In Travel

Island Hopping In New York City This Summer

For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan, NYC's five main destination islands offer a rich arts and culture program during the summer season.

Summer in New York City is the stuff of our dreams: outdoor concerts abound, food trucks dominate and the US Open is in full swing. But for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan, there’s a vibrant arts and culture program on offer across NYC’s five main destination islands.

Whether it’s getting up close and personal with Lady Liberty or looking back over sweeping views of the NYC skyline from City Island, travellers from all walks are catered for. Here we take a closer look at the summer line-ups on City Island, Ellis and Liberty Island, Governors Island, Randall’s Island and Roosevelt Island.

Governors Island

Just a stone’s throw from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, Governors Island is the easiest way to get away. It’s summer season 2017 runs from May 1 through October 1 and highlights include a slew of outdoor activities.

Getting there

Governors Island is accessible by ferry during the public season

Family adventures

Adventures at Governors Island features three attractions: a massive zip line, 3D climbing challenge and a maze. The Flywire Zip Line will let you soar to freedom while taking in sweeping views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, while the 3D climbing challenge will test your strength and endurance through a selection of three different climbs. The maze? Embrace your inner child and sharpen your navigation skills.


Take in the scenic sites of Governors Island by renting a bike from Blazing Saddles or City Bike.

The Hills

The Hills on Governors Island is a 10-acre public park designed by architect Adriaan Geuze and his team West 8. “A new beacon in the harbour, the Hills provide visitors with the feeling of being immersed in a green oasis, culminating at the top of Outlook Hill with an extraordinary 360-degree panoramic experience of the New York Harbour,” writes West 8.

Founded on the mantra of allowing island-goers to see the views of “sea” and “sky”, the Hills have transformed the island through typography. Grassy Hill is a grassy slope overlooking the island’s new and historic landscapes, Slide Hill is home to four slides including the longest slide in New york City, Discovery Hill features a site-specific sculpture by the internationally recognised British artist Rachel Whiteread and Outlook Hill offers views of New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty, and the skylines of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City.

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Did you know that the Statue of Liberty’s exterior is made of copper? It’s since turned a shade of green because of oxidation over the years. This is just one of the bite-sized historical nuggets you’ll learn when you visit Lady Liberty herself and Ellis Island.

Getting there

You can reach the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island via Statue Cruises, which runs the official ferry from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.

Chart the history of the hot dog (yes, really)

This summer, Ellis Island’s National Museum of Immigration will trace the origins of the humble hot dog with an exhibition called Hot Out Of The Melting Pot: A History Of The Hot Dog In America. “The focus is on the American hot dog, which would not exist if our forefathers had not come over here from Europe,” Scott Ladany, Vienna Beef’s vice president of sales and grandson of the company’s Hungarian founder told Reuters.

Tour the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Ellis Island was America’s largest and most active immigration station. From 1892 to 1924 over 12 million immigrants were processed on Ellis Island. Photo: Sue Waters/Flickr CC

City Tales Sightseeing & Private Tours offer a 4.5-hour tour of two of NYC’s most recognised landmarks. Participants can relive the country’s immigrant experience through personal narratives and explore an image library in the Ellis Island checkpoint.

Pit-stops include: The Statue of Liberty, the 10-storey high observation deck from which you can take in 360 views of NYC’s dazzling skyline, Ellis Island, The Great Hall, The Stairs of Separation and Immigration Museum.

Randall’s Island

A Bridges and Tunnels Maintainer took this photo, of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge’s Queens span at sunrise, while bicycling around Randall’s Island during a break. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr CC

The island’s 480 acres used to be made up of two separate islands, Randall’s and Wards. Randall and Wards Islands were home to a number of public facilities (a boys’ school, hospital and home for civil war veterans) before opening as public parks in 1936 by President Roosevelt. Thereafter, construction work on Manhattan meant that the wetlands between the two were filled with debris resulting in a single island. Today, Randall’s Island plays host to a rich summer program including the Panorama NYC Music Festival, outdoor movie nights, yoga in the park and a vegan food and drink festival

Panorama NYC Music Festival

Panorama Music Festival will host The Lab, an interactive arts space supported by HP. Photo: Panorama Music Festival

Frank Ocean, Solange, Tame Impala, alt-J, Nine Inch Nails and A Tribe Called will all take to the stage at this year’s Panorama NYC Music Festival. Other festival highlights include The Lab, an interactive arts, design and technology exhibition, and The Point, an open-air club celebrating NYC’s key role in the ongoing evolution of DJ culture and electronic music.

Yoga in the park

Take full advantage of Randall’s Island’s views out across the harbour with a waterfront yoga class. The best part? They’re absolutely free.

Randall’s Island outdoor movies

This summer, Randall’s Island outdoor movie season will see Aladdin, Zootopia, Sister Act, Race, A League Of Their Own And Motorcycle Diaries all hit the big screen.

Vegan Food and Drinks Festival

The inaugural Vegan Food and Drinks Festival will set up shop on Randall’s Island on October 1. One hundred vendors will be onsite offering up food, craft beer, wine and up to 10,000 are expected.

City Island

Photo: City Island/Alex Lopez

City Island is a 40- 60-minute drive from Midtown Manhattan. The waterfront community is nestled in the Bronx, brimming with old Victorian architecture and home to bundles of fresh seafood. Detached from frenzied NYC, City Island is an active – albeit quaint, with just 4,362 full-time residents – fishing village that also plays host to a slew of antique shops, restaurants, sailing adventures and one-of-a-kind views. 

Getting there

Getting to City Island is easy and can be done by car, bus or bike.

The seafood

No visit to City Island is complete without experiencing local fare dished up at one of the many shack-like seafood restaurants. City Island Lobster House will satisfy the lobster-lovers among us with classics like lobster roll and a plate of lobster tails making appearances on the menu. Want a side of history with your seafood? The Original Crab Shanty Restaurant was once a silent movie theatre before being taken over by the federal government and turned into the City Island Post Office. Menu favourites include crab of all varieties – think Maryland-style homemade crab cakes, hard shell garlic crabs, stuffed Dungeness crab, soft shell crab and snow crab legs – alongside staples like shrimp cocktails and buffalo wings.

The antiques

There’s a number of hidden gems on City Island. Start by scouting for beautiful old things at Early Ruth Antiques or pick out some handmade jewellery and souvenirs at Kaleidoscope Gallery.

Outdoor activities

City Island also offers a number of outdoor summer activities. Ready to learn how to sail, cruise or navigate? New York Sailing Centre’s for you. If taking to the water isn’t quite your thing, never fear – City Island also offers private historic tours of the Bronx from Manhattan taking famous historic sites from Bartow-Pell Mansion, Carriage House and beyond.

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island once housed prisons and hospitals – today it’s home to a lively residential community nestled among a mix of parks and landmarks. Steeped in history, the island acts as a time capsule, offering visitors a rare glimpse into NYC’s historical past. Sites include Blackwell House, a 1796 farmhouse, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park and Renwick Ruin among others.

Summer Sunset Sundays

Roosevelt Island’s Summer Sunset Sundays are all about celebrating twilight evenings at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. For something of the active variety, Imagination Playground & The Uni Project brings together an innovative equipment playground for family fun with a non-profit passionate about brining learning opportunities to public spaces in NYC.

Roosevelt Island Tramway

The Roosevelt Island Tram began operating in 1976 and is the only aerial commuter tram in the US. The tram provides four minutes of uninterrupted views of the Manhattan skyline, each cabin has the capacity to carry 125 people at a time and makes approximately 115 trips per day. Count us in.

(Lead image: Roosevelt Island Tram. Photo: Jens Fricke/Flickr CC)

Published 10 August, 2017