The best nature centers in NYC

If you need a little break from the Big Apple, visit one of NYC's nature centers and get in tune with the enviornment
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
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Swap the skyscrapers and overcrowded F train for some outdoor tranquility. NYC might be a concrete jungle, but its beautiful greenery is not to be missed. If you're not feeling terribly convinced, head to one of the five boroughs' nature centers and take in the scenery. 

Thanks to a variety of programs and activities, these NYC nature centers allow families to enjoy their surroundings and learn a bit more about the grounds. For those in need of a break from the big city, head to a local park to see various offerings. You'll be hiking through dirt trails and planting flowers in no time. 

Looking for more ideas once you leave the city's nature centers? Get inspired by our list of things to do in spring and make a checklist for your crew, head to one of these museums for kids or start planning a trip to one of these awesome family resorts

 

Best nature centers in NYC

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Wave Hill

icon-location-pin The Bronx

Nestled in the backdrop of the Hudson River and Palisades, Wave Hill's sprawling 28-acre grounds is one of NYC's nature centers that will completely transport you to another environment. The public garden—home to gorgeous flowers, scenic views and a rich history—offers plenty of fun for visitors of all ages. Families can enjoy tours, art projects and lectures, among other fun activities.

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
Attractions, Ships and boats

Prospect Park Audubon Center

icon-location-pin Prospect Park

Located in Prospect Park's 20th-century Boathouse (a historic landmark) the Audubon Center is devoted to wildlife preservation and education. Not only does it contain the park's visitor's center, a café and an exhibition area, but it is the first urban Audubon center in the United States—all the more reason to visit one of NYC's most beloved nature centers. 

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Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
Photograph: Courtesy Central Park Conservancy
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Central Park, Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

icon-location-pin Lenox Hill

Central Park is home to one of NYC's most famous nature centers: the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. While you and the family are taking a stroll through the iconic park, stop by the center for free classes, festive exhibits or a tour of the park that'll teach you about Manhattan's largest greenspace. Happy exploring! 

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Alley Pond Environmental Center

icon-location-pin Queens

Meadows, salt marshes and forests, oh my! APEC is one of Queens' nature centers that not only offers fun programming for the whole family, but aims to help New Yorkers experience and appreciate their green surroundings...and the little inhabitants that come along with those spaces!

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Greenbelt Nature Center

icon-location-pin Staten Island

Once you and the family spend an afternoon at the Greebelt Nature Center, you'll fall in love with Staten Island (perhaps it'll even become your favorite borough). There's plenty of fun to choose from— exploring Richmond County Savings Foundation exhibits, hiking through the ground's trails or even taking some time to sit in on a yoga class. 

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Van Cortlandt Nature Center

icon-location-pin Flatiron

Van Cortlandt Park is a 1,000-acre green space that offers live concerts, horseback riding, an outdoor pool, hiking and cross-country trails, a historic house museum and two public golf courses. One of the city's most popular nature centers centers, this Bronx venue provides a much-needed escape into nature.  

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/61123283@N00/2759975626/
Courtesy CC/Flickr/PhotoJeff
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Salt Marsh Nature Center

icon-location-pin Brooklyn

The Salt Marsh Nature Center allows Brooklynites to enjoy beautiful scenery in the borough's largest park, participate in educational activities and learn about the enviornment in the process. No one can resist an afternoon here once the spring weather hits. 

More fun things to do

Photograph: Courtesy Gulliver's Gate
Attractions, Theme parks

Gulliver's Gate

icon-location-pin Midtown West

Even the smallest kids will feel like giants in this astounding world of miniatures. The Times Square attraction is in a league all its own with 50,000 square feet containing approximately 300 models, 1,000 trains with 12,000 wagons, over 10,000 cars and 50 airplanes. Replicas of well-known locales around the world—along with some fantastical ones found in our favorite books—cover this massive installation and with little vehicles coming and going every which way, it’s a place a child could get lost in for hours. If the family wants to be a deeper part of the action, a 3-D scanner will turn you all into model citizens for a fee. All ages.

Photograph: Courtesy Industry City
Things to do

Mini Golf at Industry City

icon-location-pin Greenwood

If you’re looking for an easy breezy afternoon outing, Industry City has a new mini golf course that’s all about Brooklyn. Located in the courtyard behind the Wheelhouse, the course features colorful local icons such as the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. There’s even a kid-sized water tower and blue-colored "green" to represent the Gowanus Canal. Courtyard 5–6 (718-965-6450, icsummerspree.com). Mon–Thu 11:30am–8pm; Fri–Sat noon–9 pm, Sun noon–6pm. $10, children $5.

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Photograph: Courtesy Staten Island FunPark
Things to do

Staten Island FunPark

icon-location-pin Staten Island

Staten Island Go Karts got a sweet makeover earlier this year and reopened as Staten Island FunPark. Head over for its 800-foot GoKart course, nine outdoor batting cages, an 18-hole mini golf course, games and snack bar. All ages.

Photograph: Courtesy Julie Larsen Maher © WCS
Things to do

Bronx Zoo Treetop Adventure

icon-location-pin The Bronx

Thrill-seekers can roam above the trees or zip line over the Bronx River at the Bronx Zoo’s new Treetop Adventure course. The park features seven aerial courses and eight to 12 different challenges of rope bridges, tight ropes, ladders and swings above the forest canopy. The courageous can then hop on one of two zip lines to travel 800 feet over the river and back while 50 feet above the ground. Participants must be at least seven years old, weigh between 50 and 275 pounds and able to reach 5’6” with their feet flat on the ground.

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Photograph: Courtesy NFL Experience

NFL Experience

Football fans who fantasize about being a professional player will get a kick out of the upcoming NFL Experience. Set to debut in Times Square this November, the NFL-themed attraction guides visitors through training drills, puts them in the coach’s seat and tackle challenges that’ll push them towards a championship win. Kids can see how their passing skills compare to favorite quarterbacks, take control of a game by mapping out their own playbook and check themselves out wearing their team’s uniforms thanks to some cool tech work. The NFL Experience will also exhibit fun items, interactive displays and a 4-D cinema screening exclusive NFL content. All ages. 20 Times Square (212-216-0908, nflexperience.com)

Photograph: National Geographic Encounter

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Explore life under the sea in this 60,000-square-foot virtual realityscape. The immersive experience invites all ages to interact with sea lions, rays, dolphins, humpback whales, sharks and squids without getting your clothes wet. Photo-real animation, giant project screens and interactive technology will make kids feel like they’re truly playing with the fishes. An exact opening date is yet to be set for this coming October, but tickets are already on sale so be sure to grab a time slot to get in on the underwater action. 226 44th St (natgeoencounter.com). $39.50, seniors $36.50, children 12 and under $32.50.

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