Floating in the East River between Manhattan’s eastern edge and Queens, New York’s anomalous, planned neighborhood sits on a tiny island no wider than a football field. At the southern tip of the island is architect Louis Kahn’s striking Four Freedoms Park memorial to Franklin D Roosevelt. Zipping across the river via the four-minute aerial tram is a trip in itself and worth it for the stunning view of the East Side of Manhattan framed by the 59th St Bridge.
Roosevelt Island was once known as Blackwell’s Island after the farming family who lived here; the city bought the island in 1828 and constructed several medical facilities, including a smallpox hospital. In the 1970s, New York State built housing for 10,000 people along Roosevelt Island’s Main St (the only street on the island). The planned area along the cobblestone roadway resembles a brutalist Olympic village or, as some observe more cynically, cookie-cutter college housing. Its most recent development was the 2017 opening of the first phase of a glittering, modern campus for Cornell Tech, a graduate engineering school awarded the bid in part for its proposal to create some 28,000 jobs and billions of dollars in taxes and economic benefits for the city.
With fine views and little traffic, this quiet island is conducive to lounging and cycling. You can pick up a map of the island ($1) at the cute visitor centre (12:30pm to 5:30pm Wednesday to Monday, shorter hours in winter), located in an old trolley station entrance next to the tramway exit.
Note that payment for the aerial tram is via MetroCard.