Family Day Tripping: Governors Island

gov_1This past weekend marked the opening of Governors Island’s 2015 season, and it might be the best part of NYC you’ve never visited.

From NJ it’s just a train, subway and ferry ride away. The Governors Island ferry leaves from Battery Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park 7 days a week (there’s a small fee to ride the ferry, but it’s free if you catch one of the early departures on weekend mornings), and it’s about a 10-minute ride across New York Harbor to the 172-acre island between Manhattan and Brooklyn. And once you reach the dock, there’s a full day’s worth of family fun to be had.

Governors Island has been part of the NYC ecosystem pretty much since the city has had inhabitants, but a recent overhaul from the Trust for Governors Island and the National Park Service has made it a 21st century recreation destination. And the main thing you need to know about the new version of the island is summed up in one word: bikes.

Nearly every part of Governors Island has bike paths, and there are no cars to get in a cyclist’s way. Bring your own wheels on the ferry, or rent on the island from Blazing Saddles. You can get regular bicycles, tandem bikes or pedaled surreys that can hold an entire family. With wide paths, dramatic waterside views and no steep hills, it’s a small biker’s paradise in the middle of the city.

But there’s more to a visit than bike riding. Governors Island has fun and challenging climbing structures for kids; Hammock Grove, with 50 hammocks for relaxing in the shade; several open play fields for games of tag, tossing a frisbee or just kicking back on the grass; the historical Fort Jay and Castle Williams, with information about the island’s years as a military fort and prison; an urban farm with animals and activities for kids; and a calendar of art, music and other events that run through early fall.


No matter which activities your family digs into, a highlight of any visit is heading to the water’s edge to take in the views of New York City. The skylines of Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City; the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges; and the busy array of boats, cruise ships, helicopters and planes are all visible from most points on Governors Island. On a clear day, you get a great vantage point on the always-busy New York Harbor.


And while you’ll want to pack some snacks and drinks for your visit, one of the big treats is the open-air food court in the middle of the island, with food trucks dispensing diverse and high-quality options daily. You can eat at one of the many outdoor tables set up around Liggett Terrace, or have an impromptu picnic on any of the nearby lawns.

Our family spent six hours on Governors Island on opening weekend, and got around to doing maybe half of what was on offer. And about a third of the space is still under construction, which means that soon there will be more space and things to do for families. If you’re looking for a warm-weather day trip into the city that’s not the same old NYC visit you’ve done before, Governors Island is an urban oasis in the middle of the action.


Aerial image Copyright © 2015 The Trust for Governors Island.

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  1. We have so enjoyed visiting Governors Island over the past 6 or 7 years. Each summer, a new part of the island has been developed and opened up. They have had incredible public art installations, NYC historical information and even an antique carousel festival one year. Such a gem. Go!

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