When it comes to islands in the U.S. you are more likely to think of Hawaii and the Florida Keys than New York City. Yet, owing to its location at the mouth of a harbor and being flanked by East and Hudson rivers, the Big Apple is home to dozens of accessible islands. Some, such as Ellis Island and Liberty Island, are deeply ingrained into the city’s tourist scene while others remain off the radar. So once you’ve exhausted the sights and attractions of Brooklyn and Manhattan, consider these three islands for an alternative NYC day out.
Often overlooked by tourists in favor of Liberty Island, Governors Island is the largest island in New York Harbor and one that presents a treasure trove of activities. The island only opened to the public in 2005, prior to which it lay abandoned after being used for several centuries as a military outpost. Today, numerous places, including Castle Williams, Fort Jay and Perishers Hall, take you on a journey back to the military days while The Hills affords unprecedented views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. There are children’s playgrounds, sports courts and picnic areas to enjoy. Or perhaps you want to delve into the island’s program of art exhibitions, concerts and outdoor cinema. Whatever you decide upon, the island is only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan and even closer to Brooklyn Heights, so there really is no excuse for not visiting.
Getting to Governor Island is easy visa the daily ferry service from the Battery Maritime Building and the weekend crossings from Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Randall’s Island Park
Nestled between Astoria, East Harlem and Mott Haven, Randall’s Island Park is a 273-acre outdoor playground that occupies the northern section of Randalls and Wards Islands. There are miles of riverfront pathways, over 90 athletics and sports fields, a miniature golf course and free yoga classes. You can take part in other free events such as art and cooking workshops, fishing clinics and history and wetland tours. Music is key to the island’s heritage and Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Sly and The Family Stone performed here in 1970. Big-name artists continue to top the bill at June’s Governors Ball, July’s Panorama and September’s Electric Zoo festivals.
Reach Randall’s Island by car from Astoria and Mott Haven via the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. From East Harlem you can cross the river on foot via the Ward’s Island Bridge.
Roosevelt Island is the long slither of land squeezed between Queens and the Upper East Side. This was once the site of hospitals, an asylum and prison; both Billie Holiday and Mae West served sentences here. Nowadays the island houses a small, upmarket community and is a true hidden gem without actually being hidden. For history buffs, Renwick Ruin and The Octagon serve as reminders of the island’s past. But if you are just in search of a lazy day hanging out at peaceful riverfront parks, then this is the place to do it. At the northern and southern tip of the island are Lighthouse Park and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, both of which boast spectacular views. On Saturdays you can stop at the Roosevelt Island Farmers Market to pick up supplies for a picnic.
Roosevelt Island is accessible by subway, metro and car via the Roosevelt Island Bridge. The best way to arrive, though, is to take the aerial Roosevelt Island Tramway from Tramway Place, in the Upper East Side.