Hi there! Have you considered visiting Roosevelt Island on your trip to New York City?
My family visited Roosevelt Island on our last trip to New York City. We were hanging out at Central Park with my brother-in-law and his kids, who were visiting NYC at the same time. We had four teens between us on a sunny fall afternoon, and we were in the mood to do something different.
Roosevelt Island was the perfect fit. The tram to Roosevelt Island was an easy 15-minute walk from the lower end of Central Park.
Here are my tips on how to get to Roosevelt Island, what to do there, and what I liked best.
What and where is Roosevelt Island?
Roosevelt Island is located in the East River, between Manhattan and Queens. It was formerly known as Blackwell's Island, then Welfare Island. Historically, it was home to an infamous asylum, a prison, and a smallpox hospital.
Roosevelt Island is less-colorful today. But with a college campus, modern apartments, parks, historical sites, restaurants, galleries, and more, Roosevelt Island is a fun and fascinating place to visit.
It can also be inexpensive. Our day trip to Roosevelt Island cost just $5.50 per person.
How to Get There
There are several good ways to get to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan or Queens.
- Roosevelt Island Tramway – from Manhattan at 59th Street and Second Avenue
- Subway – via the F Train from Manhattan or Queens
- Ferry – via Astoria, Long Island City, East 34th Street, or Wall Street on the Astoria Line
- Bus – via the Q102 Bus from Queens
- Car – via the Roosevelt Island Bridge from Queens
We took the Tramway to Roosevelt Island and the subway back to Manhattan. Both are part of the MTA public transportation system and both currently cost $2.75 each way.
The tramway offers great views and leaves every 10-15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan. The subway is a good option if you want to travel to/from another part of the city.
Once you get to Roosevelt Island, you can walk, bike, or take the Red Bus to get around. Citi Bikes are available for rent. Roosevelt Island is about 2 miles long and only 800 feet wide.
Get the most current transportation information on the official Roosevelt Island page at https://rioc.ny.gov/339/Transportation
Related: Tips for Riding the NYC Subway with Kids
Things to Do
Roosevelt Island has several nice parks, historical sites, galleries, restaurants, and even a college campus. Here are a few of the most popular places to visit on Roosevelt Island.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park – grassy park, monuments, and fantastic views
- Smallpox Hospital Ruin – gothic hospital opened in 1856 during a pandemic, now a fascinating ruin
- Roosevelt Island Lighthouse – 50-foot gothic lighthouse and park. The lighthouse is no longer in use.
- Cornell Tech – tour the campus and get Cornell Dairy ice cream or cheese curds at the cafe
- Blackwell House – NYC's 6th oldest house
- The Octagon – former entrance to the infamous Blackwell's Island asylum
All of these activities cost nothing. We spent about two hours on the island, and it only cost $5.50 per person for the tram/subway rides.
We walked south from the tramway station through the Cornell Tech campus. It was a leisurely half-mile to Four Freedoms Park and the Smallpox Hospital Ruin.
The gothic hospital ruin is fenced off for safety, but it's the sort of thing you won't see anywhere else in NYC – or many other places in the USA. I thought it was fascinating, and our teens enjoyed seeing it too. It was used during a pandemic, which is something that all of us can relate to now.
The Four Freedoms Park is named for a famous speech given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. You can read about and appreciate those freedoms at this monument – and enjoy fantastic views of New York City and the East River.
Why we really visited Roosevelt Island
We love visiting Manhattan and all its popular tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty. But sometimes, the city and the crowds can feel… overwhelming.
And we like finding less-touristy places that not everyone visits.
Roosevelt Island is that kind of place. If you want a quieter and uncrowded part of the city – while still enjoying fantastic city views and fun (but less frenetic) activities – then add Roosevelt Island to your New York City itinerary.
Related: 10 Fun Things to Do in Queens
The Spider-Man Connection
Does anyone else love the Spider-Man movies? My husband has been a Spider-Man fan since he was a kid and we've watched them all many times.
My family loves movies and we enjoy seeing movie locations when we travel. We don't usually go out of our way for it, but it's still so fun to connect our family movie nights with our family vacations when we get the chance.
In the first Spider-Man movie starring Tobey Maguire, the Roosevelt Island Tram is featured prominently near the end of the movie. Just after that scene, the final fight scene takes place in the Smallpox Hospital Ruin on Roosevelt Island.
We knew about the tramway's cameo during our trip but didn't realize that the Smallpox Hospital Ruin was in the movie until we watched Spider-Man again after our trip. I recognized it immediately and that made the movie even more fun.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway also makes a cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Roosevelt Island was perfect for an afternoon in New York City when we wanted to do something different and get away from the crowds. It was green, easy, and inexpensive.
And since I'm a fan of historical sites and state parks, the hospital ruin and Four Freedoms Park were fun and interesting.
I hope that our experience at Roosevelt Island helps your family plan a great trip! If you have Roosevelt Island tips or questions, please share them in the comments.
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Thanks for this tip. I hadn’t heard of Roosevelt Island as a spot to visit. I’d seen the tram in movies (like Spiderman), but that’s where my knowledge level stopped. I appreciate the ideas on why I would want to include this in a future trip to New York City.