Block Island: A Fairytale Trip from Viking Dock in Montauk

The stone walls and stately homes of Block Island make it worth a visit from the East End of Long Island
The stone walls and stately homes of Block Island make it worth a visit from the East End of Long Island, Photo: Gerd Kortemeyer/iStock/Thinkstock

There are two familiar ways to get off eastern Long Island by ferry. One is the Cross Sound Ferry that runs from Orient to New London. The other is the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry that runs between those two places.

But did you know there is a third way off the island by ferry, not just to the familiar southern coast of Connecticut but to a place that is a completely different world, a fairytale, a place as exotic as Connecticut is plain? It takes just one hour to get there. A ferry goes there every day.

Block Island is three-by-four miles of rolling, windswept hills and was settled around 1650, about the same time as our old East End towns were. A downtown was created facing a big ferry dock. That downtown, today, is about the same size as the one in Sag Harbor, and is equally as antique and beautiful. The downtown and the rest of the island are home to about 1,500 people.

To get to Block Island, drive to Montauk Harbor early in the morning, park, then walk across to the Viking Dock and at 10 a.m. leave Montauk aboard the Viking Superstar ferry. There are comfortable seats on board for about 149 people. There’s a food-and-beverage stand. You pass the Montauk Lighthouse up close and, an hour later, are gliding into one of the docks on Block Island. You spend the day there. And to come home you re-board this ship and leave at 5.

Some people sleep through the return. It’s a full, fantastic day they’ve had. You should have it, too.

The first thing you do when you get there is arrange your transportation. The island is very small and you can rent a bicycle or moped or car at the dock. Or you can take a tour by taxi.

The rolling hills on the island, mostly farms or fields, are bordered by 3-foot-high stone walls to separate neighbor from neighbor. People compare it to Ireland or Scotland. The wind blows. There are dirt roads and paved roads that lead out to beaches (no stickers required), there are marinas and restaurants, there are hundred-foot-tall cliffs along one side of the island, with a wooden stairway for you to climb down. There’s a Victorian-era lighthouse you can tour, and there are massive old wooden Victorian hotels from the 19th century that feature wrap-around porches for dining, and you can spend the night. (The only thing comparable on the East End is the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island.)

In 1969, 10 years after I founded Dan’s Papers, a friend of mine who owned a charter airline and advertised with us told me he wanted to put an ad in a newspaper on Block Island because he often took people there. But there wasn’t one. “If you’ll put a newspaper on Block Island,” he told me, “I’ll put an ad in it.”

The first edition of the Block Island Times, the newspaper on the island year around today, first appeared in 1970. I owned it in the early years, but sold it in 1984. My name is still on the masthead as founder. I’m a big fan of the island.

I went last week on the Viking ferry with my wife, Chris; the Dean of University Libraries at Stony Brook University, Constantia Constantinou; and our dog Bella. Met the latest owner of the newspaper, Fraser Lang. Also met with Peter Wood, the man who owned it before that and to whom I’d sold it. We ate waterfront at Dead Eye Dick’s. It was the Saturday before Labor Day and the island was swarming with tourists. There are also 15 ferries that come from mainland Rhode Island each Saturday; and up to four from New London. But from the wheel of a Ford Mustang convertible, the island looked as it always did.

The ferry from Montauk will continue daily through to September 15, then on weekends through Columbus Day. You should go.

he 19th century skyline of Old Harbor, Block Island, as seen from the Viking Ferry out of Montauk
he 19th century skyline of Old Harbor, Block Island, as seen from the Viking Ferry out of Montauk, Photo: Courtesy Block Island Tourism Counsel

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