Whether you are a city-dweller looking for a serene, tree-lined break from the rat race, or a suburbanite looking for more art and culture, Governors Island fits the bill. The 172 acre oasis is mere minutes by ferry from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. And visiting it is a wonderful way to spend a day outside.
Some Quick Notes About How and When To Visit
Governors Island is open daily from May 1st through October 31st. As Governors Island is all outdoors, save your visit for a cooler, rain free day. Also, several activities on GI are only open on weekends, so I wouldn’t bother visiting during the week. On the day you visit, you’ll want to get an early start, since there’s so much to see and do.
To get to the island, simply board a ferry (they’re free before noon) from lower Manhattan or Brooklyn - the trip takes less than 10 minutes. And ferries run very frequently to and from the island. It’s all really easy.
You’ll notice some folks boarding the ferry with bikes or scooters - those are smart people. You’ll also notice a bike and surrey rental shop on Governors Island called Blazing Saddles. Bringing or renting a bike or surrey is a smart move, as 172 acres otherwise involves a lot of walking (my iPhone says we walked 5.9 miles today). Alas, we figured this all out a bit too late; so we’ll do the surrey next time.
Upon arriving on Governors Island, I suggest starting with the activities that GI refers to on its website as “Recreation” (aka kid-friendly park activities), then heading to Liggett Terrace for some lunch, and finally, ending your day in Nolan Park. More on this all below.
Some Less Quick Notes About WHY You Should Visit
In a nutshell, Governors Island is an idyllic park-like space mixed with some butt kicking art and culture.
Park Like Stuff
For visitors with children, there are some great play spaces. Start with the Hammock Grove Play Area, a beautiful climbing and swings playground open every day. Your kids will want to stay here forever but try to move them along as there’s much more to see.
Right next door to that play area, tucked away on a path accessible only on foot is Hammock Grove - consisting of 50 red hammocks spread about in a few tree-lined nooks. YOU will want to stay here forever but try to move along as there’s much more to see.
From there your next move is going to depend on how hungry you are. The Hammock area is very close to all the food venues located on Liggett Terrace - so it is quite convenient to stop now for a bite. You’ll find several food trucks in this area, and a “don’t miss” seasonal outpost of Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing. There is plenty of seating throughout this area, too.
Otherwise, continue onto Slide Hill - a must do multi-level slide structure built into a hill (duh!) that is super adorable, but unfortunately, also a tad far from the rest of the activities on the island.
Art and Culture
Right by where you’ll get your grub at Liggett Terrace, you’ll also find two important art pieces. Yankee Hanger by Mark Handforth is a large scale sculpture that is unmissable from the Hammock Grove Play Area. According to the GI website: “This playful, snaking sculpture invites visitors to sit on, walk through and engage with it.” And located right above you as you walk through Liggett Hall Archway (yes, I missed it my first walk through) is Never Comes Tomorrow by Jacob Hashimoto. This piece has been on view in the archway since 2018
The signature installation this year on Governors Island is Shantell Martin’s stunning Church, where the artist uses black and white drawings to “circumnavigate the former chapel’s architecture through image and narrative.” And now through October 27, on weekends only from 11am to 5pm, visitors can enter the church to walk the paths of Martin’s stunning, The May Room.
I mentioned above ending your time on Governors Island in Nolan Park. This is because there is a lot going on in this area - particularly on weekends - and much of it only gets going after 11am or even noon. Stroll among the various row houses in Nolan Park and visit whatever jumps out at you. Having kiddies with us, we were drawn to two particular Nolan Park seasonal residents.
Per my prior blog post, I am in love with the Children’s Museum of the Arts. So visiting their Free Arts Island Outpost at Nolan Park was a must for our family. My little one had a blast showing off her paper mache skills to help create a Halloween monster hand, as well as using dot marker to draw a rainbow. The CMA outpost is open 11am to 5pm on weekends.
And your kids will go CRAZY for play:groundNYC’s The Yard. This 50,000 square foot adventure playground in Nolan Park is stocked with all kind of pieces and parts ready for imaginative play. But no parents allowed - kids only in the Yard! The Yard is open on weekends from noon to 4pm.
Be sure to also check the Governors Island website for any featured events happening during your visit. We got to explore Portal: Governors Island, a free and wonderful independent art fair taking up several houses on Colonel’s Row. And coming in October to Governors Island is The Open Orchard, an artwork by Sam Van Aken that will take the form of an orchard of 50 fruit trees.
No matter what you do, you are sure to have a wonderful day on Governors Island!