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Big Green Apple: 9 gorgeous parks in New York City

Did you know that 14% of New York City is covered with green space? Getting dizzy at the top of the Empire State is all very well but make sure you have a peaceful place to recover, with our guide to NYC's best parks, from riverside retreats in Brooklyn to a wildlife-filled oasis in the Bronx.

1. Brooklyn Bridge Park

Head to Brooklyn Bridge Park to burn off some energy with a walk along the promenade, before taking a breather and soaking up the views over Brooklyn’s ever-changing waterfront. Strung out along a series of piers on the East River (including a beach at Pier 4) this park is especially popular with active types – there are volleyball courts, basketball courts and several playgrounds along with a large roller-skating rink, so get your neon leg-warmers at the ready! Get off the B25 bus at Fulton Ferry Landing and don’t forget to take a spin on Jane’s Carousel either, located near to the DUMBO ferry terminal – this retro restored fairground ride dates back to the 1920s. Brooklyn is also one of the best places to get pizza in New York, so you can refuel after burning off all those calories having way to much fun on your feet. Follow our foodie guide for more tips on where to head for the best local dishes.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC

2. Central Park

One of the best-loved New York City landmarks covers a whopping 843 acres – an area the same size as Monaco. In fact, it’s so large that until 1975, the entire New York marathon was run inside the park. You’ll need the best part of a day to thoroughly explore the European-style gardens and rolling meadows, but there’s also an outdoor theatre, a memorial to Beatles front-man John Lennon and a zoo. There are regular free tours for visitors keen to get their bearings – find out what’s on by keeping an eye on the tours webpage. If you’re going it alone, there are many Metro stops to make your start from, including Central Park North, and 81st Street, for the Natural History Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. As the evening draws in, romance your better half with a horse and carriage ride around the park – and try to resist the urge to pop the question! Central Park also made our list of the best places to picnic and we’ve got more tips on where to enjoy some alfresco dining around the world, here.

Central Park, NYC

3. The High Line

Rise above the crowded pavements with a wander through this unique New York park-in-the-sky. The High Line is a linear park which sits in the footprint of a former freight railway, connecting West 30th Street with West 34th Street. The northernmost section has the best views over the Hudson Bay, along with funky benches (one of which is shaped like a xylophone), while the stretch near West 15th Street has Terroir on the Porch a fantastic bar where punters can sip their coffee while gazing out over the city (opens for the summer on May 1). One of the most popular sections is the stretch which runs between 13th and 14th Street and on Tuesdays between April and October, amateur and professional astronomers gather here for stargazing sessions. Didn’t pack your telescope? Fret not, there are always a few provided by the Amateur Astronomers’ Association.

The High Line Park, NYC

4. Hudson River Park

This 550-acre park is a strip of green which runs from Battery Park to 59th Street. It’s a place to bag a bench and watch the world go by, but it’s also a fun place to work out in the great outdoors. You can cycle and skateboard through the park and during the summer months there’s an extensive programme of activities, with kayaking sessions leaving from five different pier locations including Pier 40 in popular boho-chic neighbourhood, Greenwich Village. Make sure you bring a camera, because the views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are magnificent.

Hudson River Park, NYC

5. Prospect Park

This park is one of New York’s greenest, the perfect antidote to a morning of frantic sightseeing around the congested avenues. Look out for 50 species of butterfly, 25 species of dragonfly and several nine-foot-tall eagles as you wander through the 30,000 trees which populate the park. These particular birds of prey are actually statues guarding the park’s main entrance, proudly marking the Union’s victories in the American Civil War. Don’t miss the Ravine, near the entrance on 15th Street and Prospect Park West: a dramatic, densely forested narrow gorge designed by the same duo responsible for Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Once you re-emerge from nature, there are a clutch of good restaurants around this corner of the park, including the Double Windsor, for the irresistible combination of a craft beer and fried catfish sandwich.

Prospect Park, NYC

6. Flushing Meadows

NYC’s second biggest park, you’ll definitely need more than a few hours to take in the whole of Flushing Meadows. Start with a visit to the hi-tech New York Hall of Science Museum (111th Street Station) before stopping by to drop your jaw at the biggest tennis stadium in the world, the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Kids will love the enormous skate park, boating lake and aquatic centre, but the bit you’ll probably recognise from movies like Iron Man 2, Men in Black, as well as an episode of The Simpsons, is the 43 metre-tall Unisphere, the giant globe which was erected for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Unisphere at Flushing Meadows, NYC

7. Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is a chunk of land which juts out into the Long Island Sound, and this leafy paradise feels more like New Hampshire than New York. Amazingly, it’s three times the size of Central Park, and its lush interior is criss-crossed with cycle paths and hiking trails. It’s one of the best places to spot New York’s wildlife, including the fearsome osprey. But if you’re into birdies of the golf kind, head for one of the two courses on site. It’s also worth making time for a visit to the Bartow-Pell Mansion – a National Historic Landmark which dates back to 1654. Pelham Bay Park station is the last stop on the IRT 6 line.

Pelham Bay Park, NYC

8. Conference House Park

Tucked away from the more obvious New York attractions, this park sits on Staten Island, framed by dramatic clay bluffs. History fans have always flocked here, for both the ancient Lenape Indian burial ground and by contrast, the imposing stone manor house which dates back to 1680. Commonly referred to as New York’s South Pole, it’s as far south as you can go in New York State and although it’s one of the city’s smaller parks, the recently refurbished playground and visitor centre are top-notch. Ride across on the Staten Island ferry from Manhattan to get here; it’s absolutely free, takes half an hour each way and the journey boasts some of the best views of the NYC skyline. Connect to Metro trains going south to the park once you dock. There are tons more great things to do in New York for no money at all, so check out our guide before you fly!

9. Inwood Hill Park

We all know New York’s got a fascinating past, but to really delve deep into the land itself, head to Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park, a fifteen minute walk from Dyckman Street subway. Many of the caves and valleys were formed as a result of shifting glaciers and here, it’s almost possible to imagine what these islands once looked like before the mass settlements and the skyscrapers. Tour the hiking and bike trails to leave the noise of the city behind you, and you might even spot a bald eagle – the park rangers launched a release programme in 2002. Picnicking in the park? Grab a Venezuelan bite from Cachapas Y Mas on Dyckman Street for some of the most interesting fast food you’re likely to eat, including plantain sandwiches from $6.

Inwood Hill Park, NYC
Image: Kristine Paulus, CC BY 2.0.

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