Here in NYC, playgrounds are the backyard our urban kids will never have. They offer a safe place for children to explore, climb, play games and even escape to faraway lands for an imaginative adventure. These kids’ playgrounds are more than just play structures, slides and swings: they’re a great place for kids and parents to make new friends, and for families to congregate most of the year!
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC
In short, we know how important it is to know the best playgrounds in your area, and we’re here to help with a roundup of the best. You’ll find everything from large games of tic-tac-toe to NYC’s longest slides (Slide Hill on Governors Island!), plus artful play forts, climbing structures, tunnels and even spray showers. View our list of the best splash parks for more on that.
You’ll certainly want to visit classics like Ancient Playground, Heckscher Playground and Playground for All Children on your journey, and you won’t want to miss our favorite playgrounds with famous artwork, either.
The best kids' playgrounds in NYC
Plenty of sparkling new playgrounds in the ten best things to do in Central Park are tricked out with posh design elements and expensive equipment, but we chose this oldie but goodie because its charms have truly withstood the test of time. An extensive sand area, rustic summerhouse-like structures made of wood and its stone bridge alone would endear it to local families, but the coup de grace is the 45-foot-tall, carved-granite slide that awaits in the playground’s leafy back. Shiny, smooth and pretty darn fast especially when kids use stray pieces of cardboard to sit on, the “ride” is well worth the wait on line along the steep rocky path leading to the top. Whether you’ve been there a hundred times or are just visiting the area, this is one thing you must check off your bucket list. Central Park, east side at 67th St (centralparknyc.org)
Central Park’s oldest and largest playground is also one of its best, thanks a top-to-bottom renovation (it reopened in 2006) that cleverly connected it to Umpire Rock, the Manhattan schist outcropping behind it: Kids not only get to a scale stone pyramid but, after crossing a small bridge, an actual cliff, too. (Consider packing a lunch for a picnic on top). Colorful, rubber-topped humps change up the usual flat landscape and divide the area for smaller kids, complete with a dedicated tot water area and an enormous sandbox with a climbing net, from the main complex of tunnels, moats and bridges, and the bigger kids’ spray fountains. An old-school spot with a single metal slide and two popular tire swings on the far western edge is a sweet nod to the Central Park playgrounds of yore. Central Park, midpark between 61st and 63rd Sts (centralparknyc.org)
Built back in 1984, this quintessential Queens play area was the first of its kind. It was created for all children to play on (both able-bodied and disabled) and is widely considered a prototype for other playgrounds of its kind around the city and the world. It contains a 12-foot-long suspension bridge, slides, swings, plaques with braille and English, a water wheel area for kids needing to cool off and also a performance area. Feeling sporty? This playground offers a basketball court, an area for volleyball and other net-type games, and a baseball diamond. It’s truly a great spot for everybody, making it well-worth its original budget of three million. Corona Ave at 111th St, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens (nycgovparks.org)
Tom Otterness Playground
It’s hard to top other playgrounds in terms of whimsy, but Tom Otterness Playground trumps them all in terms of turning an art piece into a play structure. Built in the form of a sitting man, this playground offers spots for climbing, swinging and sliding that your tykes will love. Did we mention it’s also a great photo opportunity? If you’re in search of more of the artist’s famous works? Head over to the 14th St Subway Station to see his work “Life Underground,” a collection of bronze sculptures. Silver Towers on 42nd St between 11th and 12th avenues (tomostudio.com)
Play:ground is an exciting new addition to Governors Island as of summer 2016, thanks to its Kickstarter success. It's different from all the other playgrounds in the best possible way: It's made of found and donated materials, so kids will need to use their noggins to create their dream playscape. Kids can interact with loose parts like wood planks, cardboard, tires, hay bales and fabrics, and it's also fully stocked with tools for building—think hammers, nails, saws, tape, glue, paint, chalk, dirt (for mud!) and water—no plastic tools here! That being said, there are staff playworkers to help supervise—they act as "playground lifeguards" and help facilitate free play where necessary, plus they also help kids learn new skills responsibly.
Governor's Island (govisland.com).
NYC Playgrounds Map
More fun things to do with kids
There are plenty of outdoor activities for kids in New York City—many you'll even love doing as a family! When you're not busy cuddled up with our favorite family movies on Netflix and our list of the best kids movies (come on—it's time to head outside!), you'll love exploring the coolest family attractions and the other amazing outdoor activities this amazing city has to offer.