Beyond Manhattan: A Guide to Roosevelt Island
A Tranquil Oasis in the Heart of New York City
· 6 min read
New York City is a bustling metropolis that never sleeps, a city full of energy, excitement, and endless possibilities. But amidst the skyscrapers, honking cars, and crowded streets, lies a peaceful retreat that many visitors often overlook: Roosevelt Island. Located in the middle of the East River, between Manhattan and Queens, Roosevelt Island is a narrow strip of land that measures only two miles long and 800 feet wide. Once home to hospitals, asylums, and prisons, the island has undergone significant redevelopment in recent decades and is now a tranquil oasis in the heart of New York City.
One of the best ways to reach the island is by taking the **Roosevelt Island Tramway **from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. The ride on the tramway provides a spectacular view of the city skyline as it glides over the East River.
You can also take the Q102 bus line from Queens, or take the subway F-train that connects Roosevelt Island to Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. If you prefer to travel on water, you can take the Astoria line on the NYC ferry. And if you are driving, Roosevelt Island can be accessed via the Roosevelt Island Bridge
Getting Around in Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island is a small island and most of the attractions are within walking distance to each other. But if you don't want to walk, you can also take the island's Red Bus, which is free and with multiple stops conveniently located across the island (list of Red Bus Stops).
What to See
The island is home to a number of historic landmarks. Spend some time visiting some of these iconic landmarks to have a glimpse of the island's history. Here are some of the most iconic places that you should visit.
Renwick Smallpox Hospital
The smallpox hospital at Roosevelt Island was once where highly contagious smallpox patients were quarantined. The hospital was in operation until a vaccine was successfully implemented in the late 1800s. Over the years in the 1900s, the abandoned hospital was ravaged and the roof collapsed, leaving only behind the facade of the building. Today, the smallpox hospital is said to be one of the most creepy and haunted places on the island.
Strecker Memorial Laboratory
The Strecker Memorial Laboratory was created as the first laboratory in the country devoted exclusively to pathological and bacteriological research. Many of the great advances in laboratory sciences of the first half of the 20th century trace their origins to the doctors trained at this institute. Today, the building is used as the power conversion station for the E and V subway lines.
🗺️ **Address: **Southpoint Park, Roosevelt Island, NY 10044, United States
Roosevelt Island was originally owned by the Blackwell family (and was originally known as the Blackwell's Island). The Blackwell House located at the corner of East Road and Main Street was built in 1796 for the Blackwell family, and is the sixth oldest farmhouse in New York City. After New York City purchased the island from the Blackwell family, the Blackwell House became a living quarters for wardens of the almshouse, the hospitals, and the penitentiary. Today, Blackwell House is home to some of the island's historical treasures and artefacts, where you will be able to learn more about the history of the island.
🗺️ **Address: **500 Main St, New York, NY 10044, United States
🕤 **Opening Hours: **11am - 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday, Tuesday, and all major public holidays.
Roosevelt Island Lighthouse and Lighthouse Park
The Roosevelt Island Lighthouse is located on the northernmost end of the island. This fifty-foot lighthouse was built in 1872 by inmates of the penitentiary with stone extracted from the island, and was commissioned as part of a project to demolish and implode boulders in the East River and widen and deepen the channel. Today, the park around the lighthouse is a popular destination for fishing and barbecue.
🗺️ **Address: **910 Main St, New York, NY 10044, United States
The Octagon Tower was built in 1839 as part of the New York Lunatic Asylum, one of the first institutions for the treatment of the mentally ill in America. The island's Asylum was part of the great changes in treatment of the mentally ill from the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was then that patients were acknowledged as requiring medical assistance and rehabilitation became a focus rather than just restraint and maintenance. Today, the Octagon serves as a residential community that houses 500 residences.
🗺️ **Address: **888 Main St, New York, NY 10044, United States
What to Do
Apart from visiting the various landmarks on the island, there are also various activities that you could do at the island.
Relax and catch the sunset at Four Freedoms Park
Located on the Southern most tip of the island, this beautiful memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt is a must-see attraction on Roosevelt Island. The park offers stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery and catch the sunset.
🕤 **Opening Hours: **9am - 7pm from Wednesday to Monday, closed on Tuesday
Explore the Main Street
Just like any other neighborhood, Roosevelt Island has shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and other community services. Walk along the Main Street and explore the little neighbourhood of Roosevelt Island. There is also a Farmers Market that is open on Saturdays that you could visit!
**Soak up some artsy vibes **
The island is also home to a thriving arts community, with galleries, studios, and theaters showcasing the work of local artists. Visitors can catch a play or a concert at the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance or visit the gallery at the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association. There are also occasional free galleries that crop up throughout the year, and in fall, there is an annual Fall for Arts Festival which features a variety of artsy activities.
Enjoy the community events
There are many community events that take place in Roosevelt Island throughout the year. Check out their calendar of events and see if there's anything that you might be interested in!
What to Eat
Roosevelt Island isn't exactly known for its food, but there are still a number of eateries and restaurants that you could have a meal at. Most of the eateries are around the Main Street, so you could walk along the street to see if anything catches your eye. Some of the more popular restaurants include Granny Annie's Bar & Kitchen and Nisi. And if you are looking for some drinks, consider going to Panorama Room, a cocktail bar with some amazing views in Roosevelt Island's only hotel.
Where to Stay
Well, if you are planning to stay the night at Roosevelt Island, you don't have much of a choice — there is only one hotel in the island, which is the Graduate Hotel. But since Roosevelt Island is so easily accessible, you don't really have to spend a night here even if you wanted to visit the island.
When to Go to Roosevelt Island
You can go to Roosevelt Island any time of the year. But some of the most popular times to visit will be during Spring, where you will be able to see beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom all over the island. Roosevelt Island is also a popular place to go to for fireworks on July 4th.