The 2-mile-long East River slice of land that parallels Manhattan from 48th to 85th Streets is now a quasi-suburb of more than 14,000 people, and the vestiges of its infamous asylums, hospitals, and prisons make this an offbeat trip for the historically curious. At its southern 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.) Neighboring the hospital ruins is the recently opened Four Freedoms Park, a memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn. 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. 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. Individual
or group guided walking tours ($20) of FDR Four Freedoms Park are available daily; check website to reserve. At the island's north tip is a small park with a lighthouse built in 1872 by island convicts. Cornell University's new state-of-the-art, sustainable Tech campus is currently under construction on the island, and will open in phases beginning late 2017. 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 for 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. Free red buses service the island.