Just half a mile from Lower Manhattan — and just a short hop from Hudson County — Governors Island is packed with fun activities and an incredible day trip. This island is open all year round and can only be reached by ferry. The 172 hectare island is car-free and can easily be explored on foot or by bike. And with countless restaurants, art exhibits, picnic areas, events and a spa, there’s always something to do here. Read on to learn more about things to do on Governors Island and start planning your adventure.
History of Governors Island
The Lenape people knew the island as Paggank (“Nut Island”) and used it seasonally as a fishing spot. When the Dutch arrived they set up their first camps here, so it could be said that this place is the birthplace of what would later become New York City. When the British finally took over, they renamed the island and reserved it for “Her Majesty’s Governors” – which suddenly helps the island’s name make a little more sense now.
The island was used by the British during the American Revolution. From 1800 to 1996, the island was used as a base for the US military. Two historical fortresses – Castle Williams and Fort Jay – are maintained by the National Parks Service on the island. Governors Island officially opened in 2005 as a place of respite and escape from city life.
how to get there
Ferries depart from Lower Manhattan and some locations in Brooklyn. From Hoboken or Jersey City, the easiest way is to take the ferry to Lower Manhattan. You can go to the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street to board the next ferry.
You can book tickets online in advance – which is recommended on busy days. Otherwise, $4 round-trip tickets are available at the ferry terminal. Budget-friendly tip: Ferries departing on Saturday and Sunday mornings are free. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything extra to bring your bike.
Most can be found on the Governors Island website current ferry schedule.
Continue reading: A Peek Inside the History of Ellis Island + Why You Should Visit
things to do
Go for a bike ride
With 7 miles of paved trails, one of the best ways to explore Governors Island is by bike. The views of Manhattan, Jersey City and the Statue of Liberty are hard to beat. You can of course bring your own bike or even rent one on the island. There are three Citi Bike stations – and Blazing Saddles offers bike, scooter, pedal car and Surrey hire.
Relax in a hammock
For some R&R, Hammock Grove is the place to be. There are about a dozen red hammocks in the area, perfect for reading or napping. When enjoying some downtime, you may hear a rustling of grass around you. Don’t be surprised if you see a farm animal – a flock of sheep spend their summers on Governors Island helping to keep the invasive plant species at bay.
Or it can be a walk if that’s more your thing. Guided hikes are offered on the weekends. For a “hike” we recommend climbing to the top of The Hills for rewarding views over the island and Manhattan.
Take the kids to the playground
With two playgrounds, a climbing rockand the popular ones slide hillsfor the little ones there is so much to do on Governors Island.
Visitors can kayak for free at Pier 101. At the moment, kayaking is only offered on Saturdays from 11:00 am to 3:30 pm. Everything you need is provided including equipment and a basic lesson.
Connect with nature
Volunteer with composting center or join a teaching garden Workshop to get your hands dirty. For something less involved, visit the lavender field to take some dreamy pictures.
For those who don’t know, pétanque is a fun ball tossing game similar to bocce ball. Industry City’s Carreau Club outpost has been added to Governors Island. Courts can be reserved online in advance, or you can register in person to play this fun French game. It’s $5 per person per hour and you can grab drinks from the cute green cart before you start playing. Beginners can quickly learn the rules – but it’s really easy to get the hang of it.
Check out the art
Keep an eye out for installations and public art programs across the island. “Yankee Hanger” always makes for a great photo op.
Refresh yourself in the spa
The QC NY Spa is the ultimate escape on Governors Island. New for the 2022 season, this spa features outdoor pools with incredible views of Manhattan, wellness experiences, massages and more. For something extra romantic book this Aperitivo at sunset Experience.
For a grown-up version of camping, you can book a stay at the island’s Collective Retreat. Don’t worry – you can still make s’mores. These glamping tents are the only accommodation options on the island, so you really feel like you have the place to yourself. Breakfast is delivered straight to your tent, so you can enjoy coffee and the sunrise without leaving your bed.
what to eat
Plan a picnic
All you need is a blanket and a basket of supplies for a great Governors Island picnic. There are countless grassy spots to line up and enjoy the sun and scenic views. If you want to upgrade your picnic, you can actually do that reserve a BBQ ahead for some BBQ or burgers.
Island Oyster | 146 Carder Street
Island Oyster is all about them vibrations. With its beach club style, which earned it a James Beard name for design, and unbeatable views of Manhattan, this is the chic choice for cocktails and seafood.
Taco Vista | 140 Carder Street
When guac cravings strike, Taco Vista is ready to help. Margs, burritos, burgers and of course tacos are also on the menu. Located right on the water, this spot is a relaxed place to wait for the next ferry.
Gitano Island | 125 Carder Street
This newcomer from Governors Island takes us straight to Tulum. Craft cocktails, upscale beach fare, and DJ sets can be expected.
The Three Peaks Lodge by Collective Retreat
This place isn’t just for glamping guests. It’s a great place to stop by for lunch or to spend some time leisurely sipping a drink and enjoying the view.
Pizza yard | 403 comfort road
The best (and only) pizza on the island, as the energetic team at Pizza Yard like to say. This is the place for delicious wood-fired pizzas, which you can enjoy at one of the many shaded picnic tables nearby.
Paletas are similar to popsicles but bursting with more flavor. It’s no surprise they’re an excellent summertime treat – and La Newyorkina is the place to get a refreshing handmade paleta. Be prepared to stand in line on a hot summer day.
Liggett Terrace | 517 Clayton Street
Most of the island’s food can be found at the Liggett Terrace Food Court. A selection of permanent and rotating food trucks are parked here, offering cuisine from around the world. Here’s just a taste of what to expect:
Little Eve always attracts a lot of people but it’s worth the wait. It serves everything from frozen cocktails to vegan chili. There’s plenty of seating here, so it’s a popular place to do a bit of camping.
New for the season, Tokyo Drumstick serves fried chicken sandwiches and boba tea.
Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights
This is a Governors Island classic. It serves fantastic Jamaican fusion and particularly nails its delicious cod fritters.
Threes Brewing & The Meat Hook
Local craft brews, burgers, and hot dogs are on the menu at this spot. Threes Brewing even did a special release just for Governors Island.
Some of NYC’s best coffee is available at a few locations across the island, including from a food truck painted Joe Coffee’s signature blue. Filter coffee, cold brew, tea and pastries are available. Pro tip – they also have Oddfellows ice cream here.
See more: These New Jersey farms are hosting “farm-to-table” meals “on the farm”
Events + Traditions
Lawn party in the jazz age
This is the main event of Governors Island. On a weekend in the summer, people put together their best 1920s outfits and head to the island for lots of fun. We’re talking vintage cocktails, live jazz, croquet, picnics and more. This year the event took place in mid-June. Tickets are required and they sell out fast so plan ahead for next year.
Governors Island celebrates Pride Weekend with a 21+ music festival. This is a ticketed event and the 2022 lineup included Lil’ Kim, Kim Petras and Shenseea.
In the summer, free outdoor films are shown on the parade ground. Bring a blanket and plenty of snacks to enjoy during the show. The Wizard shows next on August 5th.
NYC conducts races
For those looking to work up a sweat on the island, you can register for one of the upcoming NYC Runs events like this Haunted Island 5k or 10kthat takes place on Halloween.
With so much to do on Governors Island, it can feel like a different trip each time. It’s one of the easiest places to escape to if you want a car-free vacation. The only thing that would make it better would be a direct ferry from either Hoboken or Jersey City. Maybe one day.