New York

Essential New York: Governor’s Island

New York City is more than just a few islands. In fact, there are somewhere in the range of 48 islands within the city boundaries. I’ve lived here for over ten years now and this number took me by surprise when I heard it. I would have guessed 15 or 20. And I would be wrong. Some of NYC’s islandsĀ are large and obvious (like Manhattan, Staten Island, Roosevelt), some of them are small and overlooked, even by us locals.

One of these smaller islands has been gaining popularity lately. And its proximity to both Manhattan and Brooklyn makes me wonder why it took this long for the city to capitalize on it’s potential. Governor’s island is a 172-acre tear drop of land only 800 yards from the tip of Manhattan. It was once a military base, then home to the coast guard, but never open to visitors. Until recently. Now, Governor’s Island is a hot spot for artists, families, bikers, and tourists alike. It opened to the public officially in 2003, and every summer since then, something new debuts on the island that makes it even more enticing for a weekend visit. And people love it.

This year, I finally headed out to see what everyone is raving about. I do not know why it took me so long to go. I have to say, it was one the best things I’ve done in this city in a long time.

Welcome sign | Governors Island, New York

Getting there is simple – you can hop on the ferry from either the tip of Manhattan or from Brooklyn Bridge Park. The ride is 10 minutes and only costs $2! When we arrived at the Brooklyn dock for an 11am ferry on a cool August Saturday, we were surprised to find out that the ferries are free before noon. A nice way to start our adventure.

Ok, so once you get on the island, what is there to do? Apparently a lot. Concerts, art exhibits, history exhibits, eating, walking, biking, beaching, hammocking, reading, drinking…

In a city of islands where the theme is nonstop action, Governor’s Island is no exception.

View of Manhattan from the East River ferry | Governors Island, New York

The view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn ferry

Soda machine doorway | Governors Island, New York

An “updated” old building

Biking through the trees | Governors Island, New York

One of the main reasons I finally pulled the trigger to visit was the prospect of renting a bike. I *never* ride a bicycle in NYC. I fully admit that I am terrified of getting run over by one of the many cars that do not abide by traffic rules. I’ve seen one too many close calls in my time here. However on Governors Island, there are no cars to run me over. It’s like a bike riding oasis in the middle of the city mess. It’s wonderful.

Aside from riding around the edge of the island and through the parks, you can bike around the old barracks and officer homes, many of which have been converted into museums and art spaces.

But really, you’ll wanna spend your time admiring the views from all sides of the island.

Red bike rental | Governors Island New York

Statue of Liberty | Governors Island New York

Biking with a Manhattan view | Governors Island, New York

After all of the biking, you will definitely get hungry. If you are not planning to cozy up to the bar at the Beach Club near the Manhattan ferry dock or pack in your own picnic, you can head out to the barracks for a snack at the food truck food court. There are plenty of trucks and dishes to choose from, but our favorite were the Italian sandwiches at the DiSO’S Italian Sandwich Society truck. Delicious.

DiSOS truck | Governors Island, New York

DiSOS Italian sandiwch | Governors Island, New York

This was the Joey Shakes – Prosciutto, capicola, salami, provolone, hot cherry peppers, arugula, parmigano reggiano cheese, herbed ricotta spread, glazed balsamic dressing

Our trip was short – we only had a few hours to explore. I knew it wasn’t enough time and left feeling like there was so much more to do. I can’t wait to go back to spend an afternoon relaxing in the hammock grove with a book, or spend time at the beach club with a cold beer, or you know, to ride a bike without fear.

I guess I’ll just need to go back. Sooner this time…


Practical Information:

* Governor’s Island is only open on the weekends during the warm season, from late May to late September.

* There are concerts and events on the island all summer long. Check the calendar for the schedule.

* Bikes are available for rent from Blazing Saddles. It’s $15 for 2 hours for a normal bike, $10 for 2 hours for a kids bike, and $25 for 2 hours for a 4- seat surrey.

* The ferry is free before noon from both Manhattan and Brooklyn.

* There is no water source on the island so you’ll either need to bring some or buy it.


This article is part of a TravelShus series about travel around New York State. Read more HERE.

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