Looking for an island getaway that’s only minutes away? Take a trip to Governors Island.
From a fishing camp for the indigenous Lenape Native Americans who first inhabited New York Harbor to a Dutch trading post, British-occupied site for military headquarters, American fort, military prison, U.S. Army base, and Coast Guard installation, Governors Island has lived many lives. Today, the Island is an urban oasis that is equal parts discovery center and playground for both kids and adults, where simple pleasures like picnicking, nature walks, high-end and highbrow experiences are all on the menu. And it’s all minutes away from the busy streets of the city.
Things to Do
Governors Island is made up of 172 natural and landfill acres where you’ll find high man-made hills, nature trails, a climbing boulder, an urban farm, a modern micro-factory, an agricultural learning center, a bee sanctuary, wild lavender, fields perfect for playing catch or flying kites, the city’s longest slide, and lots of temporary and permanent art installations.
Explore: As a former military base with over 50 abandoned buildings that include a theater, hospital, chapel, and numerous 19th-century homes, you’ll feel like you’re in an episode of the TV show “Lost.” The Island is also home to two former military forts, which are open to visitors on weekends.
Agriculture: On the south side of the Island you’ll find a large urban farm with a number of educational programs for adults and kids, including a compost learning center and teaching garden.
Public Art: The Island plays host to a number of medium to large-scale temporary art outdoor installations created by artists from the five boroughs of New York City and beyond. Governors Island’s numerous abandoned administrative buildings and former officers’ homes also enjoy a second life as pop-up art galleries.
Relax: With acres of open fields and shady lawns, Governors Island is the ideal place for busy urbanites to stretch out and let the worries of city life melt away. A perfect place to take a snooze is in one of the Island’s iconic red hammocks, which line a sunny grove and are tucked away among the trees in walking paths.
Where to Eat/Drink
Taking the ferry into Governors Island from Manhattan, the first thing you’ll see as you approach the Island are two bustling eateries. On the left, there’s Taco Vista with its light Mexican fare, beer, wine, and margaritas. On the right, you’ll find Island Oyster, a large resort-style bar with a menu that includes salads, burgers, lobster rolls, and of course, oysters. Both restaurants have breathtaking views of lower Manhattan. A quick walk around the west side of the Island you’ll find a very civilized sit-down dining experience at Three Peaks with contemporary dishes cooked over a wood flame and an awe-inspiring view of The Statue of Liberty.
These spots are just the tip of the food and drink iceberg on Governors Island. During the 2023 season, there were a record 25 spots on the Island to grab a quick bite, sit-down meal, soft drink, or adult beverage. Click here for a list of past and returning food and drink vendors.
Picnics: For those who choose to pack a picnic basket, Governors Island offers over 100 acres of options from lawns shaded by majestic oak trees to open fields. And remember, it’s an island. You’re never more than a few minutes away from a spectacular spot with a water view to spread your blanket.
Grilling: Looking to bring your own hot dogs, hamburgers, or steaks? Governors Island has grill stations that can be reserved for cookouts. You’ll have to bring your own grilling supplies (charcoal, lighting fluid, etc..) and cooking implements. Grills are open April through November and book up in advance. Click here for grill reservations.
QC NY Spa
In 2022, one of the Island's many historic buildings was transformed into an oasis with 20 wellness experiences, unobstructed views of Lower Manhattan, and a large relaxing garden. Part of the family of Italian spas and wellness hotels, the Governors Island edition boasts numerous spa treatments, heated outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms, Vichy showers, and foot baths. Open 12 months a year. For information and reservations, click here.
Have you ever wanted to wake up in the morning with a view of the Statue of Liberty a few hundred yards away? On Governors Island, you can! The only urban outpost of luxury camping and outdoor hospitality brand Collective Retreats, the Governors Island facility has spacious “tents”, climate-controlled RVs, full bar, and gourmet cookhouse restaurant, for a serious glamping experience. Reservations book up very fast. For information, click here.
Gitano Beach Club
One of the newest–and most glamorous–additions to the Island in recent years is the Gitano Island Beach Club, located on the north end of the Island. A reported 350 tons of sand and hundreds of tropical plants were shipped to Governors Island to create a Tulum-style resort with 600 seats, private cabanas, a dancefloor, and performances by international DJs. Come for drinks, brunch, or dinner. Reservations are recommended. Click here for information.
From the annual Ice Sculpting Show in February to the highly anticipated Jazz Age Lawn Party every August, there’s never a shortage of events on Governors Island. Other happenings include amazing pop-up live music and premium curated experiences, movie nights, autumn pumpkin patches, and winter days when you can bring your dog to enjoy the Island’s expanse.
How to Get There
As a car-free island with no bridges, the only way to get on and off Governors Island is by passenger ferry. Ferries leave every thirty minutes in either direction starting around 7 a.m., and can be accessed from Brooklyn at Brooklyn Bridge Park, or Manhattan at the Battery Maritime Building at Battery Park. The last boat off the Island is at 6 p.m. in the off-season but runs into the evening in the summer months. For schedule and fare information, click here.