Ok, show of hands: how many of you have ever visited Governor’s Island? If you have, you already know this hidden NYC gem is the site of near perfect days full of many family memories, like laughing until tears stream down your face as you try to ride a tandem bike with your spouse and kids. If you haven’t been there yet, here’s what you need to know before you go!
A Little History
Located just off the coast of lower Manhattan, Governor’s Island is the former military base of the US Army and US Coast Guard. The centuries of military use left a palpable history on the island and many of the buildings are unchanged, including a prison that dates back to the 1800s.
Beginning every Memorial Day through the end of September, the island is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and on holiday Mondays from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.
In Manhattan, get the free ferry starting at 10:00 am from the Battery Maritime Building located at the corner of South Street and Whitehall Street. From Brooklyn the free ferry leaves at 11:00 am from Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. If you’re using the East River Ferry from 34th Street or other stops, tickets are $4 for adults for a one way fare and up to two kids ride free. Check out their schedule here to plan your trip.
What to Do When You Get There
Bike: Rent bikes from Bike and Roll and ride around the island. There are two locations on the island and they have a variety of bikes to choose from, including bikes for kids, adults, tandems, trailers and even quadcycles. Rates are reasonable – you can rent a small quadcycle for $35 an hour. But given the hilarity that will ensue after riding the quad, the memories will really be priceless.
Tour: Take a free guided tour of the prison, they start at 10:30 am and then every half hour after. You’ll see the actual cells and hear what life was like for many that lived within the walls.
Or, if you’re more curious about the future of Governor’s Island than the past, go on a Behind the Scenes Hard Hat Tour. Adults and kids over age 7 can take a tour of the construction currently going on around the island. No need to RSVP, but spaces are filled on a first come, first served basis, so plan ahead by checking out these tour times.
Picnic: There are so many grassy fields you’ll be able to find the perfect spot to just chill and enjoy the NYC summer. Plus, if you don’t want to haul food with you, there are a few food trucks and even a beer garden on the island so you don’t have to pack the whole fridge.
Play: There are also playgrounds, mini golf, spaces for kids to make art and even a section of hammocks, just in case you feel the need to relax. Review this map to plan out your day so you can make the most of it! Our guess is you’ll be making some return trips! (We will be too!) Special events will be happening all summer, like RECESS Badminton, so check out the events calendar to make your trip coincide with something awesome.
- Need a bathroom break? There are port-a-potties all around the island. Naturally, the earlier in the day, the cleaner they are.
- The later the ferry time, the more crowded they will be. Plan for lines if your day is starting around noon.
- Bring a camera! The views are pretty spectacular.
- You can bring your own bikes instead of renting. The ferries allow bikes on board, but you’ll pay a surcharge if you’re using the East River Ferry.
- If you do rent, you may want to bring your own helmets and safety gear for the kiddos to avoid fit issues with rentals.
What’s your favorite way to explore Governor’s Island?
— Jesseca Stenson