Governors Island Day Trip Kids
Aug 09, 2018

Day Trip to Governors Island

By Joanne Colella

Governors Island Day Trip Kids

There’s a “new” island, with a long history, just off the shores of New York City and Brooklyn, that makes a perfect day trip for families, couples, history lovers, horticulturists, sightseers, artists, runners, and others who may simply seek out a peaceful oasis in the midst of the busy city. For just the past few years, New Yorkers and visitors from across the river, the nation, and the globe have had the opportunity to explore a magnificent new public space: the historic Governors Island. This landmark property, located in New York Harbor just 800 yards from lower Manhattan and even closer to Brooklyn, was closed to the public for almost 200 years while it served as a military base for the U.S. Army and Coast Guard. Prior to that, it was used by the Native American Lenape tribe and by early settlers as a fishing ground, and was later occupied by the British during the American Revolution. During the Civil War, the island was used as a holding facility for Confederate prisoners of war, and the years that followed included many more fascinating historical moments until the Coast Guard finally closed operations there in 1996, leaving behind a small town. Now, the island has taken on new life as a shared space for art, entertainment, dining, relaxation, and play, welcoming visitors who arrive in about eight minutes by ferry from two different piers across the harbor. Over the course of its first few years as a public venue, initially opening in 2014, Governors Island has seen an explosion in the number of visitors of all ages.

Governors Island Day Trip Kids

Of the 172-acre island, 22 acres are dedicated to the Governors Island National Monument, which includes historic sites such as Fort Jay, constructed in 1775; Castle Williams, built in 1811; and Dock 102. Elsewhere, you will find a 10-acre grove with trees and clusters of inviting hammocks, 14 acres of recreational lawn space with two ballfields, and the impressive area known as The Hills, which opened in 2016. Its winding pathways, rolling landscapes, and creatively engineered granite climbing stones allow visitors to easily ascend 70 feet above sea level and revel in the astounding 360-degree panoramic views of the Hudson River, New York City, Jersey City, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn, and more.

Bicycles are welcome on Governors Island, with no surcharge to bring bikes on the ferries, and bike rentals are also available. The miles of car-free paths are a haven for bicyclists, walkers, and runners. There’s a playground for kids, plus a 40-foot-high space called Slide Hill, with four slides – including one that is 57 feet, the longest in New York City. The area called Adventures at Governors Island boasts a zipline, a maze, a climbing challenge, and miniature golf, all for an additional fee. Mel’s Rink offers the chance to go ice skating in summertime, with a state-of-the-art synthetic ice rink made of high-density plastic polymer that is designed for use with traditional ice skates with sharp metal blades. Fees apply for skate rental plus rink access, or for rink access only if you bring your own skates.

Throughout the summer, children can participate in free, hands-on art workshops held on Saturdays and Sundays. On Saturdays only, adults and kids alike can learn to kayak at no cost, with free instruction and all the necessary safety equipment needed to ride sit-on-top kayaks in a small cove near Pier 101. Another water option for hot days is time spent cooling off in the Play Fountains.

Governors Island Day Trip Kids

From now through October, visitors to Governors Island can also enjoy various ongoing cultural, art, history, and educational programs, plus a number of special events such as outdoor films, polo matches, 5K and 10K runs, musical performances, a unicycle festival, beer festival, and a jazz celebration. On Late Fridays and Late Saturdays, kick back to the sounds of a DJ playing everything from jazz to hip hop to punk music as the sun sets and darkness descends against the bright lights of the cityscape silhouette before taking the final ferry back to shore.

This year, Governors Island began its public season Memorial Day weekend and will continue through October 31, 2018. Regular hours are Monday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm. During the summer months, visitors are invited to arrive late or linger longer to enjoy the sunsets on “Late Fridays” and “Late Saturdays,” with the island staying open till 10 pm. If you work up an appetite during your visit, there are a number of tasty dining options on Governors Island, with two food courts that have a rotating selection of vendors, plus a waterside restaurant and bar with incomparable views of the Manhattan skyline. You may also bring your own food to feast upon a picnic, with many shaded areas, sprawling grassy fields, picnic tables, and Adirondack chairs to sit back and take in the views.

Entry to the island is free, but there is a small roundtrip fare for the ferry: $3 for adults, $1 for seniors, and free for children under 13 and military members. All passengers ride for free before noon on Saturdays and Sundays. Ferries run continuously seven days a week to and from Manhattan and weekends only to and from Brooklyn. Upon your arrival, free tours are available or you may explore on your own.

If you’re ready to discover and explore this surprising gem in the middle of New York Harbor, visit the Governors Island website at to learn more.