10 Fun Things to Do on Governors Island

Gillian Osswald

(Updated 08/24/2020)

Summer and Governors Island make a perfect pair. The 172-acre island, a former military base used in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, serves as a seasonal recreation space with green lawns ready for picnics, paths fit for bicycle rides and hammocks primed for relaxing in the sunshine. There’s also plenty of room to roam while following social distancing guidelines.

The island is a short ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan or the Brooklyn waterfront: less than 10 minutes from Manhattan’s Battery Maritime Building (daily) or Red Hook’s Atlantic Basin (weekends only). To ensure capacity restrictions on ferries, visitors are required to reserve tickets in advance. On weekends, you can also reach the island by NYC Ferry service, which departs from Wall Street at Pier 11. Upon arrival, you’ll find plenty of ways to explore the New York Harbor oasis—no matter your style or speed. Read on for a few of our favorite island activities; whichever you choose, make sure to familiarize yourself ahead of time with the island’s 2020 visitor protocols, and remember to wear a mask and socially distance.

Castle Williams. Photo: Julienne Schaer

1. Peek into the past.

Governors Island holds around 50 abandoned buildings, including a theater, a hospital, a chapel and two former military forts. While you can’t go inside these buildings for now, you can wander around their landmarked exteriors to get a sense of the island’s history.

Photo: Timothy Schenck

2. Enjoy the view.

The Hills section of Governors Island parkland rises 70 feet above sea level. Hike to the top of Outlook Hill for the best perspective: views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

Photo: Timothy Schenck

3. Glide down NYC’s longest slide.

Kids and teens will want to head for The Hills not only to see those impressive views but also to sail down Slide Hill’s 57-foot eponymous attraction.

Courtesy, Governors Island

4. Sleep over in style.

Thanks to the decked-out tents courtesy of Collective Retreats, visitors can now glamp (glamorously camp, of course) on the island overnight.

Installation by Jacob Hashimoto. Photo: Timothy Schenck

5. Experience the art scene.

Public art installations, like Jacob Hashimoto’s Never Comes Tomorrow, are located all around the island. Others to check out include Rachel Whiteread’s Cabin, on Discovery Hill, and Shantell’s Martin’s Church and The May Room, which covers the walls—outside and in (though no current indoor viewing allowed)—of Our Lady Star of the Sea chapel.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

6. Pedal a quadracycle.

Bikes are great way to explore the island’s 7 miles of car-free paths, but rent a quadracycle or six-person surrey for double the wheels and the fun.


Island Oyster. Courtesy, Governors Island

7. Enjoy drinks with a view.

Cocktails, oysters and waterfront views await at Island Oyster, a sprawling tropical-themed drinking destination near the Soissons Landing ferry stop.

8. Opt for a food truck crawl.

Stroll over to Liggett Terrace to sample a wide array of cuisines, like Ethiopian food from Makina Cafe or Korean fusion fare from the Kimchi Taco Truck. Threes Brewing and The Meat Hook have a shared location nearby offering draft beers and bratwurst.

Photo: Timothy Schenck

9. Pause at Picnic Point.

You can also bring your own food to Governors Island and set up camp at one of the picnic tables or shaded lawns. For diners who prefer even more DIY, reserve one of the island’s grilling stations in advance.

Photo: Timothy Schenck

10. Chill in a hammock.

Grassy, sunny Hammock Grove proves you don’t have to be doing much of anything to enjoy the Island life.