Governors Island remains one of the city's greatest escapes and, sitting just 800 yards from the tip of Manhattan, also one of its closest. Because even as the non-profit Trust for Governors Island continues to develop the land and repurpose those beautiful old buildings--adding amenities and amusements, art exhibitions and eating options--the 172-acre island still has plenty of room to enjoy some solitude.
Getting there is a breeze, too. There are now Governors Island-operated ferries leaving from three locations: the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan, which runs every day, year-round; and the seasonal, weekends-only Brooklyn boats, from Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and from Red Hook/Atlantic Basin. The NYC Ferry also has a stop on the island along the South Brooklyn route.
3 to 15 minute walk
GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND
To help you navigate the island, you can bring your own bike over on the ferry for no extra charge, or rent a bike or a charming pedal surrey from Blazing Saddles once you're there. Additionally, there are three Citi Bike docks on Governors Island, at strategic locations near both ferries and down at Picnic Point. With no cars allowed, biking here is safe and fun for everyone. And you can walk around the entire island easily, too--almost everything is a short distance from the ferry.
WHAT’S NEW IN 2022
The biggest opening so far this season is the QC NY Spa, a luxe Italian import that has completely taken over one of those brick buildings between the Manhattan ferry and Castle William on Andes Road. Among the expected pleasures inside are saunas, steam rooms, foot baths, and relaxation rooms with healthy snacks and coolers of lemon water.
But the reason why you're here--or, at least, the reason why we would be here--are the two outdoor heated pools, complete with submerged "hydro loungers" situated to take full advantage of those spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline. There are also ample chaise lounges and beach chairs spread out over the lawn.
Entrance to the QC NY Spa starts at $88 per person for a four-hour visit on weekdays, and run up to $375 on the weekends for an all-day (and night) pass with a 75-minute massage.
Another rookie out here in the harbor is Gitano Island, a self-described "tropical restaurant and beach club" that's scheduled to open in late June from the trendy hospitality group that started in Tulum and more recently brought a seasonal outdoor bar to a vacant lot on the western end of Canal Street.
Gitano Island commands 27,000 square feet of high ground located just to the east of the Manhattan ferry slip, and promises to be lush with greenery, atmospheric with the 350 tons of sand that will be shipped in, and hopping with DJs on the decks nightly. The drinks-and-dinner menu will feature mezcal cocktails and contemporary Mexican fare.
For a scene that's more low-key, Carreau Club of Brooklyn's Industry City has opened an outpost on Governors Island, with a menu of sandwiches from the great Court Street Grocers, and an impressively long list of cocktails, wine, and beer served from a bright green shipping container. There are also four pétanque courts (the French game where you toss a heavy silver ball, or boule, and try to land it as close as possible to a tiny red ball, or cochonnet), and if there's a wait when you arrive, you can play one of the dozen board games available at the bar.
WHERE TO EAT ON THE ISLAND
Tokyo Drumstick, a new concept from the Kimchi Taco Truck team specializing in Asian fried chicken, joins the island's bustling food court over at Liggett Terrace, which, it must be said, offers one of the most pleasant settings for a picnic in town.
Liggett plays host to many other appealing eating options as well, including Colombian and Dominican dishes at Sabor, jerk chicken and other Jamaican favorites at Fauzia's, and NYC's absolute best hot dogs at the Feltman's of Coney Island booth. Three's Brewing has all the beer you could want, the Meat Hook next door grills up excellent burgers, and Little Eva's offers a full lineup of crowd-pleasers like Mac n' Cheese, BBQ Chicken, and Rice Krispie Treats.
Thanks to a new partnership with New York Food Truck Association, a rotating lineup of food trucks, usually two at a time, will add even more variety to Liggett. And ice cream fans rejoice! The amazing Malai is back again with a brand new triple-decker delight, starring creamy lemon cardamom ice cream, a buttery cheesecake bar, and a sweet and tangy strawberry topping. This is phenomenal.
If it's a view you're after while you eat, the lovely Island Oyster offers a full cocktail program and a menu of (mostly) seafood in an elegant setting right on the water. Among the items worth your attention here: Fish and Chips, an intriguing Crawfish BLT, Wellfleets and Navy Points by the half dozen, one of the best lobster rolls in town (get it with a side of their equally great fries), and a dish called Big Pickle which is exactly that, served push-up style in a bag.
The sleeper hit on the harbor, though, is Taco Vista, a super chill spot with beer, margaritas, monster burritos, a bunch of different tacos, and boats of simple but satisfying nachos.
You can also have a cookout on the island by reserving one of the twelve grills located at either Picnic Point or by the water near Nolan Park. Reservations cost $26, the grills are two feet in diameter, and you bring all the supplies (charcoal, lighter fluid, food, etc).
Remember: no BYOB, if you want alcohol you must purchase it on the island.
TAKE IN SOME ART
Public art and free exhibitions have always been a vital part of the Trust for Governors Island's vision for the park, with long-term sculptural installations including the likes of Mark Handforth's whimsical oversized Yankee Hanger at Liggett Terrace, Rachel Whiteread's brooding Cabin near Picnic Point, and Shantell Martin's scrawled-upon Church at the base of the Parade Grounds.
New this season is Sam Van Aken's Open Orchard, a work of art comprised of more than 100 fruit trees which, according to the artist's notes, serves as "a living archive for antique and heirloom fruit varieties that were grown in and around New York City in the past 400 years but have mostly disappeared due to climate change and the industrialization of agriculture." It's going to be really cool to witness this change and grow over the coming years.
Many of the buildings here, including those stately old homes along Colonel's Row and in Nolan Park, have been repurposed as artist residencies and galleries. NADA House, for example, is currently home to a sprawling group exhibition on Colonel's Row, and the LMCC Arts Center, located right near the Manhattan ferry, always has multiple shows going on, open and free to the public.
Music, dancing, and theatrical spectacles are also an integral part of the Governors Island summer, with events, both free and ticketed, popping up on most weekends. The dress-up Jazz Age Lawn Party, the folk and blues festival Porch Stomp, and the banging Pride Island dance party and concert are just a few of your entertainment options this summer.
FOR THE KIDS
Governors Island also makes for a great, unstructured family outing--biking without having to worry about cars, running around on the huge lawns, reading in Hammock Grove, running through the sprinkler at Liggett Terrace, climbing the rocks to the top of The Hills--but there are also some nifty built environments for kids here too, like the epic Slide Hill, where you'll find the longest slide in the entire city.
The largest play area is called The Yard, is a delightful adventure playground that's basically just a lot filled with tools, construction equipment, piles of wood, tires, ladders, big old pipes, random stuff like crutches and nets... basically anything that lets kids create, invent, or even destroy. Grown-ups are not allowed inside (except in the under-5 area), and, as the sign on the fence says, "Your children are fine without advice and suggestions."
GOATS & SHEEP & WORKING DOGS, OH MY
There's plenty of actual wildlife out here--if you like birds, you're in for a treat--but some of the animals you'll see on the grounds have been brought over to work. The Hammock Grove Sheep are back again for another summer of eating away at invasive plant species. And, yes, it's the same five hungry munchers as last year: Flour, Sam, Evening, Chad, and Philip Aries.
Over in the Urban Farm, a pair of goats help out by eating weeds from the Teaching Garden, and a noisy brood of chickens are vital to the operation at the Compost Learning Center.
And of course, always be on the lookout for the working dogs, who are there to help keep the geese away.
STAY THE NIGHT & GO GLAMPING
Finally, for a fun (or romantic) adventure, spend the night glamping on the grounds with Collective Retreats, which offers three different sorts of tents, each with progressively more luxurious features. And everyone has access to in-tent breakfast delivery, drinks on the sunset terrace, dinner from the wood-burning grill, and s'mores around the nightly campfire. Plus, you can’t beat the view... though that’s true of anywhere you’re standing on the island.