Take a Roosevelt Island day trip from Manhattan
When you think of this slender island, riding the suspended red and white cable car across the East River probably comes to mind, but there is much more to this narrow isle than a scenic ride. That’s not to take anything away from the Roosevelt Island tramway because, in itself, it is spectacular. After picking up the tram in Midtown East, however, I suggest exiting to explore the island, if even for an hour or two before making the return trip. Read on for some suggestions for what to do on Roosevelt Island.
Don’t miss the Roosevelt Island views–– they’re breathtaking!
On the way to and from the tram, you’ll discover a captivating view of New York City. So take it all in! The ride is really too quick, in my opinion.
You’ll be able to see the 59th Street Bridge up close, and clusters of skyscrapers that populate the East Side. But you’ll also be able to catch the Manhattan skyline from the Western Promenade of Roosevelt Island, and you’ll notice Queens in the opposite direction. Plus, since it’s a narrow island, you’ll spot water views no matter where you turn.
Did you know: Roosevelt Island is considered part of Manhattan?
Plopped between Manhattan and Queens, Roosevelt Island may appear to be its own borough. But this two-mile long, 800-foot wide peninsula stretching from 46th to 85th Streets is indeed considered part of Manhattan. Once the setting of prisons, poor houses, hospitals, and even an insane asylum, Roosevelt Island’s history dates back to at least the 17th century when the Canarsie Indians owned what was then Hog Island, later called Welfare Island.
Named Roosevelt Island in 1971, it’s endured a host of improvements over the years with some significant ones in the past decade.
One was the renovation of the Roosevelt Island Tramway (a massive undertaking that was completed in 2010). And in 2012, the opening and dedication of Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt designed by renowned architect Louis Khan, because a primary reason to visit the island.
But the project that has created all the buzz in recent years is Cornell-Tech’s Roosevelt Island Campus. This 12-acre plot transformed the culture and appearance of Roosevelt Island.
There’s a handful of notable sights such as the Blackwell Island Lighthouse in Lighthouse Park, Chapel of the Good Shepherd (now the community center), the Octagon (the former insane asylum entrance that’s now part of an apartment complex), the Strecker Memorial Laboratory, and the spooky Small Pox Hospital (now in ruins). I recommend checking out these sights while you’re there.
Four Freedoms Park sits at the southern end of the island, and is the must-see attraction. The vast open space acts as a respite from midtown Manhattan, which hovers to the west, with Queens to the east.
Getting to Roosevelt Island
Of course, I’ve talked about the tram, and that’s the best way to get there from Manhattan. There’s also the F train, but that is not always so reliable.
Ferry service now connects Astoria, Queens to Wall Street with a stop on Roosevelt Island. The Roosevelt Island Bridge provides cars and pedestrians access from the island to Astoria, but currently, there’s no way to drive a car directly from Manhattan – you have to go through Queens to get to Roosevelt Island.
You can also ride a bike over the Roosevelt Island Bridge from 36th Street in Queens, or take the Q102 bus from Long Island or Astoria.
An exciting future for Roosevelt Island
I’m anxious to see what transpires on the island over the next few years. Exciting things are happening, and I think we’ll see more small businesses choosing to set up shop here. Quite a few cafés and restaurants on Roosevelt Island have already opened.
I believe it’s a matter of time before everyone finds out about this (somewhat) hidden gem and adds it to their New York City itinerary. I encourage you to take a day trip to Roosevelt Island where you’ll feel as if you’ve left the city, but you’re only a few mintues from midtown Manhattan.
Pick up the tram at 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. It makes trips to and from Roosevelt Island every 7 to 15 minutes. It does get crowded at times – the tram holds up to 110 passengers. The cost is $2.75 per trip (use your MetroCard), and the journey takes less than five minutes. (See hours of operation below.) And please note, there are no MTA booths at the stations, only machines to purchase a MetroCard.
- Sunday – Thursday: 6:00 AM to 2:00 AM
- Friday & Saturday: 6:00 AM to 3:30 AM
- Morning Rush Hours (M-F): 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM
- Evening Rush Hours (M-F): 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM
When you exit the tram, you’ll see the Roosevelt Island Historical Society’s kiosk. Stop in, pick up a map, and ask any questions. The kiosk has limited hours but should be open on weekends.
Have you taken a Roosevelt Island day trip? I highly recommend it.
And you may wonder, do people actually live on Roosevelt Island? Yes, they do. Living on Roosevelt Island has improved in the past several years because of the growth and development. I had friends who lived there some years ago and enjoyed it even before the completion of Four Freedoms Park and the opening of restaurants. The island is super convenient to Midtown East and the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Cornell-Tech photo by Rhododendrites/Beyond My Ken via Wiki. All others by me.