Think summer hasn’t started yet? Tell that to the people at Governors Island, where they are open and ready to party! The 172-acre beautiful, bucolic, and car-free island of fun and free events kicked off a schedule of non-stop programming on May 1, and you can visit this on through October. The 2019 offerings include many returning favorites (renegade playground The Yard, Jazz Age Lawn Party, etc.) and tons of new events, features, food—and even a fresh ferry. Get out your calendar because as usual, Governors Island is worth a few visits this summer. Here’s your complete guide to doing Governors Island with kids right in 2019!
But First, The Basics
Governors Island is open every day from May 1 through October 31. On weekdays, the Island is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Island is open from 10 AM to 7 PM. The Island will be open on July 4th from 10 AM to 6 PM.
Note!: Most of the island is open all week, but much of the programming (especially for kids and families, is run on the weekends, so double check your activity/destination is open before you go.)
Getting there: It's an island, so you're taking a ferry
Ferries run from Lower Manhattan every day from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street. Direct service from Brooklyn runs from Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturdays, Sundays, Memorial Day and Labor Day. All weekday and weekend afternoon ferries from Brooklyn and Manhattan are $3 round trip for adults. Children under 12, IDNYC holders and Governors Island Members ride for free at all times and senior citizens’ fares are half price.
Morning ferries (10 AM and 11 AM and 11:30 AM from Manhattan and 11 AM and 11:30 AM from Brooklyn) on Saturdays and Sundays are free for all. There is no surcharge for bicycles. Visitors can purchase ferry tickets at the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan or at Pier 6 in Brooklyn. Only cash is accepted.
See Governors Island ferry schedule here: govisland.com
New Ferry, Extended Hours
You can also take an NYC Ferry operated by Hornblower. (These are deluxe ferries, with snack bars, nice seats, and soon, wifi.) In addition to numerous commuter routes, there's a Governors Island shuttle on the weekends from Wall Street. Buy tickets online and download them to the NYC Ferry app on your phone. Tickets are $2.75, with $1 charge for bikes.
There's even a new ferry, and a new stop at Wall Street's Pier 11. Service there kicks off May 25. Click here for schedule info and a map.
Beginning in June, visitors will be ferried to the Island by a brand-new, 400-passenger ferry. Built to serve flexible routes and support the ever-expanding events and services offered, the new ship will increase frequency of trips between Lower Manhattan and Gov Island's Soissons Landing on weekends, with service approximately every 20 minutes, carrying an additional 1,000 passengers per hour. (A new weekend ferry schedule will go into effect in June.)
Some are free, some you pay for; all are worth checking out at some point!
The Yard (formerly play:ground)
One of our favorite spots on the island for kids, this is a free-wheeling, anything-goes junk playground kids can't get enough of. Formerly known as play:ground, The Yard gives kids raw materials like lumber, rope, discarded mannequins, wheels, playground balls ands so much more and lets them create whatever they like.
Parents sign a waiver before kids enter on their own; there are some staff on hand to make sure everything stays safe. Most parents retire to a nearby shady slope with chairs to watch from afar.
There's a water table with fountains and faucets for hydrating nearby, and even loaner shoes for kids who arrive in flip-flops. (Only closed-toe shoes are allowed inside.) The Yard does reach capacity, so head here first if you definitely want a chance to play.
(If your kid really can't get enough of it this place, consider signing up for the summer day camp here where it's all junk, all the time. Read more about The Yard here. )
The Yard is open Mon. Sat., & sun. Noon - 4 p.m.
The Yard: Toddler Edition
If you've got a really little one in tow, there's even a mini version of The Yard they can enjoy—with your close supervision. Parents can explore a toddler and baby-friendly mini version of the wacky playground, in an area to the left of the big kids' version.
A 10-acre park populated with hills that offer amazing views, public art, and the chance to get some exercise, The Hills is also home to some seriously super slides. Head to the aptly name "Slide Hill" for some fun both kids and adults enjoy. Read our full write-up here.
Note: There is a bathroom nearby, so this is a good place for a pit stop.
What's not to love? Fifty red hammocks just asking you to take a load off and relax.
Hammock Grove Playground
You'll also find huge play structures for climbing, clambering, and swinging in Hammock Grove, and there's a big giant hanger sculpture nearby as well that's fun to swing from and climb.
The Children's Museum of Arts Free Arts Island Outpost
On weekends from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., The Children's Museum of Arts will host the Free Arts Island Outpost. Kids can take part in free, hands-on art making workshops and art-viewing experiences courtesy of the popular downtown museum. Encouraging families to collaborate and be creative with found objects and materials, this is a space to invent, adapt, and transform relationships to art and the art making process. The 2019 season runs from June 1—October 27, 2019.
Ziplining, Mini Golf, Climbing, and a Maze at Adventures at Governors Island
The zone for "Xtreme" activities like ziplining, scaling "rock" walls, as well as nautical-themed mini gold and a maze to navigate the way out of, Adventures at Governors Island returns for the season. (You do pay for these, but ziplining with a clear view of downtown Manhattan is kind of worth it.)
Dig In the Dirt at the Island's Urban Farm
Head to the Island’s Urban Farm, to engage firsthand in programs that span environmental stewardship and sustainability.
GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden and Earth Matter NY’s Compost Learning Center and Soil Start Farm both return.
The Island Bee Project’s Bee Sanctuary expands their family to 80,000 honeybees with the addition of a new hive this year in partnership with the Honeybee Conservancy. (Opens June 1)
Finally, Artist Mary Mattingly’s food accessibility awareness project, Swale, returns with an indoor exhibition in Nolan Park and a new outdoor food forest in the Urban Farm, featuring over 400 edible plants.
The Climate Museum
Located in Nolan Park and running from June 1 to October 27, The Climate Museum will present the first exhibition in the US to focus on steps young people can take — and are taking — toward a climate-safe future.
At this family-friendly show, visitors will explore interactive installations to learn how clean energy, green design, strong decision-making on fossil fuels, and more can transition us to a carbon-free economy and culture. The show will celebrate youth leaders who are moving us forward, and invite all to get involved through a range of activities and commitments. Open Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Learn to Kayak—for Free!
Yes, you can give kayaking a whirl for free every Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., from June 15 to Sept 14 courtesy of The Downtown Boathouse. Find them at Pier 101 to float your boat.
More info here: govisland.com
Glamping on Governors Island
Is your family the glamping type? (If so, check out this and this.) And you can add Governors Island to your list of potential overnights. Courtesy Collective Retreats, this is hardly roughing it. Expect gourmet meals, electricity, deluxe bedding, and more, and a price tag to go with it. But hey: bucket list.
So. Many. Events.
These are some highlights and personal faves. You can view the full lineup here.)
Heads up: The popular arts festival Figment has moved to Roosevelt Island for 2019!
Jazz Age Lawn Party: June 15 & 16, Aug. 24 & 25
An annual tradition that brings out the flapper in every New Yorker, the Jazz Age Lawn Party is now in its 14th year. It often sell out, and the earlier you buy tickets, the cheaper they are. (The pricey packages are the last to go, often.) Expect live jazz age music from Michael Arenella and folks dressed to the nines. Read our full report on doing with kids here.
The New York City Poetry Festival, July 27 & 28
Organized by The Poetry Society of New York, this festival features poets from over 75 poetry organizations on its three main stages; a Vendor’s Village where local booksellers, artists and craft makers sell their wares; a beer garden sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery, poetry-inspired installation art throughout; the Ring of Daisies open mic; and other poetic festivities.
One major highlight of the festival each year is its Youth Poetry Festival, which offers children and young adults the opportunity to participate in interactive writing games, to generate new work, and to perform their work on stage alongside some of the greatest living writers. This year the festival is honored to welcome two time poetry laureate Robert Pinsky to the island, along with over 250 other writers of all shapes and sizes.
More to Consider
Other popular events throughout the season include:
Porch Stomp, June 23
A free, community-led participatory folk festival, where performances take place on the porches of the Island’s historic Nolan Park. Over 100 small-scale acoustic concerts, jams, and workshops featuring some of NYC’s best bluegrass, old-time, blues, roots, and Americana music are showcased during the daylong festivities. (June 23)
The NYC Unicycle Festival, August 31 & September 1
The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus brings the 10th Annual NYC Unicycle Festival to Governors Island this year. For both die-hards and newbies, activities include races, competitions, exhibitions, and a variety of unicycle sports including basketball, hockey and sumo. For fans of extreme riding, the Hell on Wheel trials course challenges riders throughout the day. World-famous riders display their skills, and members of the public have the opportunity to try one-wheel riding in the Learn-to-ride area. DJ Sky King, famous for DJing New York’s disco roller skaters, lays down the uni groove. All ages and abilities are welcome.
The Longines Global Championship Tour (an equestrian event), September 27 &28
For the first time Olympic, International, and National Champions will compete at a brand new venue on Governors Island, for the thrilling finals of the 20-event circuit. Fans can cheer on the GCL home city team, New York Empire - led by Georgina Bloomberg - as the top teams in the world go head to head for a final chance to win the GCL Team Championship title.
You won't go hungry on Governors Island; there are plenty of options for both you and the kids. (Although you are welcome to bring your own food and picnic; no alcohol is allowed, you must buy it on site. You can even grill if you want, but you must reserve a grill at least two days in advance.)
You can grab some oysters, lobster rolls, fries and more at primo spot Island Oyster. (Lovely, but you pay for that view.)
Neopolitan Express is serving up fresh pizzas for the first time this year, and Taco Vista is another newcomer to the island. Venezuelan cuisine can be found at Perros Y Vainas, and sweet tweets are available from Melt and People's Pops.
Another newcomer to the food and bev scene on Governors Island is Brooklyn's Three's Brewing. Known for its relaxed and fun spaces in Gowanus and Greenpoint, the brewery is introducing a new beer sold exclusively on GI, "Public Property", with 10 percent of proceeds from the sale of it donated to the Trust for Governors Island.
You can also grab a drink at Island Oyster, mentioned above.
Need a coffee? Head to the island outpost of Joe Coffee for a properly-brewed cup.
Before You Go
Do yourself a favor and download a map here.
Be sure to pack some sunscreen (there's lots of open space) as well as some cash, which is needed to pay for the ferries.