Although hailing cabs in New York City can feel like a blood sport, and waiting on subway platforms in summer heat is steamier than a sauna, New Yorkers still love to stay active in their spare time. And considering how limited the green spaces are in the city, it’s surprising for some visitors just how active the locals can be.

Running & Jogging

Central Park’s loop roads are best during traffic-free hours, though you’ll be in the company of many cyclists and in-line skaters. The 1.6-mile path surrounding the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (where Jackie O used to run) is for runners and walkers only; access it between 86th and 96th Sts. Running along the Hudson River is a popular path, best from about 30th St to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. The Upper East Side has a path that runs along FDR Dr and the East River (from 63rd St to 115th St). Brooklyn’s Prospect Park has plenty of paths (and a 3-mile loop), while 1.3-mile-long Brooklyn Bridge Park has incredible views of Manhattan (reach it via Brooklyn Bridge to up the mileage). The New York Road Runners Club organizes weekend runs citywide, including the New York City Marathon.

Cycling

NYC has taken enormous strides in making the city more bike-friendly, adding hundreds of miles of bike lanes in recent years. That said, we recommend that the uninitiated stick to the less hectic trails in the parks and along the waterways, such as Central Park, Prospect Park, the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway.

Citi Bike (www.citibikenyc.com) is handy for quick jaunts, but for longer rides, you’ll want a proper rental. Biking tours let you cover a lot of ground and are worth considering. Bike the Big Apple is recommended.

Street Sports

With all that concrete around, New York has embraced a number of sports and events played directly on the streets themselves. Those with hoop dreams will find pick-up basketball games all over the city, the most famous courts being the West 4th Street Basketball Courts, known as ‘the Cage’. Or try Holcombe Rucker Park up in Harlem – that’s where many NBA bigshots cut their teeth. You’ll also find pick-up games in Tompkins Square Park and Riverside Park. Hudson River Park has courts at Canal St and on W 11th Ave at 23rd St. Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park also has public courts.

Lesser-known handball and stickball are also popular in NYC – you’ll find one-wall courts in outdoor parks all over the city. For stickball, link up with the Bronx-based Emperors Stickball League (www.stickball.com) to check out its Sunday games during the warmer months.

Water Sports

This is an island, after all, and as such there are plenty of opportunities for getting out on the water. The Downtown Boathouse offers free 20-minute kayaking (including equipment) in the protected embayment of the Hudson River; it also has a Governors Island location. The Manhattan Community Boathouse, located at the 56th St pier, also has free kayaking, plus lessons.

In Central Park, Loeb Boathouse rents rowboats for romantic trysts, and even fills Venice-style gondolas in summer. For a sailing adventure, hop aboard the Schooner Adirondack at Chelsea Piers.

Surfers may be surprised to find a tight group of wave worshippers within city limits, at Queens' Rockaway Beach at 90th St, which is a 75-minute ride on the A train from Midtown.

Need to Know

Websites

  • NYC Parks (www.nycgovparks.org) Details on park services, including free pools and basketball courts, plus borough biking maps.
  • New York Road Runners Club (www.nyrr.org) Organizes weekend runs and races citywide.
  • Central Park (www.centralparknyc.org) Lists myriad activities and events held at NYC's best-loved green space.
  • NYC (www.nycgo.com/sports) Lists all the major sporting events and activities happening in town.