The best parks in New York – what not to miss!
by Mia Russell
New York, New York! The city that never sleeps may conjure images of a concrete jungle full of skyscrapers, but it’s also home to some beautiful parks and green urban spaces. Nestled along the Hudson River and tucked between towering buildings, the city’s parks offer a tranquil refuge from the continuous hustle and bustle of the city.
There are over 1,700 parks spread around the five boroughs, each with its own character and charm. From the exquisitely landscaped, sprawling beauty of Central Park to the neat High Line on the Lower West Side, New York’s parks are cherished gems that provide a quiet oasis in the heart of the city.
Whether you are looking for a place to walk your dog, do some exercise, enjoy a picnic, or simply take in the fresh air, these parks offer all that and much more. Head outdoors with this list of the best parks in New York City.
Central Park, Manhattan
One of New York’s most recognized attributes, Central Park is the lush green heart of Manhattan. Designed by the award-winning landscape architect team, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park spans 843 acres and is home to everything from a lake to an ice-skating rink.
You could spend days in the park without seeing everything. Hike the winding trails amidst rocky streams in the 38-acre wilderness area known as the Ramble. Rent a rowboat from the picturesque Loeb Boathouse and spend a few hours paddling on the lake. If you prefer someone else to do the work, enjoy a gondola tour followed by lunch at the boathouse.
Rent a bike and explore Central Park on two wheels! Use your pass to rent a bike from Central Park Full Day Bike Rental, along with a helmet, a bike basket/bag, a bike lock, and a map of the park.
Spread a blanket at Sheep's Meadow and enjoy a picnic while watching the world go by and wander through Strawberry Fields in search of community theater troupes rehearsing Shakespeare. Explore the historic Belvedere Castle, visit the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art, and go wild at the Central Park Zoo.
The park also hosts major events like the New York City Marathon, Shakespeare in the Park, and outdoor SummerStage concerts where you can dance the night away under the New York sky.
Riverside Park, Upper West Side
For spectacular sweeping views down the Hudson River, Riverside Park in the Upper West Side is the park to be. Stretching for four miles along the Hudson River from 72nd to 158th Streets, this scenic waterfront park is home to stately trees and sloping lawns, and unrivaled views of the city skyline and the river.
Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, Riverside Park has loads to do from meandering bicycle paths on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway to tennis courts and a skate park. Children’s playgrounds are peppered throughout the park, as well as some of New York’s finest monuments like the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and Grant’s Tomb.
Grab a delicious picnic pack from Perfect Picnic with your pass and spend a few hours relaxing in Riverside Park, eating great food and soaking up the beautiful river views.
Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Another Olmsted and Vaux marvel, Prospect Park is the crown jewel of Brooklyn. Sprawling across 585 acres in Brooklyn, the park is flanked by some of Brooklyn's most historic neighborhoods with beautiful old brownstone houses that have been standing for over a century.
A tranquil oasis in the heart of Brooklyn, the park is home to a 60-acre lake and beautiful landscapes with stately trees like the Nethermead and Long Meadow. Iconic landmarks such as the 1857 Litchfield Villa, the Grand Army Plaza, the Picnic House, and the magnificent Boathouse on the Lullwater.
You’ll need a few hours to explore and enjoy all that the park has to offer. Take a pedal boat ride on the lake and wander around the Prospect Park Zoo. Stroll through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Use your pass to get free entry into the gardens!
Go roller skating or ice skating at Lakeside and catch a summertime show at the Prospect Park Bandshell.
If you haven’t had your fill of spectacular greenery, pop into the nearby New York Botanical Garden to see some incredible fauna and flora. Wander around the old-growth Thain Family Forest and admire the stunning designs of the herbaceous and mixed borders in the Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden.
Get lost in the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum and smell the roses in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. Don’t forget to use your pass to get free entry into the New York Botanical Garden.
Bryant Park, Midtown West
Tucked behind the New York Public Library, Bryant Park is the beating cultural heart of Midtown Manhattan. Located on 42nd Street and surrounded by buildings, this 9.6-acre park is a well-cultivated retreat where New Yorkers gather at any time of day.
Lovely lawns and tall, shady trees make this the perfect spot for escaping the office or taking a break from sightseeing for a breath of fresh air. Bryant Park is a mecca for arts and culture and hosts a dizzying array of engaging activities and events throughout the year.
Join a free yoga, tai-chi, and dance class in the park, or enjoy a game of boules or Kubb (Scandinavian lawn bowling). Relax over a board game and take in a movie at the outdoor classic film festival on Monday nights in summer. Enjoy free wireless access around the park.
Winter brings wonderful offerings to the park like the pop-up Bank of America Winter Village and an ice-skating rink. Don’t miss having a photo at the mythical Bryant Park Fountain with its curiously shaped icicles.
Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village
Washington Square Park is the symbolic heart of Greenwich Village. Marking the park’s north side entrance is the iconic white Washington Arch, honoring George Washington, and making the park one of New York city’s most recognizable public spaces.
The park has long been a hotbed for counterculture and creativity from a gathering place for the Beatnik movement and the hippies, and today, avant-garde artists and students from NYU.
There’s always something happening in the park from diehard chess enthusiasts battling it out in the corner to a dance group performing in front of the arch. Lounge on the grass and listen to musicians play their tunes; eat lunch on the steps of the fountain and watch street artists perform.
Why not use your pass to visit Washington Square Park and explore the surrounding neighborhood on a Greenwich Village Walking Tour ?
Enjoy a two-hour guided tour of the ‘birthplace of American Counter-Culture’ where you’ll visit Washington Square Park, discover film locations (Friends and Mozart in the Jungle), and learn about the area's famous residents like Edgar Allan Poe and John Wilkes Booth.
The High Line, Chelsea
From a disused railroad track to one of the top attractions in the city, the High Line in Chelsea is a much-loved treasure. Stretching from the Meatpacking District to the Hudson Rail Yards, the 1.5–mile long public park was built on an abandoned elevated railroad high above the streets below.
This verdant floating garden passes through some of New York City's most historic neighborhoods in the Lower West Side of Manhattan.
Enjoy a High Line, Chelsea & Meatpacking District Walking Tour with your pass! Begin at the trendy Chelsea Market where you can sample some of New York’s gourmet goodies.
Head up to the High Line and meander along the pedestrian walkway, passing tranquil pools and modern sculptures. Take in the art installations and admire some of New York's most famous buildings, including the Empire State Building and Frank Gehry’s IAC Building.
Explore the regentrified Meatpacking District, an industrial area that was transformed into one of New York’s most affluent neighborhoods. Learn about the legends of Death Avenue and the tales of the West Side Cowboys.
If you have the time, use your pass to pop into the world-renowned Whitney Museum of American Art to see some amazing artworks.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn
Nestled beneath New York City's oldest suspension bridge, Brooklyn Bridge Park is an idyllic spot for escaping the crowds and soaking up some beautiful views over lower Manhattan. With the iconic New York skyline as a background, the park is a popular spot for enjoying outdoor activities like basketball, football, and volleyball.
Use your pass to rent a bike from Brooklyn Bridge Bike Rental and explore the park and the beautiful bridge.
Enjoy a leisurely ride along the scenic, waterfront greenway, and admire innovative artworks woven into the natural landscape of the park. Expansive green lawns are perfect for picnicking, and a water play area offers cool respite from the city heat in summer.
Ride the beautifully restored 1920s Jane’s Carousel or rent a kayak and hit the Hudson. Hop on the seasonal ferry at Pier 4 to visit nearby Governors Island, which has its own share of green space to explore.
The Hills at Governors Island, Governors Island
Escape from the non-stop hum of New York with a short trip to the green oasis of Governors Island. A quick ferry ride from Brooklyn takes you to the shores of this peaceful isle where you’ll find lush green hills offering breathtaking city views.
The once abandoned military base in New York Harbor was transformed into a magnificent park where city dwellers can escape to enjoy outdoor recreation. Designed to pay homage to the lush, hilly landscapes of pre-colonial Manhattan, the island features four man-made grassy knolls boasting panoramic views of the harbor.
Use your pass to rent a bike from Surrey Bike Rental and explore the island. Pedal around the 172-acre isle and take in the spectacular sights.
Check out the art installations dotted around the island including Day is Done, the Cabin sculpture, and Yankee Hangar. Delve into the island’s military past at Fort Jay and Castle Williams and get your hands dirty at the Island’s Urban Farm.
Take in the breathtaking views of the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Lower Manhattan skyline. When you’re done, head to Hammock Grove or Picnic Point for a laid-back picnic.