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