Governors Island: What You Have to Know

Governors Island, NYC

Water Taxi Beach offers one of NYC’s most spectacular views Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Governors Island is unlike anywhere else in New York City. It’s a 172-acre playground in New York Harbor, just 800 yards from Lower Manhattan—and, yes, it’s an island!

With remarkable views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, Governors Island is admission-free and open for picnics, biking, tours, exhibits, performances and events.

For more than two centuries, Governors Island had been off limits to the public, first as a U.S. Army base and later as a Coast Guard station. After the Coast Guard ceased operations the island was transferred to New York State and City in 2003 (for the high cost of… $1!). Twenty-two acres of the island, including two 1812-era forts, make up a National Monument overseen by the National Park Service. The remaining 150 acres are administered by the Trust of Governors Island.

Governors Island, NYC

The island’s Manhattan ferry landing. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Visiting Governors Island (and the Governors Island ferry)

Governors Island is open everyday from May 24 – September 28, 2014. Hours are Monday – Friday 10 AM to 6 PM, Saturdays, Sundays, Memorial Day and Labor Day to 7 PM.

The island is accessed via ferry. There is a $2 round trip fare for adults and children over the age of 12, Senior Citizens $1, Children 12 and under ride free. One can also by a Season Pass (Unlimited Rides) for $20.  There is no fare on 10 AM, 11 AM and 11:30 AM Manhattan ferries on Saturdays and Sundays.  There is also no fare on the 11 AM and 11:30 AM ferry from Brooklyn.

Manhattan ferries run everyday, departing from the Battery Maritime Building (just east of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal).  Brooklyn ferries leave from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday, Sunday, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

See the park’s website for detailed ferry schedules and information.

Important Governors Island rules to consider:

  • No smoking on the island.
  • Pets and alcohol are not permitted (though alcohol can be purchased and consumed in designated areas).
  • Visitors can bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Grilling is not permitted on the island.
  • Fishing is allowed for visitors over the age of 16 with a valid New York State fishing license. Fishing is catch and release only.
Governors Island map

Lots to explore on Governors Island

What to do on Governors Island

Water Taxi Beach – a sandy beach with picnic tables, lounge furniture, food and beverage vendors, and spectacular views of the lower Manhattan skyline.

Governors Island, NYC

The promenade around historic Castle Williams Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Castle Williams – a circular fort built in 1811 to protect New York Harbor.  It served as an army barracks, prison and storehouse before being abandoned. Park Rangers offer tours and activities in the “castle.”

Colonels Row – a hub of grassy lawns and leafy trees ringed by historic military buildings and homes. This shady spot is great for picnics and the scene for many of the island’s events, performances and festivals.

Liggett Terrace – a sunny plaza with seasonal plantings, food vendors, tables & seating, water features and public art.

Governors Island, NYC

Tranquil Hammock Grove, a perfect spot to relax. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Hammock Grove – a sunny ten-acre space that is home to 1,500 new trees, play areas and 50 hammocks (get there early to grab hammock)

The Play Lawn – an area for sports and relaxation that includes two natural turf ball fields and terrific views of the Statue of Liberty.

Parade Ground – a large meadow that hosts art installations, a tree house and miniature golf.  It is a popular spot for flying kites. The sight of lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers as backdrop to the field is a unique view.

Governors Island, NYC

Shady Nolan Park. The historic homes feature exhibits and boutiques. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Nolan Park – a central green surrounded by Victorian wooden homes, many of which host galleries, exhibits and boutiques.

Fort Jay – a historic, partially submerged fort with a central courtyard and underground storerooms to explore. The National Park Service offer tours and events at the fort.

Biking is a popular activity on the island, and bikes can be brought on the ferries.  Bikes, quadracycles and tandems can be rented on the island, as well as skates.  Free Kayaking is also available throughout the summer.

Governors Island has become New York City’s “Playground for the Arts,” hosting art installations, cultural events, food festivals and performances.  Some of the annual highlights include the Jazz Age Lawn Party, City of Water Day, performances for the River to River Festival, and the barbeque celebration: Pig Island.  Check their busy calendar of events and list of weekly programs.

The National Park Service also offers programming Wednesday – Sunday, run by helpful park rangers.  See here for information and tickets.

Governors Island, NYC

Field of Dreams: the island’s new Play Lawn. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Have you enjoyed Governors Island? What’s your favorite feature or event?  Tell us in the comments below.

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