Health + Fitness

New York City’s Best New Playground for Families: Governors Island

Central Park may be the most visited park in the United States, with more than 37.5 million people entering its grounds each year, but it can’t offer views of the Statue of Liberty and the longest slide in New York City. Governors Island can.

After operating as a military base for 200 years, that cut it off from visitors, Governors Island’s 172 acres have been transformed into a tranquil car-free setting, covered with trees, hills that offer stunning views of the city, and one of the best new playgrounds for families looking for a place to spend some time together outside during the warm summer months.

The latest phase of its transformation is The Hills: Four hills that rise above the island, with its highest point offering 360-degree views of the Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn skylines, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

The Four Hills

Slide Hill features four slides, including the longest slide in New York City, rising three stories tall and stretching 57 feet.

The top of Outlook Hill boasts the highest point on the island, rising 70 feet to offer the best views on the island, which is only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan.

Discovery Hill, rising 40 feet, are dotted with trees and shrubs, as well as an installation by British artist Rachel Whiteread (who also created “House,” a large concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian house; and the holocaust memorial sculpture in Judenplatz, Vienna).

The gentle slopes of Grassy Hill, rising 25 feet, provide views overlooking 30 acres of the new park.

Military History

First housing a colonial militia in 1755, Governors Island was a major headquarters for the U.S. Army and then the Coast Guard’s largest base. The military left the island in 1996, when it was handed back to New York.

Parts of the island had already been available to the public as a park in 2014, with visitors walking or biking around its 2.2 mile promenade. Around 30 acres were opened as a park, which featured a six-acre plaza, seating, food trucks, and a hedge maze; Hammock Grove (with 50 hammocks); a 14-acre Play Lawn with a softball and Little League baseball fields. Picnic Point has been closed since 2012, during The Hills’ construction.

In 2015, the Island welcomed an average of 8,000 visitors each weekend day, and more than 45,000 during its four-month season.

With the opening of The Hills, which adds ten additional acres to Governors Island park, that number is sure to increase.

Building The Hills

How The Hills was formed is just as interesting as the final park, itself.

The granite scramble on Outlook Hills is made entirely of granite blocks from Governors Island’s seawall. Governors Island’s builders say 1,806 subway cars worth of recycled materials were used to create The Hills.

How to Get There

Two ferries take passengers to the island from Manhattan and Brooklyn, with the latter only operating on weekends. The daily ferry from Manhattan during the summer is only a 10-minute ride; it’s shorter from Brooklyn. The full schedule is available here.

Families who flock to New York's Central Park have a new playground: Governors Island.
Families who flock to New York’s Central Park have a new playground: Governors Island.
Slide Hill features New York City's longest slide. (Photo: Governors Island)
Slide Hill features New York City’s longest slide. (Photo: Governors Island)
Governors Island
(Photo: Governors Island)
Discovery Hill will feature an art installation by British artist Rachel Whiteread. (Photo: Governors Island)
Discovery Hill will feature an art installation by British artist Rachel Whiteread. (Photo: Governors Island)
Outlook Hill is the highest point on the island and has panoramic views of the Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn skylines. (Photo: Governors Island)
Outlook Hill is the highest point on the island and has panoramic views of the Manhattan, Jersey City and Brooklyn skylines. (Photo: Governors Island)