August 16, 2010

Day Trip: Governors Island

On Governors Island in 1812 you may have heard, "Ready the cannons, the ships are approaching!" but today you'll hear "Check out the cool art near Water Taxi Beach!" A lot has changed on the former military island, once vital in defending New York's inner harbor from intruders. Now, a five minute (free!) ferry ride from Lower Manhattan, the island is anything but hostile. In fact, tranquil, idyllic, and picturesque come to mind.

Prepare to stroll, picnic, bike, marvel at art, and take in gorgeous 360-degree views of the New York harbor on your visit. Governors Island also has a great lineup of bands at Water Taxi Beach, an array of sporting events and fun programs for kids. And where else can you enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a picnic backdrop or meander through beautiful 19th century homes, originally built for commanding officers that now house art and handmade goods for sale? So hop on the ferry and spend the day enjoying this tiny island, steeped in history, now filled with happy, relaxed New Yorkers. Want to join them? Here's how, plus tips and info:

• The island is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from June 5 - October 10 (2010)
• Ferry: from Manhattan: the terminal is next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan (near the R train). The first ferry departs at 10am. From Brooklyn: the ferry runs Saturday/Sunday only. The terminal is at Pier 6, in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the end of Atlantic Avenue (take 2/3, 4/5, R trains or B63 bus). The first ferry departs at 11am.
• Bicycles are permitted on the ferry or you can rent one on the island
• Alcohol can not be brought onto the island, but is served at Water Taxi Beach
• There are many opportunities to purchase food and drinks around the island

• The island perimeter is 2.2 miles, great for biking or walking
• The island is 20 city blocks (1 mile) long and 5 city blocks wide
• If you need cash there's an ATM upon exiting the ferry
• Restrooms are located around the island, the first one off the ferry is in Building 110
• Bike rentals: A two-minute walk from the Manhattan ferry, up the hill to the right, at Colonels Row. A minute walk from the Brooklyn ferry, straight up the hill.

I recommend picking up a self-guided tour map from Building 140, to the left of the Manhattan ferry
• Water Taxi Beach (food, beer, concerts)
• Castle Williams (point of defense for the harbor, housed prisoners)
• Fort Jay (point of defense, housed officers, oldest structure on island, gates date to 1796)
• Colonels Row (bike rentals, art in houses, sporting events, Jazz Age dance parties)
• FIGMENT Mini-Golf (art + golf, through the tall arch at Liggett Hall)
• Parade Grounds (circus demonstrations, Civil War reenactments, bake sales)
• Nolan Park (Etsy house, Children's Museum of the Arts, church, officer housing)
• Picnic Point (food, rest areas, hammocks)

For up-to-date information, along with ferry schedules, event and concert schedules, visit the official Governors Island site. Happy exploring!

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