie – many people haven’t heard of it before, you are not alone in that boat!

  19. June 26, 2018 / 11:38 am

    This sounds like such a lovely oasis – I didn’t know anything about it so thank you. It looks like a really atmospheric thing to do during the New York summer. The jazz and cocktails on the lawn… I would love that #FarawayFiles

    • June 29, 2018 / 12:29 pm

      The rose party sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?! Thanks for the comment.

  20. July 9, 2018 / 4:31 am

    photos and video, such a cool city and you’ve captured it so well.

  21. July 9, 2018 / 4:33 am

    It’s an awesome Place. The images are very beautiful and eye-catching.

  22. July 12, 2018 / 2:08 am

    Wow, one more rest reason to go back to New York.

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