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Best Things To Do On Governors Island – Day Trip From NYC


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Emmy Carmody


Getting to Governors Island

Located just a short ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, Governors Island is a hidden gem that offers a tranquil escape from the city’s daily chaos. Getting to Governors Island is part of the adventure, as the journey itself provides breathtaking views of the New York Harbor and the iconic skyline.


To reach the island, visitors can hop on a ferry from either Manhattan or Brooklyn. The Governors Island Ferry departs from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan, near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The ferry ride is a quick and enjoyable 10 minutes, and there is no charge for the ferry service. Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Brooklyn’s Pier 6, allowing you to explore the scenic Brooklyn waterfront before embarking on your island adventure.


The ferry runs on a seasonal schedule, with increased service during the summer months. It is important to check the ferry schedule in advance, as it may vary depending on the day of the week. In addition to the regular ferry service, there are also special events throughout the year, such as night ferries and themed cruises, offering a unique and memorable experience.


Once you arrive on Governors Island, you can explore the island on foot or rent a bike to cover more ground. The island is car-free, making it a peaceful and pedestrian-friendly environment. The island’s scenic paths and lush green spaces create a serene atmosphere, allowing visitors to connect with nature and enjoy breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline.


Whether you’re looking to spend a relaxing day in nature, explore the island’s rich history, or simply enjoy the stunning views, Governors Island has something for everyone. So, pack a picnic, grab your camera, and embark on a memorable day trip to this hidden oasis.


Exploring the Historic District

Governors Island is not just a picturesque retreat; it also boasts a rich history that is waiting to be explored. The island has a designated historic district that showcases its storied past and provides a glimpse into the lives of those who once inhabited the island.


One of the highlights of the historic district is Fort Jay. Built in the late 18th century, it served as a defensive fortification during times of war. Today, visitors can explore the fort’s ramparts and take a self-guided tour to learn about its architectural features and historical significance.


Another notable attraction in the historic district is Castle Williams. This circular fortification was built in the early 19th century and played a crucial role during the Civil War. Inside the castle, visitors can marvel at the intricate brickwork and learn about the fort’s military past through informative exhibits.


As you stroll through the historic district, you’ll encounter charming historic homes and buildings that have been preserved and repurposed. These buildings, including the Admiral’s House and the Liggett Hall, provide a glimpse into the island’s past as a military base and officers’ quarters.


Guided tours are available for those who want a more in-depth understanding of the island’s history. Knowledgeable guides lead visitors through the historic buildings, sharing stories and anecdotes that bring the island’s past to life.


Don’t forget to visit the National Park Service Visitor Center, located in Building 19. Here, you can access maps and brochures, watch informative videos, and interact with exhibits that explain the island’s history and ecological significance.


Exploring the historic district of Governors Island is like stepping back in time. It offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the island’s rich history and discover fascinating stories of the past. Whether you’re a history buff or simply intrigued by the island’s heritage, a visit to the historic district is a must during your trip to Governors Island.


Visiting the Adirondack Architecture Exhibit

One of the standout attractions on Governors Island is the Adirondack Architecture Exhibit. This unique exhibit showcases the rustic charm and architectural style of the Adirondack region in upstate New York. It provides visitors with a fascinating glimpse into the history and craftsmanship of the Adirondack Great Camps.


The exhibit is housed in a historic building that was once used as an officers’ club during the island’s military days. The building itself is a testament to the island’s rich history and adds to the charm of the exhibit.


Inside the exhibit, you’ll find a collection of artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays that highlight the unique architectural features of Adirondack-style buildings. The exhibit delves into the history of Adirondack architecture, from its humble beginnings as hunting lodges to its popularity as luxurious retreats for the wealthy.


One of the main highlights of the exhibit is the recreation of a typical Adirondack Great Camp living space. Visitors can step inside and admire the rustic furniture, handcrafted details, and cozy ambiance that define the Adirondack style of living. It’s a unique opportunity to experience the charm and coziness of these historic retreats firsthand.


In addition to the exhibits, the Adirondack Architecture Exhibit offers educational programs and guided tours. These programs delve deeper into the architectural techniques and design principles that are unique to the Adirondack style. Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast or simply curious about the history behind these iconic buildings, the guided tours offer an informative and engaging experience.


The Adirondack Architecture Exhibit on Governors Island provides a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the rustic beauty and architectural history of the Adirondack region. From its rustic lodges to its design principles, the exhibit offers a fascinating journey into a unique architectural style that has captivated generations. Make sure to include a visit to the Adirondack Architecture Exhibit in your itinerary for an enriching and visually captivating experience.


Picnicking and Relaxing on the Island

Governors Island offers the perfect setting for a leisurely and peaceful day of picnicking and relaxation. With its lush green spaces, scenic waterfront views, and serene atmosphere, the island provides an idyllic backdrop for enjoying a meal outdoors and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.


There are several designated picnic areas on the island, complete with picnic tables and barbecue grills, where you can set up your own picnic spread. Pack a picnic basket filled with your favorite snacks, sandwiches, and beverages, or grab some delicious takeout from one of the island’s food vendors. As you enjoy your meal, take in the breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and the surrounding water.


If you prefer a more laid-back picnic experience, you can spread out a blanket on the expansive open spaces or find a cozy spot under the shade of a tree. The island is home to numerous groves and gardens, providing plenty of options for finding a peaceful spot to relax and unwind. Don’t forget to bring a book, a frisbee, or a deck of cards to enjoy some leisure activities while you soak in the tranquil atmosphere.


In addition to picnicking, the island offers plenty of opportunities for relaxation. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront promenade, where you can enjoy the cool breeze and picturesque views of the harbor. Find a hammock or a comfortable bench to sit back and bask in the sun. The island also has hammock groves, where you can swing gently and let your worries drift away.


If you’re looking for a more structured relaxation experience, consider booking a massage at the island’s wellness center. Nothing beats a soothing massage against the backdrop of nature’s beauty. Treat yourself to a pampering spa session and emerge feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.


Whether you’re enjoying a peaceful picnic with loved ones or finding your own quiet corner to unwind, picnicking and relaxing on Governors Island offers a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Embrace the serenity of the island, slow down, and let the stress melt away as you immerse yourself in nature’s beauty.


Outdoor Activities and Recreation

Governors Island isn’t just a place for relaxation and picnicking; it also offers a wide range of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities to keep visitors of all ages entertained and active.


One popular activity on the island is kayaking. You can rent a kayak and explore the calm waters surrounding the island, taking in the stunning views and getting a unique perspective of the city skyline. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, this is a fantastic way to enjoy some water-based adventure.


If you prefer to stay on land, you can engage in a friendly game of mini golf at the island’s outdoor course. Putt your way through the challenging obstacles and enjoy some friendly competition with your family and friends.


The island also offers various sports fields and courts for those who enjoy team sports or individual activities. From soccer and baseball to basketball and volleyball, there’s something for everyone. Gather a group of friends or join in on a game with fellow visitors to have some fun and stay active while enjoying the island’s beautiful surroundings.


If you’re seeking a more leisurely activity, consider renting a pedal boat or a rowboat. Cruise along the calm waters surrounding the island and take in the breathtaking waterfront views at your own pace.


For nature enthusiasts, the island offers abundant bird-watching opportunities. Explore the diverse habitats on the island, from grassy meadows to marshlands, and spot a variety of bird species. Keep your binoculars handy as you wander through the island’s trails and keep an eye out for the colorful residents and migratory birds.


Lastly, be sure to visit the Urban Farm on the island, where you can learn about sustainable agriculture practices and get hands-on experience in tending to crops and caring for animals. This interactive and educational experience is perfect for both kids and adults who want to connect with nature and learn about food production in an urban setting.


From water-based activities to sports and recreational games, Governors Island offers a plethora of outdoor activities to suit every interest. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or educational experiences, the island has something to offer everyone. So, embrace the outdoors, and create cherished memories as you explore the island’s recreational offerings.


Biking and Four-Wheeler Rentals

Biking is one of the most popular ways to explore Governors Island. With its flat terrain, wide paths, and car-free environment, the island provides the perfect setting for a leisurely bike ride. Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a casual rider, renting a bike is a fantastic way to navigate the island and see its many attractions.


Several bike rental companies operate on the island, offering a variety of bike options to suit your preferences. From traditional bicycles to tandem bikes and even electric bikes, you can choose the type of bike that best suits your comfort level and desired level of exertion.


As you pedal your way through the island, you’ll have the opportunity to explore its scenic paths, vibrant gardens, and historic sites at your own pace. Ride along the waterfront promenade and take in the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Cruise through the island’s lush green spaces and discover hidden nooks and crannies that are inaccessible by foot. Biking allows you to cover more ground and see more of what Governors Island has to offer in a shorter amount of time.


In addition to traditional bikes, Governors Island also offers four-wheeler rentals. These small, four-wheeled, pedal-powered vehicles are perfect for families or groups who prefer a different kind of adventure. They provide a fun and unique way to explore the island together, with each person having their own set of wheels.


Renting a four-wheeler allows you to experience the island in a more interactive and engaging way. You can race each other along the paths, take turns navigating the various twists and turns, and create lasting memories with your loved ones.


Whether you choose to rent a bike or a four-wheeler, make sure to wear appropriate safety gear and follow the island’s rules and regulations for biking. Helmets are strongly recommended, especially for younger riders, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.


So, strap on your helmet, hop on a bike or a four-wheeler, and embark on an exciting adventure as you explore Governors Island. Whether you’re riding solo, with friends, or with your family, biking and four-wheeler rentals provide a fun and active way to discover all the island has to offer.


Checking Out the Art Installations

Governors Island has become a hub for art and creativity, with a wide array of captivating art installations scattered throughout the island’s grounds. These installations add an extra layer of intrigue and visual delight to the island’s natural beauty and historic charm.


As you explore the island, keep an eye out for the various art installations that are seamlessly integrated into the landscape. From sculptures and interactive exhibits to murals and site-specific installations, the island showcases a diverse range of artistic expressions.


One of the standout installations is the “The Hills,” a collection of rolling landscapes that provide panoramic views of the surrounding New York Harbor. These hills not only offer visitors a chance to enjoy breathtaking vistas, but they also house art installations that blend seamlessly into the natural environment.


Another fascinating installation is the “Elevated Acre,” an elevated walkway that offers an immersive experience through a combination of light, sound, and sculptural elements. Visitors can meander through this innovative outdoor gallery and be transported into a world of artistic wonder.


Throughout the summer months, Governors Island hosts a variety of art events and exhibitions, showcasing the work of local and international artists. From interactive installations to temporary exhibitions, these events provide a unique opportunity to engage with contemporary art in an outdoor setting.


Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the island’s galleries, which host rotating exhibits featuring works by diverse artists. These galleries offer a more traditional art-viewing experience, with curated displays that cover a wide range of artistic disciplines and styles.


The art installations on Governors Island are constantly evolving, with new additions appearing each season. This makes each visit a fresh and exciting experience, as you never know what artistic marvels you’ll encounter during your exploration.


Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply appreciate the beauty of creative expression, checking out the art installations on Governors Island is a must-do activity. Immerse yourself in the world of art, let your imagination run wild, and be inspired by the unique and thought-provoking installations that adorn this enchanting island.


Discovering the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground

For families visiting Governors Island, a visit to the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground is a must. This unique playground offers children a one-of-a-kind opportunity to engage in unstructured, imaginative play in a supervised and safe environment.


Unlike traditional playgrounds with pre-determined structures and equipment, the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground is designed to spark creativity and encourage kids to take risks. It features an assortment of loose parts and materials, such as tires, wooden planks, and ropes, that children can use to build and construct their own play structures.


At the Adventure Playground, children are free to explore, experiment, and create their own play experiences. They can build forts, climb trees, dig in the sand, and engage in imaginative play with their peers. This open-ended play environment fosters independent thinking, problem-solving skills, and social interaction.


Trained playworkers are present on the Adventure Playground to facilitate and supervise play, ensuring the safety of the children while allowing them the freedom to take age-appropriate risks. The playworkers encourage creativity and collaboration, providing guidance and support when needed.


Visiting the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground allows children to reconnect with nature, engage in active play, and develop their physical and cognitive abilities. It offers a break from screens and structured activities, creating an environment where children can let their imaginations run wild.


While the Adventure Playground is primarily geared towards children, it’s also a space where adults can relive their own carefree days of unstructured play. Parents and guardians are encouraged to join in the fun, build sandcastles, and unleash their inner child.


Note that the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground operates on a limited schedule during the summer months, and there may be age restrictions or time limits in place to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all participants. It’s always best to check the current guidelines and schedule before planning your visit.


Whether you’re a child or simply young at heart, discovering the Play:groundNYC Adventure Playground is an experience that will spark creativity, foster independence, and create lasting memories. Let the spirit of play guide you as you embark on an adventure filled with imagination, discovery, and unstructured fun.


Enjoying the Hills and Slide Hill

One of the most exciting features of Governors Island is its unique topography, which includes a series of rolling hills. These hills not only provide stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area but also offer visitors the opportunity for thrilling and memorable experiences.


One of the standout hills on the island is aptly named Slide Hill. As the name suggests, Slide Hill is home to several giant slides that provide hours of fun for children and adults alike. These towering slides offer an exhilarating ride down, creating laughter and smiles as visitors zoom down the slopes. It’s a delightful activity that brings out the childlike joy in everyone.


In addition to the slides, the hills of Governors Island offer a prime spot for relaxation and leisure. Take a moment to catch your breath and admire the breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and the surrounding rivers. The rolling hills create a serene and picturesque setting, perfect for soaking in the beauty of nature and enjoying a peaceful moment away from the city’s hustle and bustle.


If you’re feeling adventurous, try rolling down the hills and experiencing a sense of weightlessness as you tumble. The soft grassy slopes provide a gentle landing, allowing you to enjoy the thrill of rolling down the hills without any discomfort.


The Hills on Governors Island have something for everyone. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush on the slides or simply want to relax and enjoy the scenery, the hills offer a unique and enjoyable experience that adds an extra layer of excitement to your visit.


It’s important to note that while the hills are accessible to all visitors, there may be designated areas for specific activities and guidelines to follow to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all. It’s always best to respect any signage or instructions provided by the island authorities.


Whether you’re young or young at heart, take some time to enjoy the hills and Slide Hill on Governors Island. Embrace the joy of sliding down the slopes, revel in the stunning views, and create cherished memories in this playful and picturesque environment.


Attending Events and Festivals

Governors Island is not only a beautiful destination with stunning views and numerous attractions, but it also hosts a variety of events and festivals throughout the year. Attending these gatherings adds an extra layer of excitement and entertainment to your visit.


One of the most highly anticipated events on Governors Island is the annual Governors Ball Music Festival. This multi-day music extravaganza boasts an impressive lineup of renowned artists across various genres. From rock and pop to hip hop and electronic music, the festival offers a diverse range of performances that attract music enthusiasts from near and far.


In addition to the music festival, Governors Island hosts a myriad of other events and festivals, ranging from art exhibitions and dance performances to food and cultural celebrations. These events showcase the island’s vibrant arts scene and provide a platform for local artists and performers to showcase their talents.


Throughout the summer, the island also hosts a series of outdoor movie screenings, allowing visitors to enjoy their favorite films under the stars. It’s the perfect opportunity to relax on a blanket, indulge in some popcorn, and immerse yourself in the cinematic experience in a unique and picturesque setting.


For food lovers, Governors Island hosts food festivals and food truck events that highlight the diverse culinary offerings of New York City. From gourmet food trucks to specialty vendors, these events provide a chance to indulge in delectable dishes and explore a wide range of flavors and cuisines.


It’s important to check the island’s event calendar regularly to stay updated on upcoming events and festivals. Some events may require tickets or have limited capacity, so it’s advisable to plan ahead and secure your spot.


Attending events and festivals on Governors Island adds an extra element of excitement and liveliness to your visit. Immerse yourself in the music, art, culture, and culinary delights that the island has to offer, creating memorable experiences that will enhance your time on this unique oasis.


Dining and Refreshment Options

Exploring Governors Island can work up an appetite, but don’t worry – the island offers a variety of dining and refreshment options to satisfy every palate and craving.


Whether you’re in the mood for a quick bite or a leisurely meal, you’ll find a range of food vendors scattered across the island. From food trucks and carts to pop-up stands, these vendors offer diverse cuisines and tasty treats to tantalize your taste buds.


For a classic New York City experience, indulge in a slice of pizza from one of the local pizza trucks. These mobile pizzerias serve up piping-hot slices with a range of toppings, giving you a delicious taste of the city’s iconic street food.


Craving something more substantial? You’re in luck. The island is home to several food vendors offering a variety of cuisines. Enjoy a juicy burger, savor a mouthwatering BBQ sandwich, or satisfy your seafood cravings with a lobster roll or fresh oysters.


If you prefer lighter fare, you’ll find options like salads, wraps, and vegetarian dishes available. These dishes are made with fresh and locally sourced ingredients, ensuring a healthy and flavorful meal.


To quench your thirst, there are plenty of options for refreshments. Cool down with a refreshing ice-cold lemonade or a gourmet iced coffee. If you’re in need of an energy boost, grab a smoothie or a cold-pressed juice packed with vitamins and nutrients.


No meal is complete without dessert, and Governors Island has you covered in that department too. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone, a homemade cookie, or a decadent slice of cake from one of the dessert vendors on the island.


If you prefer to bring your own food, there’s nothing better than packing a picnic and finding a cozy spot on the island to enjoy your meal. With designated picnic areas and plenty of open green spaces, Governors Island provides the perfect backdrop for a relaxing outdoor dining experience.


From quick bites to leisurely meals, Governors Island offers something to satisfy every craving. So, take a break from your explorations, grab a delicious meal or snack, and savor the flavors of this vibrant island.


Shopping for Souvenirs

Before bidding farewell to Governors Island, make sure to take some time to browse the various shops and vendors offering unique souvenirs and mementos. Shopping for souvenirs allows you to bring home a piece of the island’s charm and preserve the memories of your visit.


At the Governors Island Gift Shop, you’ll find an array of merchandise that captures the spirit of the island. From t-shirts and tote bags to hats and keychains, these items are adorned with the island’s logo and iconic imagery, serving as a reminder of your time on this idyllic oasis.


For craft enthusiasts, the island is home to several artisan shops and galleries. These establishments showcase the work of local artists and craftspeople, offering an opportunity to purchase unique, handmade treasures. From jewelry and ceramics to paintings and sculptures, you’ll find a diverse range of artistic creations that make for exceptional souvenirs.


If you’re a bookworm, you’re in luck. Governors Island features a bookstore specializing in books about New York City, history, art, and culture. Delve into the world of literature and pick up a book that delves into the island’s rich history, or explore the works of local authors and poets.


Don’t forget to stop by the island’s farmers market, where local farmers and vendors come together to offer an array of fresh produce, artisanal food products, and handmade crafts. Support local businesses and bring home some of the island’s flavors, such as honey, jams, or homemade candles.


If you’re looking for unique and fashionable items, keep an eye out for pop-up shops and temporary boutiques that may appear on the island during special events or festivals. These limited-time shops often feature trendy clothing, accessories, and other stylish finds that you won’t find elsewhere.


Whether you’re seeking a memento to remember your visit or searching for a thoughtful gift for a loved one, shopping for souvenirs on Governors Island is a delightful experience. Support local artists, explore the island’s rich cultural offerings, and bring home a piece of this enchanting destination.