15 ICONIC New York City Parks You Can’t Afford to Miss

Ask any New Yorker how they stay sane while living in the concrete jungle and they will inevitably start listing a handful of the best parks in New York City. Lucky for us, there’s plenty to choose from.

NYC takes public recreation very seriously and the proof is in the pudding. There are more than 1,700 public spaces and green spaces in New York City. Imagine!

1,700 parks is quite overwhelming, but no need to sweat. I have you covered.

I live in New York City and spend most of my summer weekends lounging in a park with a good book in hand. I’ve had an opportunity to find some great NYC parks in the 4+ years I’ve called the Big Apple home.

So without further ado, allow me to share my personal list of the absolute best parks in New York City for people watching, picnics and panoramic skyline views.

I hope you find this list helpful, don’t hesitate to reach out with question, I enjoy hearing from you!

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.

Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.

best parks New York City

If you want to become a real New Yorker, there’s only one rule: You have to believe New York is, has been, and always will be the greatest city on earth. The center of the universe.

Ellen R. Shapiro

#10. Battery Park

Between 1820 – 1892, hopeful immigrants arrived to the Land of the Free by way of Castle Garden, where Battery Park sits today. This was the first immigration center in America and more than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestral roots to Castle Garden.

Today we can’t talk about the best parks in New York City without mentioning Battery Park and the historical significance that imbues the land it sits on.

The original Ellis Island, if you will.

Over time the mass influx of immigration became overbearing and the city and federal government had to create a more structured process. The solution? Ellis Island, which replaced Castle Garden when it officially opened in 1892.

Not only does this land play a key role in the city’s diverse history, but the park itself is very beautiful. Take a lovely stroll during the spring season when daffodils and other vibrant blooms create a carpet of color. Park yourself on a bench and let the time pass by.

The scenic waterfront is a great place for 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 the East Coast WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial and the American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial.

Battery Park Spring
Best parks NYC

#9. Hudson River Park

Where Battery Park ends, Hudson River Park begins and stretches all the way to 59th Street. Not only does this lively NYC park span 550 acres, but it hugs the Hudson River and offers spectacular waterfront views.

In fact, more than 400 acres of Hudson River Park is located on piers that stretch over the water.

Hudson River Park Spring

The wide paved paths are well-maintained, making them popular with runners and walkers. You can people-watch to your heart’s content with a cup of good coffee in hand. Plus, the park’s proximity to the buzzing Tribeca neighborhood ensures you’ll never go hungry or thirsty.

Perhaps the most famous section of the park is the recently-opened Little Island, one of the most unique parks in New York City. The views are spectacular and the experience feels like being on an adult playground.

If there’s a hot day in the forecast you can expect to find locals stretched out on the numerous lawns with picnic baskets and friends.

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. I mean, which other NYC park offers trapeze?

Little Island Park New York City
Best Parks NYC

#8. Union Square

On any sunny day, you can expect every bench at this beloved New York City park to be full.

Union Square Park was originally designed as a town square in 1839. The pedestrian plaza and park serves as a safe haven for street artists, professionals on lunch breaks, busy students and eager tourist. To that end, this is one of the best parks in NYC for people-watching.

Union Square Park

There’s plenty of cafes and affordable restaurants nearby, but whenever I take out-of-town visitors, I always suggest grabbing food from the nearby Whole Foods. It’s quick and easy and you can easily enjoy the meal on a park bench.

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.

Union Square Park Spring

What’s with the digital clock at Union Square Park?

Okay, so you might notice a large digital clock on the side of a building on the south end of the park. Well, like with most things, there’s a story behind it.

The clock is actually a commissioned art instillation called Metronome. It was installed in 1991 and showed the time. However, since 2020 the theme of the art instillation has changed.

In 2020, the Metronome started to show the time remaining until the earth’s carbon budget expires due to global warming. Today the art instillation is a loud testament to our global impact and stands as a stark reminder for all visitors.

#7. Riverside Park

Situated along the Hudson River in the Upper West Side, Riverside Park is often considered Manhattan’s most scenic waterfront park and I can’t say I disagree.

I currently live on the Upper West Side and start my mornings with a leisurely park stroll. I tend to split my time between Central Park and Riverside Park, opting for Riverside Park when tourist season is in full swing and Central Park feels crowded.

Riverside Park Spring
Underrated Parks in New York City

Riverside Park feels like a real gem because it has all the splendor you need from a park in New York City, but without the crowds.

Stretching from west 59th Street to 181st Street, the park spans 400 acres. It’s full of healthy trees that offer ample shade, plenty of park benches, and even has some charming gardens to explore (like the famous garden shot at the end of You’ve Got Mail).

Riverside Park is especially magnificent during the spring season when the 4-mile waterfront esplanade is ablaze with fragrant spring blooms.

Fun fact: The first plans drafted for Riverside Park were drawn by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the famous Central Park designers!

I currently live in the Upper West Side and wrote a quick roundup of 18+ Epic Things to Do on the Upper West Side. The list includes the most charming neighborhood park that you won’t want to miss!

prettiest parks in NYC

#6. Brooklyn Bridge Park

If you’re looking for iconic parks in New York City look no further than Brooklyn Bridge Park, one of the most popular parks in NYC.

The irresistible view of the Brooklyn Bridge takes center stage as happy couples pepper the lawn with picnic blankets and pizza boxes in tow. These folks definitely know how to keep the romance alive, I tell you what. All you need to do is watch the sun set over Manhattan’s epic skyline to see what all the fuss is about.

The 80-acre park hosts outdoor movies during the summer months, which takes date night to a whole new level.

Note: Portions of Brooklyn Bridge Park are currently under construction near the Time Out Market. Based on the renderings, I think the patience will pay off but take note.

P.S. Did you know that the Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s famous Tower Bridge? It’s true! Read: 20 Thought-Provoking Facts About New York City.

Brooklyn Bridge Park
Best Parks New York City

#5. Washington Square Park

Much like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Washington Square Park is another iconic NYC park weaved into the fabric of the city’s culture.

Located in the heart of the charming Greenwich Village, this is one of the most beautiful parks in New York City. There seems to be a gravitational pull on this place because (like most New Yorkers) I can’t help but swing by whenever I’m within a one-mile vicinity.

Washington Square Park Fall
best parks in New York City

Best known for the monolithic grand marble arch that sits at the northern entrance of the park and overlooks the central fountain. The Washington Square Arch was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration.

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.

From suited businesswomen to relaxed college students and nervous tourists, you’ll see it all. The stars of the show tend to be the talented street musicians that give the park an easy-going vibe.

Make an 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 Square Park is one of the more important historic park in New York City.

pretty New York City parks

#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.

Much like Central Park, Prospect Park is massive (covering 526 acres, to be exact). It’s full of great lawns, mature trees and even has BBQ pits (take that, Central Park!).

Prospect Park NYC
Best parks in New York City

Folks tend to congregate around the top attractions, like the Long Meadow (spanning 90-acres), the Prospect Park Zoo, the charming Boathouse, Picnic House and Concert Grove. If you’re visiting during the summer, check out the list of free concerts hosted at the Prospect Park Bandshell.

Another clear advantage of this beautiful New York City park is that locals tend to outnumber tourists, so the vibe is more relaxed.

But mind you, there’s some heated 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.

Prospect Park lawn

#3. The High Line

The High Line is one of the most unique parks in New York City. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, High Line Park was born from an eye-sore.

The elevated tracks this NYC park was built on were originally used by freight trains delivering cargo to the city. A practice that became moot with the rise in trucking.

For ages, the railroad track was abandoned and neglected, a blight on the neighborhood. That is until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform the derelict train tracks into a park for the people.

The High Line
Best Parks in New York City

The High Line opened in 2009 and became an instant success. The elevated promenade stretches 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually. It didn’t take long for folks to realize this as one of the most iconic and interesting parks in New York City.

As a local, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoy visiting the High Line regardless of how many times I’ve seen it. This NYC park swells with giddy tourists, so the people-watching opportunities are endless.

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 selling balloon animals and ice cream.

P.S. 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

Walking the High Line 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. Located right behind the breathtaking New York Public Library, it’s not uncommon to find all the chairs and benches full during sunny days.

Clocking in at 9.6-acres, this isn’t the largest park in New York City by any stretch of the imagination, but it often feels the most full.

Bryant Park summer NYC
Best New York City Parks

It’s a hub for the folks that work in the plethora of office buildings that surround the park. The park benches swell with locals during the busy lunch hour most seasons of the year.

My favorite season to visit Bryant Park is summer because of the free movies hosted on the lawn. The entire field is filled with cheery folks on picnic blankets, it’s the epitome of joy.

You’ll also notice library carts full of books, park visitors are encouraged to grab a novel and read under the shady trees at their leisure. There’s a librarian on hand that keeps track of the books to ensure they don’t get swept up, ask them if you’d like to partake in the experience.

#1. Central Park (The Best Park in New York City)

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 everyone’s must-see list when visiting New York City.

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!).

Central Park best views
Fall in Central Park

Spanning more than 840 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with.

It’s also one of the first man-made parks in the country– designed using a new concept for the time called landscape architecture. 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.

If you’d like some guidance during your first visit to Central Park, I suggest reading 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park, a super helpful post that highlights the top attractions in the park.

If you’d like to feel like a true NYC local, grab a picnic blanket and spread out at Sheep Meadow during the warm spring and summer months. Or, better yet, rent a rowboat for the lake around the Bow Bridge – easily one of the most romantic things to do in New York City.

Read: 12 Epic Spots to Find Fall Foliage in Central Park

Best parks in New York City
Central Park Autumn

Have more time? Even more great New York City parks to explore

The New York City parks mentioned above are some of the best in Manhattan and Brooklyn (areas folks tend to visit during their first trip to NYC). If you have extra time to spare and want to explore even more great parks in New York City, I recommend visiting the following.

Governor’s Island

Governor’s Island is an awesome escape a quick ferry ride away from the buzz of the city. It’s also one of America’s 128 national monuments! Full of grassy spaces and an active promenade, this is the place to go if you’re looking for some solitude without straying too far from NYC’s comforting skyline.

There’s a cool rock outcropping visitors can climb to get epic views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Then take a stroll to Hammock Grove and rest your legs while allowing your thoughts to wander.

Swing by Island Oyster for oysters for great oysters and drinks to cap off your New York City park adventure properly.

best parks in New York City

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is the fourth largest park in New York City. The focal point of the park is the iconic monolithic Unisphere, a relic from the 1964 World’s Fair.

You’ll find a plethora of great things to do at this relaxing NYC park. Home to a skate park, zoo, aquatic/hockey center, walking paths and a designated barbecue area, the activities span the gamut.

Image courtesy gigi_nyc/Flickr

McCarren Park

Bordering trendy Williamsburg and Greenpoint, McCarren Park is very popular with Brooklyn locals because of the easy-going vibe and ample green space in this 35-acre park.

In terms of best parks in New York City, this one checks all the right boxes: public pool, running track, dog parks, tennis courts, soccer fields and grassy fields for picnic blankets. Expect to find a plethora of recreational activities in addition to peaceful respite.

Fort Greene Park

Fort Greene Park has an interesting claim to fame: it’s officially the first park in Brooklyn. Much like some of the other parks mentioned on this list, Fort Greene was designed by Olmstead and Vaux, so you can bet it’s good.

The park is ripe for exploration and riddled with historic achievement. This exact area was used to house forts during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. When the threat of war subsided after the War of 1812, the land was used as a public greenspace.

It was officially designated a park in 1847 under the name Washington Park, before being renamed in 1897. The rest, as they say, is history.

Van Cortlandt Park

Located in the Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park is one of the largest parks in New York City (spanning 1,200 acres!). The distance from the center of Manhattan ensures a proper escape into solitude, something that cannot be overstated while living in New York City.

My favorite part about the NYC park is that it feels more natural and less manicured. Home to tons of playing fields and a plethora of playgrounds, this is a great family friendly park.

Fun Fact: Van Cortlandt Park is home to the first public gold course in the country.

Best Parks New York City (Summary)

In sum, these are the best parks in New York City:

  1. Central Park
  2. Bryant Park
  3. Prospect Park
  4. The High Line
  5. Riverside Park
  6. Brooklyn Bridge Park
  7. Washington Square Park
  8. Union Square Park
  9. Hudson River Park
  10. Battery Park
  11. Governor’s Island
  12. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
  13. McCarren Park
  14. Fort Greene Park
  15. Van Cortlandt 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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