Governors Island is 400 yards from Brooklyn Bridge Park, but the 172-acre expanse feels like a throwback from another era entirely, and we’re not just talking about its Jazz Age Lawn Parties or the vintage carousels and carnival rides debuting there on July 6. Maybe it’s the absence of cars or scarcity of indoor plumbing and electrical outlets that makes Governors Island feel a little antiquated, but what it lacks in modern amenities, it more than makes up for in outdoor space and amazing views. So this summer, if you’re looking for a quick escape from city life, consider island hopping for an afternoon.
Getting to Governors Island is cheap and easy thanks to the free ferry at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which makes trips every 60 minutes starting at 11am on Saturdays and Sundays–the island is open to the public from 10am-7pm on weekends through Sept. 29. If you want to get there earlier (or without waiting in line), the East River Ferry starts making passes at 10:10am from Fulton Ferry Landing for $4 each way (plus a $1 bike surcharge). All downtown ER ferries make drops at Governor’s on the weekend, so you can board in Williamsburg or Greenpoint as well. A ferry from Battery Maritime Building makes its first free run at 10am.
Before boarding a boat, stop by Foragers Market for picnic fare, or Smorgasburg is set up on N. 7th Street in Williamsburg on Saturdays and the Flea offshoot can now be found in the Tobacco Warehouse on Water Street on Sundays–you can also order a takeaway picnic lunch on the island from Perfect Picnic. Spread out a blanket, or snag one of the picnic tables dotted throughout the historic district.
If you’re not as big a fan of picnic baskets as Yogi Bear, you can buy food at the King Avenue Food Court on the island, from stands like Pyramid Coffee, which sells sandwiches and salads, as well as drinks, snacks and ice cream. A Mr. Softee ice cream truck is also on the island, just be prepared to queue up for a cone.
For its second year, Little Eva’s has relocated to the island’s historic district, bringing it closer to Yankee Pier where the Brooklyn ferries dock. The move seems to have been a smart one, judging by the line for cans of cold beer, barbecue and seafood snaking down into its beer garden on a recent Saturday afternoon. Alcohol, food and live entertainment can also be found on the other side of the island at Governors Beach Club.
The best views come from outside Castle Williams. Only a half mile from lower Manhattan, it’s a great spot to take some selfies or to sit and read a book on a bench. It’s also the site of a new, open-air library organized the Brooklyn, Queens and New York Public libraries and displayed in a special bookcase built by The Uni Project. The reading room without walls caters to children and young adults, with family programming every Saturday at 1pm. Rich Reyes-Gavilan, a head librarian at BPL, estimates between 300-500 books were taken to Governors Island for the project, though heavy rains in the past few weeks damaged quite a few. They’ve since been replaced. “We may bring some more new books out in July depending on activity,” he says. “The collection should remain fresh for the duration.”
Governors Island is small enough to traverse on foot, but half the fun is bringing (or renting) a bike for a care-free, car-free bike ride. You can also splurge on a $25, 30-minute tandem ride on a bicycle buggy built for two. It’s old-timey and eco-friendly at the same time.