Hooray! Governors Island has reopened for the season, and it’s going to be a good one! Plenty of outdoor space to distance and play safely make the island the perfect getaway from the city this summer, and it’s just a quick ferry ride away. Discover everything the car-free oasis has to offer, and the best ways to enjoy Governors Island with kids this summer!

Governors Island Basics

When:

Governors Island opened for the 2021 season on May 1 and will remain open until October 31. The island has resumed its regular operations and, though it still has some safety restrictions in place, most of its attractions are open to the public.

photo: Timothy Schenck

How to Get There:

The island is available to visit every day of the week. 

Ferries depart from three locations:

Battery Maritime Building, 10 South Street. Ferries run every day from 10 to 4:40. On weekdays the last ferry back departs at 6:15, while on weekends it leaves at 7.

Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park. Ferries run on weekends from 10:15 to 5:15. The last ferry back from the island leaves at 7.

Red Hook / Atlantic Basin, Ferris St. and Clinton Wharf. Ferries run on weekends from 9:45 to 4:45, with the last ferry back departing at 6:30. 

Round-trip tickets for the Governors Island Ferry cost $3 for adults.

Ferries are free for visitors age 12 and under; seniors age 65 and over; IDNYC holders; current and former military service members; all New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, and Governors Island Members.

Morning ferries before noon on Saturdays and Sundays are free for all. There is no surcharge for bicycles at any time.

Tickets must be purchased online before you arrive at the ferry. 

Note: Although you have to select a return time when you buy your ticket, tickets generally aren't checked on the way back. Instead, a staff member uses a counter to regulate the ferry's capacity, and once a certain number of people has boarded, whoever's still left on the line will need to wait for the next ferry.

We recommend that you get to the ferry about 20 minutes early if you're leaving from Manhattan. Do not be alarmed at the length of the line for the ferry — when we visited on a Saturday morning, we stood very far back in the line but still managed to get a spot on our scheduled ferry. 

NYC Ferry is also offering a shuttle service to Governors Island on weekends every half an hour from 10:04 until 6:34. Tickets are $2.75 or by free transfer from any NYC Ferry route. You can catch the NYC Ferry at Pier 11, Gouverneur Lane at South Street, F.D.R. Drive.

COVID-19 Response: 

The island's COVID-19 safety protocols from 2020 are mostly still in place, with a few updates. You can read the full rules on the website, but here are the key things to remember:

  • Social distancing should be observed whenever possible on the island.
  • Masks are required while waiting for, boarding, or riding on the ferries.
  • Masks are also required in indoor spaces and any time social distancing isn't possible.
  • Indoor events are limited in capacity.
  • Additionally, the island has installed a number of easily accessible PPE vending machines and hand-washing stations and has increased cleaning procedures and schedules in restrooms, ferries, and in high-traffic areas.

Be forewarned that on busy days like weekends (especially in the mornings), the ferry does get very crowded and social distancing is not possible. However, the ferry is open-air and masks are required (at the time of this writing).

photo: Adventures at Governors Island

What's On Pause

The good news is that most attractions and fun spots are open to the public. There are some closures, and some things to keep in mind, though:

  • Ziplining and rock climbing are closed until further notice.
  • Events and gatherings will be limited and potentially reduced capacity, in accordance with current state and city guidelines.
  • Indoor arts and cultural programs are open for the most part, but a limited number of people will be allowed into indoor spaces at one time. Check the website for the schedule, as these are subject to change and not all options are available for the public to visit.
  • Fort Jay and Castle Williams remain closed to the public.
  • Tours and other events will be limited in capacity.
  • The long-awaited Open Orchard is not open yet at the time of this writing, but there are plans to open it "soon."

The Guide to Governors Island in 2021

And now to the good stuff — what’s open. The following events and attractions are open and available to enjoy. Best of all, most of these are free!

Ride a Bike

Whether you bring your own bikes or rent on-site from vendor Blazing Saddles, Governors Island is a great place to explore via bicycle.

Blazing Saddles rents bikes for both kids and adults, as well as scooters, surreys, baby seats, trailers, and more. You can rent by the hour, half-hour or in two-hour stretches, with rates starting as low as $15, or save more by renting for the day.

Blazing Saddles is now also offering free rental bikes for kids. Stop by on a weekday (except holidays) between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to rent a cruiser bike for an hour, for free!

Online: blazingsaddles.com

The Hills        

The Hills is a 10-acre section of the island populated with several peaks of varying heights. These include Grassy Hill, the 70-foot high Outlook Hill, which can be climbed via a large "granite scramble," and Discovery Hill, where you'll find Cabin, the permanent site-specific installation by acclaimed British artist Rachel Whiteread. 

The Hills are designed to be enjoyed by different skill levels, especially Outlook Hill, which offers both a fun climbing experience and a gently sloped walk up to the top. Enjoy the spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty, the city skyline, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the waters at the top of the hill. 

Online: govisland.com

photo: Mimi O'Connor

Slide Hill         

A kid-favorite member of the "hills" family is Slide Hill, where you'll find some seriously super slides—including the longest one in NYC. You can read our full write-up here from when The Hills debuted.

There is a bathroom nearby, as well as two drinks vending machines and a hand-washing station, so this is a good place for a pit stop.

Although the slides have plenty of tree coverage, be forewarned that they still tend to get very hot. Shorts and skirts for the little ones are not a good idea here!

Online: govisland.com/things-to-do

photo: Timothy Schenck

Hammock Grove

Want to relax and take it easy for a bit? Stop by Hammock Grove, where 50 hammocks are calling out to you to take a load off and relax. Stay still enough and you might just be paid a visit by some of the island's birds, who frequently flit in and out of the Grove.

Online: govisland.com

Hammock Grove Playground       

You'll also find huge natural 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.

And on hot days make sure to stop by the nearby splash fountain, where kids are welcome to splash around and play with jets of refreshingly cool water.

Online: govisland.com

Governors Island Urban Farm

The island's 21,000 square-foot Urban Farm is a great spot for kids to learn about how things grow, brought to you by GrowNYC’s Teaching Garden and Earth Matter NY’s Compost Learning Center and Soil Start Farm.

Find your green thumb at the Teaching Garden, where kids can dig around with tools and water the plants

And stop by the Compost Learning Center, where kids can learn about how compost is made and help make some of their own, as well as play around with some worms. Plus, you can take home some compost for your plants at home! And sometimes, the farm has some freshly picked vegetables available for purchase.

Don't forget to say hi to the goats and chickens! If you're very lucky, you might even get a warm souvenir in the form of a freshly laid egg from one of the farm volunteers.

The Urban Farm is open on weekends from 12-4 p.m.

Online: grownyc.org

Public Art

Governors Island is known as a public art hot spot. A number of installations are permanent, like the afore-mentioned Cabin and Hanger, and new this season is Not for Nutten, a mural from Duke Riley, on view in the historic Battery Maritime Building.

Besides the permanent artworks on the island, in 2021 the island will be home to over two dozen art, culture, and education programs within the historic Nolan Park and Colonel's Row houses. See the full list of programs and artist residencies here. While some spaces will be closed to the public, many are welcoming visitors this season! (Note that for some, such as art show Harvest Works, you need to make a reservation.)

Check out the NYU-Gallatin WetLab for some unique art, like the currently displayed "PHREATIC!" which blends art and science into living, breathing projects. Or visit the West Harlem Art Fund's outdoor and indoor artworks and sculptures. Plus, lots more!

Online: govisland.com

photo: Mimi O'Connor

The Yard 

After a mostly closed season last year, the Yard (aka play:groundNYC) is back and open for business! 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. The Yard gives kids raw materials like lumber, rope, discarded mannequins, wheels, playground balls, and so much more and lets them create (or destroy) whatever they like.

Parents sign a waiver before kids enter on their own and there are some staff members 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 space will be open this year on weekends 12-4 p.m., with safety protocols (masks are currently required). A maximum limit of 35 kids will be enforced, and only kids over 5 years old may enter the yard.  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 this place, consider signing up for the summer day camp here where it's all junk, all the time. (Though be aware that there's usually a waiting list.)

Online: govisland.com

photo: Collective Retreats

Glamping with Collective Retreats       

Camping is experiencing a resurgence in the era of socially distancing, and yes, you can glamp in style at Collective Retreat's enhanced outpost on Governors Island this summer. The luxury camping experience company has instituted numerous COVID-19 safety protocols, including contactless check-in and check-out. 

Expect gourmet meals, electricity, Wifi, deluxe bedding, yoga and wellness sessions, and more. Rates start at $250/night. 

(P.S. If your family is the glamping type, check out this and this.)

Online: collectiveretreats.com

photo: IslandOyster

Eat & Drink on Governors Island

You won't go hungry on Governors Island; there are plenty of options for both you and the kids. 

Although you are also welcome to bring your own food and picnic! Note that no alcohol is allowed, you must buy it on-site — but there are plenty of options, from cocktails to beer from Three's Brewing and The Meat Hook. You can even grill if you want, but you must reserve a grill at least two days in advance

Food trucks are located at various spots on the island, including Colonels Row, Liggett Terrace, the Western Promenade and Soissons Landing. Food options include pizza, tacos, teriyaki bowls, and seafood, as well as ethnic food from Jamaica, Ethiopia, Thailand, Venezuela, and more. Got a sweet tooth? No problem! Among the island's offerings are also artisanal ice cream sandwiches and popsicles, frozen fruit drinks, 

If you're feeling fancy, you can grab some oysters, lobster rolls, fries and more at primo spot Island Oyster. (Lovely, but you pay for that view.)

Online: govisland.com

photo: Waterfront Alliance

Free Kayaking

Make it an adventure thanks to Downtown Boathouse's free kayaking experience. Boats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis from Pier 101. Though there are no changing rooms, there are lockers available (locks are also available but it's preferable to bring your own). Although no lessons are available at Governors Island (you can get lessons at the other location at Pier 26), if it isn't busy when you come by, volunteers are on hand to give some helpful pointers.

Kayaking is available on Saturdays from mid-June to mid-September, 11 a.m.-4 p.m (last boat goes out 3:30).

Online: downtownboathouse.org

Special Events

Throughout its open season, Governors Island hosts a wide variety of special events and festivals. At various points in the summer, you'll find live music and dancing on the lawn, outdoor vendor markets, marathons, and more!

Upcoming events include Japan Performing Arts: Dance Music & Kimono (through May 31), Fruit Tree Care at Open Orchard (June 10), Indie Market FAD (June 19 & 20), music event Porch Stomp (June 24), the popular Jazz Age Lawn Party (June 12 & 13) and the NYC Poetry Festival (July 24 & 25). 

Check the website for a full list of upcoming events. (And check back throughout the summer, as more events are likely to be added.)

photo: Esmerelda C. via Yelp

Ongoing Events

In addition to all the special events, art experiences, and fun spots around the island, there are also ongoing programs for you to partake in. 

For instance, stop by the Audubon House in Nolan Park on Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Although the house isn't open for visitors, volunteers will be on hand outside the house to lend out binoculars and chat about the island's birds.

You can also sign up for a guided walking tour on weekends to learn more about the history of the island. (Tours are limited to a maximum of 10 people at a time). 

There are many other things to do! See a full list of ongoing programs here

And, of course, the island is worth a visit just for nature! In spring, there are nesting birds in the birdhouses stationed around the hammocks, and if you're lucky you'll spot some ducklings or goslings. In spring and summer, different flowers bloom, attracting different bugs, bees, and butterflies. In late fall, stop by to watch the fuzzy wooly bear caterpillars crawling all over the island!

Before You Go    

Phone reception is spotty on the island so download a map before you go.

Be sure to pack some sunscreen as there's lots of open space, and keep in mind that because of the lack of large buildings and heavy shade, it does get hotter on the island than in the city.

Come prepared and enjoy your visit to the city's best urban oasis!

Online: govisland.com

—Yuliya Geikhman

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