Located at the center of New York Harbor, Governors Island can be reached by ferry from Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Combining historic preservation with modern entertainment and culture, Governors Island provides guided tours, historic demonstrations, and unique programming to its visitors.
On land once populated by early settlers and the Lenape tribe, the first of Governors Island’s iconic structures, Fort Jay, was built by the military in 1775. Over 30 years later, Castle Williams joined it, taking its place on the island’s coast. These two structures, along with the island itself, served as a military base for decades until 1996 when Governors Island was closed.
However, in 2003, 22 acres of Governors Island were designated as a National Park, and throughout the years, plazas, green spaces, picnic areas, and bike paths were added. By 2016, the island had become the vibrant tourist attraction that it is today.
Governors Island has a variety of permanent attractions for visitors to explore, ranging in topic from history to nature.
Castle Williams – A nineteenth-century defensive fort, Castle Williams now serves as one of Governors Island’s main attractions. Visitors can either choose to take the “Going Around Castle William” tour, in which a guide presents the history of the castle, or they can choose to take a self-guided tour. Tickets for the guided tour can be purchased inside the Castle.
Fort Jay – This former Army post is one of the oldest facilities on the island. Visitors are welcome to explore the fort and learn about the history of the island through guided tours or self-guided tours. This is also where the island presents its “Fort Jay Porch Talks.” During” Fort Jay Porch Talks,” park rangers give short, informal talks about different aspects of the history of Governors Island in the Fort Jay courtyard.
The Big Walk Around the Island – This walking tour covers 1.5 miles of the island and allows visitors to gain a broader understanding of the island’s history. A park ranger will guide visitors past the monument’s facilities and around the island itself. No tickets or prior reservation are required.
Demonstrations – The island gives history-buffs a look at real nineteenth-century weapons in their artillery and small arms demonstrations. Reenactors fire cannons and muskets, while discussing the historical context of their use on Governors Island.
Walking and Cycling – Because cars are generally not permitted on the island, Governors Island is fully accessible by foot or bike. Visitors can follow one of the many paths provided or just go wandering to fully explore all that the island has to offer.
Governors Island has much to offer anyone looking to learn about the environment, art, or the history of the island.
Grow NYC’s Teaching Garden – Boasting more than 80 gardening plots and an open-air kitchen, this urban farm and garden provides visitors with hands-on learning opportunities. Students and summer camp attendants from New York City can tend to the gardens and eventually learn to cook using these fresh ingredients. Field trips can be scheduled on Grow NYC’s website. The garden and Grow NYC’s programming are also available to the public.
Earth Matter NY’s Compost Learning Center – Situated within Governors Island’s Urban Farm, this area of the island is where visitors can gain an understanding of what composting is and how to do it. This eco-friendly opportunity is open to the public and does not require a reservation.
Island Bee Project - Adjacent to the Earth Matter Compost Learning Center, visitors can find the hives of the Island Bee Project. Here, the island offers programming about the importance of protecting honeybees. This program allows visitors to care for the bees alongside trained professionals, while learning about the role that bees play in the ecosystem.
Children’s Museum of the Arts’ Free Art Island Outpost – Every summer, children are invited to visit this area of the island to engage their creativity through the Children’s Museum of the Arts’ Free Art Island Outpost. This program provides artistic workshops, exhibits, and collaborative challenges for the students in attendance.
Governors Island offers an ever-changing and rotating schedule of special events to visitors of the island.
Late Fridays and Saturdays – To capture the nightlife excitement of New York City, Governors Island offers extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Visitors can enjoy the sunset from the island’s coast, catch an outdoor film, or enjoy drinks at these evening events.
New York City Poetry Festival – Each summer, Governors Island hosts the New York City Poetry Festival, where poets can perform and meet amidst the natural beauty of the island. Guests can sign up and find a full schedule of information on the New York City Poetry Festival’s website.
Art exhibits, theater performances, and eco-events are only some of the ever-changing types of events that the island offers, so guests should check Governors Island’s website for an up-to-date schedule of events.
Dining and Shopping
Foodies and picky-eaters alike will enjoy the variety of culinary experiences provided by Governors Island. Although visitors are welcome to eat a packed lunch in the picnic area or reserve one of the many grilling stations, guests often take joy in the rotating pack of food trucks and outside vendors that supply them with fuel for their day on the island. Stationed in Liggett Terrace Food Court and King Avenue Food Court, these vendors provide a range of delicious options for visitors no matter what they are craving.
Alcohol may not be brought to the island but can be purchased from vendors. Grills must be reserved in advance through the island’s website.
Situated in Castle Williams, Ye Olde Ball & Chain Gift Shop and Bookstore supplies visitors with souvenirs and gifts.
Governors Island, New York, NY 11231, Phone: 212-825-3054