Skyscrapers, city lights, and neon signs may be the first things that pop to mind when you think of New York City. Central Park may also come into the picture, but there are many other parks worthy of checking out when you’re travelling to the Big Apple with kids.
In fact, New York City is home to 30,000 acres of public parks. With the incredibly rushed lifestyle of the biggest city in the US, having small pieces of nature close by is essential – for New Yorkers and vacation-makers, too!
If you’re visiting New York City soon, it’s definitely a good idea to include checking out a few of them on your itinerary. Here’s a list of some of the best parks in New York City, including famous ones you may already know about, as well as a few hidden gems only locals know of!
This post is part of our series Discover the USA
Best Parks in New York City
1. Washington Square Park (Manhattan)
Set at the base of the famous Fifth Avenue, Washington Square Park is the living lung of Greenwich Village and a landmark in itself. This park has been featured in many movies, including When Harry Met Sally, Ghostbusters II, and I am Legend.
Here, you’ll find the city’s iconic Washington Arch (you know, the one that looks similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) as well as other beautiful highlights, including the bronze Garibaldi Statue and the Washington Fountain.
Each and every day, you’ll see college students relaxing at the park, hosting a picnic, or grabbing a bite to eat. Musicians play tunes in the afternoon, which makes the entire scene feel as though it belongs in a movie!
Oh, and of course, there are playgrounds here for your youngsters! There’s a toddler and older kids playground, but also seek out the Play Hills for some rolling good fun on a sunny day!
2. The High Line (Manhattan)
The High Lane is a park unlike anything you’ve seen before! More than just a place to hang out, the High Line is also considered a marvel of engineering that perfectly blends the old with the modern. It is undoubtedly one of the best free things to do with kids in NYC!
This incredibly unique park is elevated over the city, giving visitors a chance to see views from a raised outlook. This is the result of engineers and Friends of the High Line figuring out what to do with abandoned West Side Railroad train tracks – and their creativity and skill resulted in something truly wonderful!
Aside from the great views you’ll get from here, the High Line is also a sort of botanical garden where you can see over 200 different plant species, enjoy street art, grab food at a stand, and even do a little bit of shopping.
3. Battery Park (Manhattan)
If you want to add a dose of history to your park escapade, Battery Park is a wonderful choice.
The location Battery Park stands on was once Castle Garden, the first immigrant depot in the United States. This was the exact place where millions of European immigrants first stood in America before Ellis Island was built.
Moreover, Battery Park also provides beautiful vistas of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. Several memorials stand at or near the park, including the Korean War Memorial, the American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial, and the East Coast WWII Memorial.
If you are taking a ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty, there’s a fair chance you’ll stop here for the kids to have a play and run around before or after your cruise!
4. Little Island (Manhattan)
Small but mighty, this quaint new park at Pier 55 makes use of an abandoned part of the city on the Hudson River.
The 2.4-hectare Little Island has been turned into a recreation space and urban oasis, from hosting mini concerts in the amphitheatre to fun optical illusions and instruments dotted around the park. An island-off-an-island escape for New Yorkers – it’s one of the best places to visit with kids in Manhattan!
5. Gantry Plaza State Park (Queens)
Heading next to Queens, Gantry Plaza State Park is a wonderful 12-acre park mostly only locals know about (luckily, we have friends in NYC in the know!).
The area was once a desolate industrial waterfront, but today, the park is home to glorious biking trails along the East River, beautifully manicured lawns, plenty of walking trails, and gorgeous views of Manhattan’s Skyline.
This is a go-to spot to head over to host a picnic, relax away from the city’s bustle while still enjoying views of Manhattan, and get a more local taste of what life in Queens is like.
6. Pelham Bay Park (The Bronx)
Even though most people think Central Park is the biggest park in the city, Pelham Bay Park is actually three times its size!
Located in the Bronx, this wonderful NYC park homes a rocky coastline, forest, marshlands, and even a mile-long beach you can swim in.
Here, you’ll be able to enjoy miles worth of hiking trails, grab a kayak to explore the coast or relax for hours on end at Orchard Beach. As if that weren’t enough, Pelham Bay also homes golf courses, sports fields, playgrounds, and the historic Bartow-Pell Mansion.
If you’ve got a family group, it’s the ideal location to charter a bus in NY and head out for a family day trip surrounded by nature.
7. Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn)
Once an abandoned waterfront, Brooklyn Bridge Park was transformed into an amazing public park.
Here, you can catch beautiful Manhattan skyline views, go ice skating, use the public ping pong tables, or hop on the famous Jane’s Carrousel. Aside from that, you can also enjoy sports like soccer, skating, baseball, and even free kayaking during the summer.
Brooklyn Park also hosts regular movie nights, so make sure to check their schedule to see if something piques your interest.
8. Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Queens)
If you want to get a taste of the Great Gatsby, a visit to Flushing Meadows Corona Park is a must. This park was once an ash dump that is believed to have inspired the Valley of Ashes in the story!
These days, Flushing Meadows is one of the biggest attractions in Queens and one of the best parks in New York City. You’ll find spots like the Queens Zoo, Meadow Lake, the Citi Field Stadium, the New York Hall of Science, and the World Ice Arena within its boundaries.
Your little ones certainly aren’t forgotten here either, with one of the city’s most beautiful accessible playgrounds. Plus, the park also houses the iconic silver Unisphere built for the 1964 World’s Fair! Another great spot to rent a NY minibus for your group and plan a day outing.
9. Prospect Park (Brooklyn)
Created by the same two designers who created Central Park, Prospect Park is, in a way, its little sister in Brooklyn.
Visiting Prospect Park could very well be considered a day affair and one of the best things to do in Brooklyn. There is a lot to see here, including the Prospect Park Zoo, Lefferts Historic House, and Audubon Center. You’ll also find Prospect Park Lake here, which is the only lake in Brooklyn!
Prospect Park is only a 5 minute walk from the closest subway station making it easy to reach on a day trip from Manhattan.
And, of course…. Central Park
You really can’t mention New York with kids and NOT bring up a trip to Central Park! Iconic as the city itself, Central Park is a focal point of family life in the Big Apple.
Several of the city’s top playgrounds can be found in Central Park, not to mention the iconic Central Park Zoo, most notably featured in the animated classic Madagascar.
Some of the best playgrounds to seek out across the park include Heckscher Playground, Ancient Playground and the Wild West Playground. With younger ones, look for the Tarr-Coyne Tots Playground.
You would literally need several days in your New York itinerary to cover the park properly, but even half a day dedicated to the park would undoubtedly be your kids’ highlight of a trip to NYC!
Have you ever been to any of these parks in New York City? Which one was your favorite and why? Let me know all bout your time there in the comment section below!
More Tips For Family Vacations in NYC and the US East Coast
- Plan a kid-friendly stay in NYC with one of these family hotels in NYC
- Extend your trip to New York state with these intriguing places to visit beyond NYC
- Want a beach break? These are the best beach locations along the US East Coast for a family vacation.
- Fancy camping instead? We’ve picked our top spots for enjoying the beach AND camping on the East Coast.
- Want more of a nature escape? These are our top picks for US National Parks on the East Coast
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