This Island Invites You to Rediscover New York City
There aren't many opportunities in life to get a multi-million dollar view of Manhattan for $2.75. But such is the magic of the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which you can take for only the cost of a MetroCard swipe from 59th Street to Roosevelt Island. The views of Manhattan are incredible, to be sure, but once you've arrived on the island, don't be so quick to run back; there's plenty to see, do and eat in this historic place, which offers a nice respite from the hustle of midtown despite being so close to it. Below, we've rounded up our best recommendations for what to explore the next time you make the trip over.
Roosevelt Island has a rather colorful history; it was once a private island called "Blackwell Island," named for the Blackwell Family who owned it from 1686 to 1828. The Island was later renamed "Welfare Island" when the City of New York bought it from the Blackwell Family for $32,500 in 1828 (adjusted for inflation, that's $749,923 in 2019) and took over care of the mentally ill. In order to attract potential residents in 1973, the Island received its current name, in honor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
This 220-year old home of the Blackwells is one of the oldest residencies in the country. Unfortunately, there are no tours going on at the manor because the space will soon be refurbished into a community center and a library containing Roosevelt Island's historical archives. But you can still check out the house as you walk by it from Main street.
This public state park was opened in 2012 in memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Located on the Southern tip of the island, the park boasts breathtaking views of the East River and the Manhattan city scape. Designed by the architect Louis Kahn, it has a distinctive triangular shape that points to a bronze bust of FDR. The park is free to the public and hosts programs and events frequently for the locals.
This historical landmark plays a role in many of the urban legends of Roosevelt Island. One famous story involves an asylum patient who may or may not be real named John McCarthy. The story goes that in the 19th Century, McCarthy built a four-foot tall fort (including Civil War cannons) to defend the Island in an adrenaline-fueled fear of British Invasion. He was then bribed with bogus money by city officials to demolish his fort for the construction of the lighthouse. Local legend says he constructed it single-handedly with an inscription, "This is the work; Was done by John McCarthy; Who built the Light House from the bottom to the Top; All ye who do pass by may Pray for his soul when he dies." Though there is no actual evidence that this story is true, it still makes a visit to the lighthouse that much more exciting. Recently restored, the lighthouse is now a hotspot for local residents and visitors as an iconic part of the Island's history.
What to Eat
A Roosevelt Island staple, Nisi has made a name for itself with its design and food since it opened in 2017. With an 11 page menu of diner options, it's sure to satisfy any palate. We would recommend the Avocado Toast Sliders!
Liukoushui Hot Pot Noodle
Calling lovers of all things ramen! A new hot noodle place has opened in Roosevelt Island and is serving up fresh food. We would recommend starting with the Beef Tripe Hot Pot Noodle followed by the Bingfen dessert, a refreshing traditional Chongqing dish made with iced jelly.
Jupioca is a brand new spot offering bubble tea, Thai-rolled ice cream, açai bowls and healthy juices/smoothies. Taro bubble tea with extra boba is always an amazing go-to order.
Go to the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association
The RIVAA is an arts center that is unique to the Island, and showcases artwork by local residents and more. It's free to visit, and they update their galleries every two months and artists collaborate on group shows. There are also poetry slams and jazz performances held the RIVAA venue often. Check out the current exhibition here.
Credit: Photography & Mural by Lilit Vahradyan
Catch a Show at Main Street Theatre and Dance
The Main Street Theatre puts on well-choreographed shows for all ages and also enrolls children and adults in beginning acting/dancing classes. It's also a spot to do fun group workouts like barre, belly-dancing, and Zumba classes. Check their summer calendar here.
Visit the New Cornell Tech Campus
Cornell Tech opened a brand new, state-of-the-art facility on Roosevelt Island in 2017, bringing business, technology and environmental sustainability to the island. Stop by here and take a tour of the stunning green campus (you can also do a 360-degree preview here) then head on over to the new Cornell Tech Café for a rejuvenating meal.
Roosevelt Island is easily accessible to Manhattan, with a plethora of transportation options available. Take the classic Roosevelt Island Tram, the NYC Ferry or the F-line. Once in Roosevelt Island, there is a free red bus that picks you up at all of these points and makes periodic stops throughout the whole Island.
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