Standing tall and soaring above the sparkling waters of the Saint Lawrence River, you will find the magnificent Boldt Castle on Heart Island near the Canadian border hidden among a thousand tiny islands dotting the area.
A tourist destination in itself, Boldt Castle is part of many Thousand Islands boat tours.
The castle’s Heart Island address is in Alexandria Bay, New York, which lies 100 miles from Syracuse and 270 miles from New York City. It is worth the drive to catch a boat to Heart Island and tour the castle.
Here’s how to spend a perfect day there, plus tips for where to take the most beautiful pictures of the castle grounds.
Getting To Boldt Castle
The only way to visit the island is by boat, and tours are available from the United States and Canada. A boat ride from Gananoque, Ontario, Canada, is just over 30 minutes. From Alexandria Bay, New York, it is about 20 minutes. Private boats are permitted, but most people take a tour boat. Boat tours take visitors through the American and Canadian parts of the river. You know which country you are in as you traverse the Saint Lawrence by the flags waving on the islands as you pass by. It is not uncommon to see the Canadian Maple Leaf on one island and Old Glory on the next.
As you travel to the castle, you will sail past many of the 1,864 islands. One of the smallest islands, Tom Thumb, has just enough room for one tree and one juniper bush, while the largest island is home to a 9-hole golf course.
Be sure you take a boat tour that includes going ashore to explore the island so you can visit the castle. If arriving from Canada, you will need to have a passport since the castle is in the U.S.
Know The History Of Boldt Castle Before You Arrive
The castle was built around 1900. Prussian immigrant George C. Boldt ran numerous hotels in New York City, including the Waldorf Astoria, which catered to the very rich and helped to make Boldt a multimillionaire. He is credited with the creation of hotel room service and the phrase “The customer is always right.”
Boldt and his wife Louise and their two children visited the Thousand Islands region during summer vacations and loved it. Mr. Boldt decided to build a castle on Heart Island as a symbol of love for his wife. Construction on the 120-room structure started in 1900 with over 300 workers.
Once the main floor of the castle was completed, the Boldts started hosting parties and entertaining in what became their summer home. Opulent festivities with guests spending entire weekends were the norm.
In 1904, tragedy struck, and Louise died suddenly before the castle was completed. The Boldts had married right before her 16th birthday and they enjoyed 26 years of wedded bliss before she died at age 42.
Just after Louise died, a heartbroken George sent a telegram to workers to halt construction. He never returned to the island.
Boldt Castle was not finished and sat empty for 73 years. Vandals, weather, and time took a toll on the structure. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took ownership in 1977 and began restoring the castle to its original opulence. Millions of dollars spent and 40 years later, they are still working on the restoration.
An international visitor destination, people come to admire the castle, gardens, and the hearts carved into wood, stone, and plaster scattered throughout the castle and grounds. It is like taking a step back in time to marvel at the grandeur of the marble staircase and rooms large enough to be dance halls.
Tour The First Floor
When you arrive by boat to Boldt Castle, the towers rise toward the sky and you will see the famous structure from a distance.
From the dock, your walk up to the castle is a tad steep, but most of the island is flat and easy walking. Before you get to the castle, you will get a view of the impeccable grounds and enjoy the flowers and plants growing everywhere.
Inside, you are greeted by a marble staircase leading upstairs. A wedding portrait of Louise Boldt hangs above a marble fireplace. Above you, a vast stained-glass dome ceiling gives the castle a look and feel of a cathedral as light streams into the receiving area.
The white-trimmed reception room features a white marble fireplace with a mirror above it and a sphinx.
Seating for 18 is available in the formal dining room, where a glittering gold chandelier hangs over the table.
The dining room leads to an outdoor space that includes a gigantic stone fireplace once used for barbecues and other festivities.
Adjacent to the dining room is a formal ballroom designed for dances and parties. It opens onto the balconies.
Since most Boldt Castle entertaining happened during the summer, it was designed with wide balconies where guests could dance, catch fresh air, watch boats, and enjoy nature.
George and his friends would have enjoyed shooting pool, smoking cigars, and talking business in the billiard room where his portrait still hangs.
Boldt and his wife loved books and would spend many evenings curled up with a good book. Rows and rows of books line the bookcases, and a black marble fireplace highlights the library, which has gold-framed pictures on the walls.
The butler’s closet is larger than many dining rooms. It has sinks and storage for dishes, linens, and silver.
The first floor also houses the kitchen and Mr. Boldt’s office.
Climb The Marble Staircase To The Second Floor
Currently, there is a gift shop on the castle’s second floor. It sells all kinds of Thousand Island and Heart Island treasures. You can purchase Thousand Island Salad Dressing in commemorative bottles there.
Visitors will also enjoy the small theater that continuously shows a short movie about the life of George Boldt and the history of the castle.
The Boldt family bedrooms are on the second floor. Each bedroom or chamber was a suite that included a bedroom, a sitting area, and a bathroom. Each of the bedrooms had doors out to a balcony where they could watch the sunrise and view the Saint Lawrence River and the boats sailing past.
George’s suite features dark wood and a portrait of Louise over the bed. Louise’s suite is trimmed in white with a large clawfoot tub in the bathroom.
The children’s bedrooms and several guest bedrooms are also on the second floor.
Visit The Third And Fourth Floors
The third floor is unfinished and currently features some exhibits on the history of the Gilded Age. It has the same layout as the second floor but does not have a marble staircase.
Also unfinished, the fourth floor houses construction artifacts and construction supplies and has architectural sketches on the walls. Today, it appears as though the workers dropped their tools and left.
Take Pictures From The Observation Deck
An observation deck provides visitors a view of the river and the ornate Italian gardens below. This is a great spot to snap some pictures.
Visit The Basement Area
The basement houses storage areas, a boiler room, and an indoor pool and lounge.
Explore The Grounds
Plan extra time to stroll the grounds and appreciate the gardens. You will enjoy a variety of flowers blooming, water bubbling from marble fountains, and numerous buildings on the property.
Some of the flowers are planted in the shape of hearts in honor of the island’s name and of Valentine’s Day, Louise Boldt’s birthday.
The dovecote that once housed the island water tank stands near the castle.
Alster Tower, intended for their guests’ entertainment, was better known as the Playhouse. There was a room for dancing, and the basement was home to a bowling alley. There were plans for another library, grill, kitchen, and billiard room in the Playhouse before construction stopped. Additional construction and renovations to this structure were completed last year.
The entry arch has several life-sized statues of deer on top. The powerhouse once held everything required to generate electricity for the entire island.
Enjoy A Picnic Lunch
Many people enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the island’s numerous picnic areas, or you can purchase food from the concession stand. Bathroom facilities are also available inside the castle.
Boldt Castle is open May through October. Check the website for opening times as they vary during the season.
Admission costs are based on visitor age and the package you choose; those ages four and under are admitted free. The fee does not include the boat trip. Most boat trip operators sell tickets for the boat and the castle visit.
Tips For Your Boldt Castle Visit
- If arriving from Canada, bring your passport. This is required as the castle is in the U.S.
- Boldt Castle is child friendly, and all sidewalks and brick paths are wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs.
- Take a sweater or light jacket with a hood for the boat tour part of the trip. The river is often chilly and windy, even on warm days.
- Allow yourself several hours on Heart Island to tour the grounds, buildings, and castle. We were there for three hours, and honestly, I could have spent another hour or two.
- Wear comfortable shoes; you will do considerable walking, and there are steps. (There is an elevator inside the castle for those who need it).
Going to Boldt Castle? Here’s our advice for planning the rest of your Thousand Islands weekend getaway: where to eat, stay, and play.