New Yorkers cherish their parks as rare treasures in the concrete jungle. And with 1,700 within five boroughs, we're not playing around. Of course, certain green spaces are more peaceful and verdant than others, but all of the parks listed here offer amazing things to do outside.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorites, featuring picturesque views of New York and prime picnic spots. Plus, these New York attractions offer seasonal programming and free activities, some of which include outdoor concerts, movie screenings and food festivals. (For even more cool must-dos in the city check out our list of 101 best things to do.)
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in the spring in NYC
Best NYC parks
Urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who most famously designed Central Park, also put their stamp on bucolic Prospect Park. Amenities like the Long Meadow and Nethermead offer plenty of space to pull up on a patch of grass and indulge in some people-watching, and the woodland expanse of the Ravine is a towering forest within bustling Brooklyn. But we also have to give props to Robert Moses: The controversial city planner was behind some of the park’s kid-friendly offerings, including the zoo and Wollman Rink, which throws decade-themed skating parties all summer long.
To feel truly out of the city, head to the 38-acre wilderness area on the west side of the park known as the Ramble. The area has a storied history (as a gay cruising spot dating back to the turn of the last century, among other things), and it was even proposed as a recreational area in the mid-'50s. Thankfully, the winding trails, rocks and streams remain, seemingly waiting to be discovered. If you want plenty of sunshine and more of a social vibe, spread out a blanket at Sheep's Meadow, where groups playing guitar and frisbee and tanning topless are sprawled out as far as the eye can see.
Some city parks were built to replicate rustic fields and preserve serene woodland. Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, was not—and that’s precisely why it has become so popular. The project has transformed a chunk of the Brooklyn waterfront into a nearly 85-acre expanse; several sections house unique attractions such as Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1920s merry-go-round, and riverside esplanades with gorgeous Manhattan views. Pier 5 is complete with sports fields and a playground, and nearby Pier 2 has basketball courts and a skating rink. When summer rolls around, there's literary readings held in the open air, and outdoor movies play at sundown with one of the best views of the city just behind the screen.
Situated behind the New York Public Library is Bryant Park, a well-cultivated retreat that hosts a dizzying schedule of free entertainment during the summer, including the popular Monday night outdoor movies. In the winter, look for an ice skating rink and pop-up shops during the Bank of America Winter Village. Added bonus: The park also boasts free wireless access making it the perfect place to work while basking in the sun.
Give the city’s second-biggest park a day and it’ll show you the world: Its most enduring icon is the Unisphere, the mammoth steel globe created for the 1964 World’s Fair. But there’s also first-rate culture and sports at the New York Hall of Science, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Citi Field (depending on how the Mets are doing). The rolling green fields also encompass a zoo, a boating lake, a skate park, a barbecue area, playfields, and a $66 million aquatic and hockey center. In 2011, wetland plants such as swamp azalea and swamp milkweed were added to better handle the park’s water runoff, improving the catch-and-release fishing in Meadow Lake.
As of 2016, the Hills on Governors Island are alive but not necessarily with the sound of music. Instead, you can hear the hum of parkgoers and their bicycles as they tool around the island’s two-plus-mile promenade, the gleeful squeals of folks slithering down one of the four massive slides and the delighted gasps of visitors ogling perfect views of the New York Harbor and Lower Manhattan. While much of the green space’s landscape has changed (is it hilly), preexisting features such as Hammock Grove and Picnic Point are still major focal points. The park also offers an Adventures zone where revelers can go ziplining, rock climbing and wander through a maze.
While it's less green than most of the parks on this list, Washington Square Park is undoubtedly a staple. The hippies who famously turned up and tuned out in the attractions are still there in spirit, and indeed often in person amidst large groups of NYU students. During the warmer months the park—which was once a potter’s field—is one of the best people-watching spots in the city, humming with musicians—from pianists to sax players—and street artists. Skateboarders clatter near the base of the iconic 1895 Washington Arch (a modest replica of the Arc de Triomphe), and kiddos can splash in the area's fountain on sweltering days.
The High Line came to life in 2009, when an old piece of elevated railway track on the Lower West Side of Manhattan was transformed into a verdant floating garden. Now plants and flowers flourish along the walkway, which stretches for almost two miles. Take your time strolling along it and stop to check out the sculptures, shallow pools (especially irresistable on a hot day), the food court and the view of the Hudson.
This Brooklyn park is popular with area hipsters, and it continues to be a family favorite, too. There are baseball, football and soccer fields; dog runs; tennis courts and more. You'll also find a playground at Lorimer Street and Driggs Ave. It’s also home to SummerScreen—the alfresco film fest—which shows a grab bag of ’90s nostalgia picks (so Williamsburg, right?).
This strip of waterfront park stretches from Battery Park to 59th Street, allowing you to walk, bike or skate while gazing at the Hudson River and New Jersey. There are flowers, benches, piers and lots of programs—including youth sports and kayak rides in the river. On Friday evenings, you can spot everything from people at lawnside boot camps to elderly singing groups belting it out next to a waterside piano.
This scenic four-mile waterfront park extends from 72nd to 158th Streets along the Hudson River in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Facilities include sport courts, a skate park, bike paths on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway and a public marina at 79th Street. Fans of You’ve Got Mail will recall that the promenade at 91st Street is the spot where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally revealed their true identities.
Both Brooklyn's first park and one of it's loveliest, Fort Greene Park plays host to the Soul Summit house-and-classics get-togethers on summertime Sunday afternoons. Explore the 30-acres designed by Olmstead and Vaux, which comprises open meadows, playgrounds and a designated space for all sorts of recreational activities. If you’re simply looking for a peaceful space to contemplate the meaning of life, you’ll have no problem finding a quiet haven for your thoughts.
The East River that Astoria Park sits alongside isn't the only watery view on offer here; this green expanse is also home to the city's oldest (and biggest) pool. This – along with the tennis courts, track, basketball courts, walking trails and multiple playgrounds – make it a perfect spot to visit when the sun is working its magic. Enjoy a peaceful and serene picnic while taking in the lovely views of the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges.
Jutting into the Long Island Sound with rocky outcroppings, marshy inlets and lush forest, Pelham Bay Park looks more like Maine than the Bronx. The city’s largest park at 2,766 acres—three times the size of Central Park—it takes hours to explore. Among the massive park's attractions are Orchard Beach, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, and the recently renovated Pelham Bay Golf Course.
There’s a unique reward for trekking to the northernmost corner of Manhattan, where you’ll find enormous trees in the island’s last virgin forest. Much of the park has never been developed; due to its comparatively remote location, the land remained rural up until its 1916 purchase by the Parks Department, who decided to leave Inwood as natural as possible. As a result, the area remains very similar to the way the island was 500 years ago.
On the eastside of Harlem, right by Columbia, is the sprawling, stunning greenery of Morningside Park. Within the extensive 30 acres you'll find softball diamonds, basketball courts, historic monuments and a sizeable pond. Perfect for a run around, the park also hosts live music events and a regular Saturday farmers' market.
Sitting just a ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, this Staten Island gem, a former home for retired sailers, is still somewhat of a secret. Spread across 83 acres, the area boasts an enormous botanical garden and cultural center surrounded by cobblestone streets and tiny paths of Victorian and Tudor homes. One of the most popular attractions here is the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, fitted with magnificent rocks meant to resemble mountains inspired by the poetry and paintings of Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist monks, as well as a bamboo forest path and Koi-filled pond.