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Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

Governors Island is back for the 2013 season and we've mapped out all the best activities for families, including a festival featuring vintage carnival rides!

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: A. Frieden

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Donald Yip

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Michael Skigen

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Chris Jordan

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Junenoire Mitchell

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Phyllis B. Dooney

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Governors Island in New York guide 2013: Best things for families


It’s that time of year—summer is coming, which means Governors Island is opening to the public once again. Just a short (and free) ferry ride from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, Governors Island, one of our favorite family attractions, is a welcome escape from bustling city life. The island will be open on Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays (Memorial Day and Labor Day) from May 25 to September 29, and this summer is packed with tons of great exhibitions, programs, and events for the whole family. Here are some of the coolest things to check out this season, including a festival of vintage carousel rides, a new themed mini-golf course and more.

Celebrate opening weekend

Kick off the season with a free opening day celebration in Nolan Park. At Governors Island Alliance’s Annual Family Festival (Sat May 25, noon–4pm; due to the chance of rain, the festival has been postponed to Sun May 26) kids can rock out to performances by Astrograss and the Maybelles, get their faces painted, participate in craft workshops and hop in a bouncy house. Bike and Roll will offer free bike rentals for up to an hour all day—take a two-wheeled jaunt around the island to rediscover all the green space has to offer. Parents and kids can also swing by the Parade Ground to watch Gotham Base Ball Club play 19th-century style baseball games (Sat May 25, Sun May 26; multiple times throughout the weekend). 

Check out Figment
This annual fest invites participants of all ages to get involved in the artistic process by exploring interactive art installations, sculptures, performances and workshops. Although the festival itself only lasts a single weekend (Sat June 8 and Sun June 9, 10am–6pm), several of its incredible designs will remain on display throughout the summer (June 8–Sept 22). One of our favorites is the artist-designed Minigolf Course, this year based on the theme “State of the Art.” The forward-thinking ten-hole course takes inspiration from past, present and future technological innovations and avant-garde design features. Kids can also play with (and on!) eleven oversized sculptures in the Interactive Sculpture Garden, and clamber into the wind- and solar energy-powered TreeHouse, this year with an added gazebo that doubles as another interactive art installation. And little ones and grown-ups alike will be amazed by the annually-elected City of Dreams Pavilion; the 2013 winner is a cloudlike structure called “Head in the Clouds,” made of recycled milk jugs and water bottles.

Tour Governors Island construction
While the southern half of the island will be closed this summer as the Trust for Governors Island renovates 30 acres of land to create a new park and public spaces, including a botanic forest, two playing fields, and plenty of open lawns, visitors are invited to check out the expansive construction site from the new Viewing Platform at Liggett Arch. On select weekends, hard hat tours of the construction site will also be offered to curious families who want an up-close-and-personal look at what the new public spaces will look like. Check govisland.com for tour dates and times.

Attend a festival
In addition to Figment, Governors Island hosts tons of other celebrations throughout the summer. The annual City of Water Day fest (Sat July 20, 10am–4pm) offers free boat tours, fishing and an activity fair that celebrates the waterfront, while the always-quirky NYC Unicycle Festival (Sat Aug 31, Sun Sept 1 at noon) rolls onto the island on Labor Day weekend with unicycle races and unconventional sports like unicycle basketball (Sat Aug 31, Sun Sept 1 at noon). At the Jazz Age Lawn Party (Sat June 15 and Sun June 16, Sat Aug 17 and Sat Aug 18, 11am to 5pm), families, who are encouraged to dress in their finest 20s garb, can pack their own picnic lunch, enter a pie-baking contest or buy treats like lemonade sodas. We're especially excited for a French fete featuring vintage carnival rides and carousels in July; we'll keep you posted as we get more information.

Channel your inner artist

At the Children’s Museum of the Arts free outpost, teaching artists lead hands-on workshops for kids on topics like painting, sculpture and animation every weekend in the summer (Saturdays and Sundays, May 25–Sept 29, 11am–3pm). Young creative types can also get their fill of the arts with a stroll through the gallery of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Arts Center (located in Building 110), or by visiting the center on designated weekends for open studio events, in which guests can meet LMCC’s artists-in-residence (May 25–26, July 13–14, Sept 28–29, noon–5pm). And on weekends in September, the 4 Heads Art Fair will be held in Building 12, featuring the work of independent artists from around the world (Saturdays and Sundays, Sept 1–29, 11am–6pm).

Explore local history
History buffs should check out the Empire Historic Arts exhibit “Shipwrecked! A History of Maritime Disasters in NYC Harbor,” which will display recovered artifacts from shipwrecks throughout the summer. Kids can also learn about the island’s history as an Army post through tours of the Historic District and structures like Castle Williams and Fort Jay (various dates throughout June, July, August, and September; visit govisland.com for more details).

Get active
Attend events like the River to River Festival’s Come Out & Play Field Day and the time travel-themed Family Day (Sat July 13, 11am–5pm), which invite participants to compete in a variety of relays, races and outdoor games. Or take your family’s exercise into your own hands by renting bikes from a Bike and Roll kiosk or borrowing roller-skating equipment from the Skate Truck, which will be parked at the island on select weekends in June, July, and August. Bike New York will also offer Learn to Ride classes on specified dates throughout the summer (Sat June 1, Sun June 28, Sat Sept 7; 11am). Visit bikenewyork.org for more details.


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