Governors Island is opening a month early this year, which means that starting May 1st you'll be able to enjoy the hammocks, the views, and the weird art as if it's actually already summer. If you've never been to Governors Island, or just want a refresher, we've compiled this handy guide for you.
What IS Governors Island?
Great question! Governors Island is a 172 acre island in the New York Harbor, located just 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan and 400 yards west of Brooklyn. The island served as a harbor defense point during the American Revolution, and remained in use as an army post from 1783 to 1966. When the army departed it spent a few decades as a Coast Guard post, before sections of it were designated a National Monument in the 2000s. In 2010, the city began developing parts of the island into park space and began opening portions of it to the public in 2011. They've been developing new sections every year since.
Here's what it looked like before you ever set foot on it. That's right, there was a Burger King.
As for why it's called Governors Island, the Dutch originally called it "Nooten Eylandt" because of its large collection of nuts. Then, when the British took over, they wanted to give the island to "His Majestie's Royal Governors" to use as they wished—which they did, for a time, hence the name. "The Governor's Island" became "Governor's Island," and then, eventually, what we have now.
How do I get there?
Two free ferries service Governors Island—one operates to and from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan, and one leaves from Brooklyn Bridge Park, though the latter only operates on weekends. See the schedule here.
It's also noteworthy that the new NYC Ferry service will provide weekend access to Governors Island on its South Brooklyn route. The ferry costs $2.75/ride; see schedule here.
What pretty things are there to see?
There's a lot of beautiful outdoor space on Governors Island, and last year saw the debut of The Hills, a 10-acre, $71 million addition that comes with a killer view of the Statue of Liberty and a GIANT SLIDE.
For more Statue views, there's also a Hammock Grove full of—yes—hammocks, located about a fifteen minute walk from the Manhattan ferry landing and five minutes from the Brooklyn landing. The Play Lawn, sandwiched between The Hills and Hammock Grove, is also a good spot for NY Harbor sightseeing.
(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)
Tell me about the ACTIVITIES.
Governors Island is carless, so it's a good spot to go if you want to ride a bike without fear. In that vein, there are a number of bike rental kiosks on the island along with two Citi Bike docking stations, where you can either use your annual membership key or purchase a short-term rental. For folks lucky enough to visit on weekday mornings, you can borrow a bike from Blazing Saddle Bike Rentals for free from 10 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. You can also BYO-Bike.
There are also ballfields, playgrounds for children, fountains, and historical tours of army-related spots like Castle Williams and Fort Jay. Governors Island also boasts a number of permanent and visiting long-term art installations.
- NYC Holi Hai Festival: On May 6th, the island will host Holi Hai, a Hindu spring celebration dubbed the "Festival of Colors." Attendees are invited to dress in white and throw special colored powder (you can pre-order online or purchase at the event) while feasting on bites from food vendors and dancing to live bands. The event is free to attend, but it's recommended that you register beforehand.
- FIGMENT Festival: On June 3rd and June 4th, the island's Colonel's Row will be filled with large-scale art installations you can climb on, gawk at, dance in, Instagram, and otherwise enjoy. There's also a creative minigolf course. The volunteer-run event is free.
- The 12th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party: This Governors Island tradition, held this year on June 10th and June 11th and August 26th and 27th, invites attendees to channel their inner F. Scott Fitzgeralds with a day of 1920s-themed dancing, drinking, games and picnicking. Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra will be providing period-appropriate music all weekend long, and costumes are encouraged. Tickets run the gamut from $45 to $5K, if you want your own insane private tent with unlimited table and bottle service; you can purchase online. Here are some tips for those attending.
- The Full Moon Festival: The Full Moon Fest is returning to the Island on July 8th, and we be held once again at the Governors Club venue. Not too many details on this one yet, but you can expect a lot of music, sun, and drinks. Already sold? You can buy tickets here.
- City of Water Day: Presented by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance in celebration of the city's waterfront, on July 15th the Island will be hosting free guided boat tours, fishing, tango dancing, kayaking and other H2O-related activities for most of the day. You can get a preview of some of the fun here.
- Brooklyn Music Festival: On August 6th, a host of Brooklyn bands and merchants will descend on the island for the day. Attendees can also snack on food and beer from local vendors, and purchase art and other merchandise from Brooklynite artists and designers. Tickets aren't available yet, but stay tuned.
- PopUp Dinner Governors Island: On September 9th, folks are invited to dress in all-white and bring their own picnic items, booze, decor, and tablecloth to the island for an outdoor feast. Organizers will provide tables, chairs, and outdoor entertainment. The event is a benefit for the Friends of Governors Island, and tickets, which aren't on sale yet, cost $40-a-pop.
- African Film Festival, Inc.'s Annual Family Fun Day Celebration: On September 10th, African Film Festival, Inc. hosts a free day of activities celebrating Africa and the diaspora. Activities include story-telling, double-dutch, needle-arts, and dance classes.
- Vendy Awards: The city's best food trucks will compete for the coveted "Vendy Cup" award on September 17th, offering up plenty of tasty grub for attendees and judges alike. Past winners have included Tacos el Rancho, Snowday Food Truck, and Cinnamon Snail.
Will the island feed me?
Yes. There are two food courts on the island that boast a number of vendors, including two (!!!) beer gardens, a pop-up oyster bar, and a rotating selection of food trucks. Some mainstays are Blue Marble Ice Cream, Fauzia's Heavenly Delights, Little Eva's, Mr. Softee, and Yankee Doodle Dandy's. Still, your best bet is probably to bring your own picnic and splurge on Mister Softee's and/or beer for dessert. Just note that despite several designated boozing areas on the Island, you can't bring any alcoholic beverages with you.