Ask any New Yorker how they stay sane in this incredible concrete jungle and they will inevitably start listing a handful of the best parks in New York City.
I mean, let’s face it, we all need a little escape into nature every once in a while and thankfully NYC has more than 1,700 public spaces to choose from.
And I don’t know about you, but for me personally 1,700 parks is quite overwhelming!
Thankfully it’s hard to go wrong with any park you choose, but if you’re in the mood for the absolute best parks in New York City for people watching, picnics or jaw-dropping city views then I have you covered.
I call New York City home and come from a background filming national parks, so nature is a necessity for me! Over the years I’ve explore so many great parks in NYC but the ten below definitely stick out.
To that end, allow me to share my personal list of the best parks in New York City. I hope you find this list helpful, it was fun writing it!
P.S. Before we get started, don’t forget your sunscreen. Here’s the only sunscreen I use — I discovered it in France and now buy in bulk. You’ll never catch me without it!
Best Parks in New York City
#10. Battery Park
Something a lot of visitors don’t realize about Battery Park is that, long before Ellis Island existed, it was home to Castle Garden — the first immigrant depot in the world.
Immigrants have been arriving to the Land of the Free by way of Battery Park long before we knew it by that name.
As such, we can’t talk about the best parks in New York City without mentioning the historical significance of Battery Park.
It plays a key role in the city’s diverse history and is an important stop for anyone interested in learning more about New York City.
The park itself is beautiful. The scenic waterfront is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon people watching while the famous towering skyscrapers of Wall Street loom in the background.
You’ll get great views of the Statue of Liberty and a handful of important memorials, such as:
- East Coast WWII Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial
#9. Hudson River Park
Where Battery Park ends, Hudson River Park begins and stretches all the way to 59th Street. All told, this NYC park spans 550 acres and offers spectacular waterfront views. What’s more, more than 400 acres of the park are on the water!
If there’s a hot day in the forecast you can expect to find locals stretched out on the great lawns with picnic baskets and friends.
The well-maintained paved paths are popular with runners and walkers. You can people-watch to your heart’s content and find yourself entertained for hours!
If you’re in an adventurous mood, may I suggest trying your hand at trapeze? Because there is, indeed, a trapeze school that overlooks the Hudson River. What other park in New York City offers trapeze?!
There’s a ton of restaurants and cafes surrounding the park so finding a bite to eat won’t prove challenging.
#8. Union Square
Union Square is beloved by both locals and visitors alike and folks congregate like you wouldn’t believe.
On any sunny day, you can expect practically every bench to be full which makes this one of the best parks in NYC for people-watching while resting your legs.
Originally designed as a town square in 1839, it has turned into a lively bustling city park. There’s 4 statues in the park: George Washington, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Lafayette.
You’ll also notice Metronome, a famous art instillation (it’s a large digital clock on the south end of the park).
What’s the story with the large clock (Metronome)? It’s a commissioned art piece that was installed in 1999. In 2020, the Metronome started to show the time remaining until the earth’s carbon budget expires due to global warming.
P.S. One of my favorite things about Union Square Park is the lively year-round greenmarket. You’ll find everything from local honey to fresh baked bread and original artwork.
Also, you’re mere steps from the iconic Flatiron Building, make sure to swing by!
#7. Riverside Park
Situated along the Hudson River in the Upper West Side, Riverside Park is often considered Manhattan’s most scenic waterfront parks and within one visit you’ll know exactly why.
Riverside Park is so spectacular that it’s one of only eight designated landmarks in New York City. The beautiful parkland covers 400 acres and stretches from 59th to 181st Street.
Riverside Park is especially magnificent during the spring season when the scenic waterfront is ablaze with spring color from the cherry blossom trees.
Riverside Park’s esplanade boasts a beautiful 4-mile path lined with cherry blossom trees that impress visitors every year like clockwork.
Fun fact: The first draft of plans for Riverside Park were drawn by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same architects that designed Central Park.
#6. Brooklyn Bridge Park
If you’re looking for iconic parks in New York City then look no further than Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Every evening, the irresistible view of the Brooklyn Bridge takes center stage as happy couples pepper the lawn with picnic blankets and pizza boxes while awaiting sunset over one of the best views of NYC’s skyline.
This 80-acre NYC park is a great place for picnics, sunsets, people watching and outdoor movies during the summer months. Personally, it’s my favorite park in New York City for outdoor movies.
The Brooklyn Bridge is New York City’s oldest suspension bridge.
Note: Portions of Brooklyn Bridge Park are currently under construction, based on the renderings though I think our patience will pay off!
In sum, if you’re looking for the best parks in New York City with a view, look no further than Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Read about the 15 most thought-provoking facts about New York City.
#5. Washington Square Park
Another iconic NYC park is Washington Square Park — it’s one of the most beautiful parks in New York City, located in the heart of charming Greenwich Village.
Washington Park is known for its monolithic grand marble arch that celebrates the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.
The Washington Square Arch sits at the northern entrance of the park and overlooks the central fountain, many folks consider this one of the most inviting parks in NYC and come from all over the city to let their hair down and be themselves.
The welcoming atmosphere makes Washington Park a great NYC park for people-watching. The energetic mood is contagious and you’ll notice park visitors from all corners of the world!
Everyone from creative NYC students to young families, retirees and talented musicians like to mingle in this cozy NYC park.
Make to effort to see Washington Park during the spring season. There’s an undeniable cheery buzz in the air as both locals and tourists eagerly flock outdoors after the dreary winter months.
Quick history lesson: During the late 18th century, this area was a burial ground for indigent victims of illness and disease.
As the property slowly morphed into Washington Park, it became the epicenter of many movements and protests — as such, Washington Park is a great historic park in New York City because of its influential cultural significance.
#4. Prospect Park
Many folks make the mistake of overlooking Prospect Park during their first visit to New York City but I will not let that happen to you. Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, the architects responsible for designing Central Park.
In fact, Olmsted and Vaux considered Central Park a practice run and consider Prospect Park as their true masterpiece.
Since then, there have been many debates between New Yorkers which park is best — as both Brooklyn residents and Manhattan residents are passionate people!
Regardless of the wrangle, one thing is certain, Prospect Park is easily one of the best parks in New York City.
#3. The High Line
IMPORTANT: Advanced reservations (FREE) required for the High Line during weekends due to COVID.
The High Line is such a unique park in New York City! Originally used as an elevated rail-line for freight trains delivering cargo, the demand for it became moot with the rise in trucking.
The railroad track was abandoned and neglected until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform it into a park.
The High Line was opened in 2009 and became an instant success. The elevated promenade stretches for 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually. Folks caught on quickly that this is an iconic NYC park (and experience).
As a local, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoy visiting the High Line regardless of how many times I’ve seen it. The people-watching opportunities are endless!
The minutes fly by while you taking in the great views of NYC’s skyline from this interesting vantage point.
P.S. The High Line is a great park in New York City for kids, too! During the warm summer months there’s a handful of vendors offering animal balloons and ice cream.
Check out the Chelsea Market as well, it’s chock-full of interesting shops and great restaurants.
Curious to know what it’s like to live in New York City? Read: 20 HONEST Pros & Cons of Living in New York City
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#2. Bryant Park
Bryant Park is perfectly tucked into the shadow of towering office buildings that make up the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
Since the park is a stone’s through from Grand Central Station and the breathtaking New York Public Library, it’s not uncommon to find all the chairs and benches full during sunny days.
Bryant Park always feels like magic to me. For example, one summer evening I was aimlessly wandering through Manhattan and stumbled upon a movie on the lawn.
The entire field was peppered with cheery folks on picnic blankets with plenty of food in hand. It was such a unique experience!
Another time my husband and I decided to take a break in Bryant Park and quickly noticed a library cart full of books.
Park visitors were encouraged to grab a novel and read under the shady trees to escape the heat of summer — it was such a memorable experience.
To me, Bryant Park is the most European-esque park in New York City, it feels like stepping foot into Paris.
#1. (The Best Park in New York City) Central Park
We can’t talk about the best parks in New York City without mentioning the masterpiece that is Central Park. It’s world-famous for good reason and there’s a reason it’s on every visitor’s to-do list when visiting New York City — the park is pure magic.
Central park is the most beautiful park in New York City. How do I know? It’s the most filmed location in the world (has #2 beat by a mile!).
Spanning over 840 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat and a world-renowned spectacle few can resist falling in love with.
What’s more, it is one of the first man-made parks in the country— designed using landscape architecture, a new concept at the time.
There’s so many iconic spots to see in Central Park, I suggest spending an entire day exploring this incredible NYC park or visiting several times.
You’re guaranteed to notice several of the most notable icons in the park from various movies and shows.
If you’d like to feel like a true NYC local, grab a picnic blanket and spread out at Sheep’s Meadow during the warm spring and summer months.
Or rent a rowboat for the lake around the Bow Bridge — it’s one of the most romantic things you can do in New York City!
Best Parks New York City (Summary)
In sum, these are the best parks in New York City:
- Bryant Park
- Central Park
- Prospect Park
- The High Line
- Riverside Park
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
- Washington Square Park
- Union Square Park
- Hudson River Park
- Battery Park
And there you have it my friends – a quick roundup of the best parks in New York City. I hope you enjoyed the post!
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