Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island sign just outside of Welcome centre

Escaping the bright lights, and packed streets of Manhattan, and getting our money’s worth from our Metro Card, we headed to Roosevelt Island.

Where Is It?

Roosevelt Island is located in the East River between the boroughs of Queens and Manhattan.


Since the early 1800s the island has not only been home to a lunatic asylum, but also a prison and a smallpox hospital. The island has had a major face lift in more recent times and is now home to a university campus, the Roosevelt Memorial and some swanky apartment blocks.

More information on the history of the island can be found here.

How To Get There

There are two options for getting to Roosevelt Island, the F train or the Tramway. To get there, we took the F train from Flushing Meadows direction.

Roosevelt Island subway

If coming from Manhattan, the Roosevelt Tramway station is located on the junction of E 59th St & 2nd Avenue. The journey takes a matter of minutes.

Roosevelt Island Tramway

What To See And Do

Visit The Information Centre

RI Welcome Centre

Having visited the Brooklyn Children’s Museum during our previous trip to NYC at Easter, we knew to look out for the historic, and quaint little cast iron building, located beside the tramway.   The old trolley car entrance at 59th St & 2nd Avenue was transported to the Museum in 1970, and was then returned to the island and became the visitor centre in 2007.

There is a free island bus which runs every 7 1/2 minutes during peak hours, leaving  from just outside the centre.  We didn’t take the bus, although if we were to go back we would; A) To avoid listening to Megan complain about her sore legs, and B)  There is commentary on the history of the island along the route, which would have been interesting to have heard.

Smallpox Hospital

SmallPox Hospital

The hospital was designed by the famous James Renwick and opened in mid 1800s to house persons infected with smallpox to quarantine them from the general public.  In the late 1800s the smallpox hospital then became a nurse training college, before closing in 1950s and falling into a bad state of repair. Work is ongoing to stabilise the structure to allow people to enter and walk around the building.

A more in depth history of the building, can be found here.

Hospital Ruins

Visit The Four Freedoms Park

Roosevelt memorial

The Four Freedoms Park opened in 2012 and is dedicated to Franklin Roosevelt, and named after a speech he made to rally American interest in WW2.  The park is beautiful, with lots of famous quotes and tributes to the man himself.  We enjoyed our walk around, learning about Roosevelt and his impact on the country.  Who says you do all your learning in school!

For more information on the park, opening times etc click here.

Roosevelt Speach

Smallest Island in NYC

Smallest island in NYC view

At the most southern part of the island as we looked out over the East River, I noticed a small island (directly above Megan) with a green flag on it.  Google tells me the island is U Thant (officially Belmont Island). The 100-by-200-foot  island, created during the construction of the Steinway Tunnel, is the smallest island in Manhattan.

Famous Pepsi Sign

Pepsi Cola sign

We knew this sign was in the area, having seen it in some famous movies, for instance Home Alone 2 when Macaulay Culkin looks out from the airport window.  Megan finally spotted it in the low sunshine on the Queens side of the river.

For more information on the history of the sign, have a read of the article here.


We didn’t make it to the Lighthouse, as we were rushing back to Brooklyn for the Halloween parade.  If you want to visit, the free bus which I mentioned earlier has a stop nearby.

More information on the lighthouse can be found here.

Take In the Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan Skyline

On our way  to take the Tramway into Manhattan, we came across a student cafeteria within the Cornell Campus.  We decided to stop off for a coffee and a doughnut, to give Megan’s, “almost falling off” (her words) legs a rest, and admire the view.  We paid by card, and unfortunately a week after we returned home, they took the same payment again for the second time. Any attempts to contact them to sort this out have failed, so I suggest if you do decide to call in – pay with cash!

Megan Eating Doughnut

Ride the Roosevelt TramWay

Tramway going past

On our way back we took the 5 minute ride over the East river back into Manhattan.

On Tramway

The wonderful views along the river and coming into Manhattan, were certainly worth the ride.

Manhattan view

Would We Recommend

Yes, 100% Roosevelt Island provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. There is plenty to see, and the scenic ride on the Tramway is the icing on the cake.

Top Tips

  1. Make sure to use the tramway in at least one direction, as it’s a fabulous way to see the city.
  2. Visit the top of the island and the lighthouse, sadly we didn’t have time on this visit.
  3. Wrap up! You’re in the middle of the East River, it’s going to be windy and that means it will get cold.

Thanks for reading

The Lewis Family.

For further posts about our time in the USA click here.

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