What to Do on New York City’s Roosevelt Island

Overlooking midtown Manhattan from across the East River lies Roosevelt Island, a tiny two-mile island which used to house the undesirables and the unwanted population of people that were considered to be crazy and infected. Today, Roosevelt Island is home to over 9,000 New York City residents.

While Roosevelt Island is starting to be visited by more and more tourists, it is still a hidden gem that is not included on the itinerary of many travelers. Some people travel to the island because they hear it is haunted, others (like myself) visit it to escape the hectic life of the city. Whatever your reason for visiting the Island, there is something for everyone.

Getting To Roosevelt Island 

Roosevelt Island is located to the east of the island of Manhattan, and to the west of Queens. It is technically considered part of Manhattan although it is not physically connected to it.

Public Transportation: Roosevelt Island can be reached via the F Train (Roosevelt Island stop) and the Roosevelt Island Tram (free ride with an Unlimited MetroCard, otherwise $2.75).

Driving: Although the Queensboro Bridge passes directly over the Island, the island is not accessible by car from Manhattan and you must drive through Queens to get there.

Getting Around Roosevelt Island

It is quite easy to get around Roosevelt Island and you have a few options for getting around.

You can walk the entire Island, take the Roosevelt Island Red Bus (FREE), drive, or you can take the Q102 bus.

What to Do on Roosevelt Island 

Although Roosevelt Island is quite small, there are still a good number of things to do on the island that will keep you busy for a few hours.

Go to Southpoint Park 

Southpoint Park Roosevelt Island

Southpoint Park

Located on the southern end of the island, Southpoint Park is a great place to go and enjoy a picnic while looking out at Manhattan to the west, and Long Island City to the East.

See the Blackwell Island Lighthouse

Located in Lighthouse Park on the northern tip of the island is the Blackwell Island Lighthouse.

Stroll along the west side of the Island

While walking along the west side of the island, stop and sit down on one of the many benches, and enjoy the view of Manhattan.

Walk in and around The Octagon 

Located at 888 Main Street, you can take a look at ‘The Octagon’, a residential luxury building that was a former asylum for the mentally insane. What is particularly lovely about the Octagon is the winding staircase located in the center of the rotunda, which English author Charles Dickens described as being “spacious and elegant”.

See the Chapel of the Good Shepard

Built in the late 19th century, the Chapel of the Good Shepard is the island’s oldest church. The Chapel of the Good Shepard is located at 543 Main Street.

Peek at the ruins of the ‘haunted’ former Smallpox Hospital

Smallpox Hospital Roosevelt Island

Smallpox Hospital Ruins

One of the most ‘haunted places’ on Roosevelt Island according to some is the former Smallpox Hospital (also known as the Renwick Ruin).

Built in 1854 by James Renwick (the architect of New York City’s famous St. Patricks Cathedral), this hospital served smallpox patients and trained nurses before it was abandoned in the 1950’s. Currently, these are the only ruins in New York City that have landmark status.

The Smallpox Hospital is located next to the Four Freedoms Park.

View Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn from the Four Freedoms Park

Four Freedoms Park Roosevelt Island

Four Freedoms Park

Looking for a place to see it all? Head over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the southernmost tip of the Island, where you have a stunning view of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, and Brooklyn (in the distance).

Opened to the public in 2012, the park is New York’s newest treasure and the first park in New York dedicated to FDR.

Curious about other things to do in New York City? Check out my Local’s Guide to NYC! and check out some more things to do around NYC:

Have you visited Roosevelt Island before? 

By |2018-03-30T00:03:22+00:00October 21st, 2013|New York City, Travel Guides & Itineraries|8 Comments


  1. Tracey Croke Oct 22, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Now I know where to come to for pointers when I get to New York. Thanks.

    • Chanel Oct 22, 2013 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Glad I could be of assistance 😀 Thanks for reading!

  2. Jess @UsedYorkCity Oct 29, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

    It’s been a few years since I ventured over here, but completely agree with you: it’s a fabulous escape from the hustle and bustle of the city without really having to leave! Plus, the views are just incredible, and who doesn’t love a tram ride?!

    • Chanel Oct 29, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

      Exactly! The tram ride is an extra added bonus, I now ride it as much as I can. 😀

  3. Barbara Bennett Jun 6, 2018 at 3:08 am - Reply

    Looking forward to a fun 4 days this coming July. Thanks much for the tip to include Roosevelt Island.

    • Chanel Jun 6, 2018 at 10:52 pm - Reply

      You are very welcome Barbara! I hope you enjoy 🙂

  4. marion Aug 28, 2018 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    I am considering a Roosevelt Island trip for our AARP chapter from Staten Island. The tram would be fun and the Red bus would be good , as many are not “walkers”. But is someone doing a guided tour of the island to point out the sites?? Also, what about a good place for 60 and 70 year olds to eat…about 50 of us?? Would love any feedback you can give. Thanks!

    • Chanel Sep 2, 2018 at 6:50 am - Reply

      Hi Marion! If you want to do a guided tour, I suggest reaching out to the Public Information Line – 212-832-4540. There are not many restaurants on the island, however, the PI line could give you suggestions on that too! Have a wonderful trip 🙂

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