Of New York City's five boroughs, Staten Island finds itself all-too-often under-appreciated and under-explored. With its preference for cultural heritage and atmospheric authenticity, it waits patiently in the daunting shadow of glitzy Manhattan just across the bay. Plenty of visitors catch the free ferry over, see the Statue of Liberty, and then head straight back across the water.
But we'd advise against rushing your trip rather than write off the whole borough. After all, the Unexpected Borough is not only home to some of New York's most interesting history and oldest buildings - it's also packed with masses of green spaces and some great eats. Here are the best attractions on Staten Island.
1. Postcards 9/11 Memorial
The northern end of Staten Island has its own share of attractions. A short walk from the ferry terminal lies Postcards - a thought-provoking memorial to the 275 Staten Islanders who lost their lives on September 11th 2001. The sculpture consists of two fiberglass structures resembling postcards, framing the location across the bay where the World Trade Center once stood. Built in 2004, Postcards was the first major 9/11 memorial to be completed in New York City.
2. Fort Wadsworth
Built on the high ground of the Narrows, the former military base of Fort Wadsworth provided seashore defence for New York City for over two centuries. Today it forms part of an unusually atmospheric public park that's free to walk around. While the buildings are still largely intact, the fortifications are surrounded by some surprisingly rugged and pretty natural landscape - beautiful for walks. The real highlight is the view into New York Harbour and of the adjacent Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The Museum of Maritime Navigation and Communication is also nearby.
3. The F.D.R. Boardwalk
Heading south out of Fort Wadsworth and running for 2.5 miles (4km) along the East Shore, the South Beach-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk stretches as far as Miller Field park. The world's fourth-longest boardwalk, which was built back in 1935, is a perfect spot for outdoor exercise and beachfront viewing across Lower Bay. Have a look at the impressive Fountain of the Dolphins (clue's in the name) along the way ,r take a kayak out on the water if you're feeling active, or just mess around on the beach.
4. The Greenbelt
With its relatively low population density, Staten Island has plenty of open space. At three times the size of Central Park, the borough's undulating Greenbelt area supports pretty forests, wetlands, meadows and natural parks. Navigating the network of walking trails, you'll find that many native bird and mammal species live here. The High Rock, Maker and Freshkills parks all offer the kind of outdoor fun you probably wouldn't expect from NYC - the latter is a major activity hub in the process of being reclaimed from landfill.
5. North Shore Art Scene
Staten Island's affordability, in comparison with nearby Manhattan, has fuelled a thriving arts and culture scene as creative minds have sought refuge from the sky-high accommodation prices across the water. North Shore is a hotbed of activity, with notable locations including Art on the Terrace and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. The latter is a three-decade-long restoration project, which has seen the nation's first home for retired sailors converted into a regional arts centre. Tranquil botanical gardens intersperse the historic buildings.
6. Grand architecture at the island gateway
Welcoming you to Staten Island is the elegant Borough Hall - the seat of local government - with its French Renaissance-style façade, clock tower and grand marble lobby. The commanding Richmond County Courthouse, also stands nearby, as does the ornate St George's Theatre. It's unremarkable from the outside, but the Baroque Revival-style hall makes up for it.
7. Great Museums
Along with some of New York City's oldest buildings, there are various museums on Staten Island, most of which understandably focus on regional history. In addition to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Alice Austen House, Conference House and the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum are among the best-known. For a visual taste of 19th-century life on the island, head to the Greek Revival-style Seguine-Burke Mansion on Lemon Creek, one of the borough's best-preserved residential buildings.
8. Historic Richmond Town
Architectural preservation is also the mantra at Historic Richmond Town, a heritage town and farm museum complex in the central neighbourhood of Richmondtown. This settlement dates to the origins of the city - the late 17th century - and there are snapshots of the earliest settlements, including churches, farms and government buildings. Periodic events celebrating traditional culture and crafts take place here.
9. Empire Outlets
if you're on a shopping mission in NYC, think outside the Fifth Avenue box and the trip across the water is worth it for Empire Outlets alone. Close to the ferry terminal, the centrepiece of the revamped St George waterfront opened in 2019, featuring around 100 high retail brands, along with bars, restaurants and a boutique hotel.
Of course, if you're really sold on Staten Island you could just stay in the borough. Have a look at hotels in Staten Island for ideas on where to stay.