NYC is electrifying, with a frenetic energy that’s a buzz like no other. It’s also… a cacophony of honking horns, jackhammers, the screech of the subway, and endless, hustling crowds. Sometimes you just need to take a breath and let it all soak in from a place of quiet reflection. To help you find that Moment of Zen (to borrow a phrase from Jon Stewart), we’ve put together this list of outdoor spots to pause and chill in the city.
The Ramble, Central Park
between 73rd and 78th streets, Central Park
Strolling isn’t exactly a familiar concept for most New Yorkers. In fact, you’ll get dirty looks and muttered comments most places if you take time to amble around the city at a leisurely pace. When you need to get back to nature and a slower speed, Central Park’s Ramble is one of the most iconic, peaceful places you can go to reset your mind while stretching your legs. Meandering paths, views of the lake, picturesque gazebos and bridges, trailing vines and peaceful park benches await beneath a canopy of stately old-growth trees. The creation of legendary park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, this 38-acre preserve is a great place to go bird watching as well as people watching!
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
86th street entrance, Central Park
Another excellent stop in Central Park is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, known to most simply as the Central Park Reservoir. Runners love the 1.58 mile loop jogging path, while the rest of us just enjoy the view of the peaceful water surrounded by Manhattan’s signature skyline. You’re also likely to see all sorts of waterfowl along the way. (Yes, we have birds other than just pigeons in NYC.) Oh, and by the way, though the reservoir is decommissioned and doesn’t serve the citizens of NY anymore, we just want you to know that New York water is the best, tastiest water anywhere—trust us. In fact, it’s the secret behind our outstanding pizza and bagels. So if you’re craving a run or just a stroll, hoof it over to the 86th Street entrance of the park and enjoy a lap around the reservoir.
Just a quick tram ride away from midtown Manhattan lies one of NYC’s hidden gems—Roosevelt Island. For the price of one Metrocard swipe, kids and adults alike get a kick out of riding the iconic red tram, which offers up outlooks over the East River skyline and the 59th Street Bridge (now officially named after former Mayor Ed Koch) along the way. Once there, it’s easy to stroll the circumference of the island along the tree-lined waterfront path, enjoying views of both Manhattan and Queens on either side of the river. Stroll past the eerie ruined façade of the old Smallpox Hospital, and you’ll find yourself at the Four Freedoms Park dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt at the southern end of the island. Opened in 2012, this sheer stone and grass-lawned monument is a wonderful open space to contemplate both the legacy of the president it’s named for, and your own place in history.
The Cloisters/Ft. Tryon Park
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040
You don’t have to be a monk to enjoy one of the city’s most serene sites—The Cloisters, set on four acres high atop Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan. Home to The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Medieval European collection, the building itself, begun in the 1930s, calls to mind cloisters from several pivotal parts of Europe’s middle ages, and with its herb gardens, gothic arched courtyard walkways, and stunning overlooks across the Hudson River, marks a wonderful spot to soak in tranquility as well as take in an absolutely world-class collection of medieval tapestries (the unicorn ones are our favorites), statuary, and religious icons. After your visit, wander amongst the eight miles of winding paths of Fort Tryon Park (you can even bring your dog, as Fort Tryon park boasts the biggest dog run in Manhattan), and absorb this verdant gift to the city created by John D. Rockefeller and Robert Moses and designed by the Olmsted brothers.
Riverside Dr. to Hudson River, W. 72 St.to St Clair Pl.
Spanning the verge of Manhattan’s Upper West Side waterfront from way up on 158th Street all the way down to 59th Street is Riverside Park, and it’s among locals’ favorite places to grab a breath of fresh air, go for a jog, ride a bike, or just people watch while sailboats cruise past you down the Hudson River. In addition to the tree-lined waterfront promenade, visitors can take advantage of all sorts of sports fields, skate parks, and dog runs, cafes, a community garden, plus check out multiple monuments along the way. (Don’t miss Grant’s Tomb, the Joan of Arc Monument, Eleanor Roosevelt Monument, or Hamilton Fountain, to name a few.) On 79th Street there’s a marina where you can sit at the Boat Basin Café and daydream of nautical adventures while sipping your favorite beverage or having a nosh. If you want a taste of Manhattan living at its best, this is where real New Yorkers come to unwind.
Brooklyn, NY 11225Think nothing can compare with Central Park? Brooklynites know better. Head on over to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, a 526-acre green space that spans several neighborhoods from Park Slope to Windsor Terrace to Flatbush Avenue and beyond. Another of the grand public parks created in the golden era of NYC’s public works a century and a half ago by legendary Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, this stately urban oasis has everything a park should—a tranquil lake, a vast meadow, a boathouse and a band shell, plus ball fields for every sport, and of course tree-lined paths for strolling, jogging, biking, skating, or picnicking. Bird watchers may want to check out the Audubon Center, while kids love a ride on the historic carousel. Oh, and did we mention the Prospect Park Zoo? Plus, right nearby is the equally verdant Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as well as the Brooklyn Museum, so it’s easy to make a day of it breathing in the natural beauty and culture of the city.
Gantry Plaza State Park
4-09 47th Rd, Long Island City, NY 10007
What, you ask, is a gantry, and why would anyone name a park after one? Well, once upon a time they were used to help load and unload cargo from commercial river barges along the East River. Now, they’re an intriguing architectural element of this 12-acre state park overlooking the skyline of midtown Manhattan and the United Nations. Residents of Long Island City will tell you that when you visit Gantry Plaza State Park, you’re getting not only stellar views but a place to chill and absorb the vibes of the city while still getting away from it all. Enjoy the unique waterfront lounge benches, stroll the piers, or play basketball or handball on the courts. There are playgrounds for kids and even a place to fish (yes, fishing is a thing in NYC, though whether you want to eat your catch is debatable.) When you’re all relaxed and receptive, head on over to the Noguchi Museum, a superb design museum with a Japanese-influenced aesthetic featuring both a sculpture garden and breathtaking exhibits by famed American
artist Isamu Noguchi.