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Governor's Island: New York City's Latest Must-Do With Kids

New York City is a magical place. In fact, it’s one of our favorite places in the world. And while all the non-stop action is what some love about the City, others may need a break from it all. One such break is a quick trip to Governor’s Island, located just off the Southern tip of Manhattan, where time moves at a different pace and it feels like you’ve entered another world all together.

Govenor's Island, New York City, New York

It's only a quick 8 minute ferry ride from the southern tip of NYC to Governor's Island.

Governor’s Island is a former military base, now turned nature lover’s paradise run by the National Park Service and the Trust for Governor’s Island. Getting to Governor’s Island couldn’t be any easier. It’s a quick subway ride to the South Ferry stop on the 1, R, or W lines, and from there a very short walk into the terminal where you can buy your tickets ($3 for adults round trip, free for kids). The ferries run approximately every hour (more frequently on weekends) starting mid-morning returning as frequently back to Manhattan until 6 or 7pm, depending on the day of the week. The ride itself is less than 10 minutes long. There is both indoor seating and plenty of space to stand on the outdoor decks, and on a beautiful summer day there’s no place better to be than looking over the railing at the NYC skyline in the distance with the river breeze blowing in your face.

Once you dock at Governor’s Island, there are Citi bikes to rent just steps from where you disembark, (if you didn’t bring your own on board, which plenty of locals did), although bikes are not needed. Walking the island is easy as it is not overly large (there are no roads for pubic vehicles, only walking and biking paths), but it is large enough to feel like there’s a lot to do for an afternoon.

Getting off the ferry at Governor's Island, New York, New York

Disembarking from the ferry was quick and easy (above) with a short walk to the Island's main bike rental.

Bike map around Governor's Island

We wanted to ride bikes around the island, but our youngest doesn’t fit on the Citi bikes, so we walked about 10 minutes to the on-island bike rental shop. We rented a 4-person Surrey-bikes for an hour, which gave us a decent amount of time to explore some of the farther reaches of Governor’s Island and get out and hike to the top of Outlook Hill, which offered killer views of the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn. You can catch those same killer views from just about anywhere on the Island, but it felt just a little cooler as you walked up the former gigantic granite blocks from the old Island seawall to the top of Outlook Hill. Our hour rental went way too fast. We had way too many laughs pedaling that thing around to the different major sites and could have probably used an extra hour or two.

Biking on a surrey bike around Governor's Island, New York

Highlight of the day for this kiddo: captain the surrey bike while the rest of us pedaled. The NYC skyline views were jawdropping.

Biking on a surrey bike around Governor's Island, New York

We ran out of time to do everything we would have liked while on Governor’s Island, and there’s a few things we didn’t do that looked like fun. Kayaks are available for exploring a short area off the Island, and Slide Hill, so appropriately named, has slides that run down the length of the Hill, one of them 57 feet long and 3 stories tall, the longest in NYC! Slide Hill was tougher to find because the signs didn’t mark it as well as some of the other destinations.

Outlook Hill, Governor's Island, New York

Climbing the giant granite blocks that made up the former seawall around the Island. The views from the top were worth the short climb.

NYC skyline view from Outlook Hill, Governor's Island, New York

We did walk over to the massive playground, saw some of the relaxing/picnicking spots on Grassy Hill, and had a bite to eat and some coffee at the food-truck-type stands clustered in the center of the island near the all-to-good ice cream truck. There’s something about a double NY cone with sprinkles that just screams “warm summer day”. If I had to do it all over again (and if we had gotten out of our hotel earlier in the morning), bringing a picnic lunch from a good deli would have been preferable to the dining choices on the island, but we rushed to make the ferry over and ran out of time.

Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck, Governor's Island, New York

The sweet reward after biking, hiking, climbing, and playing all around Governor's Island.

We took one of the last ferries back to Manhattan late that afternoon. It’s not too hard to know when the day is coming to a close on Governor’s Island: all the crowds (and there were hardly any there on our midweek visit) started to head in one big mass towards to ferry dock. In an orderly process we boarded the ferry, enjoyed the ride back to Battery Park and the South Ferry Terminal, and headed uptown for our night on Broadway feeling fulfilled to have escaped the crowds for a day soaking in the tranquility of this nature oasis, backdropped by some of the most amazing views in the world.

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