Once we’ve had Memorial Day, summer really kicks in in New York and the whole city opens up. A favourite destination of mine once the days grow ever-steamier is Governors Island. This 172-acre former military base has become a green space haven for experimental immersive experiences, music festivals and days away far from the madness of the city. Ferries provide the only access to this national park; the East River Ferry from Brooklyn runs at the weekends, and ferries run daily from Manhattan. There’s nothing better than cheating the subway system and taking to the water. It’s surprisingly quick and easy, plus you get to take in superb views of the city.
Speaking of views, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy them from Governors Island. The 2.2-mile promenade running around the perimeter provides phenomenal vistas of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn waterfront. It’s ideal for biking and walking. Each year new additions and highlights are added to entice you to take a trip over, but the latest and most exciting feature to be unveiled on the island is The Hills.
The new topographic installation offers unprecedented views of the city as it’s going to comprise of four large manmade mounds. Slide Hill has four curving silver kids’ slides, including the longest one in New York at 57 feet. Grassy Hill will be perfect for picnics with its lawn and gentle slopes. Outlook Hill is where you’ll want to go to for the best viewpoint in NYC; it’s the tallest at 70 feet. And Discovery Hill will be where you release your inner child with the hidden pathways and the art installation is provided by Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread. The Hills was meant to open in December but it’s been brought forward for the summer and opens in July.
The island was used as a military base for two centuries, but the oldest and most architecturally interesting buildings are in the historic district at the north end of the island. They include two colonial-era forts, now operated by the National Park Service, and the Marine Science High School.
It also has great conservation and education programmes. Tours are available for the compost learning centre, hosted by Earth Matter. And there’s a 8,000-square-feet urban farm that aims to teach and excite visitors about urban agriculture. It has an outdoor kitchen and New York’s largest solar cooker.
You’re welcome to bring your own food but you’re likely to find your heart’s desire at Liggett Terrace Food Court – everything from burgers, tacos, sandwiches, to waffles, wings and ice cream. You can also reserve one of the grill stations for a barbecue. Bookings have to be made two weeks in advance and it costs $26 for the day. There’s no alcohol permitted and you have to clean up after yourselves but there’s no doubt it’s a fantastic spot for a gathering.
Events take place on Governors Island every weekend until September. The Poetry Festival at the end of July proposes to bring poetry out of dark bars and universities and bring it out into the sunshine. The second Jazz Age Lawn Party of the summer will take place on August 13th and 14th for music, games and fashion from the 1920s and 30s. The sixth annual NYC Unicycle Festival takes place Labour Day Weekend, the 3rd and 4th of September, and celebrates all things one wheel. For a wheely good time you can even have a go yourself if you feel so inclined!
Ready to make your way to Governors Island? Check out our latest New York City hotel deals to start planning your trip.