Skip to main content

A Beginner's Guide to Governors Island

Updated for the 2012 season

• Governors Island in New York Harbor, now open to the public on a limited basis, was a military base for 200 years. The Coast Guard closed the island in 1996, and in 2003 the federal government sold much of the island to New York. The National Park Service continues to manage the two historic forts on the island. 

• 2012: Open every Saturday, Sunday, and Holiday Monday through September 30.

• See Graphic Design: Now in Production, an exhibition of contemporary design in all media produced and curated by Cooper-Hewitt with the Walker Art Center through September 3, 2012. Open weekends 10 am-6 pm.

• The views from the island are stunning, and a trip affords a quick getaway from the urban canyons. 

• Visitors to Governors Island can walk the 2.2. promenade around the whole island and enjoy access to the northern part. The southern part is awaiting development.

• The Water Taxi Beach serves food and affordable drinks, including a few tasty beers on tap. Drinking beer on a hot day on a sandy beach while looking at the skyline of Lower Manhattan as viewed between plastic palm trees is an experience both pleasant and surreal. Mostly surreal.


• Because of its strategic location, the island was mainly used for military defense. Now because of its proximity to Manhattan and Brooklyn, the island is seen as the perfect beachhead for sand volleyball, contemporary art projects, cocktails, concerts that will not upset the neighbors, and utopian visions for the urban future.


• Architects McKim, Mead & White designed a structure on Governors Island that once housed an entire regiment.

• The vibe is low-pressured and relaxed. It's possible just to grab a book and a beach towel and go hang out.

• The architecture on Governors Island resembles a college campus. Plans for the island, however,  suggest things may get weirder in the future. See "Governors Island Vision Adds Hills and Hammocks" by Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times, April 12, 2010.


• It's possible to rent facilities on the island for a private event. While there on the opening day of the season, I saw a wedding party reception and watched a couple as they danced to their special country music tune. I was finishing my beer and thought I was back in the South.

• There is no apostrophe in the name of Governors Island, a fact that would serve as a point of embarrassment for any website or weblog that inadvertently stuck one between the "r" and the "s."


• The island has been used for high-level diplomatic talks, including a meeting in 1988 between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the stately Admiral's House. Much more about the meeting on this companion post.

• In 1909 Wilbur Wright inaugurated the first flight over American waters. He took off from Governors Island and circled the Statue of Liberty and came back.


• The deed signed between the federal government and the people of New York prohibited the construction of casinos and permanent housing.

• See Mark di Suvero at Governors Island: Presented by Storm King Art Center on the west side.



• It's easy to bring your own bike on the ferries to the island, but it's also easy to rent one there. Biking Governors Island is one of the best ways to get an overview.


• Ferries leave the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan at 10 AM, 11 AM and then every half hour until 5:30 PM. Ferries return to Manhattan at 10:30 AM, 11:30 AM and then every half hour until 7 PM. Ferries run from Brooklyn's Pier 6 run between 11 am and 7 p.m.  Click here for official directions. If you know how to get to the Staten Island Ferry, then look for the Maritime Building just to the east. The R subway station is very close. Ferry service will run for special concerts and may involve extra fees if the particular performance costs money. If you're planning on exploring the island, leave on an early ferry.


• The island has become an ideal setting for a range of arts projects, especially outdoor sculpture and interactive displays.

• According to the official site's timeline, the first squirrels were brought to the island in 1895. Many years later, in 1983, a Burger King opened on the island and served beer.

• The TV series, Lost, should have ended with the dramatic surprise that the survivors were, in fact, stranded on Governors Island. That would have been awesome, encouraging a fan-based subculture to develop on the island.



• Tour the renovated Castle William (above) with a park ranger. The fort played an important strategic role in the War of 1812.

A few links:

Official site - Governors Island Preservation & Education Corporation
The Beach @ Governors Island. Music concerts.
• Scouting New York wrote a mind-blowing account in September 2009 of the excavation of a buried town on Governors Island.
Participatory and interactive art projects sponsored by Figment.
Sculptors Guide exhibit titled "Encounters."
• Read on Walking Off the Big Apple - The Reagan-Bush-Gorbachev Meeting on Governors Island: A Debriefing and a Walk.

Images by a sunburned Walking Off the Big Apple.





Popular posts from this blog

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

As the pandemic crisis improves in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their re-openings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 7, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many favorite local destinations have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

Openings     
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov) NO indoor dining!
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. 
• Outdoor dining has been extended through October 31. 
• On July 1, city beaches opened for swimming.
•…

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Update: As of March 12, 2020, many New York arts institutions have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Please see this post for announcements of reopenings.

Several museums in New York City are open on Mondays, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney.

This list has been expanded to include free or pay-what-you-wish hours.


American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th Street
See the post, Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History.
Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st St.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave

Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave

Metropolitan Museum of Art 100 Fifth Avenue
See the post 25 Things To Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is also open 7 days a week from March - October.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue

MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), 11 West 53 Street: * Also, consult the post 25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern…

From Manhattan to the Bronx: A Walk Over the Henry Hudson Bridge to Henry Hudson Park

At the tiptop of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park offers picturesque views of the Hudson River. For one of the best views, follow the marker at Shorakkopoch Rock (see map at the end of the post), the legendary place where Peter Minuit was said to have bought the island for 60 guilders, and follow the ridge up the slope. The path leads gently higher and higher, with views of the Salt Marsh down below and then the underside of the Henry Hudson Bridge above. This spot along the ridge is well known among birders, as the height and the proximity to the Hudson River allow access to treetops and places where birds like to go. 

Keep going around the bend and past the bridge. A few spots of open pavement at the edge of the hill provide good views of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, a swing bridge that carries train traffic to and from Penn Station. The bridge was recently upgraded. On the opposite shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, you’ll likely see Metro-North trains coming round the bend, either he…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

A Morning Walk from Pandemic Station to Pandemic Square

Penn Station to Times Square
New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after. 

After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle. 

I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months. 

After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds. 

Yet, I had been here before. A long time ago, I road my bike a few times through Times Square at dawn on a Sunday morning in summertime, and just a few people were there. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember wandering around a brightly lit Times Square near sunset and then looking down the avenue to…