A shot of the Staten Island Ferry.

photo by: Mike Steele/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

March 10, 2016

Slow Down and Explore NYC's Staten Island in 24 Hours

  • By: Jeana C. Wiser

Just a ferry ride away from “the City,” Staten Island has been a place New Yorkers have both called home (just under 500,000 people live there) and never visited, a place both loved and hated. But open the window a bit wider, and you can discover the unknown curiosities and hidden charm that awaits.

Staten Island’s history begins around the year 1000 A.D. with the inhabitants of what was the New York region’s largest Native American tribe, the Lenape. Two bands of the Lenape, the Hackensack and Raritan tribes, called Staten Island home for over 600 years. It wasn’t until 1609 that well-known explorer Henry Hudson spotted the island during his search for the Northern Passage and named the island Staaten Eyelandt.

By 1661, New York Governor Peter Stuyvesant issued the first European settler permits in an area that is now referred to as South Beach. Soon after, in 1696, the nation’s oldest schoolhouse, the Voorlezer’s House (which is still standing!), was built. In 1747, the first ferry service connecting Staten Island’s North Shore to Manhattan was established, solidifying and further establishing the relationship between Staten Island and Manhattan.

Today, ferry service still exists and, therefore, makes the commuter-based lives of so many who live on the Island possible. Additionally, the free ferry service also brings many tourists over from Manhattan. In fact, each day over 65,000 people take the 25-minute, picturesque trip and annually, over 1.5 million tourists make the trip (making the Staten Island Ferry the third-most visited attraction in NYC). If you find yourself on that ferry, don’t opt for the short version of the “round-trip” boat ride (like so many do, unfortunately); rather, get off the ferry, stretch your legs, and enjoy Staten Island, New York’s “small town in the big city.”

A picture of a walkway in Staten Island's Botanical Gardens.

photo by: Wally Gobetz/Flickr/CC BY-NC ND 2.0

Enjoy a respite from New York City's concrete jungle in Staten Island's lush botanical gardens.

In the A.M.

Start your morning by hopping aboard the Staten Island Ferry (free admission!). During the journey to State Island’s North Shore, enjoy the breathtaking sights. Think: Statue of Liberty, morning sun shining on the water, and Governor’s Island, perfect for a photo opportunity or moment of reflection. Twenty-five minutes later, you will arrive at the St. George Ferry Terminal. From there, you are within walking district of the St. George Historic District which is wonderfully charming neighborhood with turn-of-the-century Victorian housing stock lining the dense and hilly streets, with views of the water.

Other A.M. attractions:

Did you know:

In 1828, Captain John Jackson purchased land, in what is now referred to as Sandy Ground, marking the first record of a black man buying land in Richmond County (the county that encompasses Staten Island).

A picture of Staten Island's Greenbelt.

photo by: Kristine Paulus/Flickr/CC BY-2.0

Everyone knows Central Park, but Staten Island's Greenbelt is more than three times as large.

In the P.M.

More than one-third of Staten Island is protected parkland, boasting over 12,000 acres of parkland and open space—a true nature lover’s delight. Spend the afternoon exploring some of the island’s many cherished parks, trails, and nature reserves. My personal pick is hiking at the Greenbelt, over three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park.

Other P.M. outdoor ideas:

Did you know:

In 1874, tennis was introduced to North America by Mary Ewing Outerbridge who brought the sport to her Staten Island home after a visit to Bermuda.

The St. George Historic District in Staten Island.

photo by: Shannon McGee/Flickr/CC BY-SA

St. George's Historic District is a charming area of Staten Island replete with Victorian architecture.

Late Night

The decidedly “sleepiest” New York City borough may have fewer late night offerings than Manhattan, but, nevertheless, State Island does late night in its own unique way. Over the last decade or so, Staten Island has been attracting a modest number of artists, musicians, sculptors, and other creatives due to its relatively affordable rents and spaces. As a result, the arts scene has been growing, albeit slowly, but certainly growing. You can now find a number of spaces catering to fostering and supporting those local artists and creatives. Take a look!

Late-night culinary and cultural suggestions:

Did you know:

Author George R.R. Martin based King’s Landing on the view of Staten Island from his childhood home in Bayonne, New Jersey.

Read more about the history and evolution of Staten Island:

Travel: Staten Island's Tibetan Gem

From the sleepy, residential Lighthouse Hill neighborhood street, the estate known as the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art is only distinguishable by its protective fieldstone wall. But just cross the threshold and you are worlds away.

Jeana Wiser was an associate project manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab.

Join us for PastForward 2023, the historic preservation event of the year. Registration is open!

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