In 1614 the first Dutch settlers of New York came ashore not on Manhattan but on the small parcel of land in New York Harbor now known as Governors Island. They soon abandoned their first scrappy makeshift settlement to establish Neue Amsterdam at the foot of the much larger island across the East River. Since then, Governors Island has served as a fort from which cannons of the Continental Army inflicted damaged on the British fleet during the Revolutionary War, a summer retreat for colonial governors, a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and an army and coastguard base.
These days, the island is an urban getaway where visitors enjoy a 2-mile waterfront promenade, two historic fortifications (Fort Jay and Castle Williams), acres of lawns, and what may be the city’s most dramatic views.
The Manhattan skyline looms just a few hundred yards across the water, an endless flotilla of ships steams beneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty is dramatically near at hand, on the other side of a narrow channel – no other point of land in New York is closer to the iconic landmark.
Plans are afoot to enhance the island’s low-lying landscapes with forests, marshlands, and even artificial hills and valleys. In the meantime, Governors Island is reached on a free ferry ride from the Battery Maritime Building at South and Whitehall streets in Lower Manhattan. Bikes can be rented from Blazing Saddles on the island ($15 for 2 hours, and $25 for all day).