Manhattan is an island, but an even smaller one occupies space between it and Brooklyn. Governors Island was a military base, and it wasn’t until 2003 that it was sold to the city and turned into a site for tourism, finally, in 2014. It’s tiny: 172 acres in New York Harbor and only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan.
What Makes It Great
Stepping off the crowded ferry, the island takes a few minutes to understand. You can see the shore you left behind minutes before, but the ferry is already leaving and you know you’ll be waiting for the next one. It’s an odd feeling of liberation, rather than of being trapped. In New York, you’re always moving from one place to another as fast as possible, but here, you have to wait.
There are still buildings in the park, all unused and assuredly terrifying if you were to see them abandoned at night. A library is run down and nearly grown over, but curtains still blow in the windows of what were once dormitories. There isn’t a historical tour to take, but you can let your imagination run free as you meander through. On the weekends, the park is bustling with activity, from concerts to big screens for visitors to sit and watch the World Cup to food vendors. Bike rentals are available on the island, and bikes are welcome on the ferry that brings visitors for only $2 round trip—and kids under 12 ride free!
When the kids get grumpy, there’s a full lawn with a treehouse in the middle that they’ll love exploring, and plenty to do. On weekdays, while it’s still busy—it’s seasonal and only open from late May through September—it’s not nearly as crowded, so for families looking for some peace and quiet and gorgeous views, this is a great choice. There’s a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor, so if you want the tourist attraction but hate the idea of the crowds, or the long ferry ride to Liberty Island, this is a perfect compromise.
It’s a largely man-made topography, similar to that of Central Park, and the main attractions—when they’re finished—will be the four Hills: Grassy, Slide, Discovery and Outlook. The 80-foot high Outlook Hill will have a winding path and may be a great spot for some weekday run intervals while the family rides around the island.
Who is Going to Love It
It's mostly for a leisurely day of family fun. The paths meander along the outskirts of the island and zigzag across as well, so while it’s small, there’s plenty for a family to ride and do to stay busy for a few hours!
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Governors Island is open everyday from May 24-September 28, and is accessible via ferry from Manhattan every day and Brooklyn on the weekends. The ferry in Brooklyn runs from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, so for a full day, combine a family day at Governors Island with a run over the Brooklyn Bridge before or after.
More work is being done to the island, and more sections will become available for riding and running, so plan on making time to stop by some afternoon!