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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.
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.
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
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)
TIP: On Saturdays and Sundays all ferries up until 11:30 am are free.
Ferry Schedule between the Lower Manhattan and Governors Island
For exact schedule information click here.
Ferry Schedule between Brooklyn Pier 6 and Governors Island: WEEKENDS ONLY
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MAP OF GOVERNORS ISLAND
You can download this map by clicking here.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Written by Katherine Weatherford
Updated by Courtney Shapiro