As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a big fan of parks and public spaces. There’s always something going on – from people watching to making friends with squirrels to daydreaming with the birds, life is all around. When visiting (or living in) New York City, it’s really nice to have a respite from the crowds and chaos on the streets.
This is especially true in the days of social distancing – little parks and gardens have become a necessary space. The good news is that public spaces exist all over the city. Most buildings have a public courtyard or little garden that invite the public to come and breathe.
Where can one find the best little gems of public space? Here are my Manhattan favorites.
Located between 5th and 8th Avenues from 59th to 108th Street, Central Park is Manhattan’s largest public space. From multiple lakes and ponds, to a castle, several gardens, and multiple open fields and woodlands – Central Park has outdoor space for everyone. Getting lost in the Ramble is one of my favorite things to do in all of New York City. And, going through the park is by far the fastest (and most enjoyable) way to walk through upper-Midtown.
Located between 5th and 6th Avenues and 40th to 42nd Street sits one of the busiest parks in Manhattan. Bryant Park is a favorite lunch spot for the Midtown workforce. It sits directly behind the New York Public Library and provides an oasis from the concrete jungle for Manhattanites and nature. There are supposedly more species of birds in Bryant Park than anywhere else in the city! There are also places to grab food and drinks, a carousel, and a fountain. In the fall, Bryant Park is transformed into a Winter Village – complete with ice skating!
If looking out over the Palisades, New Jersey, and Hudson River are more your speed, Riverside Park is the one for you. Located on the far west side of Upper Manhattan, Riverside park runs from 72nd to 130th Street and is a favorite for cycling, walking, and roller blading for Upper Westsiders.
East River Esplanade
On the East Side, from 34th to 41st Street, is the East River Esplanade, overlooking Long Island City, Brooklyn, and the East River. Although the Esplanade doesn’t boast as much green space as the other parks, it’s the best unobstructed view of the water. This is a favorite spot for walking, running, biking, and fishing.
Union Square Park
If you’re looking for lively culture mixed with green space, Union Square is definitely calling your name. Located between University Place and Broadway from 14th to 17th Street, this postage stamp-sized park is home to the most popular Farmers Market in Manhattan, street artists, performers, protesters, and more everyday. Cultures collide and art comes to life, but this isn’t the park to seek peace.
Tompkins Square Park
In the Lower East Side from Avenue A to Avenue B and between 7th and 10th Street, Tompkins Square Park is a creative oasis filled with history and calm. Stepping out of Alphabet City and into this park is like taking a step back in time. From the Tenements to the Beatniks to the LES Punk scene, this park has been involved in the creation of many earth-changing and inspiring moments.
Madison Square Park
Another bustling and busy park is Madison Square. From Madison to 5th Ave and 23rd to 26th Street, Madison Square Park offers lots of green space for picnics, benches, and live music. Local dog lovers will be in heaven exploring this center for New York dogs. It’s also a great spot to grab a bite to eat at the most famous NYC Shake Shack and admire the Flatiron Building.
Washington Square Park
A favorite among NYU Students, Faculty and Staff, Washington Square Park is nestled in the West Village between 4th Street and Waverly Place. It is a meeting spot for multiple city walking tours as well as protests, and is home of many historical events in New York City. Some even claim that it is haunted, due to the fact it was built on top of an ancient burial ground – eerie!
Way downtown on the southern tip of Manhattan from Battery Minuit Plaza to West Thames Street, you’ll find a beautiful stretch of serene parkland overlooking the Statue of Liberty, Hudson River, East River, Upper Bay, and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Home to the Sea Glass Carousel and breath-taking sunsets, Battery Park is one of the most romantic parks in New York City.
Gardens and Courtyards
Is there a space more synonymous with old New York than the Rockefeller Center? I don’t think so…Located from 5th to 6th Avenue from 49th to 50th St., the Rockefeller Center has a large atrium to sit under the famous art and reflect, picnic, or meetup with friends. From the Rainbow Room to Radio City Music Hall to Top of the Rock to FAO Schwarz, there’s an iconic location around every corner of this block. And, the public spaces are large and beautiful. This area is in the middle of renovation at this time, but I know it will be even more amazing upon its completion.
I love a secret garden, and Amster Yard in Turtle Bay is exactly that! It’s a cute little garden tucked away on 49th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
Another secret garden named for the original gardener, more than 50 years ago! This little gem can be found on 34th Street and 10th Avenue. A bustling part of town that is made more serene by this little piece of heaven.
Residents of Alphabet City have been creating small courtyard community gardens to upscale their neighborhoods in the Lower East Side. This particular space even has a Koi pond! You can find it along 6th Street and Avenue B.
The newest public space is Hudson Yards. Aside from the mall, the Edge, the fitness center, and the Vessel, Hudson Yards also has a large courtyard, complete with picnic tables, benches, and even a large screen to broadcast movies and sporting events. This is definitely a great place to meetup with friends and spend an afternoon.
I think everyone loves a good waterfall. This one is one of the largest in NYC! And, New Yorkers in the know “know” that grabbing lunch and enjoying it al fresco in this spot will help get them through the day. You can find it on 52nd Street between 5th and Madison Avenues.
When simply seeing a waterfall isn’t enough…Maybe being “in” the waterfall will be better. You can do that too! Check out the Plexiglas Waterfall Tunnel on 48th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues (just outside of Times Square).
The Tudor City Greens
This is one of my favorite courtyards in all of Manhattan. Tudor City is located between 1st and 2nd Avenues and 42nd and 43rd Street. With the old-fashioned gas lamps and English style gardens, I’m taken back to the New York of the 1800s, and it fills my creative soul. Check out this peaceful oasis next time you’re in town, and see if it does the same for you!
The 9/11 Memorial Reflecting Absence Pools
The 9/11 Memorial is beautiful and haunting. Located between Fulton, West, and Greenwich Streets, the Memorial and Reflecting Absence Pools are surrounded by memories of loss and newness from Oculus and The Freedom Tower/One World. Everyone should go once, just to take in our own living history. The reflective pools offer visitors a chance to see the names of everyone we lost in and around the Twin Towers. You will see roses placed on some of the names, the memorial honors the birthdays of each one every year. This is a beautiful place to show respect, reflect, and feel grief in the most healing way. *Side note – these are the largest manmade waterfalls in all of North America, pumping 26,000 gallons of water each and every minute.
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- Tea Tasting in Soho and the Lower East Side
- The New York Botanical Gardens
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- Halloween in New York City
- Exploring Queens: Long Island City
- Exploring Long Island: North Fork
- Living in NYC: 3 Months In
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- Exploring Brooklyn: Red Hook
- The Best Observation Decks in NYC
- Exploring Queens: Rockaway Beach
- Exploring Our Neighborhood: Midtown East
- Exploring Central Park
- New York Awakening from COVID Slumber
- Wandering and Wondering in NYC
- Midwest Manners, California Idealism, New York Passion
- On the Move During COVID-19
Should I Come to New York in 2021?
YESSSS!!!! If you live in the U.S.A., then go get your vaccine and come visit! As of April 1, quarantine and testing will no longer be mandated. Quarantining for a few days is still recommended, but we are reaching the end of the formal testing, paperwork, and quarantines for domestic travelers! Huzzah!
***UPDATE*** On April 1, 2021 New York will no longer be requiring quarantines for domestic travel. International travelers will still be required to quarantine. All travelers will need to fill out a NYS traveler form upon arrival.
You’ve waited patiently, and New York is still here! Start planning your trips!
As always, don’t forget to Toast The Moon to all of your international travels by visiting our store, and make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and the ‘gram to catch all of our latest posts and adventures!
Stay in your region this year, stay safe, stay distant, and be like the NYC statues – wear your masks! We’ll see you on the other side.
Noah and Majhon