St. George. Photo: Grace Tyson
It doesn’t take much digging to unearth Staten Island’s jewels. The borough’s waterfront views, natural beauty, history and impressive cultural attractions (not to mention its pizza) should all be high atop any visitor’s itinerary.
Staten Island Ferry. Photo: Jen Davis
Before the City’s bridges were built, residents paid 25 cents to travel by boat from borough to borough. Today, the endures as the last remaining fleet of that system, offering a 5-mile, 25-minute trip to commuters and visitors alike. The ferry, which runs 24 hours a day, is free of charge. The vessel is as romantic as it is practical, offering views of the City’s skyline, New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governors Island, while shuttling roughly 22 million commuters a year between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan.
If you’re in need of a little retail therapy, Staten Island may have just the prescription. Located next door to the St. George Ferry terminal is Staten Island’s newest pride: , a 350,000-square-foot shopping mall, opened in 2019. The City’s only outlet center offers a singular experience: open-air shopping and dining, featuring household-name retailers (such as Nike, Levi’s, Guess, Gap, H&M and Nordstrom Rack) and a network of public spaces and walkways connecting visitors to its New York Harbor waterfront. While the lush complex offers several culinary options, it’s also a feast for the eyes. Empire Outlets is located near such as Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden and the historic St. George Theatre.
Staten Island Museum. Photo: Vinnie Amessé
may just be the borough’s greatest hidden secret: an immense cultural center where nature, history and art combine to shine a spotlight on Staten Island’s diverse charms. The peaceful 83-acre complex complements an immense botanical garden (which includes the popular Chinese Scholar’s Garden), with attractions such as the Staten Island Museum, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art and the Staten Island Children’s Museum.
Cobblestone streets connect Snug Harbor, originally built in the 19th century as a retirement community for sailors. History buffs will enjoy touring the Greek Revival homes as well as one of the oldest music halls in America, while budding ghostbusters can take advantage of several tours meant to lift the veil on the area’s storied haunted history.
Alice Austen House. Photo: Kate Glicksberg
Alice Austen was a true New York rebel, a trailblazing photographer whose uncompromising passions challenged the mores of 19th-century Staten Island. She took more than 8,000 pictures during her career and here you’ll find her best shots, including an 1890 documentation of immigrant living conditions during quarantine. But it’s her private pictures that are among her most celebrated, both historically and aesthetically. Today, where she lived with her female lover for 30 years features scores of candid photos of herself and friends that document romantic relationships of Victorian-era women. Her claim to history didn’t stop there: Alice’s independent streak led to her being one of the first women in Staten Island to own a car. Years later, she achieved another first: the Alice Austen House was designated an LGBTQ landmark by the National Park Service in 2017, the first in the state devoted to a woman.
Lakruwana restaurant, Little Sri Lanka. Photo: Ismail Ferdous
This vibrant immigrant community, a mere 20-minute stroll from the Staten Island Ferry station, houses the largest Sri Lankan population (roughly 5,000 people) found outside of South Asia. , located in (and the nickname of) Staten Island’s Tompkinsville neighborhood, boasts a Buddhist temple, the Sri Lankan Arts and Cultural Museum and even an occasional live cricket match. The neighborhood also has a sterling foodie reputation, its many eateries and exotic flavors heralded by celebrity chefs and amateur gastronomes alike.
National Lighthouse Museum. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV
Next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal stands the , a 2,400-square-foot structure dedicated to the beacons that lit America’s shores and the people who operated them. The museum features models of 180 US lighthouses from 29 states, as well as artifacts galore, including foghorns, lights and other signaling technology. But if visitors get tired of the self-guided tour, they can test their sea legs: the museum sells tickets seasonally for boat tours to real nearby lighthouses and other aesthetic pleasures of the harbor.
Fort Wadsworth. Photo: Annabel Ruddle
is much more than just the traditional starting line of the New York City Marathon. Built as a lookout by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, the fort also played a key role in the Revolutionary War and once held the distinction of being America’s longest continually operating military fort. It’s easy to see why this vantage was so important to generations of New Yorkers: the location offers one of the best views of New York Harbor within the five boroughs. Today that means visitors can take inspiring shots of the skyline and waterfront. The 226-acre park, run by the National Park Service, offers a ton of outdoor activities, including camping, fishing and hiking, as well as guided tours through the historic fort—and even a touch of urban spelunking, with tours available to explore its underground tunnels. And you can expect to meet a few of the landscaping locals; in summer, the City uses a team of goats to control the growing grass and weeds of the hilly area.
Conference House. Courtesy, Visit Staten Island
Just as Broadway, Brooklyn and the Bronx trace their names to Dutch settlers, “Staaten Eylandt” was the original spelling of this land. And in , settled in the late 1600s, visitors can relive New York’s origin story. The town is a sort of living history village and museum, a 100-acre park where visitors can touch and taste the past through guided tours of restored homes, as carpenters and blacksmiths busy themselves in workshops and lunch is roasted in open-hearth kitchens. The sprawling park also features a working farm, holiday events, haunted ghost tours and an outdoor beer garden.
At Staten Island’s southern tip you’ll find the , named after a historic—and unsuccessful—peace conference held there in 1776, when Benjamin Franklin and John Adams met with British commanders to end the Revolutionary War. Today Conference House stands as a celebration of America’s independence, as showcased in Franklin and Adams’ pivotal refusal to bow to the Crown.
Midland Beach. Photo: Joe Cingrana
If you’re looking for a burst of fresh air and a beautiful place to fish, jog, bike or sunbathe—or just need a change of scenery—check out the 2.5-mile Staten Island boardwalk (also known as the ). The boardwalk unites two of the Island’s sandiest and most expansive waterfronts——running parallel with the Verrazzano Bridge. The wooden boardwalk starts at Fort Wadsworth and runs past Ocean Breeze, one of the City’s largest and most popular fishing piers. And if you don’t feel like reeling in the catch of the day, you can simply watch gigantic ships as they inch in and out of the harbor. Visitors will also encounter playgrounds, tennis courts and chess tables as they travel south toward the boardwalk’s end at Midland Beach.
Greenbelt Nature Center. Photo: Marley White
Step into the and you’ll find yourself surrounded by an oasis of 2,800 pristine acres right in the heart of Staten Island. The City’s largest collective green space—which comprises multiple parks and nature sites—is replete with rolling hills, lakes, wetlands, rugged forests and wildflower-dotted meadows. The Greenbelt offers 35 miles of hiking trails (rated easy to moderate) where visitors will likely catch a glimpse of its friendly resident deer population. Recreational activities abound in various corners of the sprawling preserve: offers golf and ballfields, while visitors can fish, picnic or play tennis at Willowbrook Park. And if you’re looking to learn something new, the Greenbelt also contains a nature center, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge (the first such sanctuary founded in New York City) and a native plant center, all offering exceptional educational opportunities to explore the City’s native flora and fauna.