7 Must-Visit Islands in New York

Written by Nixza Gonzalez
Updated: August 22, 2023
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New York is one of the most visited states in the country. New York City alone attracts over 60 million tourists each year. However, when visiting New York State, you aren’t limited just to the bright big city, there are also mountains, beautiful state parks, and wonderful islands. Here we have a list of 7 must-visit islands in New York state.

1. Governors Island

The first island on our list of must-visit islands in New York State is Governor’s Island. This lovely island has a surface area of 172 acres. The highest point sits at an elevation of 72 feet and is Outlook Hill. Governor’s Island is in the New York Harbor. On the island are notable structures, some of which you can visit. For example, on Governor’s Island are several old homes, built in the 1800s. One of the largest housing sections is Nolan Park. Here you can find the Admiral’s House. This home was first built in 1843, using the Greek Revival style. However, it’s been expanded and changed multiple times.

Many other buildings are on the island including an old hospital, a church, and mostly abandoned 19th-century homes. Not only can view historic structures, but also visit the Open Orchard. This public space consists of 102 fruit trees, all native to New York City.

Governors Island, New York - Brooklyn Battery Tunnel Air Vent

Governor’s Island is a 172-acre island in the New York Harbor.

©Elzbieta Sekowska/Shutterstock.com

2. Roosevelt Island

Another must-visit New York island is Roosevelt Island. It’s a 2-mile-long small island in New York City’s East River. This 0.23 square mile island has a population of about 11,700. Roosevelt Island is a great place to visit if you’re looking for scenic river views, fascinating museums, and other unique attractions. On Roosevelt Island, you can find the Smallpox Hospital (Renwick Ruin), Blackwell HouseFour Freedoms State Park, and Blackwell Island Lighthouse.

The Smallpox Hospital has gone by many names in the past. It was previously called the Renwick Smallpox Hospital and later the Maternity and Charity Hospital Training School. It’s gone through many changes, but James Renwick Jr. originally built it as a 110-bed hospital in 1856. 

Another note-worthy building on this island is the Blackwell House. This historical landmark has been standing since 1796. The home is open to visitors for free. The Blackwell Island Lighthouse isn’t too far away. It’s an 1872 Gothic Revival-style lighthouse on the northernmost stretch of Roosevelt Island. This New York State island is also a state park. The Four Freedoms State Park is a 4-acre public park on the southernmost point of the island.

An empty wood bench with beautiful flowering pink cherry blossom trees along the East River during spring on Roosevelt Island of New York City with a view of a power plant in the background

Roosevelt Island is another must-visit island in New York State. It’s small, only about 2 miles long.

©iStock.com/James Andrews

3. Long Island

The next must-visit New York island on our list is Long Island. This large island has a surface area of 1,376.1 square miles. It’s in the Atlantic Ocean and is heavily populated. Over 8 million people live on this island. The highest point on Long Island is Jayne’s Hill, which sits at an elevation of 401 feet.

Long Island’s history is long and rich, beginning with the first nations of Long Island. You can see a lot of the island’s history, including Native Americans and immigrants, all around. While here, you can visit museums, parks, and art venues, and eat delicious food. Some things to enjoy on Long Island are the Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum, Planting Fields Arboretum, Garvies Point Museum and Preserve, and Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.

Long Beach Boardwalk - Long Island, New York

Long Island is a heavily populated island in New York.

©Alon Adika/Shutterstock.com

4. Wellesley Island

The fourth New York State island on our list is Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River. This lovely island is in Jefferson County, New York. It was previously named Wells Island. The island is a beautiful and charming place, perfect to get away from the noisiness of the city. On the island, you can find Wellesley Island State Park. It’s about 2,636 acres and offers excellent camping, hiking, and fishing opportunities. The state park was created in 1951. Within this park is the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center.

Another excellent state park on Wellesley Island is Dewolf Point State Park. This stunning state park was created in 1898 and has great fishing spots. Ice fishing in winter is very popular. In the park are also hiking trails, perfect for bird watching. Birds in this area include American robins, yellow warblers, trumpeter swans, and green herons.

A view of the St. Lawrence River from Wellesley Island State Park

Wellesley Island is home to multiple state parks including Dewolf Point State Park and Wellesley Island State Park.

©iStock.com/Eric Bardo

5. Fire Island

Another island in New York is Fire Island, which is about 3.9 miles off the South Shore of Long Island. Fire Island is about 30 miles long and 0.5 miles wide. On this island, there are nearly 500 permanent residents, although the population varies depending on the season. During summer, tourists flock to the island to hike, surf, view wildlife, and swim.

Fire Island is home to the Fire Island National Seashore, which protects about 26 miles of Fire Island. This national seashore was established on September 11, 1964. The surface area of this protected seashore is 19,579 acres. While here, you can swim or visit the Fire Island Lighthouse. This old lighthouse was built in 1858, while the tower was built in 1826. This lighthouse has been featured in films and TV Series including Men in Black II, What Happens in Vegas, and The Guiding Light.

On the island, you can see lots of wildlife including horseshoe crabs, finback whales, bottlenose dolphins, harp seals, and hooded seals. Also on the island are about 330 species of birds. It’s a great spot for bird-watching. While here, you may see snowy owls, sanderlings, greater yellowlegs, house sparrows, red-breasted nuthatches, and merlins.

Beautiful warm golden sunlit clouds during sunset perfectly reflecting in the sand on a beach. Fire Island National Seashore - New York

Fire Island in New York is home to over 330 bird species. Fire Island National Seashore is an excellent place for bird-watching.

©Scott Heaney/Shutterstock.com

6. Ellis Island

The next island on our list is one of the most important and iconic islands in New York, Ellis Island. This small federally-owned island is in both New York and New Jersey. The surface area of this island is 27.5 acres. Most of this island isn’t natural. Only 4.68 acres of Ellis Island is natural, the rest was from land reclamation.

Ellis Island, like the other islands on this list, has a long history. It formed about 15,000 years ago by retreating glaciers. However, this island is best known for being an immigration station. Over 12 million immigrants from all over the world passed through Ellis Island.

To visit, you must take a ferry to the island. While on the island, you can visit the Ellis Island Museum, which contains the Baggage Room, Registry Room, Treasures From Home, and Hearing Room. Ellis Island also has many older buildings, including an old hospital. The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was built in 1900 and is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The Statue of Liberty National Monument includes both Ellis Island and Liberty Island. On Liberty Island are the Statue of Liberty and the Statue of Liberty Museum.

ellis island abandoned psychiatric hospital interior rooms view

The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was built in 1900.

©Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

7. Three Sisters Islands

Last but not least is the Three Sisters Islands, which are technically multiple islands instead of one. The Three Sisters Islands are part of Niagara Falls, New York. To get to these islands, you can walk on a scenic bridge from Goat Island. Underneath the bridge are small waterfalls and refreshing rushing water. These islands are excellent to see if you’re visiting Niagara Falls.

View of Niagara River at Three Sisters Island in Niagara Falls State Park in the United States of America.

The Three Sisters Islands are in Niagara Falls State Park. They offer stunning views of small waterfalls and mist from Niagara Falls. You can walk to these islands from Goat Island on a bridge.

©Alizada Studios/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Doug Lemke/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Nixza Gonzalez is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics like travel, geography, plants, and marine animals. She has over six years of experience as a content writer and holds an Associate of Arts Degree. A resident of Florida, Nixza loves spending time outdoors exploring state parks and tending to her container garden.

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