A Day Trip to Roosevelt Island

If you love NYC but sometimes want some peace and quiet away from the sirens and panhandlers… go to Roosevelt Island! It costs $2.75 to take the tram from NYC to the island, and then you can ride a bike, take a stroll around the park & enjoy some phenomenal views. Check out details and photos below! But first, some information about the island.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Roosevelt Island

  1. The island has had numerous names and nicknames throughout the years: Blackwell Island, Welfare Island, and now Roosevelt Island.
  2. It’ll take you around 40 minutes to walk from one tip of the island to the other and 11 minutes by bike.
  3. The Blackwell Family owned the island for 150 years before selling it to NYC in 1828.
  4. The island sold for $30,000 in 1828.
  5. There are ruins and historical landmarks on the island, including the Smallpox Hospital and Blackwell House.
  6. According to demographic statistics, approximately 11,500 people currently live on the island.
  7. The Roosevelt Tram began operating in 1976.
  8. You can arrive to the island by subway, tram or ferry.
  9. The Red Bus makes stops around the island for FREE.
  10. The island has great views of New York City.

That last one is more of an opinion, but check out photos below and then tell me it’s not a fact!

When we arrived to the Roosevelt Tram Station, we had to wait for about 10 minutes until a tram came. A tram was just leaving but all the window views were taken and I was not going to miss out on that. It takes just four minutes to “fly” above the East River and you will get to see some spectacular views. Try to avoid being squished in the middle!

Roosevelt Island is about 2 miles long and just about 800 feet wide. That’s it! Super TINY! It’s a lot smaller than Manhattan. My husband and I walked from the tram station to Four Freedoms Park and then to the Blackwell Lighthouse. After, we got on the (free) Red Bus at the Octogan bus stop back to the tram. It was a warm but breezy afternoon. I couldn’t have asked for better weather on this day!

As soon as you arrive to the island, go and check out the views of Manhattan. You can get a different view of the island than you would from the Top of the Rock or Empire State Building. We walked to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park while cyclist sped around us. Right before you get there, you will be able to see the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital. It was in operation in the 19th century and now all you can see is the shell of the building, which is surrounded by no trespassing signs and evident cameras.

The Smallpox Hospital

The Four Freedoms Park was designed by Louis Kahn. After going up a flight of stairs, a lush triangle lawn is surrounded by two paths of trees. You can catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center. Although there might be people enjoying a picnic on the triangular lawn, you won’t be bumping shoulders with people like in Manhattan. You can even take photos without worrying that strangers will appear in your shot. This was a surprise because it was an ideal end-of-summer Sunday afternoon. Sit down on the grass or the cement block seats and watch small planes linger too close above your head.

After walking to the park with views of NYC, we walked on the opposite side with clear views of Queens. The Queensboro bridge is a sight to behold, which was been connecting Manhattan to Queens since 1909.

The island is so small that it basically has one main street where mostly everything is located: a school, restaurants, art galleries, baseball field, etc. As I walked on Main Street, I remembered the small town that I was born in. On an island where 11,000 people live, I wonder if they know everyone’s name and feel like they can’t get away from each other.

You can find the Blackwell House located in the middle of the island. It’ll be hard to miss, as it’s the only building that doesn’t look like an apartment complex. There are plans to renovate it, but for now plywood obstructs any views inside the house and some of the windows are shattered. If they made it into a museum, it would be a great way more people could learn about the history of the family and the island.

After walking some more, you will also see another building that looks out of place: Chapel of the Good Shepherd. It is weird to see a church that opened in 1888 smack-dab in the middle of modern buildings. I think it’s great the island continues to cling onto its history. After that, you will see a small school, small stores, and other apartment complexes. Don’t be surprised by the “Welcome, Students!” signs, as Cornell Tech has a campus on the island. After getting to the end of Main Street, we crossed by the Coler Goldwater Specialty Hospital’s parking lot and began to walk by the boardwalk again.There were patients enjoying the sunny afternoon. Some of them were even smoking… which I found odd.

The closer you get to the north of the island, the more evident it becomes that park renovations and upkeep have been focused on the southern section. The boardwalk’s rails in this area seem to have been put there in the 1970s without any changes.

Some moments later, you’ll get to the most northern tip of the island and see the Blackwell Lighthouse.

We spent more than the 40 minutes it SHOULD take to walk from one tip of the island to the other, but that’s because we took our time and took too many photos. You can explore this island next to New York City in more ways than one! Just pick: walking, cycling or being lazy on the bus!

Cost Breakdown for 2 People:

Metro North Train Tickets: $50, ($25.00 each for off-peak, round-trip from Connecticut)

Subway/Roosevelt Tram: $5.50 ($2.75 each and free connection after taking the 6 train from Grand Central Terminal to a stop near the Roosevelt Tram)

Map: $1.00 (You don’t really need one. I just like souvenirs.)

Water Bottle: $1.25

Red Bus on Roosevelt Island: Free

Lunch at Hide Chan Ramen located in Manhattan: $37.00 including tip (They had a summer special.)

Total Cost: $94.75

Victoria Alicia

75 comments

  1. I can’t believe that such beautiful place is so close to my home and I didn’t know about it! definitely next summer I will go, thank you for the tips,

  2. I love the fact that you need about 40 minutes to go around the island by foot. Seems like something I would do – a great walk with lovely views and a lot of pictures taken, and then chilling somewhere over a coffee. Didn’t know about this, thanks! 🙂

  3. I never even heard of Rossevelt Island in NYC and didnt come across it when I explored the city. It does look like a charming area and I would love to take a stroll around the island.

  4. I love coming home from mid-town every day after work and decompressing on the island. It’s a wonderful, diverse, and friendly community. Yes, like a small town. The island is almost entirely wheelchair accessible, too. And it was built that way from the start.! There’s amazing history here. Roosevelt Island was once the home to a host of Dickensian horrors: Not only the smallpox hospital, but a prison (where Mae West was briefly incarcerated for indecency), two workhouses, and the asylum that Nellie Blye made famous. Thank you for the love letter to my favorite island.

    1. Robert, your comment made my day! I never thought that someone who lives on Roosevelt Island would even see this post! I had no idea about the wheelchair accessibility, but I think it’s great this has always been present. I will add this to the original post. I read about Nellie Bly and how she pretended to be crazy in order to write “Ten Days in a Madhouse.” Amazing that such a small place contains that much history and literary inspiration. Thanks for taking some time out from your day to comment!

  5. I’ve only been to NYC once and I didn’t really know this place exist. I plan on going back and this time we’re taking our kids with us. This is such an interesting place to go to if I want to take a break from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Thanks for this post, I learned something new today.

    1. Hi Kristine, thanks for commenting! And that’s precisely why I wanted to make a post about this. I even know a lot of people from New York that haven’t been or even heard of Roosevelt Island. If you go in the fall, I’m sure the park will look beautiful!

    1. Really? Do you remember the name? A lot of writers have been inspired to write about the island, especially in the past two centuries when a lot of sketchy stuff went down in the hospitals and penitentiaries.

    1. Even though I live in CT, I can’t always go to NYC because my wallet takes a hit every time I go. Sometimes blog posts don’t mention the cost, so I thought it would be a good idea to include it. Glad it helped!

  6. Visiting here when in NYC is a great tip! I have never been before but will make sure to do a visit when we are in NYC next year. The bridge view from underneath is fabulous, and I love the Smallpox Hospital building all covered in ivy. Hard to believe that there is anywhere so close to NYC where you can take photos without other people obstructing your view! Thanks for sharing this – great post.

  7. Wow ! I have already been several times around New York but never took the chance to visit Roosevelt. I will surely remember this day trip proposition for the next visit 🙂

  8. Love the fact that you have broken down the prices. NYC someday for sure. The gondola looks amazing. I wonder how we all humans connect at one level. I do collect maps as souvenirs. Just did not buy them yet. Hotels provide for the maps.

  9. Oh wow that tram looks incredible! All the times I’ve been to NYC, I’ve actually never heard of Roosevelt Island, so I’m glad I found your post! Finding space to spread out so close to Manhattan is so special!

  10. I have heard about this island but I didn’t know people live there. 11,500 is a lot! Wow! I am into getting as many views of Manhattan as possible. I would love to visit! My sister lives in the city, so, I know I will be back soon.

  11. I have visited New York a few times, and I hadn’t even heard of Roosevelt Island (or the amazing tram!) until I came across your post. Thank you for making me aware of this little gem – it sounds like the perfect place to be close to the bustle of Manhattan, yet far away.

    Happy continued travels!
    C

  12. It’s crazy that it’s so close to me but I just..never made it out there. I definitely need to check it out now! Love the tips in the beginning of the post! Is it also the same island that has some haunted mental hospital?

    1. I think maybe it was considered haunted before. But now since there is only the shell of the hospital, there is really no “inside” to roam around in. You can’t walk on the property and there are cameras placed around the area since it seems it could give out at any moment.

  13. How have I been here twice now and I’m just now reading about this! I cannot wait to make my return trip so experience Roosevelt Island.

  14. Thank you so much for this great review of our beloved Roosevelt Island! It has the feel of a small town, yet the proximity to Manhattan and Queens reminds us of the bustling cities around us! Everyone that we have invited onto the island to come visit and check out the area have instantly fallen in love with it. It is rich in diversity, history, and a gentler nature towards our neighbors. Welcome and enjoy the views! ♡

    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, Ayesha. And I have to say that you definitely have the best of both worlds.

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