Roosevelt Island – is one of New York City’s most precious jewels. With many historical landmarks and revolutionary locations, this island is a perfect place for city dwellers to plan their vacations. Let’s glance through our list of things to do on Roosevelt Island and find out what is more suitable for you.
A small island in the East River is part of Manhattan; Roosevelt Island is indeed a great escape. If you spend one minute on this little hamlet, you will feel like you are far from hustle-bustle and tension.
Roosevelt Island is proud of its green spaces and breathtaking landscapes that leave many visitors awestruck. Roads are pleasantly quiet and spacious, providing residents and visitors with much-needed urban life change. Locals and visitors often refer to Roosevelt Island as an “Oasis of Big City.”
As for its history, this place was formerly known as Blackwell’s Island. Off the Manhattan Coast, this stretch of land worked as a workhouse, a research center, and also had an asylum. And mostly, prisoners and workers were living there at that point in time.
What to See on Roosevelt Island
1. Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is one of the most happening places on Roosevelt Island. The park was designed by artist Louis I. Kahn. It took its name from a speech given on January 6, 1941, by President Roosevelt, in which he outlined his vision for a world based on four fundamental human rights.
Architect Louis Kahn designed a triangular site to draw attention to the southern tip of the island, where the bust of Roosevelt is located, sculpted by the American sculptor Jo Davidson in 1933.
Double rows of trees encircle the entire perimeter of the park, making it lush green. South of the park opens a view of United States Headquarters. The famed Queensboro Bridge spans the East River, with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech etched on the walls of this open-air park.
You can stop by to take a stroll and view the Manhattan skyline, have it on your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island.
1.1. Important Things to Remember
- NO dogs or other pets are ALLOWED INSIDE the park.
- There is no entry fee.
- It’s also a great viewpoint point for the 4th of July fireworks.
Spend a romantic evening there with your partner. For a cozy evening, do include this on your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island.
2. Smallpox Hospital
Smallpox Hospital, also called Renwick Smallpox Hospital and later the Maternity and Hospitality Training School, was a hospital on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan, New York City, in its earlier days.
Initially designed by artist James Renwick Jr., it was a 100-bed hospital functional from 1856 when the site was originally known as Blackwell’s Island. The hospital is now located on the southern edge of the island, near Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park.
Smallpox Hospital is an ivy-covered ruin, a type of medieval structure facing the FDR road. It shines from beneath the night to appear regal. It was built in 1856 by the designs of James Renwick, Jr., famous for also designing the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the facade of the New York Stock Exchange.
3. The Roosevelt Island Tramway
Did you know that Roosevelt Island was the first North American air tram? Built in the 1970s, before the F train began to stop on the island, the tram offers a magnificent view of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the East River. Although the MTA does not operate it, it accepts Metro cards.
The 4-minute tour, which offers picturesque views to its passengers, has been hailed in the New York Times as “the most exciting view in New York City!“
More than 26 million passengers – including passengers, travelers & tourists, students, and adults, have all used the tram. Each cabinet accommodates 125 people, taking about 115 trips a day.
Snap pictures! Take selfies and flaunt on Instagram; make it your first among things to do on Roosevelt Island.
3.1. When to Board the Tramway
- Avoid getting on the Trams on Weekdays; it’ll be crowded owing to daily commuting by the city folks.
- You would want to hop in when the crowds are smaller, that is, on weekends.
3.2. Important Things to Remember
- Since the tram is not meant to be a tourist attraction, but serves as a systemized commuter rail, ensure to avoid using the tram during rush hours.
- Note that the tram does not run at all hours, so make sure to check the schedule properly.
4. Art Gallery RIVAA
The Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA) is a nonprofit artist group collectively putting up exhibitions, community events, and workshops. The gallery sits in what was once a pharmacy and now forms the island’s first free gallery space.
RIVAA is famed for showcasing artworks from around the globe and enthusiastically participates in local art shows and workshops. They have hosted more than 50 exhibitions and events, such as Art from the Heart, a patient art exhibition at Roosevelt Island’s Coler and Goldwater Hospitals.
5. Viewing the Manhattan Skyline
The Manhattan skyline is vibrant and incredible in every aspect, but the panoramic view from the Roosevelt island stands stunning. Behold the site, and you’ll know why it is one of the things to do on Roosevelt Island.
From the west side of Roosevelt Island, you get a preview of Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side, not to mention one of the world’s most heavenly skies. Anyone would love to behold this fascinating sight; include this on your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island.
6. The Octagon
As people have most truly said, Roosevelt island is a juxtaposition of old and new. And Octagon tower carries this badge in all its glory.
It originally functioned as the main entrance to New York City Mental Health Hospital (also known as New York City Lunatic Asylum), operational since 1841.
Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, this five-story rotunda is made of blue-gray stone. Its architecture was so splendid that it drew praise from Charles Dickens.
The Octagon is the hospital’s final relic, and after many years of decay, it was rescued from near-destruction and rebuilt as high-end housing. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places after being remade in 2006. You can also visit the popular “flying staircase” up its winding path and the adjoining gallery.
My advice is to include this in your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island to make your visit more WHOLESOME.
7. Blackwell Island Lighthouse
PERFECT spot for History Buffs!!
Blackwell Island Lighthouse, currently named Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, was once known as Welfare Island Lighthouse. It is a stone lighthouse established by the New York City government in the year 1872.
The Blackwell lighthouse is nearly 15 m tall. And is constructed in a gothic style made of gray gneiss and rough ashlar that was quarried on the island by prison inmates (penitentiary). For nearly two centuries, Blackwell identified an island on the East River near Manhattan.
The Blackwell family owned the island for a time, and their ancestral home still stands near the island’s center. The island was purchased by the city of New York in 1828 and was transformed into an island with municipal facilities, including prisons, poor housing, and hospitals.
8. Blackwell House
Standing on the corner of East Road and Main Street is a lovely wooden home known as the Blackwell House; it is mentioned in the National Register of Historic Places in Manhattan.
Blackwell house was built for the well-known Blackwell family, who owned the island for the longest time. The Cottage was built in 1796, making it the 6th oldest farmhouse in New York.
Since New York City acquired the island from the Blackwell family back in 1823 to set up institutions for the populace in the country, Blackwell House was transformed into living quarters for wardens of the almshouse, the hospital staff, and the prisoners.
Today, visitors can stop by the house absolutely free of the coast to know more about the island’s rich history through its treasures and archives preserved inside the historic structure.
Looking at history once in a while is a knowledgeable decision, so have it on your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island.
9. Chapel Of The Good Shepherd
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and situated at the center of a brick plaza in Roosevelt Island is the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.
The Chapel stands out by a multicolor effect produced by the mixed-use of brick and the stone and stained-glass windows. It was designed in 1889 by Frederick Clarke Withers to serve the residents of the many Welfare Island almshouses built for New York’s destitute in the 1850s.
The Chapel is large, reminiscent of the church style of the English parish. Frederick Clarke Withers, the architect, was a British-trained Englishman who came to the United States in 1852 at the invitation of the famous American architect Andrew Jackson Downing.
Today the church house serves a new and common purpose as a community center for the residents of the new island buildings.
Hey! Do add it to your list of things to do on Roosevelt Island; it’s worth it.
10. The Strecker Laboratory
It was the first pathological and bacteriological research facility in the United States, to quote.
Overshadowed by the massive remnants of Renwick Smallpox Hospital at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, this small structure in Romanesque style was once a revolutionary spot in the understanding and discovery of human diseases in the 20th century.
The Strecker family funded the lab, and therefore it is named after them; this small building was erected in 1892 as a supporting lab for a City Hospital nearby.
City Hospital was initially served to meet the medical needs of the island’s prisoners and the poorest residents of New York City. Despite the collapse of the ruins (and many of the historic buildings on Roosevelt Island), the laboratory was designated as a landmark in 1972. Still, it took until 2010 to restore the building to its current position you see today.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does Roosevelt Island Have Any Cultural or Artistic Attractions?
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is a cultural landmark that houses art exhibits, performances, and a monument to President Roosevelt.
2. Where Can You Eat on Roosevelt Island?
Roosevelt Island has a variety of dining establishments, including the Riverwalk Bar & Grill, Nisi Kitchen, and the grocery store Gristedes, which contains a deli and prepared food department.
3. Can I Travel to Roosevelt Island by Public Transportation?
Indeed, Roosevelt Island and Manhattan are connected by the Roosevelt Island tramway, and the Roosevelt Island subway station is a stop for the F train. The island is served by a number of bus services as well.
The rich and varied history of Roosevelt island awaits your arrival. It has witnessed some revolutionary spots like the first pathological research facility – Strecker laboratory, which is of immense value to humans. So, reserve a trip to Roosevelt island anytime soon and engage in any of the things mentioned above on Roosevelt Island.
Have you found your favorite things to do on Roosevelt Island? Comment below if you have anything else on your mind.
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