The Ultimate Guide to New York City Parks
Whether you're looking for fun in the sun, a place for the kids, or an escape from the bustling crowd, find out the best of what New York parks have to offer.
New York City is known the world around for being a concrete jungle. Utterly filled to the brim with world famous skyscrapers, dazzling lights, and bustling people, it is not often that the city is associated with being a haven of greenery. However, in an ocean of concrete and people, having ample green spaces for tranquility and activities is a very important aspect of life in the Big Apple.
According to the city’s Parks and Recreation department there are over 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation spaces spanning the city, and they are as diverse as they are plentiful. With such a vast array of spots to escape the chaos of the city, the argument over which park is considered ‘best’ simply cannot be settled. Instead, this guide is intended to showcase the many offerings of New York City parks and let you decide for yourself which one truly is the best.
Parks for the Whole Family
Central Park - Manhattan
Constructed right in the middle of the mayhem that is Manhattan, Central Park is undoubtedly one of the most famous parks in the world, and for good reason. Opening in 1857 the park has since seen countless renovations, installments, events, and eras, and the Parks and Recreation department estimates it sees over 25 million visitors every year.
First time visitors can enjoy a tour of the park by foot, bicycle, pedicab, or the famed horse and carriages. Enjoy the many cultural elements of the park including the Belvedere Castle, the many statues and structures like Cleopatra’s Needle and Alice in Wonderland, and the Delacorte Theatre known for its tradition of putting on free Shakespeare in the Park. Nature lovers will enjoy the Wildlife Sanctuary, the Conservatory Garden, and the many cherry Blossom trees found blooming throughout the park.
Kids are sure to enjoy the Central Park Zoo and the Marionette Theatre, while fishing at the Dana Discovery Center and swan spotting on a boat from the Loeb Boathouse are activities that are sure to please any age. Whatever your age, interest, or mood, it is impossible not to find a corner of Central Park that seems to be made just for you.
Prospect Park – Brooklyn
Sometimes considered the Central Park of Brooklyn, Prospect Park shares the same designers as its sister park in Manhattan and offers just as many points of interest for the family. Checking out the Lefferts Historic House offers visitors the opportunity to check out 18th century village life including tinkering with traditional toys and engaging in butter churning. For under 10 dollars a person you can see over 100 species of animals housed at the Prospect Park Zoo or take a ride on the nearby Carousel that was originally crafted in 1912.
The Zucker Natural Exploration Area is one of seven playgrounds in the park and is built from trees and recycled materials encouraging visitors to interact with and learn about the natural materials that the park is constructed from. Located in the Boathouse, the Audubon Center promotes wildlife conservation and hosts programs such as bird watching and Discovery Packs to encourage nature based activities for all. Come by in the summer and catch one of the Celebrate Brooklyn! Concerts which are completely free and attract a great diversity of performers. Prospect Park offers something for everyone year round.
Van Cortlandt Park – The Bronx
One of the largest parks in the city, Van Cortlandt Park houses activities to get active, get educated, and just relax. The 18th century Van Cortlandt House Museum is the oldest house in the Bronx and has been transformed into a museum allowing visitors to preview life in colonial times. Over at the Nature Center the Urban Park Rangers will lead you through informative tours about the biodiversity of the park itself.
In the cold months be sure to visit the ice skating rink or in the summer set up a barbecue by the pool. Spend some quiet time bird watching in the northern reaches of the park or get some laughs in at one of the four different playgrounds scattered across the grounds. Run, bike, or hike your way through one of the park trails, or take the whole family horseback riding for the day.
Parks With Scenic Views
Brooklyn Bridge Park – Brooklyn
The waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park is undoubtedly a local favorite and provides unending things to see and do. Have kids? Take them to the environmental education center, the nautical-themed Main Street Playground, the vintage carousel, or one of the pier’s beaches. Have a four-legged friend? Take them to play at one of the Dog Runs or join them on a wag-a-long which is a dog friendly tour of the park. Like being active? The park is home to a huge variety of courts and fields as well as pools, trails, and outdoor fitness classes.
Arguably one of the best aspects of the park however is that all these things can be enjoyed while taking in the breathtaking views of the city. The park sits right on the water and offers lovely views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and more throughout the different sectors of the park. This park ensures you’ll never be bored and never be without a great eyeful of the city.
Astoria Park - Queens
Astoria Park sits along the East River and is nestled between the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate Bridges giving it a nice variety of lovely views. It is most famously known for its massive pool which is both the largest and oldest in the entire city. Other amenities of the park include a running track, a playground for children, tennis and basketball courts, and several trails. Go for a dip in the iconic pool, partake in a sports activity, or simply grab a bench and bask in the views of the bridges and New York skyline.
Parks for Peace and Quiet
Inwood Hill Park – Manhattan
Unlike many other New York parks, Inwood Hill remains non-landscaped meaning its densely wooded and often hilly grounds are much less manicured than other parks. Inwood Hill’s fascinating history dates back to the 17th century from which Native American encampments were found on the land that is currently the park grounds. Located on the northern tip of Manhattan the park celebrates a very diverse ecosystem which includes a salt water marsh, trails through lush wooded areas, and an effort back in 2002 to introduce bald eagles to the park. Though the journey to this part of Manhattan might be a little out of the way, it is worth it to steal a quiet moment away from the rush of the big city.
Wave Hill - The Bronx
Wave Hill is situated in the Bronx and offers a lovely view that stretches across the Hudson River to the Palisades of New Jersey. If you are looking to experience a bit of community and culture join one of the art workshops, go to a performance on the Lawn or in the Armor Hall, or join a restorative Yoga or Meditation session. For those who simply want to explore in peace take a stroll through the numerous gardens across the grounds and release some of your big city stresses. Take a self-guided tour and venture at your own pace and stop by the Café for some refreshing afternoon tea.
Greenacre Park - Manhattan
Greenacre Park, known as a ‘pocket park’ is a perfect example of the city’s effort to provide patches of green space even in the most unassuming of places. In the heart of midtown this oasis of green inspired one anonymous reviewer to describe their experience as ‘lunch in the secret garden.’ Though a very small space at 60 by 120 feet, a 25-foot-tall waterfall helps to drown out the noise of the street. Enjoy light food and coffee at the snack bar or bring your own lunch to enjoy the shade of the trees and the meditative trickling of water.
Parks to Spend a Whole Day
Pelham Bay Park - The Bronx
The largest public park in New York City by a large margin, it is unsurprising that you can easily be entertained for a day in this park’s 2,772 acres. The park’s Equestrian center offers riding lessons as well as trail rides to explore some of the park’s woods and grounds. For golf fans the park houses a full public golf course as well as a mini golf course for the younger ones. Orchard Beach is also situated in the park offering a boardwalk, grills for cooking, and access to City Island.
For a more tranquil and educational experience in the park one can visit the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary and learn about the park’s many natural marvels. Other educational options include the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum for a snapshot of country life in the 19th century or one of the two nature centers for events such as seal and bird watches, trail hiking, and more. The park’s lagoon offers a good launching spot for canoes and kayaks to explore the waters and nearby small islands. Additionally, having multiple playgrounds, trails, and sports courts there is no shortage of park activities to fill a full day’s schedule.
Hudson River Park - Manhattan
Amongst Manhattan parks Hudson River Park is second in size only to Central Park. It stretches for 4.5 miles along the waterfront of the Hudson River and incorporates many renovated former shipping piers. Bicycles are available for rent and are a popular way to explore the park’s paths along with joggers, skaters, and casual walkers. Fitness classes are often being lead on the park grounds offering tranquil views of the water while exercising.
The park is home to playgrounds, a mini golf course, dog parks, a carousel, and even a trapeze swing. For water enthusiasts there are ample swimming, sailing, rowing, kayaking, and other water friendly activities throughout the park. To round out a full day of adventuring in the park there are several restaurants to refuel at as well as several works of art interspersed throughout the grounds. Whether you visit to relax, exercise, or play you’ll be sure to stay busy here all day long.
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