Governors Island | The abandoned island | The Press

(New York) Standing on the deck of a ferry, hair blowing in the wind, looking out to sea, the world is ours. No, we are not in the South, even less in the Mediterranean. But much closer, in New York, for a unique trip to its many islands of a thousand wonders.


Posted at 2:10 a.m.

Updated at 11:30 a.m.

We love this city that never sleeps, with its countless skyscrapers and its energy to spare. But it can be good, sometimes, to get away from it for a bit, to breathe a little, and appreciate it from afar. In this sense, Governors Island, accessible only by boat, is a true little oasis. We fell in love with an island with a rich past, long abandoned… which is being reborn.

We think we’re dreaming. Freshly boarded the ferry, you feel a bit like you’re fleeing the city, and that’s actually what you’re doing. After spending a few long days in the crowds, to the sound of all those horns, it’s good to head towards the coolest island in New York, according to the Time Out (after Manhattan, obviously!).

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PHOTO GETTY IMAGES

Governors Island is accessible only by boat.

For good reason: on this car-free island of barely 172 acres, which can be reached in around ten minutes and toured in a few hours, there are a number of unique historic buildings (mostly abandoned), fortifications , even cannons. A world frozen in time, frankly surprising. It’s not for nothing that Governors Island has long had a reputation for being haunted…

  • >An oasis 10 minutes from Manhattan>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    An oasis 10 minutes from Manhattan

  • >This island with a rich past has long been abandoned.>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    This island with a rich past has long been abandoned.

  • >View of Manhattan>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    View of Manhattan

  • >A few street food counters, here and there>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    A few street food counters, here and there

  • >A slide of almost 20 meters>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    A slide of almost 20 meters

  • >The Yard, for children only, prohibited for parents>

    PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

    The Yard, for children only, prohibited for parents

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Then, here and there, hand-picked manifestations of rebirth. We discover them step by step, in an enchanting setting covered with hills, plants and birds. The cherry trees were even in bloom when we visited at the end of April. Imagine the happiness (and the smell)! Let’s also highlight a few food trucks (special mention to the tasty tacos at Taco Vista, with a breathtaking view of the Brooklyn Bridge), an urban farm, public art, and even an orchard. In season: sheep. Oh yes, and a slide of almost 20 meters, at the bend of a path, even a free play area (The Yard) for children, a sort of outdoor Ali Baba’s cave, forbidden to parents.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

On this islet, there are many historic buildings.

“It’s my favorite place in New York!” I come there at least 10 times a year! “, Jami Whitney will confide to us, comfortably seated in a hammock, planted in an isolated flowery park, taking a nap and enjoying her holy peace. Hard to contradict her.

A little history

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

We even thought about hanging a few hammocks.

But where the hell are we?, you ask. A relatively well-kept secret, this “governors’ island” has only been open to the public all year round since 2021. Its name also dates back to the colonial era (literally: the island for Her Majesty’s governors). Legend even has it that under a house (Governor’s House, the British governor’s house, located a few steps from the ferry landing) there is a tunnel connecting it directly to the continent, in the event of an invasion! Impossible to confirm, unfortunately, it is barricaded, like so many others here…

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

More than three kilometers of walk

It must be said that after the English, the Americans actually ended up seizing this small piece of island, which at the time was only 70 acres. They built two forts there (Fort Jay and Castle Williams, still standing, the second open to the public seasonally) which also served as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. For more than 200 years, the island served as a base camp for the American army, then was entrusted to the Coast Guard, without forgetting their families. Note that the island will also be expanded over the years. For the record, know that it was the earth excavated for the construction of the Lexington Street subway in Manhattan (their “green line”) which made it possible to add 100 acres to the island.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

The famous Governor’s House

All this to say that despite its appearance of an abandoned city, thousands of people actually lived here, on Governors Island, as evidenced by the majestic alleys, the rows of sumptuous houses and the century-old trees, which we barely discover the foot placed on the ground. However, somewhere in the 1990s, and for financial reasons, all these beautiful people were relocated, and the island was emptied.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

A beautiful park surrounded by abandoned houses

Fortunately, and with the new millennium, the army finally ceded Governors Island to New York and its New Yorkers, for a symbolic sum (one dollar!). One condition: no real estate subdivision there.

Lots of projects

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

The island also has an artistic vocation.

It was in 2005 that the island was opened to the public for the very first time, but only in the summer. Since then, the City has committed to revitalizing it to make it a natural park, a public art space, as well as a sustainable development laboratory. Quickly, more than three kilometers of trails were designed, a bucolic promenade along the water was built, and large public spaces were created (soccer fields, picnic areas, play structures, etc.). ).

The first two tenants on the island were a school (Urban Assembly New York Harbor School) and an art center, which quickly took over two abandoned buildings. The former are committed to repopulating the bay with oyster reefs (Billion Oyster Project), the latter are offering artist residencies and several exhibition spaces.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

Several parks and grounds delight children.

In terms of recent developments, let us mention this unique offer in terms of glamping (signed: Collective Retreats), for the lucky ones who can afford a “tent” here (from US$217 for two, a figure likely to easily triple depending on the dates), with a breathtaking view of the city. We also challenge you not to bring back here the most beautiful photos of One World Trade Center, which we see everywhere, and which we have rarely seen so majestic.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

The Qc Ny spa offers an experience with a view.

Speaking of clichés, a new spa (signed QC terme, directly from Italy, of which this is the first installation in America), installed in yet another historic residence, also offers a very chic experience: outdoor hot pools (albeit no cold baths, heresy!), therapeutic showers and saunas, fiery sunset over the famous skyline New Yorkers included.

No doubt, slowly but surely, this little island is being reborn. This is without mentioning this last and not the least new development: a project to build a laboratory on climate change, in collaboration with Sony Brook University, estimated at 700 million US dollars according to the New York Times. Objective: to bring researchers, scientists and politicians to think together about constructive and sustainable solutions. Vacant buildings will be reused for these purposes, it is said, and various constructions are also in the plans. Work is due to begin next year, with an opening planned for 2028.

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

This little abandoned island risks becoming less and less so over the years…

Friend’s advice: don’t wait to come and enjoy its still discreet charm and its large unexploited spaces, our little finger tells us that this little abandoned island risks becoming less and less so over the years…

Part of the costs of this trip were paid by the New York Tourist Office, which had no right to review the content of this report.

Visit the Governors Island website

Getting There

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

A ferry goes every 30 minutes to Governors Island.

  • Ferry every 30 minutes from the Battery Maritime Building, a beautiful Beaux-Arts style building, at the southern tip of Manhattan (past the Staten Island terminal)
  • US$5 per adult (free for ages 65 and over and children 12 and under), free every weekend before 11 a.m.
  • Bikes, scooters and other wheeled vehicles welcome
  • In season, ferry also offered from Brooklyn

What to eat

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

Special mention to the tacos from Taco Vista

If you can spend a day here without spending a penny, by bringing a picnic, for example, and strolling around for a long time, it is also possible to spoil yourself handsomely. Several food trucks, even a chic one beach cluboffer aperitifs, appetizers or complete meals.

In flower or not

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PHOTO SILVIA GALIPEAU, THE PRESS

Cherry blossoms in New York

No doubt, spring is a magnificent season to visit New York, for an unparalleled touch of color and fragrance. Cherry trees, lilacs, magnolias, do you want to know the status of flowering? Check out the New York Blooms Report, which is extremely well thought out. At the time of writing, everything was in bloom at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, including, until mid-May.

Visit the New York Blooms Report page

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