Things to Do on Governors Island

This post is about Governors Island, a small island in the East River – where there is just about every kind of recreational activity possible. It’s a playground for kids AND adults! No cars are allowed on the island and you can stroll or ride a bike around the island while taking in beautiful views of the skyline. The best part: it is just 7 minutes from Lower Manhattan by ferry. Governors Island is a beloved quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of New York.  

How to get to Governors Island

History

When is Governors Island open

Things to do on Governors Island

 

 

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WHEN IS GOVERNORS ISLAND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC?

Season  May 1 through October 31. That is a full 6 months out of the year! 

Hours  

  • Monday – Friday: 10am to 6pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 10am to 7pm
  • Holidays including Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day  10am to 7pm.

HOW DO I GET TO GOVERNORS ISLAND?  

Governors Island is only accessible by a 7-minute ferry ride. Ferries depart from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street. It is circled in yellow on the map. 

 

How to get to Governors Island

 

Closest subway to Maritime Building 

  • 1 train to South Ferry 
  • R train to Whitehall Street
  • 4 and 5 trains to Bowling Green

Click here to get exact directions to the Governors Island Ferry Terminal from your departure point.

Tip:  If you are new to using the subway system, you may find our guide to Navigating the New York Subway useful.

Ferry Schedule from Lower Manhattan

  • Weekdays
    • every hour on the hour, starting at 10am with the last ferry leaving at 4pm.  
  • Weekends:
    • 10am, 11am and 11:30am, and then every half hour after that until 5:30pm (last boat).

For exact schedule information click here.  

Ferry Schedule from Brooklyn Pier 6 – Weekends only

  • 11am, 11:30, 12pm and 12:30pm, and then every hour on the half hour until 5:30pm. 
  • For exact schedule information click here.  


Ferry Ticket Prices in 2017

  • Adults: $2  (On Saturdays and Sundays all ferries up until 11:30am are free) 
  • Senior Citizens: $1
  • Children under 13: FREE
  • Season Pass: $20
  • No charge for bringing strollers or bikes on the ferry  

 

Alternative transportation to the island:

During summer months, another option for those coming from Queens and Brooklyn, (as well as Manhattan) the East River Ferry may be an easier option.  Check out our post on the East River Ferry for more information. 

 


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THINGS TO DO ON GOVERNORS ISLAND

There are numerous things to do on the island.  There is a full calendar of events during the season including concerts, festivals and guided tours of the island and the forts through the National Parks Service.  It’s an ideal place to come to relax, picnic, stroll, kayak, bike ride and visit the Island’s latest greatest activity, The Hills.

Visit The Hills

In 2017, the much-anticipated man-made “Hills” was completed. There are several hills offering different experiences and activities.  The Grassy Hill is a grassy slope for relaxing. Discovery Hill is an easy path to walk along. Outlook Hill is the tallest hill peaking at 70 feet above sea-level and has amazing views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the harbor. Lastly, there is Slide Hill, a family-friendly hill with slides of varying heights including the longest slide in NYC — three stories high and 57-feet long!

 

 

Bike-riding

You can bring your own bike, and if you do not have a bike, bike rentals are available on the island.  

  • Two-hour rentals start at $15 for adult bikes and $10 for kid’s bikes.
  • Free 1-hour rental: Every weekday from 10am until noon you can “rent” a bike for free for 1-hour. (one hour card is required but will not be charged unless the bike is returned damaged.)
  • New York Explorer Pass holders get free bike rentals.

TIP: If you have been thinking about getting a tourist pass to save money, our post, NYC Attraction Passes – Which is the best to buy? provides detail on the options out there as well as the pros and cons of each.

Kayaking   There is also free kayaking in collaboration with the Downtown Boathouse. Kayaking is available from mid-June through mid-September on Saturdays from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.  The program is Pier 101 in a small cove. (See map below).  

Tip: For other free boat rides and water activities see our post Free New York Boat Tours.

 

For kids

There is the Hammock Grove Play Area where kids can swing and climb on differing play structures and there are three sprinkler pools to run under and cool off and frolic.  There is also the wacky Adventure Playground which is modeled after a junkyard where kids can create freely and shape their environment with re-purposed materials.

 

Picnic or grab a snack  

There are several food vendors on the island, including many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options! Or you can bring your own food and a blanket and pick your favorite spot to dig in.

 

Map of Governors Island

You can download this map by clicking here.

Governors Island Map

 

Rules:

  • You are not permitted to bring alcohol to Governors Island, but is available for purchase on the island in designated areas.
  • There is no smoking permitted 
  • Fishing is permitted, but it is catch-and-release only and if you are over 16 years of age you must have a NY state fishing license.
  • Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • All packages and bags are subject to random search.

 


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HISTORY

This tiny island, located about 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan, was where the very first settlers of Dutch New Amsterdam landed.  The island has continued to be in use throughout New York’s History; as an island for the Royal Governor of British New York, as a military stronghold during the Revolution, and as first an Army and then a Coast Guard base.  

  • Before 1637– The Native American tribes living on Manhattan called the island Pagganck (“Nut Island.”)  The name likely came from the abundant chestnut, hickory and oak trees on the island.  Native American tribes used it as a seasonal fishing camp.
  • 1637– Dutchman Wouter Van Twiller purchased the island from the Native Americans of Manhattan.  He paid two ax heads, a string of beads and a handful of nails.  Van Twiller was a representative of the Dutch government, but he purchased the island for his own private use and called it Noyten Eylandt (Nutten Island).  The Dutch government confiscated the island a year later.
  • 1664– The British took over New Amsterdam and renamed it New York.  They also confiscated the island.  The island changed hands for the next ten years but eventually went to the British.  It became “for the benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors” and became known as Governor’s Island.
  • 1776– The island becomes an important stronghold during the American Revolution.  The American colonists fortified the island first, with 40 cannons and earthworks, but were eventually driven off by the British in August of 1776 following the Battle of Brooklyn.  The British held the island until the end of the war in 1783.
  • 1783– As a former holding of the Crown, Governor’s Island becomes the property of New York State.  Fort Jay is built on the island a year later.
  • 1800– The island is handed over to the federal government for military use due to its ideal positioning in New York Harbor.  Fort Jay is reconstructed and Castle Williams, the other major fortification on the island, is added in 1807.  These two structures still stand today, as national landmarks, and are considered the best examples of First System and Second System American coastal fortifications.
  • 1861– The island is used as a prison during the American Civil War.  Captured Confederate soldiers are held there.
  • 1912– The island is expanded.  The Army Corps of Engineers supervise the deposit of 4,787,000 cubic yards of fill of the south side of Governors Island.  The fill was the rocks and dirt that came from the excavation of the Lexington Avenue subway line.  The island is expanded and is now 172 acres.
  • 1939– The island becomes the headquarters of the U.S. First Army, the longest established field army of the United States.
  • 1966– Budget cuts from the Department of Defense close the Army Base on the island.
  • 1966– Governor’s Island becomes a Coast Guard Base.  It is the largest installation of the Coast Guard, with a self-contained residential community and a total population of 3,500.
  • 1986– The island is the setting for the lighting of the newly refurbished Statue of Liberty.
  • 1988– President Reagan hosted Mikhail Gorbachev on Governor’s Island for a U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit.
  • 1996– The Coast Guard base on the Island is closed.  President Clinton declares 22 acres of the island, including Castle Williams and Fort Jay, The Governor’s Island National Monument.
  • 2002– President George W. Bush, Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg announced that the island, minus the 22 acres of landmarked area, will be returned to the people of New York City for a nominal cost.
  • January 31, 2003– 150 acres of Governors Island is sold to New York City for 1$.

 

Whether you are a local or just visiting, take advantage of this seasonal opportunity. 
Enjoy the parks and beautiful views from Governors Island.

 

 


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Written by Katherine Weatherford

 

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