NYC: Roosevelt Island Tramway & What to do on Roosevelt Island
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Roosevelt Island Tramway is one of those “almost free” experiences in New York City! It only cost a ‘swipe’ with your Metrocard so if you have an unlimited Metrocard it’s free – if not then you’ll have to get one and add $2.75 per ride. Yet another reason to buy an Unlimited Metrocard while you’re in NYC. It comes in handy for more than just public transportation.
Roosevelt Island is a small island only approx. 2 miles long (3.2 km) and 800 feet wide (240 meter). It’s situated in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. You can get access to the Island via car (but you have to park it at the designated parking garage as the Island is almost car-free) bus (Q102) from the Queens side or via subway (F-train) or via the Tramway from Manhattan’ 60th Street and 2. avenue (Click here to see on Google Maps).
NYC Ferry also have a landing on the Island if you take the ferry from Astoria, Queens.
While on the Island you can utilize the free shuttle, Red Bus. Or you can just walk!
Most tourists take the Tramway to see the view of Manhattan but don’t spend any time on the Island. It’s a shame as there’s actually several things to see and do. You can take a great relaxing walk by the water front, eat some good food and see some historic attractions. Only about 14.000 live on the Island so it’s an obvious chance to experience a more unique neighborhood.
The Island has had several names – from the name the Lenape Natives gave it; Minnehanonck to the Dutch settler’s name; Varkens Eylandt, Manning’s Island (see below) and later known as Blackwell Island to Welfare Island in the 20th Century after the many hospitals located her. In 1973 the City changed the name to Roosevelt Island to honor president Franklin D. Roosevelt!
The Island is owned by the City of New York but New York State Urban Development Corporation have a 99 year lease (since 1969). Most of the Island is residential. The campus for Cornell Tech will eventually be on the Island as well.
If you want to explore the Island a little beyond the tramway here’s a couple of suggestions:
- Four Freedoms Park on the Southern tip of the Island is a memorial park for Franklin D. Roosevelt – and it comes with amazing view over the East River, Queens and Manhattan: https://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/
- Blackwell House is the 6th oldest house in NYC. It was built in 1796 by Jacob Blackwell – the great-grandson of Captain John Manning who in 1666 took ownership of the Island after the English defeated the Dutch. Read more here: http://www.rihs.us/landmarks/blackwell_house.htm
- Roosevelt Island Lighthouse was built in 1872 and is located on the Northern tip of the Island. The architect was James Renwick Jr. and his work is seen several places on the Island however is most likely mostly known as the architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Grace Church. It’s 50 foot tall (15 meter) and built of stone. It’s beautiful so if you’re a fan of Light Houses you must visit! Read more: http://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=753
- Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association brings the Arts to the Island by ‘supporting the community in its efforts to enhance cultural development and collaborates in educational events to promote public involvement through the arts’. Events and exhibitions can be found along with more information on their website: http://rivaa.com/
- The ruins of the Smallpox Hospital gives you a glimpse of the Island’s history as Welfare Island. The hospital was also designed by James Renwick Jr. and was used from 1856 to 1875 where as the function as the hospital ended and the building became a dormitory for nurses. By 1950s the building was no longer in use and was in despair but it wasn’t until 1975 that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designed to have it landmarked and efforts were made to secure the walls from further falling apart. Unfortunately not much else has been done to preserve the building and today it’s mostly just outer walls left standing – behind a fence on the southern part of the Island. Read more here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/roosevelt-island-smallpox-hospital-ruins
You can read more about Roosevelt Island’s history here: https://web.archive.org/web/20150507010705/http://old.nyc10044.com/timeln/timeline.html
You’ll find several restaurants, cafes (and a Starbucks of course) as well as deli’s and supermarkets so you can easily get a sit-down lunch / dinner or a quick snack on your way.
Have you been on Roosevelt Island? Then give us a comment with your experiences. Also feel free to share this post on Social Media if you know of someone that might visit New York City and could use a little inspiration.
Don’t forget to book your private sightseeing tour with a licensed multi-lingual guide as well!