NYC Islands: Governors by Ferry, Roosevelt by Tram


New York is a city built on water. Four of its five boroughs are located on islands, and the city’s rivers and bays are dotted with many more. Two of its lesser-known islands make terrific destinations for a summer day trip, filled with history, green spaces and incredible views. And they’re fun to get to: Visit Governors Island by ferry and Roosevelt Island by tram.

Roosevelt Island

You can take the subway, but it’s more fun to take the tram from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan (one-way, $2.50 using a subway MetroCard). The six-minute ride offers views of the city, East River and Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

On the Roosevelt Island side, walk 15 minutes south to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on a tree-lined path along the river with great views of Manhattan. Near the entrance, you’ll pass the Renwick Ruin, a gothic structure that looks like a horror set. It’s an abandoned smallpox hospital that dates to the 1850s.

The park, in contrast, offers a sleek, pristine landscape, full of symmetry and angled views. It was designed by Louis I. Kahn before his death in 1974, but its construction was postponed by the city’s near-bankruptcy in the 1970s. It opened in 2012.

Tree-lined plazas and other structures offer vantage points for seeing Manhattan; you’ll easily pick out the Empire State Building, United Nations, Chrysler Building and 1 World Trade Center.

The park is free and open 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day except Tuesday.

Governors Island

The former military and U.S. Coast Guard base has become one of the city’s most beloved day-trip destinations.

The vast green lawns and slopes, winding paths and views make the seven-minute ferry trip from Manhattan feel like a voyage to another world — not that you can forget you’re a mere half-mile from Lower Manhattan, with soaring views of 1 World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty just across the water. Some of the best views come as you round the bend near Castle Williams, a circular red stone fort that served as a barracks and prison in the decades after its construction in 1811.

It takes less than an hour to stroll around the island, but allow more time for enjoying parks and green spaces like Hammock Grove, with play areas and 50 hammocks. You’ll also want to poke your head in historic buildings like the Admiral’s House. You can bring bikes on the ferry, or rent bikes and surreys on the island.

The island is open daily through Sept. 28 (Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends; Labor Day until 7:00 p.m.). Ferries run daily from Lower Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St., near the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Ferries also run weekends from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6. Round-trip fare, $2, with select free ferries weekend mornings.

Due to the efforts of Councilman David Greenfield, there are kosher food vendors. The Schnitzi food truck opens at 11:00 a.m. while Alchemy Creamery sells ice cream.