Home Culture Your Guide to a Governors Island Day Trip in New York

Your Guide to a Governors Island Day Trip in New York

by Stephanie Brown
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With close proximity to Hudson County and just 800 yards from Lower Manhattan — Governors Island is full of fun things to do and makes for an incredible day trip. This island is open year-round and is only accessible by ferry. The 172-acre island is car-free and easy to explore on foot or by bike. Governors Island is filled with a variety of eateries, art exhibits, picnic spots, events, and a spa, there’s always something fun to do here. Read on to learn about things to do in Governors Island, New York, and start planning your next weekend adventure.

governors island new york day trip

History of Governors Island

The Lenape knew the island as Paggank (“Nut Island”) and used it seasonally as a fishing spot. When the Dutch arrived, they set up their first camps here, so it could be said that this spot was the birthplace of what would become New York City. When the British eventually took over, they renamed the island and reserved it for “Her Majesty’s Governors” — which suddenly helps make the island’s name make a bit more sense.

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The island was used by the British during the American Revolution. From the 1800s until as recently as 1996, the island was used as a base for the U.S. military. Two historic forts, Castle Williams and Fort Jay, are maintained by the National Parks Service on the island. Governors Island officially opened to the public in 2005 as a place for rest and refuge from city life.

How to Get There

Ferries depart from Lower Manhattan and a few spots in Brooklyn. From Hoboken or Jersey City, taking the Lower Manhattan ferry is the easiest way to go. Travelers can head to The Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street to hop on the next ferry

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Visitors can book tickets online in advance, which is recommended on busy days. Otherwise, there are $4 round-trip tickets available at the ferry terminal. A budget-friendly tip: ferries departing before noon on Saturdays and Sundays are free. Plus, it doesn’t cost extra to bring a bike.

Check the Governors Island website for the most up-to-date ferry schedule.

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Things to Do

Go For a Bike Ride

With seven miles of paved trails, biking is one of the best ways to explore Governors Island. The views of Manhattan, Jersey City, and the Statue of Liberty are hard to beat. Guests can, of course, bring their own bikes or even choose to rent one on the island. There are three Citi Bike stations — plus Blazing Saddles offers bike, scooter, pedal car, and surrey rentals.

Relax in a Hammock

governorsballhammock

For some R&R, Hammock Grove is the place to go. There are a dozen or so red hammocks in the area that are perfect for reading or dozing off. As guests enjoy some downtime, they might hear some rustling in the grass. Don’t be surprised to see a farm animal — a herd of sheep spends the summer on Governors Island keeping the invasive plant species in check.

Take a Hike

Or it can be a stroll if that’s more of your thing. Guided walking tours are also offered at Governors Island. For more of a “hike,” we recommend climbing to the top of The Hills for a rewarding view of the island and Manhattan.

Bring The Kids to The Playground

With two playgrounds, a climbing boulder, and the ever-popular Slide Hill, there’s so much for the little ones to enjoy on Governors Island.

Connect with Nature

governors ball nature

Volunteer with the Composting Center or join a Teaching Garden workshop to get your hands dirty. For something a little less involved, visit the Lavender Field to snap a few dreamy pics.

Play Pétanque

For those who don’t know, pétanque is a fun ball-tossing game that’s similar to bocce. There’s now an outpost of Industry City’s Carreau Club on Governors Island. Courts are available online to reserve in advance, or you can sign up in person to play this fun French game. It costs $5/per person per hour and you can grab drinks from the cute green cart before starting to play. First-timers can get a quick rundown of the rules — but it’s really easy to get the hang of.

Check Out the Art

Keep an eye out for installations and public art programs across the island. “Yankee Hanger” always makes for a great photo op.

Refresh at the Spa

 

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QC NY Spa is the ultimate escape on Governors Island. This spa features outdoor pools with incredible Manhattan views, wellness experiences, massages, and more. For something especially romantic, book the Sunset Aperitivo experience.

Stay Overnight

governors ball camping

For a grown-up version of camping, guests can book a stay on the island’s Collective Retreat — it’s complete even with s’mores. These glamping tents are the only overnight accommodations on the island so you’ll really feel like you have the place to yourself. Breakfast is delivered straight to the tent which means visitors can enjoy some coffee and sunrise views without leaving bed.

What to Eat

governors ball ice cream

Plan a Picnic

All that’s needed is a blanket and a basket of supplies to be set for a great Governors Island picnic. There are many grassy spots to set up and enjoy the sunshine and scenic views. To take your picnic up a notch, guests reserve a grill in advance for some BBQ or burgers.

Island Oyster | 146 Carder Road

 

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Island Oyster is all about the vibes. With its beach club style, which earned it a James Beard nom for design, and unbeatable Manhattan views, this is the chic choice for a cocktail and seafood.

Taco Vista | 140 Carder Road

 

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When the guac craving hits, Taco Vista is ready to help. Margs, burritos, burgers, and, of course, tacos are also on the menu. This spot is right on the water and makes for a laid-back place to wait for the next ferry.

​​Gitano Island | 125 Carder Road

 

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This Governors Island newcomer is transporting us straight to Tulum. Craft cocktails, elevated beach eats, and DJ sets can be expected.

Collective Retreats’ Three Peaks Lodge | 825 Gresham Road

This eatery isn’t just for glamping guests. It’s a great spot to stop by for lunch or to spend some time leisurely sipping a drink and taking in the views.

Pizza Yard | 403 Comfort Road

 

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The island’s best (and only) pizza, as the energetic Pizza Yard team likes to say. This is the place to go for some delicious wood-fired pizzas which can be enjoyed from one of the many shaded picnic tables nearby.

La Newyorkina

 

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Paletas are similar to popsicles but burst with more flavor. It’s no surprise that they make an excellent summer treat — and La Newyorkina, which seasonally opens from May to November, is an ideal spot for a refreshing handmade paleta. Be prepared to wait in line on a hot summer day.

Little Eva’s

Little Eva’s always draws a crowd but it’s worth the wait. It serves everything from frozen cocktails to vegan chili. There’s plenty of seating around here so it’s a popular spot to camp out for a bit.

Tokyo Drumstick

This spot is known to serve fried chicken sandwiches and boba tea.

Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights

This is a Governors Island classic. It serves awesome Jamaican fusion and particularly nails its delicious cod fritters.

Threes Brewing + The Meat Hook

governors ball three brewery

Local craft brews, burgers, and hot dogs are on the menu at this spot. Threes Brewing even made a special release just for Governors Island.

Joe Coffee

Some of NYC’s best coffee is available in a few spots around the island, including from a food truck — painted in Joe Coffee’s signature blue. Drip coffee, cold brew, teas, and pastries are available. Pro tip — they also scoop Oddfellows ice cream here.

Events + Traditions

Jazz Age Lawn Party

This is Governors Island’s main event. One weekend each summer, people put together their best 1920s-era outfits and head to the island for tons of throwback fun. We’re talking vintage cocktails, live jazz, croquet, picnicking, and more. Tickets are required and they do sell out quickly — so be sure to plan ahead for next year.

Movie Nights

During the summer, free outdoor movies are shown on the parade ground. Bring a blanket and plenty of snacks to enjoy during the show.

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NYC Runs Races

For those looking to work up a sweat on the island: you can sign up for one of the upcoming NYC Runs events like the Haunted Island 10k, taking place on October 28th. 

With so much to do on Governors Island, it can feel like a different trip every time. It’s one of the easiest places to escape to when you want a car-free getaway. The only thing that would make it better would be a direct ferry from Hoboken or Jersey City. Maybe one day.

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