Roosevelt Island Trip Report – A NYC Gem Not Many People Know About

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Visit Roosevelt Island

Why You Should Visit Roosevelt Island When In NYC

I went to NYC a few weeks ago to knock Yankees Stadium off my ball park list.  But more importantly I finally made my way to Roosevelt Island.  I have been wanting to visit the hidden gem of NYC for years now.  It is hiding in plain sight but I hope to shed some light on it for you. This is my way of showing you why you should visit Roosevelt Island when in NYC.

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Visit Roosevelt Island – Getting There

There are a few different ways to get to Roosevelt Island, including a car or bus from Queens, but I want to focus on the two easiest ways to get there from Manhattan.

Visit Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island Tramway

The first and coolest way to get to Roosevelt Island is to take the Tramway.  And by coolest I don’t mean it will be super comfortable in the summer because there is no air conditioning to speak of in the tram car so be aware of that if it is a really hot day.

The awesome thing about taking the tramway is the views you get on the trip there, they are hard to beat!

You get on the Tramway at 2nd Avenue in between 59th and 60th street.  The cost is a mere $2.25 one way or $4 round trip and you use the same metro card you use on the subway.  There is a station there to purchase/refill a card should you need to.

Visit Roosevelt Island

Take the F Train

The other quick and easy option is to take the F train to and from the island.  The subway station is located near one the shops and restaurants district of Roosevelt Island.  It is only a few blocks from the Main Street Shopping district as well. It is a little more expensive than the Tram at $2.75 each way.

We took the tramway there and the train back and the train was the quicker option.  We got off at Bryant Park in Manhattan and had an evening drink at one of the restaurants in the park.  A perfect way to end a few hours on Roosevelt Island.


Visit Roosevelt Island – Things to Do

Okay so we know how to get to Roosevelt Island, the tramway for the views and the subway for efficiency.  But what do we do when we get there?  To be honest Roosevelt Island is a sleepy kind of place.  It is like you stepped into a different world or a different time really.  You are mere minutes from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan but it feels like you are hours away.  If you want to decompress and find a peaceful spot it doesn’t get much better than Roosevelt Island.  People use Central Park to do this often but Central Park is a packed zoo in comparison really.  We were able to check out half of the island while we were there.  I will share the things we hit and the things I look forward to checking out next time.

Roosevelt Island Visitor Center 

If you ride the tramway to the island the first thing you will see is the RI sign and the visitor center.  It is a tiny hut sized building that has some unique knickknacks and souvenirs from the island. The visitor center is worth a quick peek inside.

Smallpox Hospital

We walked south from the visitor center and walked to the smallpox hospital first.  Well I shouldn’t say first since we passed Strecker Memorial Laboratory which was the first institution in the nation for pathological and bacteriological research.

Just beyond the laboratory is the smallpox hospital.   Roosevelt Island has an interesting history of being the place where the sick, poor and criminal were somewhat banished to. It was kind of like NYC’s Australia I guess.  The smallpox hospital was a big part of that history and you are able to take a look at what is left of it.  They have information and pictures of the hospital when it was operational.  The hospital is the only ruin in the city designated as a New York City Landmark.

Visit Roosevelt Island

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

My favorite part of the visit was hands down Four Freedoms Park.  It is on the southern tip of the island and the views are amazing.  We got to watch boats go by, a seaplane land in the river and check out the city skyline from a unique perspective.  The tree lined walkway to the southernmost point is extremely beautiful.  You feel like you are visiting a beach town in North Carolina versus being in the middle of NYC.  It is pretty surreal and a truly special place.

Dining Options

As I said above Roosevelt Island is like a sleepy small town so there are not a ton of dining options but we did pass some.

There were a couple more restaurants on the northern part of the island but we didn’t make it up there.

Visit Roosevelt Island

Things I Want to Visit Next Trip

We walked about half of the two mile long island but did not see the northern end.  I plan on going back to check it out on my next visit to NYC.  Here are a few things I would like to check out next time.

  • The various baseball, soccer and basketball fields on the northern part of the island.  I would love to play catch with my son with Manhattan as the backdrop…what a cool experience!
  • Walk through the Roosevelt Island Garden Club and see what plants the volunteers have added.
  • Check out Lighthouse Park and the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse.  This is the one I am most sad about missing out on since I love myself some lighthouses!

Final Thoughts

I hope my quick trip report has inspired you to visit Roosevelt Island.  I wouldn’t say it is a first trip to NYC type of destination but I would check it off your list on your 2nd or 3rd trip for sure.  And any locals that haven’t been there yet should take a lazy Sunday afternoon on the island, it is a kind of magical place.

Do you plan to visit Roosevelt Island on your next trip or have you ever made the trip there in the past?  Let me know in the comments.

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. The north side is pretty nice too. I was going to mention the light house, but it appeared you recognized what you missed already. ^_^


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