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Governors Island
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Here’s how to spend a day on Governors Island

It’s a destination for culture and an oasis for recreation.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

When anyone asks where my favorite place in NYC is, the answer is obvious: Governors Island.

The 172-acre island, partially made from the cast-off rocks from the Lexington Avenue Subway, is the verdant backyard that New Yorkers desperately need. It's completely car-free so cycling is a breeze, the views of the harbor, the city and the Statue of Liberty are breathtaking and its acres of open land give beleaguered city residents a chance to spread their limbs without clobbering the person next to them.

In recent years, the island has woken from its slumber as a former military site—an identity it's held since 1995 when the Coast Guard left—and has become a destination for culture with a burgeoning arts program as well as an oasis for recreation in a city where open space is extremely limited. It has become especially a summer activity for those seeking an escape from the concrete, but in 2021, The Trust for Governors Island announced that the park would be open year-round for the first time. Now, New Yorkers and tourists can enjoy the giant park any time of year.

With this major change, the island is staying open later and has way more to offer than ever before, from multiple dining options with bars to the new QC NY Spa and the Collective Retreats glamping grounds. It's becoming a New York City neighborhood in its own right.

Below, we've created and tested out a 24-hour itinerary for those who want to spend a full day at Governors Island. Note: It takes multiple visits to see everything and even then, the island has seasonal programming making each visit slightly different.

Noon: Relax at QC NY Spa

Couple in pool
QC Spa

Start your day on the island by pampering yourself at this new Italian spa. QC NY is a beautiful day spa that has taken over renovated former military barracks/family housing from 1934 with relaxation rooms, themed saunas, Vichy showers, infrared beds, foot baths, hydro jets, steam baths and other amazingly lush experiences. It also has two heated pools outside with unbeatable views of the harbor and Lower Manhattan. Once you've spent time in its saunas, enjoy a hydromassage in the pool and then grab a lounger for full relaxation and a view you can only get on Governors Island. Entry to this oasis is $90 on weekdays and $116 on weekends, but it includes access to all its amenities, excluding services such as massages.

Time Out Tip: Order the Aperitivo from the spa's kitchen—your cocktail is served with a special selection of Italian classic aperitivo bites (cheese, mortadella, olives, focaccia, vegetables and more)! 

3pm: Check in to Collective Governors Island

Collective Governors Island
Photograph: courtesy of Collective Governors Island

With 30 accommodations, a restaurant and bar, a giant campfire, lawn games and more, Collective Governors Island offers the only way you can sleep over on the island. Check in to one of its four Outlook Shelters, 10 Summit Tents or 16 Journey+ Tents, depending on the level of luxury you crave. While it's most definitely still camping (there are bugs and weird animal noises at night), it's got all the amenities of a hotel room, including plush linens. 

Time Out Tip: Bring bug spray and your own snacks and beverages, which you can store in a provided Yeti cooler.

4pm: Do a mezcal tasting and copitas pottery class

Collective Governors Island
Photograph courtesy of Collective Governors Island

One of the best things Collective Retreats offers at its Governors Island outpost is its arts and crafts workshops, which include flower arranging and pottery/mezcal tasting. We made our own small drinking vessels out of clay (with help from a trained staff member) as we sipped on three types of mezcal imported from Mexico. It was a delightful way to spend the afternoon as we worked up an appetite for dinner later on.

Time Out Tip: Go into this with an open mind (and a snack in your belly). The agave worms won't help hold your liquor.

5pm: Check out the island’s sheep, bees and chickens

sheep governors island
Photograph: Julienne Schaer/Trust for Governors Island

Sheep are snacking on invasive plant species as part of an innovative and eco-friendly landscaping program on the island and you can find them in Hammock Grove! The island's animal residents are many—there is a bee sanctuary from the Bee Conservancy that you can visit and chickens at the Grow NYC Teaching Farm toward the eastern side of the island. As you meet these creatures, staff will happily fill you in on what they're doing and why it's important for the island and the city! 

Time Out Tip: On Saturday and Sunday from noon-4pm, you can say "hi" to the goats and learn the ins and outs of composting on Governors Island at the Compost Learning Center at the Urban Farm.

7pm: Have dinner at Collective Governors Island

Dinner Collective Governors Island
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

While there are certainly other places to grab dinner on the island, if you want a truly fantastic meal, don't skip Collective Governors Island's menu. From Executive Chef Ezra Lewis, who combines his Caribbean roots with classic European techniques, and Chef de Cuisine Owen Laufersweiler, who helped launch the Michelin-starred restaurant Oxalis, the new Wood-Fired Grill menu includes foods cooked in the great outdoors on an Argentine barbecue grill, including beef shoulder with cognac, cream, and green peppercorn sauce or smoked Shogun maitake mushroom with tamari and kumquat glaze. The centerpiece is accompanied by appetizers, sides, and desserts from Chef Aura that showcase the farm-fresh flavors of local produce. The six-course spring tasting menu features rotating dishes made from seasonal and local foods and an optional wine pairing. It's all incredibly fresh and flavorful.

Time Out Tip: While you may have booked your dinner at a certain time, you don't necessarily need to keep that time. Check in with the host before taking a seat.

8pm: Walk over to Soissons Landing

Governors Island sunset
Photograph: courtesy of the Trust for Governors Island

Walk off your dinner and head over to Soissons Landing (likely where you got off the ferry earlier in the day), where you can grab a drink at Taco Vista, Island Oyster or the newly arrived Gitano Island. Once you've got a beverage in hand, prepare yourself for one helluva sunset. Now through October 31, the landing's bars and restaurants will be open late every night of the week so you can take full advantage of the offerings there. 

Time Out Tip: Gitano Island, which opened earlier this month, is decorated with 30-feet-tall coconut palm trees, has a mezcal bar, two dining patios and a state-of-the-art DJ tent all centered around a serene water feature. It's a vibe.

9pm: Make smores, enjoy a bottle of wine on your deck

Fire and s’mores at Collective Governors Island
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

Every night until 10pm, Collective Governors Island offers free s'mores that you can roast over its campfires. Grab your ingredients and chill with your friends or significant other as you chat about your day, the island, the city and whatever else. Here, you'll meet fellow campers and be treated to a dreamy view of a sparkling Manhattan skyline. If you want to keep the party going after 10pm, you can purchase a bottle of wine at the bar or rely on the goodies in your cooler since the kitchen and bar shut down.

Time Out Tip: There is Wi-Fi you can connect to if you can't fully devote yourself to the great outdoors and want to watch some Netflix on your tablet.

9am the next day: Have breakfast on your deck

Collective Governors Island
Photograph courtesy of Collective Governors Island

In the morning when you've greeted the sun, the retreat's staff will drop off a basket of breakfast items (i.e. muffins, stonefruit, and water) on your deck. Enjoy a slow wake-up and breakfast in the Adirondack chairs. 

Time Out Tip: Each accommodation has a French press coffee maker.

11am: Check out of Collective Governors Island and take a bike tour of the island to see its art

Governors Island
Photograph: courtesy of the Trust for Governors Island

Once you've checked out of your tent, head over to Blazing Saddles to rent bicycles for a fun ride around the island. You don't need to worry about traffic since no cars are allowed. Take this time to check out the art installations and exhibits scattered throughout the acreage, including "The May Room" by Shantell Martin (pictured below) and "The American Manifest, Moving Chains." Don't miss what's going on in the old homes around the island—local organizations have taken up residence in a handful of them and often have public programming you can participate in, especially on the weekends. 

Shantell Martin The May Room
Photograph: courtesy of the Trust for Governors Island

Time Out Tip: Check out the Trust's website to see what events are on for the time you're there. From markets and festivals to workshops and performances, there's always something going on.

1pm: Grab lunch at Taco Vista

Fishers Island Lemonade pop-up
Photograph: T.S. Evering

Before you leave the island, grab some tasty tacos and guac from Taco Vista at Soisson's Landing. The casual eatery offers a fun environment and tasty bites right on the water. 

Time Out Tip: There's a new lemonade stand this summer, where you can order some boozy lemonade from Fishers Island Lemonade. Flavors include traditional spiked lemonade, Pink Flamingo, Spiked Tea and Fishers Island Lemonade Fizz.

2pm: Leave on the ferry

Governors Island
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out New York

Say "goodbye" to the coolest island in NYC, aside from Manhattan that is. Ferries typically leave every half hour and only take 4 minutes to cross back to Manhattan. There's another ferry that goes to Brooklyn as well. Make sure to check the ferry schedule before you plan to head out.

Time Out tip: You won't need to get another ticket to get off the island. Just wait in line and board.

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