Governors Island – fab family day trip

Fun cradle swings at Hammock Grove playground, Governors Island

Summer is here, schools are out, cue anxiety about how to occupy the kids for 12 weeks. Governors Island is a fantastic place to escape the sirens, traffic and scalding hot, smelly sidewalks of Manhattan, and charge about on huge stretches of open grass.

Just 800 yards from Manhattan (we can actually see it from our window), Governors Island feels like a totally different world with its 172 acres of grass, playgrounds, cafes and eerily empty, decaying buildings.

Getting there

Governors Island can only be reached by ferry. We LOVE ferry boats in our family, and this is such a goody. Battery Maritime Building’s a nice old fashioned ferry terminal just to the left of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, at the most southern tip of Manhattan.

Bikes and strollers have their own step-free entrance on the left, and you can leave them below so you can head up to the top deck to catch the breeze and the views.

On yer bike

One of the biggest attractions for us is that it is a car-free zone, so you don’t have to worry about traffic and can’t even hear a siren or honking horn. Bliss.

Kids can get a bit carried away by all the space and tear off on their bikes and scooters. This always makes me feel a little anxious, but it’s wonderful for their sense of independence and realistically a very safe place to do it. You can hire a 6 person surrey for $45 per hour, or a kids’ bike for $10 for two hours ($20 for the whole day).

Governors Island's open, car-free roads
Open, empty, car-free roads, perfect for biking and scooting

There are various cafes (and icecream vans) dotted about the island, but we’ve always preferred to bring picnics and just buy extra cold drinks during the day as needed.


The Hammock Grove playground is best suited for quite big or older children. It is not really aimed at younger kids, with the one exception of a fun basket swing which can comfortably fit three or four under 5s.

The playground has a really enormous, horizontal climbing frame made from telegraph poles, which are just right for teenage legs to leap about on. The five year olds in our group enjoyed the more vertical rope climbing frame.

There’s not much shade round this part of the island as all the trees are newly planted here, so we like to head elsewhere for our picnic and to cool off.

Art and exhibitions on Governors Island

Besides the romping about and biking, there are also various exhibitions and summer pop up craft shops, especially at weekends. The Children’s Museum of Art Island Outpost is great fun with its free outdoor, hands-on art making workshops for kids.

Governors Island is definitely in my top 10 things to do with kids in New York this summer.

If you’re planning your own Governors Island jolly:

  • Governors Island is seasonal, it’s only open to the public between late May and late September
  • Ferry tickets are a token $2 return for adults, kids under 13 go free
  • It’s incredibly wheel-friendly, so bring pushchairs, bikes and scooters and enjoy the open spaces without any worry about traffic. There’s no surcharge for bikes on the ferry
  • The East River Ferry also goes to and from Governors Island at the weekend for $6
  • You can hire bikes on the island, including tandems, kids’ bikes, child seats and trailers. There are also 6 or 4 seat surreys, which offer some shade
  • Large areas of the island, including the Hammock Grove playground and hammock park have zero shade, so definitely bring hats, suncream and loads of cold water (a good trick is to freeze several water bottles to defrost throughout the day)

This week’s Highs & Lows:


  • Last Tuesday, all three children slept all night. Miracle of miracles. Boy, did I have a spring in my step the next day. What with J’s night feeds, T’s nightmares and B’s requests for 2am cuddles, unbroken nights are v v V rare in our household
  • Tribeca Pediatrics recommended sleep training babies at two months here, which I was initally a bit sceptical about. WISH I’d known about it for our first two babies; three nights of gritting teeth, and now we’ve had almost a fortnight without night feeds. Here’s a link to their advice on how to tackle it – it really worked for us with Baby J
  • T has reached a level of literacy where she can now write out little messages on scraps of paper or the blackboard. Her current favourite is to scrawl ‘Watch TV’ onto the family calendar and point to it meaningfully while B nods her support


  • Feeling v sad to wake up today to learn of the British referendum’s decision to leave the European Union. Am kicking myself for not getting my act together in time to register for postal voting from here; by the time I’d realised we could do that, it was too late. If any other British expats reading this are in the same boat, follow this link to register for next time. It takes two minutes; all you need is your passport number, National Insurance number, and last UK address you were on the electoral roll and they’ll email you the paperwork to fill out and return
T's love letter... to the telly
T’s love letter… to the telly

Author: Alex

Hello. Toddling Round New York is my own little blog of our family's experience of moving young kids from London to New York... And of having a baby out here. They are my own baby steps of exploring this incredible city. I lived in five countries in four continents growing up, so you'd think I'd be good at this by now. Here you'll find stories and photographs of our adventures, the highs and the lows of expat parenthood, and some ideas I hope you'll find useful if you're in New York with young kids.

2 thoughts on “Governors Island – fab family day trip”

  1. We just managed to get our postal vote in…for all the good it did. We are just back from a trip back to the UK for family weddings, and I’m now desperately looking for things to occupy 4 and 2 year old and to keep me sane! Was thinking of exploring Battery Park area one day soon. Any must see recommendations and if you fancy joining us, we’d love to meet you all.

    1. Hi! I’d recommend the SeaGlass Carousel followed by the musical swings installation outside Brookfield Place, lunch upstairs in Hudson Eats. Send me a message to about dates as we’d absolutely love to meet up

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