Public gardens for families in NYC

Backyards aren't just for families living upstate—NYC has plenty of green spaces for you to hike, walk or simply stroll along and smell the flowers

By Allie Early

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC

Non New Yorkers might have the impression the city lacks the awesome green spaces rural kids grow up loving—no need to underestimate! There are a million reasons why NYC is the best place to raise a family, and one of them is the beautiful gardens right in the area. While you're at it, be sure to check out our favorite nyc parks and beautiful carousels, too.

What are your favorite gardens in NYC?


Brooklyn Botanic Garden

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Parks and gardens Prospect Park

If you don’t know where the BBG is, you’re hardly likely to stumble upon it. Just as it’s hidden from the city at large, the city is hidden from it once you set foot inside. Wooded trails, rose gardens and a gem of a Japanese hill-and-pond garden await on the other side of the lovely new visitors’ center—a far more garden-worthy entrance than any other to date. And if nature alone doesn’t do it for you, the BBG also puts on some of the most colorful (and kid-friendly) fests in the city, from the Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom) celebration to fall’s Chile Pepper Fiesta and Ghouls & Gourds festival. Plus, admission is free for children under 12 and for all from 10–noon on Saturdays, except on special event weekends.

New York Botanical Garden

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Parks and gardens The Bronx

Give city kids a chance to get their hands dirty and explore lush landscapes on this 250-acre expanse. Family programs educate kids (and adults) on our connection to nature, while the Edible Academy teaches children about gardening and healthy living through workshops, scavenger hunts and crafts in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden. Celebrity chef Mario Batali helps youngsters get acquainted with the food on their plates via cooking demos, family dinners and picnic using homegrown ingredients. From spring through the end of autumn, kids can explore nature in Dig! Plant! Grow! gadening workshops, and though the beds are covered during winter, there's still plenty of family fun on the grounds, including the holiday train show in the conservatory (Nov 15–Jan 19) and the magnificent orchid show, come February.


Queens Botanical Garden

Attractions Parks and gardens Queens

The serene space consists of 25 gardens where yoga is allowed but biking and blading are strictly forbidden. You might even spot brightly colored Mexican sunflowers and bushes of purple Russian sage along your walk, depending on the season. Let your kids use their olfactory sense on the Fragrance Walk; the essential oils of the shrubs and flowers there are particularly strong. Make a stop at the Bee Garden, whose plants attract those hardworking, colonizing insects.

Wave Hill

Attractions Parks and gardens The Bronx

Everyone needs a few hours of calm now and then—kids included—and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more serene spot within city limits than Wave Hill. A few stops on the Metro-North Hudson line brings you to the sprawling grounds perched above the Hudson, boasting 28 acres of public gadens, plus woodlands and lawns to wander. You’ll find an elegant 19th-century mansion surrounded by meticulously groomed gardens, featuring abundant wildflowers and shady pergolas. Jump in on nature walks, story times and family art projects, often led by local artists and usually free with grounds admission. Wake up early to take advantage of free admission between 9am and noon every Saturday and check out their seasonal offerings for families like Honey Weekend.

Bronx Zoo Butterfly Garden
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher WCS

Butterfly Garden


Families can scout out such winged beauties as monarchs and julias while strolling through a greenhouse and a lush meadow planted with native New York blooms (think lilac and echinacea). After comparing bug life cycles and peeking into the Nursery to see zookeepers caring for butterflies, kids can stop by the Pollination Hall of Fame photo booth to transform themselves into bumblebees, midge flies or other buzzy critters.

The High Line

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Parks and gardens Chelsea

There’s something uniquely New York about this part of the city. Built on an abandoned railway track, the space is ingenious in its use of reclaimed industrial detritus, a necessity in footage-starved Manhattan. But what we like best is how the pathway takes you above the city while keeping you rooted in urban life: Where else can your kids walk through a field of wildflowers or go on a bug hunt as cabs zoom along the street below? The park boasts plenty of fun events for the kiddos in July and August such as Arty Hours, an arts and crafts program on Saturdays and Lawn Time on Thursday mornings where you can kick back and enjoy magicians and musical performers. Watch out for the Haunted High Line Halloween where ghosts and ghouls from the historical railway visit the park. This celebration of the spooky holiday involves activities like face painting, pumpkin decorating and a scavenger hunt. The last section of the park, the High Line at the Rail Yards, is scheduled to debut this year.


Riverside Park

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Parks and gardens Upper West Side

This scenic four-mile waterfront park extends from 59th to 155th Streets along the Hudson River in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, making it the perfect spot for long strolls, bike rides or roller blades. Facilities include sport courts, a turf field, dog runs, a skate park, bike paths on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a public marina for kayaking at 79th Street, and no less than 14 playgrounds, including our personal favorite, Hippo Playground. Riverside Park is also home to the summerlong festival run by the NYC Parks Department, Summer on the Hudson, which includes kids' concerts, outdoor movie screenings, public art, fitness workshops and tons of performances. Be sure to see the four-acre crabapple grove and 91st St garden and beautiful plantings along the river.

Central Park, Conservatory Garden

4 out of 5 stars
Attractions Parks and gardens Central Park

This serene six-acre garden is a quiet zone, so if you bring your kids, be sure they abstain from biking, running, playing sports and making too much noise. Visitors flock here in the spring to see gorgeous tulip displays, and in autum to see chrysanthemums. Don't leave without visiting the 12-foot-high jet fountain on the western end of the lawn!

Photograph: Gary Gershoff

Central Park, Victorian Gardens

Attractions Arcades and amusements Central Park

Come summer, the ice of Trump Wollman Rink disappears and the space magically transforms into Victorian Gardens, an old-fashioned amusement park with a fun slide, mini roller coaster and Whac-a-Mole, making it a kiddie paradise for all seasons.


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