Timeout New York Kids

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25 best playgrounds in New York City

We searched high and low for the city's best playgrounds: Visit them all for a summer's worth of hometown fun.

  • Photograph: Phyllis B. Dooney

    Moira Ann Smith Playground

  • Washington Market Park

  • Photograph: Anna Simonak

    Indian Road Playground

  • Imagination Playground

  • Photograph: Ilenia Martini

    Nelson A. Rockefeller Park Playground

For families, NYC's best playgrounds are some of the city's most essential landmarks, especially in the summer months. Inspired by the high design, prime location and top-notch equipment of so many of them, we set out to round up the city's top 25 and rank them in ascending order of excellence. We know you'll be familiar with a lot of the playgrounds on our list, but we're hoping you won't know all of them. After all, half the fun of discovering new spots for yourself lies in making them your own. We admit that we've left lots of good playgrounds off the list—we had to—but we hope you'll weigh in to let us know if any of them is a favorite of yours, or if you think our ranking is off. But as summer approaches, what we wish you most of all is happy exploring and abundant sunny skies to accompany you out the door.


Playgrounds in New York City

25
Madison Square Park Playground

Moira Ann Smith Playground

Four teal turrets announce the newly dedicated Moira Ann Smith playground, named for the only female NYPD officer to perish on September 11, at the northern end of lush Madison Square Park. Variously sized play structures, plus a colorful area with a towering waterwheel and water-spouting alphabet blocks, mean the space is packed with mini fun-seekers year-round. Add to that summer kids’ concerts in the park just outside plus the proximity of Shake Shack and the spot’s practically a day trip in itself. Madison Square Park between 24th and 25th Sts (nycgovparks.org).

24

Washington Market Park

  • Free

It’s a rare thing in the city to have a spot where one sibling can play in the toddler area, while the other kicks around a soccer ball on the grass—all in one enclosed setting. That’s just what Tribeca residents enjoy on a daily basis at Washington Market Park. Its tripartite playground has climbing structures for every age kid, including the “steerable” ship for tots by the entrance; the adjacent park consists mostly of an expansive field of green surrounded by benches and a gazebo that morphs into a perfect castle with a little imagination. Greenwich St between Chambers and Duane Sts (nycgovparks.org).

23
Indian Road Playground

Indian Road Playground

Situated in what may well be Manhattan’s wildest, most history-laden nature preserve, the refurbished Indian Road Playground in Inwood Hill Park lends its bucolic surroundings a welcome kid-friendliness. Built with American Indian references in homage to the nearby road of the same name and the people who used it, the playground sports a wooden canoe that kids can sit in or fill with sand, a Native symbol–bearing tic-tac-toe game and a thoughtfully shaded circular sand pit, plus two climbing structures (one for tots, the other for older children) that resemble science-class atomic models. After the kids are done playing, head down to the river for a gorgeous vista of Spuyten Duyvil and a peek at the park’s kid-friendly Nature Center. Inwood Hill Park, W 214th St between Indian Rd and Seaman Ave (nycgovparks.org)

22
Prospect Park Imagination Playground

Imagination Playground

The name of this spacious playground refers not to the blue-block-filled kind of imagination but rather that of tall tales and storytelling. A bronze sculpture of a dragon that seems to pop right out of a book is the park’s main water feature (water flows along the dragon’s back). And in 1997 the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation commissioned a sculpture of Keats’s beloved character Peter and the boy’s dog, a fixture that’s now a popular spot for organized storytimes. Stages of various sizes, used for tot-friendly theatrical productions in the summer, and animal cutout masks that kid thespians can peek through seal its reputation as one of Prospect Park’s most cultured corners. Ocean Ave between Lincoln Rd and Parkside Ave, Prospect Park, Brooklyn (prospectpark.org)

21
Nelson A. Rockefeller Park

Nelson A. Rockefeller Park Playground

Though built mostly from wood in 1992, this leafy enclave just north of North Cove in Battery Park City gains our vote for most unique play structures. Acting like an ersatz second floor, one of them sports a red fabric grid to bounce on, plus a network of wooden walkways and bridges and ladders and slides. At the southern end is a one-of-a-kind, kid-pedaled carousel that kids never seem to get enough of. Battery Park City, North End Ave at Vesey St (batteryparkcity.org)


  1. 25–21
  2. 20–16
  3. 15–11
  4. 10–6
  5. 5–1

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