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14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do on Staten Island, NY

Written by Lavanya Sunkara
Jun 30, 2020

Staten Island boasts more than 9,300 acres of parkland, giving it the nickname as the greenest borough. Often referred to by its residents as the "forgotten borough," this southernmost borough has unique attractions that make it stand out from the rest of New York City.

The borough once held the record for having the largest landfill in the world, but it has since turned its trash into treasure by cleaning and repurposing the land for a sprawling public park, known as Fresh Kills Park, set to open in its entirety in 2036. Another restored and reimagined gem is the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, providing visitors a place to visit for contemplation among Ming Dynasty gardens of the Chinese Scholar's Garden and Temple Row's Greek Revival buildings.

There's no subway connecting Staten Island to the rest of the boroughs. However, within the island, you'll find a rapid transit line by the Staten Island Railway (SIR).

Sitting right underneath Bayonne in New Jersey, it seems more a part of the Garden State than New York, but nevertheless it's an essential part of the Big Apple, and it's just a 25-minute ride on the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan and a quick car ride from Brooklyn over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

For ideas on the borough's best places to visit, see our list of the top things to do in Staten Island.

1. Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry passing Manhattan

You may have seen the orange-colored three-tiered vessel in pictures of New York city's iconic Statue of Liberty. The residents of Staten Island rely on this free commuter ride to get to work daily, but the ferry also offers visitors looking for a free ride the chance to see the sights of New York's harbor and the world-famous skyline. In addition to Lady Liberty, you can see Governors Island to the east and Ellis Island to the west. Make sure you get up to the top deck for the best views.

The ferry goes to St. George Ferry Terminal, and runs 24/7 every 15 to 20 minutes. Keep in mind that you can't travel round trip, and you have to disembark before getting back on for the return journey. The boat has beverages and food for purchase onboard.

2. Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

The Smithsonian-affiliated Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden is a cultural and natural oasis not too far from the St. George Ferry Terminal, situated on the north shore of the island.

Spread across an 83-acre campus, former retirement buildings for sailors are now part of a regional cultural center featuring a number of highlights, including the 19th-century Greek Revival buildings on Temple Row, Staten Island Children's Museum, Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Botanical Garden, and the Staten Island Museum.

On the grounds, you will also find a chapel and one of the oldest concert halls in the country. You can easily spend an entire day with your family, exploring the various cultural institutions and wandering about the gardens.

For those interested in haunted experiences, there are several tours available to explore the ghosts of Snug Harbor's buildings - the Butcher's Cottage, Matron's House, and the former Surgeon's House.

Address: 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://snug-harbor.org/

3. Chinese Scholar's Garden

Chinese Scholar's Garden

Among the popular attractions at Snug Harbor (and a true New York City hidden gem) is the Chinese Scholar's Garden, where you can find your zen on a leisurely walk along the several peaceful gardens, zigzagging paths, and koi-filled ponds.

Based on the 15th-century Ming Dynasty garden designs, the garden is among one of two authentic outdoor Chinese gardens built in the country. The original structures and their stunning roofs, tiles, columns, and beams were created in Suzhou, China and completed on Staten Island.

Keep a look out for the upper pavilion in the central courtyard, which features a mosaic of broken rice bowls and pieces of beer bottles representing both China and America.

4. Staten Island Museum

Mastodon exhibit at the Staten Island Museum | Allison Meier / photo modified

Housed in the former dormitory for retired seamen on the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the Staten Island Museum is the only remaining general interest museum in the entire city. Founded in 1881, the museum focuses on the arts, natural sciences, and the region's history for kids of all ages.

The museum has general exhibits like "Cabinet of Curiosities" and "Remember the Mastodon." The latter has displays on the ancient relatives of elephants that walked the island and other New York City boroughs millions of years ago. Visitors can also learn about the life of the Lenape tribe, the first people to have lived on the island.

Address: 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://www.statenislandmuseum.org/

5. National Lighthouse Museum

Within walking distance of the ferry terminal, you will find the National Lighthouse Museum, showcasing a collection of more than 180 lighthouse models and exhibits. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the beacon keepers and the history of lighthouses in the country.

Looking over one of the busiest harbors in the world, the 2,400-square-foot museum features exhibits like "Life at the Light: Lighthouse Keepers," "Supplying the Nation's Light Stations: The General Depot," and "Beacons Through Time." For a fee, visitors can take a boat tour seasonally to nearby lighthouses and other attractions along the harbor.

Address: 200 The Promenade at Lighthouse Point, Staten Island, New York

Official site: http://lighthousemuseum.org/

6. Fort Wadsworth

Goats overlooking the Battery Weed fortification, Fort Wadsworth

Nestled at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge overlooking New York Bay is one of the longest running military forts in the nation. After it closed in 1994, the former base that guarded New York City for over 200 years was turned into a 226-acre public park managed by the National Parks Service as part of the Gateway National Recreational Area.

Fort Wadsworth attracts visitors for its historical significance and picturesque vistas of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Take a guided tour to explore the Battery Weed fortification and Fort Tompkins, both historic structures built in the 19th century.

For those looking for a unique camping experience, Fort Wadsworth offers camping for a nightly fee with advance reservation. In the summers, don't be surprised to find grazing goats, who are hired by the National Park Service to clear out the thick weeds surrounding the fort.

Address: 210 New York Avenue, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/gate/learn/historyculture/fort-wadsworth.htm

7. Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art

Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art | bobistraveling / photo modified

Staten Island is home to one of the most renowned museums on Tibetan Art. At the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, marvel at the art and culture of Tibet and the Himalayas.

Founded and designed in 1945 by an American art collector and Tibettan art expert, Jacques Marchais, the buildings of the art complex resemble a Tibetan mountain monastery and are among the first of their kind to be built on American soil.

Replicas of Tibetan monasteries, ritual artifacts, scroll paintings, musical instruments and more give visitors a window into the fascinating cultural heritage of this Eastern region.

Tai Chi and meditation classes are offered on the grounds, along with on-site events, lectures, film screenings and musical performances.

The museum is located in the center of the island near Historic Richmond Town and has picnic facilities and a gift shop.

Address: 338 Lighthouse Ave, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://www.tibetanmuseum.org/

8. Historic Richmond Town

Museum in Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island | Allison Meier / photo modified

The Historic Richmond Town is a living history museum transporting visitors to the late 1600s colonial times, when the island was settled by the Dutch. Visitors can tour the 15 restored buildings (including a courthouse and a general store), stop by the on-site museum to see exhibits on life in America over the past 300 years, or go on a paranormal adventure for sightings of the hamlet's rumored ghosts.

Nature lovers can take a hike in the surrounding parkland; a majority of the 100-acre site is part of the Staten Island Greenbelt, which covers one-third of the island.

Address: 441 Clarke Ave, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://www.historicrichmondtown.org/

9. Freshkills Park

Freshkills Park | Eden, Janine and Jim / photo modified

Fresh Kills was once the largest landfill in the world before it closed in March of 2001. When the twin towers fell, the landfill was briefly opened to take a lot of the debris for processing. Today, the area is being developed into a 2,200-acre park known as Freshkills Park, and it is scheduled to open in phases through 2036.

Don't let the name and its history dissuade you from visiting this parkland. Once complete, it will be three times the size of Central Park and among the largest parks in New York City.

The park will have playgrounds, athletic fields, facilities, kayak launches, art installations, recreational programming, and more. Currently, several parts of the park, including Schmul Park (with handball and basketball courts and playground), New Springville Greenway bike path, and the Owl Hollow Fields (with soccer fields and lawns) are open to the public. Visitors may also go bird-watching and kayaking along the park's waterways.

10. Richmond County Bank Ballpark

Richmond County Bank Ballpark | Doug Kerr / photo modified

Catch tomorrow's superstars today at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in St. George, home of the Staten Island Yankees. This Class A Short Season Yankees Affiliate, affectionately known as the Baby Bombers, offers fun for the whole family.

Nothing beats a wholesome afternoon or evening of minor league baseball cheering on your favorite team. With special promotions like Free Shirt Friday, post-game fireworks, and celebrity guests, you're sure to have an unforgettable experience.

The stadium offers a variety of tasty refreshments and ticket options for every budget and is conveniently located steps away from the St. George Ferry Terminal.

11. Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Aerial view of the Staten Island Boat Graveyard

The Staten Island Boat Graveyard is not an official attraction and there are "No Trespassing" signs all over, but history buffs and photographers looking for some Instagram-worthy shots of rusting historic boats floating in the water, will have a grand time at this abandoned property (of course, while keeping your distance). Keen observers (and those with long camera lenses) can spot osprey and eagle nests atop masts.

Located in Arthur Kill near the former Fresh Kills Landfill on the western shore of the island, this final resting place of massive boats came into being after WWII, when abandoned ships were sent to be dismantled by the Witte Marine Equipment Company; however, the company couldn't handle the speed at which the vessels arrived, eventually leading them to simply pile up and let nature take its course.

12. Staten Island Zoo

Staten Island Zoo | Allison Meier / photo modified

Staten Island Zoo lives up to its "biggest little zoo" nickname with its renowned Serpentarium, which houses an extensive collection of reptiles, in particular the largest collection of rattlesnakes, in a 16,000-square-foot facility. The zoo showcases more than 800 species in an eight-acre space. It's especially known for its weatherman, Chuck the groundhog, who has been accurate 85 percent of the time with his predictions.

The Staten Island Zoo now features a new aquarium, with "walls of water" showcasing various marine habitats, like the Pacific kelp forests, tropical coral reefs, and Caribbean sea life.

You can reach the zoo by taking the S-48 bus from the St. George Ferry Terminal.

Address: 614 Broadway, Staten Island, New York

Official site: http://www.statenislandzoo.org/

13. St. George Theatre

Restored to its former glory, the beloved St. George Theatre welcomes visitors to enjoy its grand interior and family-friendly performances. Opened in 1929 as a vaudeville theater, the building features grand staircases, Spanish/Italian Baroque-style paintings, stained-glass windows, and a giant dome.

Located conveniently close to the St. George Ferry Terminal, the 2,800-seat venue offers performances ranging from musicals to children's shows, as well as shows by famous musicians and comedians. Jerry Seinfeld, Joan Rivers, Jason Mraz, and Chris Rock are some of the celebrities who've graced the stage and entertained audiences at the theater.

Address: 35 Hyatt Street, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://stgeorgetheatre.com/

14. RollerJam USA

Roller skates

Pack your roller skates and head to the hottest venue on the island at RollerJam USA. Banking on nostalgia and offering a good dose of fun for people of all ages, this happening venue knows how to entertain.

Celebrate special events and have a bonding experience with friends and family, go on a fun date, play games at the arcade, or simply glide your worries away to the tune of retro songs under the flashing lights.

The venue is adults-only on Saturday nights. The rink is located within walking distance from the Richmond Valley stop on the Staten Island Railway.

Address: 236 Richmond Valley Road, Staten Island, New York

Official site: https://www.rollerjamusa.com/

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