Just half a mile from Lower Manhattan—and an easy hop from Hudson County—Governors Island is packed with fun things to do and makes for an amazing day trip. This island is open all year round and can only be reached by ferry. The 172-acre island is car-free and easy to explore on foot or by bike. And with tons of restaurants, art exhibits, picnic areas, events, and a spa, there’s always something fun 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 knew the island as Paggank (“Nut Island”) and used it seasonally as a fishing ground. When the Dutch arrived they set up their first camps here, so you could say this place is the birthplace of what would become New York. When the British finally took over, they renamed the island and reserved it for ‘Her Majesty’s Governors’ – which suddenly helps give the island’s name a bit more meaning.
The island was used by the British during the American Revolution. From the 1800s until 1996, the island was used as a base for the US military. Two historic forts – Castle Williams and Fort Jay – are maintained by the island’s National Park Service. Governors Island officially opened to the public in 2005 as a place of rest and refuge from city life.
How to get there
Ferries depart from Lower Manhattan and a few places in Brooklyn. From Hoboken or Jersey City, taking the Lower Manhattan Ferry is the easiest way. You can go to the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street to board the next ferry.
You can book your tickets online in advance, which is recommended on busy days. Alternatively, $4 return tickets are available at the ferry terminal. An economic tip: ferries leaving before noon on Saturdays and Sundays are free. Also, there is no additional cost to bring your bike.
Check the Governors Island website for more updated ferry schedule.
Read more: A look at Ellis Island’s history + why you should visit
Things to do
Go for a bike ride
With 7 miles of paved trails, biking is one of the best ways to explore Governors Island. 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 choose to rent one on the island. There are three Citi Bike stations – plus Blazing Saddles offers bike, scooter, pedal car and surrey rentals.
Relax in a hammock
For some R&R, Hammock Grove is the place to go. There are a dozen red hammocks in the area which are perfect for reading or sleeping. As you enjoy a downtime, you might hear a rustle in the grass around you. Don’t be surprised if you see a farm animal — a flock of sheep spends his summer on Governors Island to help control invasive plant species.
To take a walk
Or it can be a walk, if that’s more your thing. Guided walking tours are offered on weekends. For more of a “hike”, we recommend climbing to the top of the hills for rewarding views of the island and Manhattan.
Take the kids to the playground
With two playgrounds, a rock climbingand the ever popular Slide Hillthere are so many things for the little ones to do on Governors Island.
Visitors can kayak for free from Pier 101. Kayaking is currently only offered on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Everything you need is provided, including equipment and a basic lesson.
Connect with nature
Volunteer with the composting center or join a Educational garden workshop to get your hands dirty. For something a little less involved, visit the lavender field to take some dream photos.
To play petanque
For those who don’t know, petanque is a fun ball-throwing game similar to petanque. There is now an Industry City Carreau Club outpost on Governors Island. Courts are available online to reserve in advance, or you can register in person to play this fun French game. It costs $5/person per hour and you can grab drinks from the cute green cart before you start playing. Beginners may get a quick glimpse of the rules, but it’s really easy to understand.
Discover the art
Keep an eye out for public art installations and programs across the island. “Yankee hanger“Always makes for a great photo shoot.
Refresh yourself at the Spa
QC NY Spa is the ultimate escape on Governors Island. New for the 2022 season, this spa offers outdoor pools with incredible views of Manhattan, wellness experiences, massages and more. For something particularly romantic, book the Aperitif at sunset live.
Spend the night
For an adult version of camping, you can book a stay on the island’s collective retreat. Don’t worry, you can still make s’mores. These glamping tents are the only overnight accommodations on the island, so you’ll really feel like you have the place all to yourself. Breakfast is delivered straight to your tent, meaning you can enjoy a coffee and watch the sunrise without leaving your bed.
what to eat
Plan a picnic
All you need is a blanket and a basket of supplies to pack for a great picnic on Governors Island. There are tons of grassy spots where you can sit and enjoy the sun and the scenic views. If you want to upgrade your picnic, you can actually book a grill ahead for a BBQ or burgers.
Island Oyster | 146 Carder Road
Island Oyster is all about the vibes. With its beach-club style, which earned it a James Beard nomination for design, and sweeping views of Manhattan, it’s the chic choice for a cocktail and seafood.
Tacos Vista | 140 Carder Road
When the craving for guac strikes, Taco Vista is ready to help. Margs, burritos, burgers and, of course, tacos are also on the menu. This place is right on the water and is a laid back place to wait for the next ferry.
Island of Gitano | 125 Carder Road
This newcomer from Governors Island transports us directly to Tulum. Craft cocktails, elevated beach dining, and DJ sets are to be expected.
Collective Retreat Three Summits Lodge
This restaurant is not just for glamping guests. It’s a great place to stop for lunch or to spend some leisurely time sipping a drink and admiring the view.
Pizza Court | 403 Comfort Road
The best (and only) pizza on the island, as the energetic Pizza Yard team likes to say. This is the place to go for delicious wood-fired pizzas that can be enjoyed at one of the many shaded picnic tables nearby.
Paletas are similar to popsicles but pop with more flavor. It’s no surprise they make a great summer treat – and La Newyorkina is the place to get a refreshing handmade paleta. Prepare to queue on a hot summer day.
Liggett Terrace | 517 Clayton Road
Most of the food on the island can be found in 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 you can expect:
Little Eva still Gets crowded but 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 camp out for a bit.
New for the season, Tokyo Drumstick serves fried chicken sandwiches and boba tea.
Fauzia’s celestial delights
It’s a Governors Island classic. It serves an impressive Jamaican fusion and particularly nails its delicious codfish fritters.
Threes Brewing and the Meat Hook
Local craft beers, burgers, and hot dogs are on the menu here. Threes Brewing even did a special release just for Governors Island.
Some of New York’s best coffee is available at a few locations on the island, including a food truck — painted in Joe Coffee’s signature blue. Filter coffee, cold brew, teas, and pastries are available. Pro tip – they also pick up Oddfellows ice cream here.
See more: These New Jersey farms are hosting ‘farm-to-table’ meals
Events + Traditions
Jazz Age Lawn Party
This is Governors Island’s main event. One weekend every summer, people put together their best 1920s outfits and head to the island for tons of fun. We’re talking vintage cocktails, live jazz, croquet, picnic and more. This year, the event took place in mid-June. Tickets are required and they sell out fast – so be sure to 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.
During the summer, free outdoor films are screened on the parade ground. Bring a blanket and plenty of snacks to enjoy during the show. The genius hits theaters August 5th.
NYC organizes races
For those looking to sweat it out on the island: you can sign up for one of the upcoming NYC Runs events like the Haunted Island 5k or 10ktaking place on Halloween.
With so much to do on Governors Island, it can feel like a different trip every time. It’s one of the easiest places to get away to when you want a car-free getaway. The only thing that would make it better would be a direct ferry from Hoboken or Jersey City. Maybe one day.