New York City: Roosevelt Island

On a recent visit to New York City, I took a side trip to Roosevelt Island, the slender, two mile long island between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Though the island is only a short tram ride away from the Upper East Side, the island’s neighborhood feel and less dense development make it a perfect oasis for those seeking a break from the noise and bustle of the city.

Roosevelt Island NYC New York

View from the southern part of Roosevelt Island

From 59th Street, I took the Roosevelt Island Tramway (featured in the Stallone movie Nighthawks). Its cable cars carry passengers to the island high over the East River before descending rather rapidly to the land below.

My car was packed with about 50 tourists all jostling to get photos of the surrounding cityscape. The views are really good, but if you’re looking to get that amazing shot of the Manhattan skyline to the south, your view is obstructed by the 59th Street Bridge.

Roosevelt Island Tram

View from the Roosevelt Island Tram down First Avenue

I took the free Roosevelt Island bus (Red Bus) almost completely around the island. The central and northern parts of the island are mostly residential, with several baseball fields and small parks dotting the landscape. The main street of running north and south is actually called Main Street, and has a small number of shops on the first floors of the block apartment buildings on each side of the surprisingly narrow street.

The southern part of the Island was the highlight of the trip;  it has the most park space and the best views of Manhattan’s skyline. Here there are ruins of Roosevelt Island’s days-gone-by, an era when the island was home to the city’s sick, imprisoned, and forgotten. The ruins of the structures that housed them are still visible, overgrown with weeds. They must be eery at night.

Roosevelt Island New York City

The view looking west towards Manhattan is unmatched. The Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, the Citibank Building, and the UN are stand out from the rest of the skyscrapers.

Chrysler Building New York

Chrysler Building from Roosevelt Island

Empire State Bldg viewed from Roosevelt Island

Empire State Bldg from Roosevelt Island

Four Freedoms Park, at the southern tip of the island, provides the best views of Manhattan and the East River as it widens and empties into New York.

Four Freedoms Park Roosevelt Island

Four Freedoms Park

Four Freedoms Park Roosevelt Island

The lawn at Four Freedoms Park, looking south

All in all, this is a great little side trip you can do from Manhattan when you’re in need of some peace and quiet.


  • Roosevelt Island is accessible via the Tram; you can use your regular old MTA card to get out there.
  • For the best views, walk down to the southern tip of the park to Four Freedoms Park, a memorial dedicated to FDR


Kevin is based in Washington, DC and writes about his travel adventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and around the world. Through entertaining writing and eye-catching photography, he aims to provide readers with useful information as they plan their next trips.

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