One of the most popular outings in New York City is a trip to Governors Island. The 170-acre site in the middle of New York Harbor was used for 200 years for military training purposes, but now is a popular and convenient summer escape for New Yorkers and tourists alike.
It’s only a 10-minute ferry ride from either Manhattan or Brooklyn, and the island offers miles of biking and walking paths, an urban farm, art installations, music festivals, a playground, and extraordinary views of New York City.
Taking the Ferry
Governors Island is open to the public every day of the week between May 1 and October 31, and is accessible by ferry from either Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Visitors can purchase tickets in person at the ticket booths before boarding. Lines for tickets are not unheard of, especially when there are special events or sunny weekend days, so arrive 10 to 15 minutes early.
The standard roundtrip fare for visitors is $3 for adults, $1 for seniors, and free for children under 12. New York City residents also ride free with their identification. Additionally, all passengers ride free on ferries that depart Saturdays and Sundays before noon.
There is no additional charge to bring a bicycle, and spots for them are available on a first-come, first-served basis as space allows.
Arriving From Brooklyn
Ferries from Brooklyn depart Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Take the subway to Borough Hall (2, 3, 4, and 5 Trains) or Court Street (R Train). You can also arrive on buses B61 or B63.
There is no ferry service to Governors Island from Brooklyn on weekdays. If you are going between Monday and Friday, you'll have to travel to the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan.
On weekends, the first ferry departs at 11 a.m. and subsequent ferries leave about once every 45 minutes until 5:30 p.m. The last Brooklyn-bound ferry departs Governors Island at 7 p.m.
Arriving From Manhattan
Ferries from Manhattan depart from the Battery Maritime Building in the Financial District. Take the subway to South Ferry (1 Train), Bowling Green (4 and 5 Train), or Whitehall Street (R Train). You can also arrive on buses M15, M20, or M55.
On weekdays, the first ferry departs at 10 a.m., and ferries leave about once an hour until 4:15 p.m. The last ferry leaves Governors Island bound for Manhattan at 6 p.m.
On weekends, the first ferry departs at 10 a.m. and they leave about once every 20 minutes until 5:30 p.m. The last ferry leaves Governors Island at 7 p.m.
Activities on Governors Island
Once you get to the island, there's no shortage of things to do. There are plenty of food vendors but there are also spots to picnic if you prefer to bring your own snacks. Facilities are available to host parties, and there are concerts and family-friendly activities throughout the summer.
In early June, Governors Island hosts its annual Figment Festival, a free participatory art event that is 100 percent volunteer-powered. Another favorite activity is the Jazz Age Lawn Party, which takes place a few times during the summer and sells out rather quickly, so be sure to get tickets early. The island also hosts music concerts, a unicycle festival, and countless other unique events for all types of interests.
You don't need a special event to enjoy Governors Island, however. Bring your own food and have a picnic near the water with friends and family. Or take a leisurely bike ride around the island—you can bring your own bike or rent one there. You'll appreciate this small escape from the crowds and skyscrapers inside the city.
History of Governors Island
The Lepanae Indians called it Paggnack and the Dutch called it Noten Eylandt when they took possession of it in 1624. It was the original landing place for the first Dutch colonists in the area, and the New York legislature recognizes the island as the birthplace of the modern-day state of New York.
Its present name comes from the governors of the colonies who used the island as a kind of retreat. The name and the recreational use of the island remained when the English eventually took control of New York Harbor.
Between 1794 and 1966, Governors Island served as a military post and a major Army command headquarters. It later served as the home of the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area Command.
Governors Island was sold in 2003 and divided between the National Park Service and the Trust for Governors Island.