Is Governor’s Island in NYC Worth a Family Visit?


Governors-Island-in-nyc
Photo: Courtesy of Nestor Rivera Jr, via Flickr

Is Governor’s Island in NYC worth a family visit? The answer is a resounding YES!

If you and your family have ever visited New York City odds are you probably have never heard of Governor’s Island. Or perhaps you have heard about it but with so many other great things and places to visit in NYC, it didn’t make it to the top of your list.

It’s generally not on most people’s radar. Especially during the first few visits.

Since I like to keep it real, it wasn’t even on our radar until recently when my friend Sam and my sister-in-law Autumn mentioned that they had been there. “You don’t know what you’re missing” they both said. A bit embarrassing since we’ve been living in NYC forever.

So after doing some research on Governor’s Island, it’s clear we need to add it to our travel list this coming Summer. In this latest blog post, I am sharing everything we learned about Governor’s Island. I’m sure you will agree with our enthusiastic response!

A Little History

The history alone makes Governor’s Island worth a visit. In 1524, the Native Americans of the Manhattan region, the Lenape,referred to the Island as Pagganuck (“Nut Island”). Nut Island was the name given because of the large amount of hickory, oak, and chestnut trees. The Lenape used the island as a fishing camp on a seasonal basis.

In 1624 the Dutch settled on the Island and called it “Noten Eylandt“. Thirteen years later, in 1637, the Island was purchased by Wouter Van Twiller from the Dutch West India Company. The Lenape reportedly sold the Island to him for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails. The Dutch government would later confiscate the Island from Van Twiller.

In 1664 the British captured New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. The city and the Island switched hands between the British and Dutch over the next decade. Then in 1699, the British renamed the Island “Governor’s Island” and was to be used by the revolutionary era governors.

Over the next few centuries Governor’s Island would be used as a Civil War base, stockade, and a prison. At one point it was home to the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard left the island towards the end of 1996 leaving a huge piece of land ripe for development.

Governor’s Island Redevelopment

In 2001, President Bill Clinton designated 22 acres of the island, including Fort Jay, Castle Williams and the area that surrounds them, as the Governor’s Island National Monument. It was to be owned and managed by the National Park Service.

The city of New York and the state of New York agreed to assume control of the island’s development in 2010.

In May, 2014 the first 30 acres of new park opened to the public. Visitors were able to nap on hammocks, play sports on the Play Lawn, and have a meal at Liggett Terrace.

The amount of visitors to Governor’s Island continues to skyrocket year after year.

Source: For more detailed history on Governor’s Island click here.

Where is Governor’s Island?

This 172-acre island is located in the New York Harbor about 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan.

Can you drive there?

Nope. Cars, motorcycles, and any other motorized vehicles are not allowed on the Island. Visitors can walk or bike it around the island.

How do you get there?

Governors-Island-Ferry

During its open season, ferries run every day to Governor’s Island from the Battery Maritime Building (10 South Street in lower Manhattan). It’s a short 10-minute ride.

You can check the ferry schedule here.

On summer weekends the NY Ferry is added to the schedule to accommodate more island visitors. It departs from Wall Street Pier 11. Two routes are available- East River Route and South Brooklyn Routes.

The East River Route makes stops in DUMBO, South Williamsburg, North Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Hunters Point South, East 34th Street, and ends at Governor’s Island.

The South Brooklyn Route makes stops in DUMBO, Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, and ends at Governor’s Island.

From Queens: On summer weekends folks can take the NYC Ferry Astoria Route. There’s no direct service to Governor’s Island from Queens so you will have to transfer at Pier 11.

Insider Tips: Arrive at your departing Pier at least 30 minutes before departure time as it gets really crowded.

Hours of Operation

The island is only open to visitors on a seasonal basis. You can visit from May 1st through October 31st. It’s open from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Thursday, and 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. on weekends. The hours of operation are usually extended on Fridays until 10 P.M. thus allowing visitors more time to enjoy the music, food, and beverages on the island.

How much does it cost to get there?

New York City is pretty expensive but a day at Governor’s Island with your family will not cost you an arm and a leg. Access onto the Island itself is FREE. Passengers ride FREE on the ferry on Saturdays and Sundays before noon. At other times a round-trip adult ticket will run you $3 and $1 for seniors. On the Astoria Route you will have to pay $2.75 for each leg of the trip and a $1.00 surcharge for bikes.

Military members, children under 13, and holders of an IDNYC identification card travel on the ferry for FREE.

Senior Citizens can buy season passes for $10.00. Regular adult season passes can be bought for $30.00

Not bad, right? I would definitely add this to my list of the cheapest things to do in NYC.

Insider Tip: With the exception of the Astoria Route there is no charge for taking your bike on-board the ferry, but space is limited.

A few rules and regs to know

  • Fur babies or other pets are not permitted on the island (service dogs, however, are permitted)
  • You are not permitted to bring alcoholic beverages onto the island (you can purchase there, however)
  • No smoking or vaping allowed

Click here for the full list of rules and regulations.

Things to do on Governor’s Island

The Island is great for families as it offers tons of events for all ages. I’m truly looking forward to doing many of the following activities when we visi this summer.

Biking

There are about 7 miles on the Island where you can ride your bike. You can take your own or rent them there. You don’t have to worry about dodging cars and traffic because, as I mentioned before, the island is car-free.

Bikes with child seats, pull-behind trailers, small children’s bikes and 4-wheeled bikes can be rented from Blazing Saddles. Bike rentals are also available via Citibike stations.

Insider Tip: Blazing Saddles offers FREE rentals for one hour from Monday to Friday 10 A.M. to Noon. So get there early.

Miniature Golf

Come one! Come all! This is my sport right here. Play 18 holes with breathtaking views of the New York Harbor and Statue of Liberty.

Cost: $7.00 per person

Ziplining

Kids-Ziplining-On-Governors-Island
Photo Courtesy: govisland.com

Ok you guys, I have another confession to make. I’ve never been ziplining. Not because I’m scared of heights or anything, but just haven’t had the opportunity. It seems exhilarating though and I will be ticking this off my list soon.

The Flywire zipline is 300 feet long and reaches speeds of 21 mph. Two people can fly side by side. Jeanette get ready! LOL. This thrill ride starts at a peak of 35 feet. Can you picture the views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and the New York Harbor?

Must be 40 inches tall and between 45-250 lbs to ride.

Cost:  $12 per zip or 2 for $20

Rock Climbing

No matter your skill level you can have fun in the climbing challenge. You can choose to scale any of the three 25 foot walls and go at your own pace. This activity is fun for all ages.

Climbers must weigh 40 lbs and not exceed 250 lbs.

Cost: $6.00

Amazen‘ Maze

This sounds like a ton of family fun. This is a giant maze that measures about 3,600 square feet. Your family can compete against each other or take on other families. Ready?! Let’s do this.

The mission is to be the first to locate four checkpoints, each with a letter that gets punched on a passport. Spell the word “MAZE” and exit as quickly as possible.

Cost: $8.00 per person

Insider Tip: Check out the Adventure Combo Ticket for $22.  It includes the Zipline, Maze and Climbing Challenge (no Miniature Golf).

Please note that these activities are only available on Saturdays and Sundays. For more info on all these activities check out Adventures at Governor’s Island.

Slides

I was really excited when reading about these slides in Slide Hill, but it’s only for kids ages 5-14. Oh well. If your kids loves slides they will have fun in this play area. There are 4 slides of varying lengths with one of them being the longest slide in NYC at 57 feet. Two of the slides are ADA accessible.

Hammock Grove Play Area

Hammocks-Governors-Island
Photo Courtesy: govisland.com

This area is for your kiddos to enjoy the swings, climb webbed structures, or cool off at any of the three water sprinklers. After your kids get tired from all the playing you can head over to the nearby hammocks for a quick nap.

Insider Tip: There are only 50 hammocks spread throughout the island and they are very popular so get their early.

Play some ball

Governor’s Island has two ball fields where you can play baseball, softball, or soccer.

Art and Culture

There are several specialty programs, rotating galleries, and art exhibits throughout the island. Be sure to plan your visit by checking out this calendar of events.

Ice Skating during the summer!

Yup. You read that right! Mel’s Rink is made from a synthetic material which allows metal ice skates. We’ve never ice skated in the summer so count us in!

Insider Tip: Free skating is available on weekdays from 10 A.M. to Noon.

Glamping

Think elegant accommodations, gourmet meals, electricity, and spa amenities. Maybe you want to splurge and cross this item off your bucket list. If so, check out collectiveretreats.com for more information.

Governor’s Island Special Events

Keep your eyes out for the following events:

  • Family Fun Day
  • Jazz Age Lawn Party
  • Figment Festival
  • NYC Unicycle Festival
  • Vendy Awards
  • OctFest

Foodie Section

Food on Governor's Island
Photo Courtesy: govisland.com

There are several eating options on the island.

First off, you can have a picnic. Bring your own food and lay a blanket on the grass. Picnic tables and chairs are also available for the public. As mentioned before, visitors cannot bring alcohol onto the island. However, it can be purchased there and consumed in designated areas. Grilling is not allowed.

There are two food courts on the Island. Visitors can choose from an array of food vendors at Ligget Terrace Food Court (open every day) or King Avenue Food Court (weekends only).

Foodies will find ice cream, chicken wings, Cuban Sandwiches, tacos, and even oysters! You can wash these down with homemade iced tea, frozen cocktails, IPA beers, or any other beverage of your choice.

Other Important Things to Know

  • There is FREE Public Wi-Fi for folks who need to stay connected.
  • Several ATMs are conveniently located throughout the island.
  • Bring sunscreen and any other items your family needs because there are no stores on the island.
  • Ensure that you and the kiddos wear comfortable shoes because you will do plenty of walking.
  • Don’t forget your kid’s strollers.
  • Bring a blanket or two because the picnic tables and seats are snatched up pretty quickly.

Conclusion

There you go, Governor’s Island in NYC is totally worth a family visit. You will love its rich history, the plethora of family activities, killer views of the Manhattan Skyline and Statue of Liberty, the food and so much more.

I promise to update you all once we’ve had the opportunity to experience Governor’s Island on our own this coming summer.

Has your family ever been to Governor’s Island? If so, let us know what you enjoyed the most below.

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12 thoughts on “Is Governor’s Island in NYC Worth a Family Visit?

  1. Just back fromNYC, but never made it over there. Sounds really cool, so I guess I’ll just have to return to New York!

  2. Despite traveling so much, I’ve actually never been to New York. I am sure that I will get there someday! When I do, I’ll keep Governor’s Island in mind!

  3. I’ve never even heard about this place before but it seems like an amazing place for a family trip. Thank you for the lovely recommendation!

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