Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to the best Staten Island things to do. Staten Island is often put upon and abused by its fellow New Yorkers. After all, it’s so different from the rest of the city. It’s much more suburban, with tons of single-family homes instead of apartment buildings. It’s more politically conservative than the rest of the city.
It barely even has a subway system! If you don’t have a car in Staten Island, you’ve got to get around by bus. And that bus can get a little weird, especially at night, ladies and germs.
But that doesn’t mean that Staten Island isn’t full of fun and adventure. Join me for a day of the best Staten Island things to do, and we’ll see beautiful flowers, chow down on some Sri Lankan feast food, meet the Vorlezer, and get arguably the best pizza in the city. Plus, it will be super cheap. Let’s not waste any more time!
24 Hours: Staten Island Things To Do
Where to Stay?
If you’re a tourist in New York City, you’ll probably be staying in a hotel. I mean, maybe you have a kind relative who will let you crash in their spare room, but that kind of space is rare in Manhattan. And even though Staten Island is great, it’ll be more convenient to stay in Manhattan for exploring attractions on other days.
I recommend staying in the Artezen Hotel in Lower Manhattan. It’s very easy to get to the Staten Island Ferry from here. Seriously, it’s so close that you can just walk to the ferry to check out the Staten Island things to do. Plus, the rooms are affordable and cozy, and there’s free snacks, coffee, and fancy bath products in your room.
24 Hours: Staten Island Things to Do
What to Pack?
- A cell charger so you can take photos of all the best Staten Island things to do
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded during your trip without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a runaway Colin Jost joke while looking for the best Staten Island things to do.
24 Hours: Staten Island Things To Do
Morning: Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
Now, I can hear some mean spirited New Yorkers out there making jokes about the kind of cultural center they’d expect to find on Staten Island. Well, all of these jokes are wrong!
Snug Harbor Cultural Center is a beautiful place full of great plants and history. You can easily spend a delightful morning here enjoying the stunning blooms and learning all about Staten Island history. It’s definitely one of the best Staten Island things to do.
I’ll help you get started with…
Three Fun Facts: Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
1) How Do You Get to Snug Harbor?
Even most New Yorkers who wouldn’t dream of spending 24 hours in Staten Island will admit that the free Staten Island ferry is perhaps the best of all the Staten Island things to do. After all, it leaves for SI promptly every half hour, and it literally costs you nothing. Even better, included with your trip is a free viewing of one of New York City’s most famous landmarks: Lady Liberty!
A lot of tour companies out there will make you pay good money for this view! On the Staten Island Ferry, you get it for bupkis! As a pro tip, if you’re going to Staten Island from Manhattan, get on the right hand side of the ferry when you enter. That’s the only side that has views of the Statue of Liberty.
PS. My sister once asked me if you need a passport to spend 24 hours in Staten Island, and though I think she might have been kidding, I’ll just clarify that Staten Island is definitely in the United States and you don’t need a passport to cross the border.
After just a few short minutes, you’ll have arrived in The 5th Borough. From here, it’s just a short walk/drive/bike ride down to Snug Harbor! Couldn’t be easier!
2) What Is There To See In Snug Harbor?
Well, the most obvious thing is the flowers! After all, this is a Botanical Garden. The flowers come in every shade from purple and pink…
to yellow on yellow on yellow. The Botanical Garden isn’t very big, so just wander around and appreciate what happens to be in bloom. Don’t miss the sensory garden, which is stuffed to the gills with plants that smell absolutely amazing. And unlike Chanel, the Botanical Garden charges no fee for you to sniff their scents all day.
But another treasure of Snug Harbor is its collection of historic buildings. The most interesting is probably the Governor’s Mansion, which didn’t belong to the Governor of New York State. (That honor is held by a building in Albany, New York.)
Snug Harbor was once a shelter for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors”–yes, that’s a direct quote–and the charity had to have a governor to keep the cantankerous Captain Ahabs in line.
The most famous governor was Thomas Melville, the brother of Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick. I wonder if he gave his brother ideas for sailor-types to write about…Apparently T. Tommy Melville liked to devise strict punishments for unsavory behavior, and I honestly don’t want to know what kind of unsavory behavior decrepit 19th century Staten Island sailors were capable of getting up to.
3) What’s the Best Thing to Do in Snug Harbor?
There are several little museums to visit here, depending on how much time you have, but my favorite place in Snug Harbor, and one of the best Staten Island things to do is definitely the Chinese Scholar’s Garden. It costs a big extra to visit, but it’s definitely worth the price. The ticket taker will tell you to begin your tour of the garden with a walk through the bamboo forest. You might even get to hear the phrase “bamboo forest” said with a Staten Island accent, which is tons of fun.
Can you believe this is in New York City?
Also, check out the scholar’s flower garden which explains the symbolic meaning behind each plant. You’ll even learn what “The Three Friends of Winter” are. I mean, they sound like a great name for a rock band of elves, but there’s actually a deeper significance.
Staten Island Things to Do
Afternoon: Historic Richmond Town
Historic Richmond Town is, in my opinion, the best of the best Staten Island things to do. In a city like New York, where we tear down buildings as fast as we can build them, Historic Richmond Town is our own answer to Colonial Williamsburg: a collection of houses from every period of NYC history. You can start in the Dutch colonial days, and end up in the early 20th century.
The houses aren’t in their original locations, of course. They were relocated from all over Staten Island to be properly cared for and shown off in Historic Richmond Town. It’s got everything from a schoolhouse to a tavern. But the one thing it doesn’t really have is a proper restaurant for lunch, so we’re going to pick up lunch on the way.
It does take a bit of a walk to get from Snug Harbor to our lunch stop, so you might prefer to drive or take a rideshare or bike rather than slog the entire route. If you do choose to walk, keep an eye out for cool buildings like the Art Deco Ambassador beauty pictured above. Either way, get ready to enjoy the…
Approximately Top 5: Historic Richmond Town
1) Sagara Food City
Eating Sri Lankan food is definitely one of the best Staten Island things to do, and lucky for us, there’s a great choice in between Snug Harbor and Historic Richmond Town called Sagara Food City. Just call them 20-30 minutes before you arrive, and your lunch will be ready piping hot for you!
I suggest getting a special occasion dish here called lamprais. You can see what it looks like all wrapped up in banana leaf in my photo above…
And here it is unveiled! This dish is the chicken version, served tender on the bone. It’s loaded with lovely spices, but beware of the cardamom pods! With the chicken is a bevy of aromatic rice, soft cashews, sweet onions, and smoky, spicy eggplant that almost tasted like roast chile.
On top of that, there’s a boiled egg and a fried fish ball on top for pure decadence. Next time I come here, I might get the veggie version because it doesn’t really need more protein. Don’t feel bad if you can’t finish. We need to save room for olykoek.
It’s a bit spicy, so for a drink, try a Sri Lankan soda like the Raspberry Necto. I mean, it says it’s raspberry, but it tastes more like fizzy cotton candy to me. Nothing to hate there!
2) Mark’s Bake Shoppe
It’s easy to get from Sagara Food City to Historic Richmond Town. Just hop on the nearby S74 bus towards Bricktown Mall and it’ll take you right there. Of course, there was no dessert with our lamprais, so get off the bus a little early and stop at Mark’s Bake Shoppe for one of their amazing jelly donuts. (I consider this to be the best bakery on Staten Island, and yes it is the only bakery I have ever been to on Staten Island, why do you ask?)
Of course, you don’t have to get the jelly donut, but I recommend it because the pastry was so light yet dense, and they actually use high-quality jelly, which is hard to find. Just be sure to take plenty of napkins because the cinnamon sugar gets all over your hands!
3) Historical Fun Facts
Once you arrive in Historic Richmond Town, I suggest heading straight to the Courthouse to see if there are any events or tours going on. I’m sure whatever docents happen to be on call will be delighted to share some fun facts about the historic homes and families who lived in them.
One of my favorite tales was about the courthouse itself. This is apparently the third courthouse that has existed on Historic Richmond Town. The first was destroyed in the American Revolution, but the second…was burned down by a restorer who was mad about how Historic Richmond Town chose to do the restoration.
That’s insane! That’s literally cutting off your nose to spite your face! Apparently he was caught very easily because he went out and got drunk and bragged about it. Ugh, this guy is just the worst. If I knew his name, I would tell you, so you’d know not to hire him to restore your house because he might get mad and burn it down.
4) The Schoolhouse
If you’re a nerd like me, you won’t want to miss the schoolhouse. Technically speaking, this is the Vorlezer house, which is the word the Dutch would have used for teacher. This is one of the oldest school buildings in the United States, so a trip here alone is worth the visit to Historic Richmond Town.
School back in Colonial America, was very different from school today. First off, the kids only went to school during the winter. After all, during the other seasons, they were needed to help their families on the farm.
Second, the Vorlezer wasn’t paid in “money” or “health insurance” or a “401K” like I was when I was a full-time teacher. Instead, he was paid in wood. That’s not a euphemism. Wood was very valuable back then because of the whole no electricity thing and also the not wanting to freeze to death in a Staten Island winter thing. Honestly, the clothes and furniture were cool, but other than that, I’m very glad I don’t live in Colonial times.
5) The Witch House
OK, so technically the proper name of this house is the Christopher House because it was built by the Christopher family in the early 1700s. But doesn’t it look like a witch house?
This house’s real claim to fame is that they say that American spies used to meet here during the American Revolution. (Remember that New York City was kind of a Loyalist stronghold, so it took courage to be an American spy in this town.)
The youngest son in the family was a spy for George Washington, but unfortunately he got caught and we don’t know exactly what happened to him. But I’m sure it was all fluffy bunnies and kittens right? I mean, things usually end well for spies, don’t they?
6) Egger’s Ice Cream
I’ve already introduced you to the best bakery on Staten Island. Well, why not try Egger’s ice cream, the best ice cream on Staten Island. (Again, also the only ice cream I have ever had on Staten Island.) This stand operates at Historic Richmond Town, and it’s very easy to find. Just follow the sounds of delighted children.
I recommend the mint chip flavor, which tastes like the platonic ideal of a mint leaf. The lady behind the counter will ask you if you want hot fudge on top. You do. Oh believe me, you do.
24 Hours: Staten Island Things to Do
Evening: Dinner and a (Christmas) Show
24 Hour Treasure: Candlelight Tours of Historic Richmond Town
As I have mentioned in other posts, I have one Christmas tradition I follow every year. I insist on doing something Christmas-related in all of New York City’s five boroughs. People usually ask me, “What is there to do in Staten Island?”
But in fact, Staten Island is the best tour for Five Borough Christmas, entirely because of the Candlelight Tour of Historic Richmond Town. This tour is offered on two different Saturdays every December, and it’s worth checking out the best Staten Island things to do for this reason alone.
If you’re not lucky enough to see the best Staten Island things to do at Christmas time, do visit Historic Richmond Town anyway in the evening. They sometimes have nighttime programs like ghost tours and tavern concerts. But nothing beats the Candlelight tour.
This experience is more than just a tour of historic homes. At each location, you get to see what Christmas would have been like at the time when the home was built. As a special treat, the tour is led by local docents, each with the most bee-yoo-ti-ful Staten Island accent you ever heard. Here are a few of my favorite stops on this tour:
1) Lake-Tyson House
This home is original to Staten Island, though it was once located in a different part of the borough. It was built around 1740 by a farmer named Joseph Guyon who lived here with his family and enslaved workers. (Some people don’t realize that slavery wasn’t abolished in New York State until the 1820s.)
Most of the volunteers performing in this abode seemed to be dressed and behaving more like characters in a Jane Austen novel than people from the 1740s.
There are usually even people performing that kind of dance that involves touching hands and walking around a lot that you always see Elizabeth and Darcy doing in filmed versions of Pride and Prejudice. I’m just going to assume that dance is called the Darcy Dance and hope the name catches on. (Darcy would not approve. Darcy loves sassy ladies, and he hates dancing.)
Do you remember how I said we were going to try olykoek today? Well, I hope you didn’t think I was just joshing you because we’re for reals going to get to eat them now. Actually, you’re just going to get to look at my blurry photo and not eat them. But it’s the thought that counts.
These olykoek are made straight in front of you in the historic Lake-Tyson house kitchen and you get to pop them directly in your mouth while they are still sizzling. Those colonial Dutch people were making hand-made artisanal doughnuts even before it was trendy! And they didn’t even have Instagram to show the latest food trends.
2) General Store
This general store is actually a reconstruction of a general store from the 1840s that was demolished in the 1940s. (I warned you! New Yorkers love knocking stuff down. That’s why our basketball team is called The New York Knocks.) At Christmas time, this store is full of authentic decorations from the 1800s.
The volunteer docents with their buttery Staten Island accents will be happy to explain to you how this general store would have functioned at Christmas time. One of them will be taking on the role of unfortunately named Stephen Stephens, who was the actual owner of the general store. His parents must have hated him as a baby to give him that name.
The reason tinsel got its name is because it actually used to be made of tin. They have some samples in the general store made by a tinsmith who works on the property during the day time. Sadly, the tinsel is not for sale.
I think it would be a great prank to ask a friend if it would hurt if you dropped some tinsel on their head. Then when they say no, clonk them with the metal.
3) Stephens-Black House
The Stephens-Black House is probably my favorite stop on the tour, which makes it one of the best Staten Island things to do. It was home to general store owner and nursery rhyme character Stephen Stephens. When you pass through this house on the Candlelight tour, you’ll meet a docent playing his wife Elizabeth.
The actors in this scene always sprinkle their patter with anachronistic pop cultural references that will both amuse and horrify the discerning spectator. For example, one year Mrs. Stephens made a reference to “female warriors” coming to Queens. I started laughing before the rest of the audience because I’ve seen this show eight times and I knew she was making a terrible pun about Amazon not coming to New York City.
The best part of the Stephens-Black House is either the chance to light a Christmas tree with real candles or the 19th century style sugar plum that they give you as a sweet treat at the end. Actually I think the real Christmas miracle was learning that everyone in the 19th century had an accent just like Bobby Bacala from The Sopranos.
Now that we’ve done with the 1800s, it’s time to call an Uber/Time Machine and head back a bit into the future for the last of our Staten Island things to do…all the way to the 1930s. All we need is our cell phone and 1.21 gigawatts of lightning.
24 Hour Treat: Pizza at Denino’s
Denino’s (not Deniro’s) Pizza is something of a Staten Island legend. You can’t say you’ve tried the best Staten Island things to do without coming here. This place dates back to the 1930s and is still serving made to order pies to local customers. You will not be making reservations. Also the jukebox only plays two artists: Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. (I exaggerate. You’ll be able to hear other classic 80s artists like Roxette and Lionel Ritchie. Just nothing after 1989.)
Denino’s has opened a second location in Greenwich Village, but though the pizza is delicious at both places, the vibe in Greenwich Village simply can’t compare. If you aren’t visiting Staten Island during the Christmas season, and the Candlelight Tours aren’t available, please just come here for dinner and the experience anyway.
I recommend the Garbage Pie with sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, mushroom, and onions. It’s a good thing that the crust is sturdy enough to handle all those toppings without being so thick that it becomes deep dish pizza. One bite and I felt that I was stepping back into another world. A world in which calories didn’t count, nobody was vegan, and men wore leather jackets and sang about their hot rods.
Unfortunately the pizza time travel couldn’t last forever and it is time for our 24 hours with the best Staten Island things to do to end. Fortunately it’s easy to catch the SIM3C bus back to Manhattan. Because this is an express bus, it costs 6 dollars, which is more than twice as much as the regular bus fare in Manhattan. However, it’s worth it because it will get you back to New York City quickly and easily.
I took this bus once with my sister, and we had to wait 15 minutes for it to arrive. She became convinced that the bus was never coming and we were going to die in Staten Island. Native New Yorkers are sometimes very sheltered people. But fortunately we did not die, and that’s why I’m able to share this post of the best Staten Island things to do with you today. You’re welcome!
24 Hours: Staten Island Things To Do
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a box of the finest pizzas. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to Staten Island so you can find the best Staten Island things to do.
But I can tell you that if you’re looking to get to Staten Island from Manhattan, it’s quite easy. Just take the Staten Island Ferry! It runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it’s completely free! That’s what makes it one of the best Staten Island things to do. Plus, it offers some of the best views of the city, especially of the Statue of Liberty. Just look!
However, if you need to take a plane or car to get to New York City, I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight or car rental, depending on how you want to get around. Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight or car rental, so you can head out to find the best Staten Island things to do ASAP.
That’s 24 Hours: Staten Island Things to Do
What do you think are the best Staten Island things to do? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in New York City right now? And what is the real name for the Darcy Dance? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 Hours with the best Staten Island things to do. And there’s a million other things to do in New York City. Want to spend Christmas in New York? With the Brooklyn Bridge? What about 24 hours in Manhattan? How about the Bronx? Or the best museums in Manhattan? I’ve got you covered here!