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Bryant Park
Photograph: Courtesy Bryant Park Corporation

The 9 best picnic spots in NYC

Pack a blanket and fill your picnic basket with nearby bites for an alfresco feast at the best picnic spots NYC has to offer

By Tolly Wright and Kenny Herzog
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The start of summer is not just a date on the calendar. The season really arrives once New Yorkers start taking to rooftop bars, settling in at outdoor restaurants and packing picnic baskets for DIY dining in the five boroughs’ loveliest green spaces. Fortunately, we have plentiful parks ideal for impromptu alfresco feasts all around town. Here, however, we’ve selected a few particularly perfect picnic picks, along with all the best snack spots nearby. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do this summer in NYC

Best picnic spots

1. Astoria Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Astoria

Open-air dining enthusiasts can grab a seat on a bench along the East River between the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate Bridges, or nab a more panoramic vantage point on the central lawn. (You'll also find a few nice brown-bag–worthy patches alongside Hell Gate—but be warned that they suffer slightly from the noise of train traffic overhead.) For a break from boring PB&J, get a taste of the nabe’s history as a Greek-immigrant enclave by ordering takeout from Agnanti. The Mediterranean restaurant has a patio overlooking the park, but appetizers like domlades and the chicken souvlaki will taste even better on a blanket.

Clove Lakes Park
Photograph: Daniel Avila

2. Clove Lakes Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Staten Island

People seeking a waterfront eat-and-nap shouldn’t overlook this beautiful space on Staten Island. And pit masters, take note: The shoreline BBQ area (near the southeast corner of the lake) doesn’t require permits for parties of twenty or fewer. Nongrillers ought to venture to the daffodil-surrounded middle lawn by the field house or relax under a cherry tree by one of the walkways. Get a caffeine jolt at Beans and Leaves Coffee and Tea Cafe before you hit the green. Locals swear by their brews, fresh bread, pastries and baked goods.

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3. Marsha P. Johnson State Park

Attractions Williamsburg

This seven-acre expanse (and hipster Eden) formerly known as East River State Park, sits flush against the river, offering stunning views of Manhattan’s skyline. Some areas are limited due to renovations, but the park’s north side and dog run are still open. The rest is scheduled for completion this summer, and updated features will include new bathrooms and outdoor furniture where you’ll be able to more comfortably enjoy octopus hot dogs, tacos or bagels from nearby eateries like Rosarito Fish Shack and Bagelsmith. Smorgarburg is also expected to return, but details are developing. 

Fort Tryon
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

4. Fort Tryon Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Washington Heights

Created when John D. Rockefeller purchased several large estates and donated the land to the city in the early 20th century, this Inwood public park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, son of the famed Central Park architect. With sweeping views of the Hudson River, lush greenery and its position as the highest point in Manhattan, it may just be the most beautiful 67 acres on the island. And because it's more than a hundred blocks north of Midtown, you won’t be competing with as many tourists for a prime patch of green. Feel like you’re in another world (and time) with a view of the Cloisters, an architecturally breathtaking offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that contains 5,000 pieces from the Met’s collection. Trie, the Cloisters’ seasonal cafe is scheduled to re-open for the 2021 season on May 27. Previous menu items have included standard-issue sandwiches and salads, but the setting is top-notch and it’s the only place on site where you can sip (sanctioned) booze. 

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Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson

5. Governors Island

Attractions Parks and gardens Governors Island

After years of redevelopment, Governors Island opened to the public in 2006. The seasonal attraction includes Hammock Grove, a space with 50 red lounge-ready slings; guided walking tours; bike rentals; an arts center; and an adventure playground for kids. For higher pastures, climb Outlook hill, which, at 70-feet high, offers panoramic views of The Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. The island does allow outside food, but don’t worry if you forgot to pack a lunch for the ferry ride. The collected vendors at Liggett Terrace sell jerk chicken, tacos, burgers, hot dogs, teriyaki, and plenty of frozen treats. 

Madison Square Park
Photograph: Michael Kirby

6. Madison Square Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Flatiron

Though not as scenic as some other picnic spots, this park in the Flatiron District is the perfect place for an afternoon break from the office. Take a late lunch on the lawn near one of the temporary public art displays or escape the summer heat in the shade of the trees. Bonus: With the free Wi-Fi, you can answer pressing emails without your boss knowing that you’ve stepped out. Madison Square Park hosts art installations, food festivals and a popular series of summer concerts. The park is also home to Shake Shack, a summer favorite (as evidenced by the shockingly long lines) for burgers, fries and, of course, shakes.

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7. Prospect Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Prospect Park

Brooklyn’s green behemoth boasts some of the city’s finest shaded knolls. The beautifully manicured, tree-lined Long Meadow never seems to run out of available slopes, even amid ever-growing crowds. (The Prospect Park Bandshell is a short stroll away should you want to catch a show in the Celebrate Brooklyn! series, which is returning for 2021.) If you’re entering the park from its south side on a Saturday, pick up some fruit, pastries, bread and cheese to snack on once you’re inside. And keep an eye out for Smorgasburg to return sometime after Memorial Day.

Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park
Photograph: courtesy www.flickr.com/Marjorie Lipan

8. Van Cortlandt Park

Attractions Parks and gardens The Bronx

You can approach a leisurely lunch at this massive (and more than 60 percent wooded) north Bronx site in one of two ways. You can vie for table and lawn space at the Allen Shandler recreation area, which is easy to access via public transportation and close to grills, baseball fields and playgrounds. Or if you’re craving a more off-the-beaten-path experience, disappear into the Northwest Forest’s 188 acres of massive oaks and wildflowers—or, just west of there, Croton Woods, a 158-acre area with gentle streams, plenty of quietude, and hummingbirds and red-tailed hawks. Just don’t let the birds snatch your sandwich. After all that hiking, reward yourself with a cold one at the nearby Bronx Alehouse, which has 16 beers on tap and at least 30 bottles to choose from.

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Bryant Park
Photograph: Courtesy Bryant Park Corporation

9. Bryant Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Midtown West

Although this lush, green lawn is occasionally closed for inclement weather or just to rest its lovely blades of grass, you can check whether it's open in real time and even see what’s happening live via webcam. Spring and summer are its prime times to shine, when visitors can pop by food kiosks like Waffles and Dinges, Le Pain Quotidien and Joe Coffee Company before taking a tai chi class, playing mah-jongg, bird watching, catching live music and performers or settling in for an outdoor film screening.

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