Neck-craning skyscrapers, roaring subways and a sea of people all with somewhere to go, finding respite on the busy New York City streets may seem impossible. But for all the concrete and constant commotion, there are a host of green spaces where weary travelers and city dwellers can find some peace. Here are the 13 best city parks in New York City.
One of the world’s most renowned green spaces, Central Park comprises 843 acres of rolling meadows, boulder-studded outcroppings, elm-lined walkways, manicured European-style gardens, a lake and a reservoir — not to mention an outdoor theater, a memorial to John Lennon, an idyllic waterside eatery (the Loeb Boathouse) and a famous Alice in Wonderland statue.
Created in the 1860s and ’70s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on the marshy northern fringe of the city, the immense park was designed as a leisure space for all New Yorkers regardless of color, class or creed. It’s also an oasis from the insanity: the lush lawns, cool forests, flowering gardens, glassy bodies of water and meandering, wooded paths provide the dose of serene nature that New Yorkers crave.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
This 85-acre park is one of Brooklyn’s best-loved attractions. Wrapping itself around a 1.3-mile bend on the East River, the post-industrial site runs from just beyond the far side of the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo to the west end of Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn Heights.
The once-barren stretch of shoreline dotted with a series of abandoned piers has turned landscaped parkland with jaw-dropping views of Manhattan. There's lots to see and do here, with playgrounds, walkways and lawns galore.
Brooklyn is blessed with several historic, view-laden and well-used green spaces, but its emerald is Prospect Park. The designers of the 585-acre park – Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux – considered it an improvement on their other New York project, Central Park, and between rambling its tree-fringed walkways and sighing at ornamental bridges, you might agree.
Opened in 1867, this lovely, faux-natural green space has a long meadow to the west (filled with dog-walkers, sportspeople or barbecuers, depending on the season), hilly woodlands, and a boathouse on the east side, by its expansive lake. The neoclassical arches, sculptures and columns at the major entrances were later additions.
It’s hard to believe that the one-and-a-half-mile-long High Line – a shining example of brilliant urban renewal – was once a dingy freight line that anchored a district of slaughterhouses.
Today, this eye-catching attraction is one of New York's best-loved green spaces, drawing visitors who come to stroll, sit and picnic 30ft above the city – while enjoying fabulous views of Manhattan's ever-changing urban landscape. It loops around Hudson Yards and ends at 34th St.
Hudson River Park
The High Line may be all the rage these days, but one block away from that famous elevated park stretches a five-mile-long recreational space that has transformed the city over the past decade. Covering 550 acres (400 of which are on the water) and running from Battery Park at Manhattan's southern tip to 59th St in Midtown, Hudson River Park is Manhattan's wondrous backyard. The long riverside path is a great spot for cycling, running and strolling.
Several boathouses (including one in Chelsea near W 26th St and another in the West Village near Houston St) offer kayak rentals and longer excursions for the more experienced. There's also beach volleyball, basketball courts, a skate park and tennis courts. Families with kids have loads of options, including four playgrounds, a carousel (off W 22nd St), mini-golf and grassy piers for young legs to run free.
Washington Square Park
This former potter’s field and square for public executions is now the unofficial town square of Greenwich Village, hosting lounging NYU students, tuba-playing street performers, socializing canines, fearless squirrels, speed-chess pros, and barefoot children who splash about in the fountain on warm days.
Locals have resisted changes to the shape and uses of the park, and its layout has remained largely the same since the 1800s.
Surrounded by perfectly-manicured Greek Revival townhouses and a grab bag of modern architecture (all owned by NYU), Washington Square Park is an enticing green space – especially as you are welcomed by the iconic Stanford White Arch on the north side of the green. The arch, colloquially known as the Washington Square Arch, dominates the park with its 73ft of gleaming white Tuckahoe marble.
Fort Greene Park
War history and a hilly aspect make 30-acre Fort Greene Park a rewarding space to ramble. Forts from the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 were retired by 1847 when this tract of land became Brooklyn's first park (a measure championed by Walt Whitman, then editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle).
By 1896, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted – designers of Central Park and Prospect Park – were resculpting its rugged expanse. It's popular for its tennis courts, ball fields and playground.
Skirting the southern edge of Manhattan, this 12-acre oasis lures with public artworks, meandering walkways and perennial gardens. Its memorials include tributes to those who died in the Korean War and Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano. The first Dutch settlement on Manhattan was founded here in 1625, and the city's first battery was later erected in its defense.
Warning! Only one company, Statue Cruises, sells tickets to the iconic monument. If you didn't purchase them online, buy them at the ticket office in Castle Clinton. Don't buy them on the street.
European coffee kiosks, alfresco chess games, summer film screenings and winter ice skating: it's hard to believe that this leafy oasis was a crime-ridden hellscape known as “Needle Park” in the ’70s. Nestled behind the beaux-arts New York Public Library building, it's a whimsical spot for a little time-out from the Midtown madness.
Fancy taking a beginner Italian language, yoga or juggling class, joining a painting workshop or signing up for a birding tour? There's a daily smorgasbord of quirky activities.
Among the park's attractions is the French-inspired, Brooklyn-made Le Carrousel, offering rides. Frequent special events include the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, popular with post-work crowds lugging cheese-and-wine picnics.
A classic beauty designed by Central Park creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, this waterside spot, running north on the Upper West Side and banked by the Hudson River from W 59th to 155th Sts, is lusciously leafy. Plenty of bike paths, playgrounds and dog runs make it a family favorite. Views from the park make the Jersey side of the Hudson look quite pretty.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Central Queens' biggest attraction is this 1225-acre park, built for the 1939 World’s Fair and dominated by Queens’ most famous landmark, the stainless-steel Unisphere – it's the world’s biggest globe: 120ft high and weighing 380 tons. Facing it is the former New York City Building, now home to the fantastic Queens Museum.
Just south are three weather-worn, Cold War–era New York State Pavilion Towers, part of the New York State Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. (You may recognize them as alien spaceships from the film Men in Black). If entering the park from the north, via the 7 train, look for the 1964 World’s Fair mosaics by Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol.
Inwood Hill Park
This 196-acre oasis contains the last natural forest and salt marsh in Manhattan and evidence suggests the land was used by Native Americans in the 17th century. It’s a cool escape in summer and a great place to explore anytime, as you’ll find hilly paths for hiking and mellow, grassy patches and benches for quiet contemplation. It’s so bucolic that the treetops serve as frequent nesting sites for bald eagles. On summer weekends, join locals who barbecue at designated grills.
Mah-jongg meisters, slow-motion tai-chi practitioners and old aunties gossiping over homemade dumplings – this leafy oasis is core to NYC history. In the 19th century, this was part of the infamous Five Points neighborhood, the city’s first tenement slums and the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Aside from serving up an intriguing slice of multicultural life, the park's other perk these days is its public bathroom, making it the perfect place for a pit stop.
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