New York City Parks: Better Than a Backyard

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January 25, 2021
new york city parks

There’s so many reasons to love living in New York City, but having lots of outdoor space isn’t one of them — right? Wrong. With over 1,700 New York City parks across the five boroughs, it’s easy to find a public green space that is actually better than having your own backyard.

Does a backyard have this?

Stepping out into your own private space certainly has its benefits. But consider what isn’t there. The average backyard doesn’t offer attractions like skating rinks, film festivals, art installations, farmers markets — certainly not a zoo. But you can find all of these, and more, in the New York City park system. Here’s a look at a few:

  • The ice rink in Rockefeller Center is certainly famous, but did you know there are seven rinks in the New York City parks? Check out Central Park’s Woolman Rink (it transforms into an amusement park in the warmer months) or the massive LeFrak Center in Prospect Park, for a perfect winter outing.
  • Buying direct from a farmer is possible thanks to the more than 50 Greenmarkets and Farmstands in New York City parks. You can even sign up the kids for educational school tours of the markets, or take one yourself through the Greenmarket Taste & Tour program.
  • Looking to find some wildlife? New York City parks own an aquarium and four zoos throughout the five boroughs. You could certainly spend a whole day at the spectacular Bronx Zoo, but strolling through the smaller ones in Central Park or Prospect Park make for a wonderful afternoon. Don’t forget to visit the New York aquarium in Coney Island.

The people in the park

Another great advantage to having a park instead of a private space is the people you will find there. Many New Yorkers have met not only neighbors, but close friends through their local parks, since they are a great place for city dwellers of all ages to come together. In addition, lots of city parks offer a range of classes and events. Looking for a fitness group? Some chess competition? How about a dance party? It’s all here.

  • The New York City Parks offer many ways to stay fit. Find free yoga and tai chi classes in Bryant Park, even dance bootcamp classes along the water on Randalls Island, not to mention the many free fitness options brought to you by Shape Up New York. The lawn at Bryant Park also hosts a free, instructor-led Dance Party on Wednesday evenings in the summer.
  • For a mental workout, head to the chess tables in Washington Square Park, Bryant Park and Union Square Park, or visit the revered Chess and Checkers House in Central Park. Bring a friend, or play against a regular.

Finding your perfect space

Despite living in a city of eight million people, New York parks give residents a beautiful space to be alone. From reading in a landscaped setting, or getting some sun on a manicured lawn, there’s lots of beautiful options to find solitude. Many parks also offer residents an opportunity to pursue their favorite quiet activities, such as gardening, birding and hiking. Just a few ideas include:

  • New York City parks have plenty of options for urban gardeners. With more than 550 community gardens and farms throughout the city, it is the largest community garden organization in the country. Anyone interested in becoming a member or volunteering can find information through the city’s GreenThumb program.
  • Don’t let the steel and concrete fool you — New York city has some of the best places in the world to watch birds. Thanks to a combination of geography, topography and habitat diversity, the city is a stopping place for more than 200 different species of birds every year. Find your favorite birding spot in one of many city parks, or join the “flock” in the New York City Audubon Club.

New York City parks for kids

From playgrounds, sports fields and skate parks, to splashing in fountains and climbing a castle, New York City parks offer kids so much more than any backyard. In addition to finding friends and endless entertainment, young New Yorkers have plenty of space to run and explore in these outdoor play spaces. Some examples include:

  • The thousands of sporting events held in city parks every year. Kids can join friends in a casual game, or reserve a field or court through the city. For more organized games, take advantage of youth sports leagues throughout the five boroughs.
  • Meaning “beautiful view” in Italian, Belvedere Castle is one of best places to take in Central Park, especially on its upper terrace. Young New Yorkers love climbing the winding stone staircase and exploring the endless corners of the castle. Budding meteorologists might even like to know that the National Weather Service has been using Belvedere Castle to collect data like temperature, wind and rainfall since 1919.

Choose your adventure at one of NYC’s Parks

Even the most dedicated adventure-seeker couldn’t outfit an ordinary backyard with all that the city parks have to offer. Want to try ziplining? Horseback riding? How about a day on the water? New York City parks even offer city-dwellers camp sites for a night out in a tent. Here’s a look at some adventurous parks:

  • In addition to spectacular views, Governor’s Island offers thrill seekers the Adventure zone attraction. Soar over New York on the Flywire Zip Line. For beginners and advanced zipliners alike, its 300 foot long cable allows for speeds up to 21 miles per hour. Adventure Zone also offers the Amazen’ Maze, testing visitors’ problem solving abilities; the Climbing Challenge with three unique 25-foot high walls; and, a mini golf course.
  • For an unforgettable night under the stars, try the campsites at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field or Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island. Both sites offer the necessities for the great outdoors, like picnic tables and grills, but also some nice add-ons like restrooms and showers.

With this many outdoor options available in New York City’s parks, it’s hard to imagine choosing an ordinary backyard ever again.

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