There are hundreds of parks in New York, many of which are larger and more impressive than Central Park, yet visitors and residents alike rarely experience most of them. Much of the history, culture, and beauty of New York is contained within these green oases, and they significantly add to the list of activities available in the city. This guide highlights some of the most noteworthy parks in NYC that are worth taking a day to explore.
Tompkins Square Park
- Address: E 10th St, New York, NY 10009
Tompkins Square Park is situated between East Village and Alphabet City. For decades, the park has been a haven for the alternative and punk crowd, and to this day hosts free rock concerts and events.
There's a lighter side to the park as well. On good days, the grassy area is full of New Yorkers picnicking in the sun. When the light dims, fireflies come out in full force, imbibing the park with a surreal quality that compliments the summer heat and cold iced tea. Thousands of squirrels call this park home, and at night, the rats come out to play. Like all parks in NYC, the animals are socialized to coexist peacefully with humans.
In the winter, a natural festive Christmas tree is erected, glowing among the thick foliage.
East River Park
- Address: FDR Dr, New York, NY 10009
Cross through Tompkins Square Park and past Alphabet City to reach East River Park, a quintessential neighborhood park on the lower east side. Early in the mornings before the city is fully awake, fishermen face east, watching the sunrise and collecting East River aqua-mutants that catch onto their fishing poles.
In 2020, a battle has been bought between the neighborhood residents and the city government over an ordinance to destroy the park. For decades now, the park has served the projects and provided its residents with everything from a baseball field, basketball court, running track, and grass for barbecuing and picnicking.
At the end of 2021, the city destroyed the iconic East River Park Amphitheater, which is where Shakespeare in the Park - a New York thespian tradition - was conceived. Visit this park soon before it is totally destroyed!
- Address: 7th Avenue &, 43rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11232
This sizable, 25-acre park is located in the Sunset Park neighborhood near the affluent neighborhood of Parkslope and adjacent to the historically significant Green-Wood Cemetery.
The neighborhood itself is famous for its multiculturalism, as its home to vibrant Chinese and Latino communities. Enjoy delicious dumplings and tacos from food trucks while strolling through the grassy park attractions.
One of the best features of the park is the variety of heights. At its highest point, the park offers clean, sunset-facing views that feature the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline.
Address: 450 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11225-3707
Prospect Park is the second-largest park in Brooklyn, covering a whopping 526-acres. The area is full of attractions including the Prospect Park Zoo, which is home to nearly 1,000 animals representing almost 200 distinct species.
Right across from the zoo is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Visitors at the Botanic Garden can amble through the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, where the annual Cherry Blossom Festival takes place. One of the most romantic places in the city can be found in the middle of the Cranford Rose Garden. It's best to visit in the fall when the flowers are in bloom.
Elsewhere in the park, the Vale of Cashmere is an aptly named set of wooded trails that encircle a secluded duck pond. Dog owners might want to visit the Prospect Park dog beach, where dogs are let off the leash to swim and splash in a dedicated lake.
Most patrons of the Brooklyn Museum will naturally end up in the park after a day of artistic enrichment. Not too far away, a great place for rich city views is Mount Prospect, which is the second-highest point in Brooklyn.
Pelham Bay Park
- Address: Middletown Road & Stadium Avenue, NY 10465
Pelham Bay Park is, by far, the largest park in all of New York City, covering an area of 2,772-acres. The highly trafficked 6-line of the New York subway feeds into Pelham Bay - a cathartic journey from the guts of metropolitan Manhattan into the sprawling expanse of nature.
Located up north in the Bronx, Pelham Bay Park is probably the oldest park in New York. Before being settled by Europeans, the area was home to the Siwanoy tribe, who lived as hunter-gatherers. The land was divided into several islands separated by salty marshes before being developed.
In the early 1600s, it was the headquarters of Anne Hutchinson's dissident colony of puritans. Later in the same century, it was bought by the Dutch East India Company for use as a trading port. At various points in history, the park was a battle site, hosting Siwanoy invasions and battles in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
It was made into a park in 1888 and has since been a source of respite in New York. Far more than Central Park, Pelham Bay acts as a natural counterbalance to the Big Apple with hundreds of lakes, bridges, fields, marshes, woodlands, and beaches. It's easy to get lost in this park so keep an eye on the map and try not to get caught in the middle after dark.
Address: Flatbush, Gerritsen & Fillmore Aves, Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 11234
Marine Park is the biggest park in Brooklyn. It is a vital site of biodiversity and is actively preserved by the Forever Wild authority. Schools and universities often take trips to the Salt Marshes Nature Centre, where Park Rangers make weekly presentations on the sensitive ecosystem that thrives in the 500-acres of marshes and grasslands.
For recreational purposes, visitors can rent kayaks and canoes to take out onto the Gerritsen inlet. There's also a full-size golf course and several sports fields for cricket, baseball, and bocce.