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.
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.
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!
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.)
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).
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.
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.