Roosevelt Island – a quirky NYC day trip

Baby J and the river path along Roosevelt Island's western side

Roosevelt Island is a quirky and cheap day trip activity if you want a change of scene and a decent, traffic-free walk without going very far from Manhattan.

It’s no Governors Island in terms of green space and bike rentals (click here for my review), but it does have the advantage of being open all year round.

What to do on Roosevelt Island

I’m not going to lie – parts of Roosevelt Island are ever so slightly creepy. The ivy-clad ruins of a smallpox hospital looked straight off a horror movie set, and an Octagon Tower is all that remains of an insane asylum once written about by Charles Dickens. But there are also several decent playgrounds, including one with advanced climbing frames for the older or more adventurous kids.

We also enjoyed exploring the recently completed Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the southern tip. There’s an imposing sculpture of Roosevelt, and inscriptions of his ‘four freedoms’ from the 1941 State of the Union speech. These are still extremely relevant today:

  • freedom of speech and expression,
  • freedom of worship,
  • freedom from want, and
  • freedom from fear

If you keep walking the whole length of the island (just under two miles), you’ll eventually reach North Point Lighthouse. This is a pretty Gothic-revival tower built by prisoners in 1872, now surrounded by benches for you to sit and admire the views. When we visited, we witnessed a v romantic wedding proposal. T & B’s eyes were on stalks. It was a really nice end to the trip.

Getting to Roosevelt Island

It’s definitely most fun to get there by tram, a large cable car slung beneath the Queensboro Bridge. You’re lifted excitingly high across the East River, giving good views of the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the borough of Queens on Long Island. It’s cheap too, the price of a standard MTA Metrocard $2.75 fare. Up to three small kids per adult can go free.

If you suffer from vertigo, claustrophobia, or simply don’t fancy the tram, you can also catch the F train subway to the Roosevelt Island stop.

Tips if you’re planning to take your own kids to Roosevelt Island
  • There’s almost no traffic or steps on Roosevelt Island, so this is an excellent place to bring scooters and bikes
  • Buy a sweet hand drawn map of the island for $1 from the tiny visitors’ shop next to the tram station
  • Bring a picnic and plenty of drinks. Hardly any options to buy food on the island
  • Bring loo roll and hand sanitizer. The public bathrooms were, well, quite gross
  • The Four Freedoms Park is open six days a week, 9am-5pm, closed on Tuesdays. Click here for more details about the park opening hours
  • The tram is located at the intersection of 59th Street & 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, and takes about five minutes. It only accepts MTA MetroCards. Up to three children can ride for free as long as they are shorter than 44 inches and are accompanied by a paying adult. The tram runs from 6am – 2am Sunday to Thursday, and 6am – 3.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.  Click here for more information about the journey
     This week’s Highs & Lows
  • Baby J turned one! Did my third rainbow cake of the year (all the kids’ birthdays are clustered together), this one was actually pretty good. I’m rather proud of it. C found a tie-die cake mix packet in Target, which suggested pouring the different coloured cake batters into the tin, one on top of the other. The effect was so pretty, I didn’t even need to bother with icing. Result
  • B’s school had a fantastic Glow Ball, all black lighting with neon sensory tables and glowing paint. It was so much fun
  • It was Mothering Sunday in the UK last weekend. I asked Baby J if he wanted any more milk during his usual pre-dawn feed, and he spoke his very first actual words to me. “No, no, NO!” with an emphatic smack on the boob. On Mothering Sunday. Charming.

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.

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