Seven Summer Weekend Festivals on NY's Governors Island

Conde Nast Traveler
Photographer: Robert Quinlan/Alamy

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Photographer: Robert Quinlan/Alamy

Sure, everybody visits the Empire State Building and Grand Central Terminal when they come to NYC, but now that it's summer, a quirkier New York landmark should earn a spot on your must-see list: Governors Island. The former military base (the Coast Guard left in 1995) is now a public park that's just a free, half-mile ferry ride away from Manhattan or Brooklyn. More importantly, it offers a panoramic view that stretches from Brooklyn to Staten Island (you'll spot Lady Liberty, too), and it's a popular spot for fairs, festivals and arty events. Here's just a sampling of what's going on at Governors Island this season. (Full disclosure: I'm a volunteer there—and the view is the main reason why.)

June 8 and 9

Figment NYC

For one weekend each summer, the not-for-profit group FIGMENT transforms the island into an interactive work of art. The full schedule of artists and their projects has yet to be announced, but expect creativity to be running at full steam. You'll definitely get the chance to make music and other sounds with the works in the sculpture garden, play mini golf on an artistically designed course, feel what it's like to live inside a cloud at the Head in the Clouds pavilion, or take part in dozens of other free participatory art projects. For more information: newyork.figmentproject.org

June 15 and 16, August 17 and 18

Jazz Age Lawn Party

If The Great Gatsby has you primed to take on the Roaring Twenties, this is the place to break out your cloche hats and seersucker suits. With a backdrop of tunes by Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, you can shop for vintage clothing, check out the Tin Lizzies in the 1920s car show (which, this year, includes Gatsby's 1925 yellow Rolls Royce), take a sepia-toned photo against a paper moon, and, of course, head to the dance floor and show off your Charleston. Tickets cost $30 ($35 at the door if there's any availability).

July 6

4Chambers Opening Performance

For two weeks, Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects turns one of the island's historic Coast Guard officers' homes into a human heart for its "4Chambers" dance installation. Yes, a human heart: The rooms of the house become the chambers of a heart, with hallways and corridors representing veins and arteries. At each performance, six dancers take 12 audience members through a tour of the circulatory system. 4Chambers runs from July 6 to 21 at 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.

July 20

City of Water Day Festival

Harbor education is a big focus at many of the island's events this year, and it all culminates in the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance's City of Water Day Festival. Of course, the best way to learn about the city's water is to get out on it, by either taking a free boat tour or joining a flotilla of kayakers, canoes paddlers, and sailors. But there are activities for landlubbers as well, including waterfront fishing, watershed demonstrations, and a critter touch tank for kids, plus food vendors and live music. Events also take place across the harbor at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

July 27 and July 28

New York City Poetry Festival

If the serene, Walden-like atmosphere on Governors Island makes you break out into spontaneous verse, you're not the only one. More than 200 poets converge on the island, at the behest of the Poetry Society of New York, and take to three separate stages for readings. This year's lineup is still to be announced, last year featured Eve Packer, Todd Colby, and former United States poet laureate Mark Strand. Bookish types can also pick through the volumes for sale at a "vendor's village" of local booksellers.

August 25

NYC Volkswagen Traffic Jam

Cars are usually banned from Governors Island, but it'll open itself up to some Fahrvergnügen for Volkswagen's car show. You can see classic VWs from the 1950s through the 1970s, including Beetles, buses, and dune buggies. Plus, you get to be the judge and vote for the Spectators' Choice winner.

August 31 and September 1

NYC Unicycle Festival

The island is used to hosting visitors on wheels: bikers, skaters, and rollerbladers. But it's not often you'll have the chance to traverse the bike paths on only one wheel. At the NYC Unicycle Festival, you can test yourself to see if you have the balance and skill to be a unicyclist (adding yet another unmarketable skill to your resume), or watch a variety of exhibitions, races, and sports—including unicycle basketball.

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