The 2-mile-long East River slice of land that parallels Manhattan from East 48th to East 85th streets is now a quasi-suburb of more than 12,000 people, and the vestiges of its infamous asylums, hospitals, and prisons make this an offbeat trip for the historically curious. At the south tip are the eerie ruins of a Smallpox Hospital, built in 1854 in a Gothic Revival style by the prominent architect James Renwick Jr. (Among many other works, Renwick also designed
St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution Building.) Neighboring the hospital ruins is the recently opened Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn. After decades of delays, the 4-acre park—once just a landfill with wasted dramatic city views—opened in late 2012, to much fanfare. The monument to President Roosevelt is essentially a large, open granite box with a giant bust of FDR, and a wall inscribed with the words of the wartime Four Freedoms speech, which the park honors. Visitors can stroll the stone walkways and the symmetrical tree-lined pebble paths that run along the manicured lawn and enjoy unique views of the United Nations and East River. Free guided walking tours of FDR Four Freedoms Park are available Saturday at 11 am, on a first-come basis. Visitors can also request a private tour in advance for $20 per person (minimum 6 people). On a small park at the island's north tip is a lighthouse built in 1872 by island convicts. You can get to the island by subway, but why would you when you can take the five-minute ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway, the only commuter cable car in North America, which lifts you 250 feet in the air, with impressive views of Queens and Manhattan. A visitor center (open May to September), made from an old trolley kiosk, stands to your left as you exit the tram. Red buses service the island for 25¢ a ride.
Tramway entrance at 2nd Ave. and either 59th St. or 60th St., New York, New York, 10044, United States