With summer vibes and temperatures in full force, it’s time to plan the perfect island getaway — without leaving New York City. With four of the five boroughs being islands themselves (yes, the Bronx is the only one connected to mainland New York), they’re in good company with about 34 smaller islands also in the area. Just four are accessible to the public, but there’s plenty to eat, see, and do on each of them, so we put together this activity guide for island-hopping your way through the season.
Home to festivals and activities but not people, Governors Island is a short ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Park (weekends only) between May 1 and October 31. A 172-acre green space located in the New York Harbor offering picture-perfect views of the Statue of Liberty, this island is the perfect spot for day tripping during the half of the year it’s open.
Collective Governors Island
Go “glamping” in NYC like a high roller thanks to this retreat space that features luxury tents and premium bell tents, dining, and activities for you and your crew. Located on the western portion of Governors Island and with scenic views of both the NYC skyline and Lady Liberty, the retreat is just an eight-minute ferry ride from Manhattan. There’s still availability from now through fall, so book a night or weekend and get ready to (sort of) rough it!
Jazz Age Lawn Party
As one of the city’s quintessential summer events, this party is a must. Climb aboard the ferry and get whisked away to the 1920s at the only NYC party that goes all out for jazz. Featuring two days of live musical performances from Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra, Canarsie Wobblers, Queen Esther, and others, this old-school soirée is the excuse to dress like the flapper you’ve always wanted to be.
June 30-July 1
It’s all about rosé at this pink-themed fest, which is even bigger and better as it celebrates its third year. Sip rosé, rosé Champagne, and frosé while indulging in gourmet food and seeing live performances from Klingande, Autograf, and Hayden James. Wear as much pink as possible and prepare to get tipsy at the most epic picnic of the season.
New York City Poetry Festival
For two whole days, this free fest on Colonels Row will be open to the public to celebrate the best of the city’s poetry community, with 14,000 word-lovers expected to attend. Enjoy live readings and performances from more than 250 poets, plus a chance to peruse vendors and buy grub from local food trucks.
Escape in New York: Outdoor Films on Governors Island
July 13, August 10, September 14
Created in partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New Yorkers are able to screen movies on Governors Island for the first time ever this summer, with three films left this season. Each flick is inspired by NYC, so moviegoers can feel right at home on the newly restored Parade Ground, complete with panoramic views of the city. The lineup includes Desperately Seeking Susan (July 13), Ghostbusters (August 10), and The Last Dragon (September 14), and each movie is paired with a short film from a local filmmaker.
If you’re visiting Governors Island for the day outside of an event, you’ll always find a collection of vendors at this food court located at the center of the island. With a rotating cast of food trucks depending on the day of the week, you’ll always be able to grab delicious Colombian street fare from Mi Pequeño Terruño and tasty sandwiches and salad from Pyramid Café, both of which are open daily.
Most people know Randall’s Island as the site where music festivals like Governors Ball and Electric Zoo take place each year, but it’s also filled with recreational facilities, with more than 60 playing fields located at Randall’s Island Park. Also on the island is Icahn Stadium, a 5,000-seat track and field complex.
Yoga in the Park
Tuesdays through September 11
Get your downward dog going on a weekly basis until summer’s end at this free, hour-long yoga class at the Sunken Meadow picnic area. Instructors from Sweet Water Dance & Yoga lead the class with views of the sunset over the water. All you need to do is bring along a mat and have fun!
Outdoor Movie Night at Randall’s Island Park
Through August 19
See a free movie at this series featuring a mix of old and new classics. Showing family-friendly films, this is a destination with fun for all ages. Just pack snacks and a blanket, and enjoy your mini island getaway for an epic movie night out. The lineup includes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (July 8), Coco (August 5), and Guardians of the Galaxy (August 19). Check out the full lineup here.
NYRR Tuesday Night Speed Series
July 10 and 24
For two evenings this July, sign up for a track event like the 400 meter, 1 mile, or distance medley relay at the state-of-the-art Icahn Stadium. Runners of all levels are welcome to race in this friendly competition that costs $15 to participate, and competitors are encouraged to bring their crew to cheer from the stands!
Panorama Music Festival
Touted as the East Coast’s answer to Coachella, Panorama is set to feature a killer lineup, with Janet Jackson, The Killers, and The Weeknd all on the bill. Limited passes are still available, but they won’t be for long!
Fewer than 12,000 people live on Roosevelt Island, a narrow strip of land that sits in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. The site of iconic structures like the Smallpox Hospital, Prison at Blackwell’s Island, and New York City Lunatic Asylum, all constructed in the mid-1800s, Roosevelt Island has its fair share of ghost stories.
The Roosevelt Island experience begins at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, where visitors board the tram to cross the East River. Like a better, more adult version of the Sky Ride at Six Flags, the tram is 3,100 feet long and sits 250 feet above the water, offering sweet views and photo opportunities galore.
Visit what once served as a quarantine area for New Yorkers suffering from smallpox outbreaks in the 1850s. Now a crumbling abandoned hospital on Roosevelt Island’s southern tip, it’s estimated that 13,500 people died at the hospital during its 30 years in operation. To see NYC’s only landmarked ruin, visitors can take the Roosevelt Island Tramway across the East River and admire the hospital from a short distance, as it’s fenced in. Even still, there have been reports of strange sounds, lights, and unexplained shadows. Creepy.
Next to the Smallpox Hospital is this four-acre memorial dedicated to FDR and the four freedoms he laid out in his State of the Union address in 1941: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Opened in 2012, the space is a relatively new New York State Park and is absolutely worth visiting.
Whether you’re in the mood for filet mignon, a burger, or just a heaping portion of fries, there’s no shortage of options at this local favorite that includes both indoor and outdoor seating. Located just a block away from the F train, Riverwalk is a solid spot for lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch upon arriving at or before leaving Roosevelt Island.
It may feel more like it belongs in New England than in NYC, but that’s part of City Island’s homey vibe and charm. The Bronx island, which measures just 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide, has less than 5,000 residents, but visitors fill the seaside town every summer weekend.
Learn about this seaside community’s storied history at a museum dedicated to its past as a boat-building and sailmaking town. Surrounded by the western Long Island Sound and Eastchester Bay, City Island has a reputation for being the Cape Cod of NYC, and any first-time visitor should make this museum, located in an old schoolhouse, a first stop before exploring the rest of what City Island has to offer.
No trip to City Island is complete without seafood, and you’ll find the best at this waterfront institution that’s open year-round. Signature dishes include the Maine lobster, sweet cold-water lobster tails, and King Crab legs, so definitely come hungry for some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in all of NYC.
If scoring sweet finds is your thing, you’ll discover all sorts of quirky objects and art at this shop located on the main drag of City Island Avenue. You can absolutely find a perfect conversation piece at this fun spot.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town when there’s a production going on, don’t miss the opportunity to check out a play. The chance to see NYC talent for just $20 a ticket makes the trek to City Island more than worth it! Check here for announcements about upcoming shows.