A day on Staten Island
It might be one of the most exciting cities in the world, more than earning its reputation as the City That Never Sleeps, but if you are traveling to New York City for a week or longer it might be on your agenda to escape the sensory overload of Manhattan for a minute. You don’t have to look far. One of the city’s five boroughs is prepped and ready to offer some breathing space: Staten Island. New York City’s least populated borough, New York City feels like a smaller East Coast town, but it’s also packed with history, museums, foodie hotspots, and beautiful nature, making it the perfect place to enjoy some calm and explore. The best part? It’s only a short, free (and very scenic) ferry ride away from Manhattan.
The Staten Island Ferry runs 24/7 and departs from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal on Manhattan’s southern tip, around every 30 minutes during the day. On the 25-minute crossing, you’ll get spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty as you make your way to St George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island. From Brooklyn, a cab or bus across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge to Staten Island bypasses Manhattan completely, but you’ll miss out on the views, so taking a quick subway ride to Lower Manhattan to catch the ferry is worth it. When you arrive on Staten Island, you’ll be able to catch a bus, train, or cab to any of the island’s destinations.
Ready for a day trip to Staten Island? Here are just a few of the borough’s highlights to consider.
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Get brunch in downtown Staten Island
Only minutes on foot from the St George Ferry Terminal, Staten Island’s downtown area near its North Shore has a host of great brunch options before you get to exploring. Check out Cargo Cafe, Wynwood, or The Richmond, or follow your nose down Bay Street for the tastiest spot. There are also bars and an outlet mall beside the ferry stop — Empire Outlets has over 100 stores of cut-price brands like Nike, Guess, and Gap — for a shop and sip before the return ferry later.
Look out the National Lighthouse Museum
After brunch, stay on Staten Island’s North Shore to visit the National Lighthouse Museum. In the former national headquarters of the US Lighthouse Service, it’s a fascinating look into the mystery and maritime history of these coastline features, of which 700 still stand along the country’s coasts. Delving into the history and technology of America’s lighthouses, the museum’s collection contains hundreds of archives and artifacts, and it hosts special exhibits, seminars, and seasonal trips and events. Entry is around $5.
Go back centuries in Historic Richmond Town
A 30-minute bus ride (S74) from the ferry takes you directly to Historic Richmond Town, a preserved village dating from the late 17th century. This quaint, open-air museum complex, operated by the Staten Island Historical Society, is a cultural institution dedicated to preserving and marking the American experience from the 17th century to now. Step into the park and be transported into the past with sprawling hills, family farms, working shops — some with costumed blacksmiths and cobblers demonstrating period skills and trades — and centuries-old homes. If you’re in town during June, don’t miss Uncorked!, a one-day food and wine festival on the grounds. In September, Historic Richmond Town’s annual county fair is the perfect way to see it.
Go south to Conference House Park and Museum
One of New York City’s oldest buildings, on the southern tip of Staten Island, Conference House dates back to 1680 and is rightly a National Historic Landmark. Its name comes from a 1776 conference between the English army and American Founding Fathers at the house in a failed attempt to end the Revolutionary War. From April through mid-December, the house — now restored as a museum — is open for guided tours on weekends, while the picturesque grounds containing many historic trees are free to explore every day until dusk.
Get a pizza the action
Ask any local where the best pizza in New York is and each person will have their own answer, but most will agree it’s located somewhere on Staten Island. No matter where hunger strikes, you’ll never be far from the perfect slice, and the recommendations will be forthcoming. From the original Goodfella’s location on Hylan Boulevard near the Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk, to the legendary Denino’s on the north side, to Joe & Pat’s Pizzeria among a host of others on the central Victory Boulevard. It’s all good!
Soak up the sun at Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk and Beach
Hardly anyone goes to NYC for its beaches, meaning they are the most overlooked attraction by tourists, and Staten Island has the best in the state. Locals love South Beach Boardwalk, the ideal place to take a bike ride or walk, or hit the sand, of course. From the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects the island to Brooklyn, the boardwalk is a scenic 3-mile stretch. It isn’t far from shops, bars, and restaurants, making it perfect for a mid-afternoon breath of sea air as you walk off lunch.
Meet Chuck at Staten Island Zoo
While nowhere near as vast as the Bronx Zoo, Staten Island Zoo When it opened in 1936, it has a focus on reptiles and, while it still is one of the best places in the country to see snakes, especially rattlesnakes, they are now joined by around 350 other species of animal. The most famous? The zoo is home to Staten Island Chuck, a groundhog who is the official Groundhog Day forecaster for New York City. If you happen to be there on February 2, you’ll get to see him forecast the arrival of spring with New York City’s mayor in attendance.
Get to the borough’s roots at the Staten Island Museum
Founded in 1881, Staten Island Museum contains a curated yet vast collection, from historical archives, art, and books to prehistoric finds and over half a million botanical specimens. It’s little wonder it’s the borough’s most-visited museum. It’s open from Wednesday through Sunday, and is the perfect place to dig deeper into the area’s history. Hop on the S40 bus from the ferry terminal and you’ll be there in minutes.
Find some art and calm at Snug Harbor Cultural Center
You came to SI for some peace and tranquility? Right next to the Staten Island Museum, Snug Harbor Cultural Center is the perfect place, a former home for retired sailors turned contemporary art center, surrounded by a park and beautiful gardens — botanical gardens, NY Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and the Connie Gretz Secret Garden — across more than 80 acres. The grounds and park are free to visit and from until dusk, while tours, galleries, and gardens charge a small entry fee.
Take in the views above and below ground at Fort Wadsworth
One of the US’s oldest fortifications, Fort Wandsworth was built in 1663 on The Narrows, the water between New York’s Upper and Lower Bay and separating Brooklyn and Staten Island. It’s free to visit and has a brilliant view across the New York Harbor and the relatively modern Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. History buffs have the opportunity to explore the underground base and learn more about its military past.
Discover why Staten Island is the Borough of Parks
If you prefer grass to sand, you’ll be delighted to learn that New York City’s lushest and largest (take that, Central Park!) can be found in Staten Island. There’s no less than 170 to choose from, impressive for an island of only 57 square miles. From the massive Clove Lakes Park to the misleadingly-named Big Park, the buzzy beachside Great Kills Park to the tranquil High Rock Park and marshy, wooded William T Davis Wildlife Refuge. There really is a park for everyone.
Take the ferry back at sunset
Want to see Lady Liberty and that famous New York skyline at their very best? Head back to St George ahead of sunset and perfectly time your ferry trip back to Manhattan for spectacular golden-hour views.