Everyone knows how gorgeous Central Park and Prospect Park are but the concrete jungle is actually much greener than just those big, famous parks. Throughout New York City, peaceful parks and gardens, both big and small, beautify neighborhoods and provide a taste of nature in the big city. Ahead, find 10 of them to check out on one of those perfect New York spring afternoons.
Photo courtesy of Lionel Martinez on Wikimedia
1. Fort Tryon Park
In Upper Manhattan, you’ll find a stunning park with sweeping views of the Hudson River. It’s also home to the Met Cloisters, a Medieval museum and garden that looks like a European castle (and the building actually came from Europe). There’s a flower garden, eight miles of walking/running paths, playgrounds, volleyball courts, built-in ping pong tables and Manhattan’s longest dog run, according to the city. And it’s no wonder the park is so beautiful; it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of the architect who designed Central Park. Olmsted Jr. was commissioned by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who began acquiring parcels of land in the city in 1917 “as part of his vision of developing a beautiful park with majestic views of the Hudson River and Palisades for the public,” the city recalls. “The Olmsted Brothers designed the park and oversaw its construction between 1931 and 1935.”
Courtesy of Wave Hill
2. Wave Hill
Billed as a “garden of wonders,” Wave Hill in the Bronx truly is a wonder to behold. Founded in 1965, its 28 acres overlooking the Hudson River boast manicured gardens, greenhouses, a wooded area, as well as a cafe and a gift shop. “Wave Hill is a museum without walls with a living collection of more than 4,000 varieties of trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants. It is the only public garden in the New York metropolitan area practicing a unique combination of classic horticultural craftsmanship and daring design,” the site describes. The park plays host to art exhibits, live performances, walking tours and workshops for children, bird enthusiasts, and more. Admission is $10 for adults plus $10 for parking; it’s also accessible via Metro-North and a shuttle service.
Photo by cultivar413 on Flickr
3. Conservatory Garden
The Conservatory Garden is technically part of Central Park, but it’s worth mentioning on its own. Located towards the top of the park, Central Park’s only formal garden is an oasis of hedges, fountains, flowers, and photo ops. It’s composed of three different gardens designed in French, Italian, and English styles (calling all “Bridgerton” fans). “Originally conceived by Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as an arboretum, the site of the Conservatory Garden was initially a nursery for growing plants for the Park. By the late 1880s, greenhouses were built on site, followed shortly by an ornate glass conservatory (the origin of the Conservatory Garden’s name).
After falling into disrepair, the conservatory was demolished in the early 1930s, and the six-acre formal outdoor garden that we now know was conceived and built,” the parks’ site describes. Because most of the hardscape has been around since 1937 when the Conservatory opened, it’s currently under restoration. Right now, the French garden is being worked on but the Italian and English gardens are open. Updates will be made to the bluestone pavers that make up the walkways, the fountains, and other design elements and some stairs will be converted to ramps for accessibility. The project is set to be completed in 2025.
Photo © Lidia Ryan for 6sqft
4. Governors Island
If you’re wondering why the entire island is on this list, it’s because Governors Island is pretty much one huge park. Accessible by ferry, its 120 acres are chock full of open grassy space, biking and walking trails, playgrounds for kids, a hammock grove, and more. There’s even a bee sanctuary and a composting center. And it’s all set against uninterrupted views of the lower Manhattan skyline. Aside from being an oasis of outdoor recreation, Governor’s Island is a public art hub with indoor and outdoor installations year-round. And if you’re there all day, grilling (with a permit) and picnicking are welcome on Governors Island, but there are also food and coffee vendors on hand.
Photo © 6sqft
5. Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Williamsburg’s new Domino Park has been getting a lot of attention the past few years, but the smaller and less flashy Marsha P. Johnson State Park has a charm all its own — mostly because it’s part-beach! The seven-acre stretch along the East River (formerly known as East River State Park) has a sandy shore with a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, but there’s also a large grassy field for picnicking, napping, and games as well as a playground for little ones. One of the biggest draws is Smorgasburg; during warm-weather months, the park hosts a plethora of food vendors selling al fresco.
6. Alley Pond Park Adventure Course
Did you know there’s an outdoor adventure ropes course in Queens? The first of its kind in the city, the adventure course is free and open to the public on Sundays, or available for group reservations for both children and adults. A great team-building activity, the ropes course is intended to promote trust as you guide your “teammates” through obstacles. “Each element emphasizes different group characteristics such as self–confidence, communication, cooperation, trust, and leadership.
Although each element has its own perceived physical and mental challenge, anyone willing to participate can do so through the cooperative efforts of the group,” the site describes. “As teams work through the elements of the Adventure Course, they learn about themselves and their relationships to others and develop leadership and problem-solving skills.” There’s also a zip line, climbing wall, trust fall station, swings, and a balance platform. It’s located in Alley Pond Park, a diverse 635-acre park with walking and biking trails, tennis courts, a pond, and New York City’s oldest tree.
Photo by Jason Eppink on Flickr
7. LaGuardia Landing Lights
Perhaps the most unique park on this list, LaGuardia Landing Lights is a grassy area right by LaGuardia Airport where you can picnic while planes fly right overhead. The park itself is made up of small parcels of land that are actually federally mandated to be there. “Their placement is mandated by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which require a swath of clear land in approaches leading up to airport runways,” the site states. The park was built in 1958 and follows the flight path of planes to the airport. So, if you ever have time to kill at LaGuardia, head out to the airport’s very own obligatory park for a nice picnic or a nap under the Boeings.
8. Hunter’s Point Park South
“This waterfront park was until recently an abandoned post-industrial area in Long Island City,” as the park’s website describes. But today, it’s a beautifully manicured park along the East River with stunning skyline views. The modern design features a green, playgrounds, a dog run, a bikeway, a waterside promenade, a basketball court, and “a 30-foot-tall cantilevered platform for viewing the skyline and waterfront” as well as a “13,000 square foot pavilion that contains comfort stations, concessions, and an elevated cafe plaza.” The park has become a community hub hosting outdoor movie nights, a star gazing event, and the upcoming LIC Waterfront 5K.
Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft
9. FDR Four Freedoms Park
Take a trip out to Roosevelt Island and check out the unique waterfront triangular park known as FDR Four Freedoms Park, named for Franklin D Roosevelt, of course. The tree-lined park is run by a non-profit with the mission to honor and preserve the late president’s legacy. It was designed by architect Louis Kahn, who admired Roosevelt greatly. “Underlying Kahn’s design is a naval theme, a nod, perhaps, to Roosevelt’s love of and connection to the sea, and to the unique location of the site. The Park design is symmetrical, and the construction drawings themselves are dimensioned off a centerline, as is standard in naval architecture,” the site describes. The name of the park comes from Roosevelt’s 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech in which he spoke of the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Photo by Allison Meier on Flickr
10. Freshkills Park
The last park on this list is the largest — at 2,200 acres, it’s almost three times the size of Central Park. That’s because before it was a park it was actually the world’s largest landfill. Before that deters you, remember Manhattan was built on landfills. Today, it’s a beautiful nature sanctuary with open space for wildlife and a big emphasis on ecology and sustainability. There are kayak launches, horseback riding trails, and soccer fields as well as art installations and tons of educational programs. Opened in 2001, the park is still a work in progress with scheduled completion by 2036.
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