Things to Do on Governors Island

This post is about Governors Island, a small island in the East River where there is just about every kind of recreational activity possible. We include tips on taking the ferry, when to go and what to do.

 

 


PLAN YOUR VISIT

Governors Island is open 7 days a week from May 1 through October 31.

Hours

  • Mondays – Thursdays: 10 am to 6 pm
  • Fridays:
    • May 1 – May 24  10 am – 7 pm
    • May 25 – September 14  10 am – 10 pm *Special “Late-Fridays” 
    • September 15 – October 1 10 am – 7 pm
  • Saturday and Sunday: 10 am – 7 pm
  • Holiday Hours: Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day  10 am – 7 pm

Best times to visit

The best days are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Peak hours are midday, so plan to arrive before 12 pm or after 4 pm. But there is plenty of room on the island to accommodate everyone!

Weekends tend to be more crowded, with longer ferry lines, but many imaginative festivals and events take place on weekends so don’t rule out weekends entirely. 


How to Get There 

The island is only accessible by ferry. There are a number of ferry lines that go there. The most popular ferry departs from Lower Manhattan from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street. It is circled in yellow on the map. 

 

How to get to Governors Island

 

This is adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry departure point, so you could do both in one day.

Closest subway to the Battery Maritime Building/Ferry Terminal

  • 1 train to South Ferry 
  • R train to Whitehall Street
  • 4 and 5 trains to Bowling Green

Click here to get exact directions to the Maritime Building/Governors Island Ferry Terminal from your departure point.

Tip:  If you are new to using the subway system, you may find our guide to Navigating the New York Subway useful.


Prices for round-trip tickets (2018)

  • Adults: $3
  • Senior Citizens: $1
  • Children under 13: FREE
  • No cost to bring bicycles at any time. Space for bikes and strollers is limited, however, and they will be allowed on each ferry on a first-come, first-served basis.

TIP: On Saturdays and Sundays all ferries up until 11:30 am are free.


Ferry Schedule between the Lower Manhattan and Governors Island

  • Ferries TO Governors Island
    • Weekdays: 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm, 3:45 pm and 4:15 pm 
    • Weekends: 10 am, 11 am and 11:30 am, and then every half hour until 5:30 pm (last ferry).
    • “Late Fridays” (May 25 – September 14) additional times 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, and 7:30 pm.
    • TIP: On weekends, the 10 am, 11 am and 11:30 am are free
  • Return Ferries FROM Governors Island
    • Weekdays: Every half-hour from 10:30 am until 5:00 pm.  Then one final ferry at 6:00 pm.
    • Weekends: Every half-hour from 10:30 am until 7:00 pm.
    • “Late Fridays” (May 25 – September 14) additional times: 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 8:00 pm, 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm

For exact schedule information click here.  


Ferry Schedule between Brooklyn Pier 6 and Governors Island: WEEKENDS ONLY

  • Ferries TO Governors Island: 11 am, 11:30 am, then every half-hour until the last ferry at 5:30 pm
    • The 11 and 11:30 am ferries are free.
  • Return ferries FROM Governors Island: 11:15 am, 12 pm, then every hour until the last ferry at 7 pm

For exact schedule information click here.


Other ferry services 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. 


Food

There are several food vendors on the island, serving everything from burgers to empanadas, and of course…ice cream!

However, feel free to bring your own food and have a picnic. You cannot bring alcohol, but there are alcoholic beverages for sale on the Island.

For locations of food vendors, menus and hours, click here.

Restrooms 

Inside Building 110 at Soissons Landing – the building to the right exiting the Manhattan Ferry. There are also restroom trailers and a number of “porta-potty” locations. (see map below).

Rules
  • You are not permitted to bring alcohol to Governors Island but it is available for purchase on the island in designated areas.
  • There is no smoking permitted.
  • Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • All packages and bags are subject to random search.
  • Fishing is permitted, but it is catch-and-release only and if you are over 16 years of age you must have an NY state fishing license.

How much time will you need

There is quite a lot to do on the island and you could easily spend a whole day there. But with so much to see in NYC, three hours including travel time is more than enough to get a sense of the island.

You might enjoy rent a bike and circling the island (a quick twenty-minute ride). Stop along the way to take pictures of the jaw-dropping 360-degree views of the harbor. Definitely, visit The Hills. (See video below). If a special festival is scheduled, make a day of it!

If you are with kids, you might like to give yourself extra time as there are several playgrounds on the Island and a giant slide at The Hills. Also, save time for ice cream! And don’t forget there are tons of things to do with kids in NYC!

TIP: Factor in time waiting on the ticket line. It is not very long Mon-Wed, but weekends in the summer months can be quite a wait. Plan to arrive at 10-15 minutes before your planned departure. Details on the schedule are below.

 


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THINGS TO DO ON GOVERNORS ISLAND

There are numerous things to do on the island and just about all of it is family-friendly and fun for the kid in all of us!  There is a full calendar of events including concerts, festivals, exhibits, and free guided tours of the island and the historic forts offered by the through the National Parks Service.  

It’s an ideal place to come to relax, picnic, stroll, kayak, bike ride and frolic on the unique play areas. There are also ongoing exhibits which you can read about here.


Bike Riding

You can bring your own bike, at no cost on the ferry.  If you do not have a bike, you can rent one on the island.  

 

Things to Do on Governors Island

 

  • Rentals from Blazing Saddles
    • 2-hour rentals start at $15 for adult bikes and $10 for kids bikes.
    • Free 1-hour rental Mon-Friday between 10 am until 12 pm. 
    • New York Explorer Pass holders get free bike rentals.

TIP: If you have been thinking about getting a tourist pass to save money, our post, NYC Attraction Passes: Which is the best to buy?, provides detail on the options out there as well as the pros and cons of each.

  • Rentals with Citi Bike
    • Citi Bike docking stations are located near Soissons Landing, Yankee Pier, and Picnic Point.
    • For more information on how to use the NYC shared bike system Citi Bike, click here.

Kayaking   

There is 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).  

TIP: For other free boat rides and water activities see our post, Free New York Boat Tours.


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. 

 

 


Adventures at GI (fee charged) 

Here you can try out the 300-foot Flywire Zip Line, a 3D Climbing Challenge, a mini-golf course and the 3,600 square feet Amazen’ Maze. 

Hours:  

  • Monday-Friday: 10 am-5 pm  
  • Saturday & Sunday: 10 am-6 pm
  • More information here.

Kids Playgrounds 

  • Ligget Terrace: Three large sprinkler fountains located in the hedge maze. A great place to cool off. 
  • Hammock Grove:  Swings and climbing surfaces for kids to let loose.
  • play:groundNYC: Modeled after a junkyard where kids can create freely and shape their environment with re-purposed materials. Saturdays and Sundays 10 am – 4 pm. 
  • Slide Hill: Part of The Hills, this is a family-friendly hill with slides of varying heights including the longest slide in NYC — three stories high and 57-feet long!

TIP: For dozens and dozens of kid-friendly activities and entertainment beyond Governors Island, see our post, Things to do with Kids in New York City.

 


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MAP OF GOVERNORS ISLAND

 

You can download this map by clicking here.

Governors Island Map

 


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SPECIAL EVENTS (2018 dates)

These fun festivals are on specific dates in May, June, July, and August. If you are looking for other activities beyond on Governors Island, check out our posts:

 

MAY 

HoloCenter 

May 4 – June 10. Fridays 2 pm – 4 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm-5 pm. Located at 403 Colonels Row (free, donations accepted). The exhibit features an interactive Light Playspace. See light artists create imagery and holograms. Sign up to make a hologram your self! Perfect for kids!

NYC Holi Hai   

May 12 from noon to 7 pm (free).  A celebration of colors where participants throw colorful non-toxic powders into the air, which enjoying Bhangra music, Indian cuisine, and other kid-friendly activities. Free to attend and perfect for all ages. 

Rite of Summer   

May 19 and June 9 from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm (free). Innovative ensembles perform classical contemporary music.

Family Fun Day  

May 27  from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. (free) This festival features kid-friendly activities such as arts and crafts, storytelling, theatrical performances, and much more!

JUNE

New York Harbor Oyster Classic 5K 

June 10 from 8 am to 11 am (Ticketed Admission). You cannot beat the views during this run around the island. See the Lower Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and more.

Figment 

June 23 and 24 from 10 am to 6 pm (Free).
A family-friendly, two-day arts extravaganza.Expect body painting, battling with foam weapons and wandering in interactive sculptures. Dancers, actors and performance artists will roam the island to entertain.

Jazz Age Lawn Party   

June 16-17, 11 am – 5 pm and August 25-26, 11 am – 5 pm. (Ticketed Admission). Be transported back to The Roaring Twenties and hear live jazz performances, learn how to dance the Charleston. , and sip on cocktails from the era of Prohibition. Dressing in costume is encouraged. 

JULY

Pinknic  

Jun 30 – Jul 1, 12:00 pm – 9:30 pm  (Ticked admission). Join the two-toned festivities as you dress in pink and white, lay on pink or wite blanked and, naturally sip on pink and white beverages.

 


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HISTORY

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 in 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$.

 


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Written by Katherine Weatherford 

Updated by Courtney Shapiro

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