If you’re in New York City, make sure to have some time for a Staten Island tour, whether self guided or not. You might think that NYC is purely urban, but Staten Island has stretches of coastal areas, gardens and parks that you shouldn’t ignore.
In fact, it has more parks than any borough in the city. Here’s a quick rundown of interesting Staten Island attractions that you shouldn’t overlook.
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Quick Staten Island Travel Tips
Is Staten Island Worth the Visit?
Real talk here: I visited Staten Island for one day, having done a little research but honestly, you really need to dig deep and plan out your visit to make the most of it. The island isn’t exactly small, so combining nearby must sees on Staten Island is a good idea.
I personally like walking around to get a sense of places I visit but with Staten Island, it’s not the best approach. There’s not much to do sightseeing wise around St George and the ferry terminal. It’s much less busy but also much less photogenic than other parts of NYC.
How to Get around Staten Island
There’s one metro line on Staten Island, which takes you from the Northeast to the Southwest. It’s not nearly as extensive as in Manhattan, for instance, so if you don’t have a car, resort to buses.
I recommend checking bus lines in advance to know where to go and find your relevant stop. Many lines head to the St George ferry terminal but not all of them. Another option is to uber part of the way. (If you haven’t used uber yet, here’s a voucher for you.)
Locals are super nice in case you feel lost and don’t know where to go or how to get to where you wish to be.
How to Get to Staten Island
Ferries to Staten Island leave lower Manhattan at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal every day at regular intervals and the journey lasts around half an hour.
The ferry ride to Staten Island is free of charge and super popular especially during rush hour and sunsets. So come early during those times to not see a full ferry leave without you.
This is always a recommended route for tourists since you can catch plenty of gorgeous sights along the way like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Best Staten Island Things to See
September 11 Memorial
Tourist spot number one after landing at the St. George Ferry Terminal is the September 11 Memorial; it has the name Postcards.
The memorial is but a short walk along the coast to the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade and you have excellent views all the way back to Manhattan from here.
The structure wasn’t created for photography purposes however; it commemorates 9/11 victims that were resident in Staten Island. It was created by Masayuki Sono, an architect and includes the names, birthdays, occupations and silhouettes of the dead.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and the Staten Island Botanical Garden
Considered to be the borough’s crowning achievement, this Staten Island park is diverse in its theme and is composed of a number of smaller facilities that show the island’s dedication to arts and culture.
Originally, the area was meant to serve as housing for retired seafarers but was instead turned into a park.
Now, it includes the Staten Island Botanical Garden, the Children’s Museum, the Staten Island Museum, the Noble Maritime Collection, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Music Hall and the Art Lab.
There’s a lot to explore around the area, so a day in Staten Island doesn’t have to take your far into the island at all. You can walk from the ferry terminal (it’s about 40 minutes) or take the bus S40 or S44. (You can use your metro card for that or pay in cash.)
Chinese Scholar’s Garden
Included among top Staten Island tourist attractions around Snug Harbor is the Chinese Scholar’s Garden. Its design is a homage the Ming Dynasty-era Chinese gardens.
The garden was created in a traditional, authentic Chinese style by 40 Chinese artists from the city of Suzhou and opened in 1999.
The main principle of the garden design centres on elegance (ya, 雅) and is meant to help finding calm and focus in meditation. Only natural materials were used and each element has a symbolic character.
In total, there are nine beautiful gardens in the centre but this one is a definite Staten Island must see.
Comic fans and collectors of limited edition merch need to pencil in Hypno-Tronic Comics as an important attraction on Staten Island. It’s super small but filled to the brim with wonderful finds.
The staff is super friendly as well, so don’t shy away from asking questions or getting some tips. For instance, I found out that there’s a librarian action figure! How cool and random is that?!
Lunch at Pier 76
Whenever you’re in New York City, it is you gotta eat pizza. That’s basically a rule. And you can do that on Staten Island too, of course.
Go to downtown Staten Island and have a slice or two at Pier 76, a pizza joint which is a spin-off of the famed NYC pizzeria, Joe and Pat’s. Check out local favourites, such as their customizable, thin-crust pizza, buffalo wings and pasta primavera.
St. George Theatre
Located close to Pier 76 is the St. George Theatre, a spot where you can check out concerts, comedy shows, theatre performances and film screenings every night.
Have a peek at their schedule so you can plan your visit to Staten Island accordingly and don’t miss out on a performance that interests you. It features both live performances as well as classic movies and music festivals.
Plus, the historic building itself is well worth a closer look as it dates back to 1929 and is stunning in its red and golden hues in a Spanish and Italian Baroque revival style. It was originally conceived as a theatre but then adapted to provide a movie experience as well.
The islands in Hudson Bay were heavily fortified as an answer to an anticipated attack by the British red coats. You can see forts in Manhattan’s Battery Park and several military structures on Governors Island.
To add to this is, visit Fort Wadsworth. It dates back to the time of George Washington and the Civil War. It sits in a park and is open to the public.
The fortress has lots of tunnels, passageways and battlements like Fort Tompkins, numbers that not only provide an educational peek into the country’s rich military history, but a picturesque one at that.
To really learn more about the longest active military site in the US and its history, join local ranger tours.
South Beach and Midland Beach
There are multiple beaches in New York City and some of them you can find on Staten Island. If you want a relaxing Staten Island vacation, then either South Beach or Midland Beach should be a part of your itinerary.
Especially sought after in summer, these bungalow towns are considered to be the most scenic coastal spots in NYC. During peak season, they are typically overrun with locals and tourists alike. So come early to avoid the crowds and get your spot.
South Beach is great for tanning, swimming and relaxing and is a favourite family beach haunt. It’s close to Fort Wadsworth and located near parks and sports facilities too like baseball fields, skate parks and handball courts.
There’s a concession stand where you can chow down on regular beach fare like hotdogs, hamburgers and ice cream plus a boardwalk where you can park bikes. So no need to bring your own picnic along (unless you want to).
Midland Beach was the spot of the first Ferris wheel on Staten Island. These days, the area is a great location for enjoying entertainment by the beach plus kid-friendly attractions. After all, it’s home of the island’s Fantasy Shore Amusement Park.
Wanna try out a new hobby? Maybe start fishing by way of the Midland Beach Fishing Pier, the avid angler’s paradise this side of the Atlantic.
National Lighthouse Museum
It can’t hurt to visit another museum particularly if this one is located on the other side of the island terminal. It’s a mere five minute walk.
But be warned, you won’t find an actual lighthouse here. (I was rather disappointed but should’ve done better research before my trip. Well, I’m here to inform you now.)
The Staten Island National Lighthouse Museum contains all of the information you need to know about lighthouses in the country and not just on the island.
Outside, the museum looks rather small and unassuming but the museum displays a permanent collection of more than a hundred lighthouse models plus the Lighthouse Timeline, an informative piece on the history of lighthouses.
Urban Exploring & Haunted Places
IF you are into spooky attractions in the US, there are a few that will surely send shivers up and down your spine. However, be warned, they are not open to the public and you can’t enter the premises.
There’s for instance the NYC Colony Farm in the centre of Staten Island. Formerly a poor house and site of children’s disappearances, strange things happened here during its use and even after its decay. It’s believed the be very much haunted and is left in shambles, matching its gruesome past.
Windows and doors were closed up and walled in, the exteriors are covered in graffiti and gnarly trees are reclaiming the space. You can get a peek from Brielle Avenue and the baseball court around the corner.
Another ghostly site is the Kreischer Mansion. It’s private property and there have been events hosted here but other than that you can’t enter. Not sure you should either.
The Kreischer House history is mostly filled with incredibly bad luck and a grisly murder. It looks like a beautiful Victorian mansion but don’t be deceived.
Next, among haunted places on Staten Island is the Willowbrook State School. The site is now used by the College of Staten Island.
The original idea behind it was to provide an educational and care facility for mentally disabled kids but quickly abused became the new norm and kids were essentially turned into guinea pigs to research spreading of illnesses. The site has been shut down and left abandoned since 1987.
A landfill might not sound like a typical site to visit but the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island is kinda special. It was here that the debris and wreckage of the Twin Towers after 9/11 was discarded and gradually excavated for research.
The landfill was supposed to be closed down multiple times but has remained with some areas being publicly accessible. It’s also possible to join park tours to hear more about its history.
Alice Austen House
Are you into photography and historic architecture? Get your fix at the Alice Austen House on Staten Island. The structure dates back to the 1690s and was built in a Colonial Dutch style with initially just one room.
Alice Austen’s grandparents bought the house in the 19th century and expanded it, calling it Clear Comfort. Alice moved in with with her mother and lived here until 1945, when she lost her home. Now a museum dedicated to the photographer, you can admire ever changing exhibitions insides. (See current ones here.)
Not all of the over 8000 photographs Alice Austen took are exhibited at the house but you can still admire a considerable collection.
Little Sri Lanka
Who would’ve thought that you can get Sri Lankan food in Staten Island? In a small area known as Little Sri Lanka live about 5000 Sri Lankans and as a result, there are a few restaurants treating you to authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.
You won’t be able to tell by walking around, so highlight the following three restaurants in your map app: Dosa Garden Restaurant, Lakruwana Restaurant and New Asha Sri Lankan Restaurant. It’s possible to order food online as well. Good to know: Dosa Garden is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
Historic Richmond Town
Once a thriving hub on Staten Island, the town stopped operating and growing when its status as a borough was revoked. Now, it’s an utterly unique historic park, offering a glimpse back in time from 1958 to its origins in the 1600s.
This is the most retro experience in NYC you can have. (And yes, not even retro milkshake diners in NYC come close.) Admission fee is $8 and free on Fridays.
Walk around the 45 historic structures of the open air museum and step into the historic houses and farms. In total, the area spans 100 acres and also hosts events for an even more immersive experience. See their calendar.
I don’t drink so this wasn’t of interest to me but it might be to you. If you are a fan of alcoholic beverages and appreciate related collectables, get in touch with Staten Island local Lev Mezhburd.
He created a small alcohol museum in the Northeast of the island. It features posters, figurines, prescriptions, tales and various paraphernalia, including insights into the time of the prohibition. And yes, sampling of alcohol with complimentary bites is included.
To visit the museum set up a private appointment with Mezhburd through his facebook page.
If you have a sweet tooth like I do, try the super cute and retro Holtermann’s Bakery on Staten Island. The family business started in Richmond Town in 1878 an has moved a little down the road.
It’s close to 100 years old and has remained true to its roots of serving delectable staples, such as homemade breads, cakes, cookies, cupcakes, pies, pastries and more. View the menu here. A classic is the Charlotte russe.
That’s all you need to know on what to see in Staten Island. Do you have any fabulous memories and adventures in that easy-going city borough? Do share in the comments below.
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