All it takes to feel a world away from New York City is a short ferry ride to Governors Island. Sitting just south of Lower Manhattan, the island has transformed in recent years into a must-visit site for music fans, art lovers and anyone craving a total escape from city life.
With a record 585,000 visitors last season (did we mention there’s no entry fee?), Governors Island had its busiest year since opening to the public in 2004 — though that record will surely be broken this year when it opens a month earlier than usual on May 1 (through Oct. 1).
“New Yorkers are just becoming familiar with Governors Island as a destination to recreate in a unique way,” says Michael Samuelian, president of the Trust for Governors Island, the nonprofit in charge of managing and redeveloping the island. “It’s one of the few places where you can truly relax.”
The early opening is only the beginning of what’s in store. “Our mission is to find a way for us to be open 365 days a year,” says Samuelian. “Imagine snowshoeing on Governors Island, or being there deep in the fall when the leaves are changing.”
To help reach its goal, you can be a founding member of Governors Island starting at as little as $50 (tax deductible) that gets you perks like a season-long ferry pass, members-only events, presale access to special events, vendor discounts and more.
Until then, there’s already plenty to do. We rounded up the best activities to make the most of all 172 acres.
Get rainbow colored
Become the unicorn version of yourself at Holi Hai, a free Indian celebration coming to Governors Island for the first time. On May 6 at the Ball Fields, you and 15,000 other happy New Yorkers will cover each other in of colored powders, enjoy live entertainment, dance workshops and tons of culinary treats. It’s open to all ages (there’s a kids area) and free to attend (though a $15 donation is suggested), with environmentally safe colored powders sold on site.
Watch the sunset
On May 12, ditch the rowdy Cinco crowds on the mainland for a rare late-night visit — the island usually closes at 6 p.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. on weekends, but not this day. “We’re providing folks a glimpse of how spectacular sunset can be from the island,” says Samuelian, with live music and beer garden fare until 9 p.m.
Get your competitive face on
As of Memorial Day weekend, New York City will have a new outdoor activity park. Adventures at Governors Island has everything you love about competitive reality shows, from an Amazing Maze that you have to solve before time runs out, a 24-foot rock climbing wall and — we saved the best for last — a 300-foot double zip line. Separate admission, located near Liggett Terrace
Ride a bike
Governors Island is one of the few places in the city where you can ride a bike without any cars, with seven miles of bike paths (including the newly completed 2.2-mile perimeter loop). Rentals are free before noon on weekdays from Blazing Saddles, which also has two-person and surrey bikes for up to six. There are also two CitiBike kiosks.
Eat at the most scenic oyster bar
The team behind Grand Banks — the vintage schooner serving cocktails and fresh seafood on the Hudson — is opening a pop-up oyster bar and beer garden called Island Oyster this summer, with late hours and views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge.
Make a hologram
There’s not just natural beauty on Governors Island — the HoloCenter Summer Museum on Colonels Row will host the work of artists from around the world who are using light to create holograms and light-based art installations. The first show, “Ripple Effect,” explores how ideas grow, so prepare to be overwhelmed. You can even make your own hologram at workshops. (May 1-Oct. 1, Fri., Sat., Sun.)
Play the most imaginative golf course
One of the outdoor art season’s major highlights is Figment NYC (June 3-4, free), a participatory art festival that creates a new whimsical miniature golf course every year. This year’s theme is NYC Has the Beat, with “holes inspired by the rhythm of the city and its music scene.”
Step back in time
If you haven’t experienced the Roaring ’20s outside a dimly lit club, you haven’t lived. Tickets are on sale now for the Jazz Age Lawn Party, returning June 10-11 and Aug. 26-27. On the vast courtyard lawn at the heart of the island you’ll find dapper gents and flappers cutting a rug to live big band and hot jazz acts, fizzy cocktails, antique shops (one can never have too many fascinators), vintage portraits and more.
Attend a chic picnic
The trendiest way to have dinner outdoors is coming to the island for the first time. PopUp Dinner Governors Island brings the popular all-white surprise party that began in Brooklyn across the harbor Sept. 9. Tickets ($40) to the elegant night of BYO picnicking, music and dancing are on sale now.
Take on the city’s longest slide
Governors Island gained 10 acres of scenic views, outdoor art space and prime hiking trails when its four new Hills opened last summer. But Slide Hill is the only one you can ride down on not one but four slides, including the city’s longest (57 feet).
Find the best street food
Governors Island already has a robust food truck scene, with two dozen of them parked along King Avenue on the weekends. But on Sept. 16, all the best trucks in the city will converge on the island for the Street Vendor Project’s annual Vendy Awards for an amazing day of tasting all the best mobile grub around the city in one glorious, gluttonous afternoon.