Free in NYC: 5 must-see public parks in New York City (photos)

Pop quiz: Think of a park in New York City.

Does anything come to mind besides Central Park? The city’s most celebrated park should not be missed, but it’s not the only green oasis in the Big Apple.

New York City is home to a variety of public parks that boast amazing scenery and free attractions. Whether you are staying in Manhattan or venturing to the outer boroughs, the following parks deserve a spot on your travel itinerary.

>> Do you have a favorite NYC park? Share your opinion by leaving a comment below!

1) Central Park

NYC Central Park Pond
The crown jewel of the New York City parks system, Central Park is among the top tourist attractions in Manhattan. The 843-acre stretch of greenery attracts a steady stream of locals and visitors looking to escape the grind of city life. Besides walking, free attractions include jogging and biking on the Loop, picnicking and sunbathing on the Great Lawn, and attending open-air performances during SummerStage and Shakespeare in the Park. Depending on the season, you can also pay to ice skate at Donald Trump’s rink and take a romantic row boat ride starting at the Boathouse. Guided tours of the park are available, including a movie tour that brings visitors to Home Alone 2 and Sex and the City filming locations. If you are visiting the park with your sweetheart, make sure to check out the Bethesda Fountain– a popular spot for marriage proposals and informal weddings.

Facebook: centralparknyc
Twitter: @CentralParkNYC
Location: Between 59th and 110th Streets, and 5th Avenue and Central Park West in Manhattan, NY
Public Transport: Subway stops at major entrances include the N, Q, R at 5th Ave/59th Street; the A, B, C, D and 1 at Columbus Circle; several B, C stops along the west side and the 2, 3 at Central Park North/110 Street.

2) Battery Park

Bike N Roll NYC Bike Tour-0015
Located in Lower Manhattan, which has a rich history, Battery Park offers views of the Statue of Liberty and is the launching point for several boat tours. This stretch of greenery is within walking distance from the World Trade Center memorial and is the temporary home of The Sphere, a sculpture that was damaged in the 9/11 terror attacks. It also includes monuments to soldiers and immigrants and is located near popular attractions like Wall Street and the famous bull statue. Bike rentals are available within the park, and this is the launching point for several guided bicycle tours of the city. Madonna fans will recognize Battery Park as a backdrop in her early film, “Desperately Seeking Susan.”

Location: Between Battery Place, State Street and Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan, NY
Public Transport: Easily reached via several subway lines, including the N, R at Whitehall, the 1 at South Ferry and the 4,5 at Bowling Green

3) Tompkins Square Park

NYC East Village_Tompkins Square Ping Pong
This East Village park is the perfect place for people watching as it attracts an eclectic mix of hipsters, professional couples, families and the homeless (including young travelers known as “Crusties”). Unlike Central Park, Tompkins Square is relatively small and you won’t see many bikini-clad women tanning here. Instead, it has a rich history as a place of political protest and artistic expression. Attractions include two playgrounds, a chess area, basketball courts and a lively dog park, which boats the cutest canines in the Big Apple. Dog lovers shouldn’t miss the annual Halloween Dog Parade, while culture mavens will want to check out the Howl! Festival.

Location: Between Avenues A and B, and East 7th to East 10th Streets, in the East Village, Manhattan, NY
Public Transport: A fairly long but pleasant walk from the subway, including the L at 1st Ave, the 6 at 14th Street or Astor Place, the N or R at Astor Place, or the F train to 2nd Avenue. Check the MTA website for bus routes.

4) Prospect Park

Prospect Park kids

Photo: rutlo/Flickr

This massive public park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the same landscape architects who crafted Central Park. Home to a zoo, lake and forest, Prospect Park is a popular place for locals to jog, picnic, take in a free concert and snap photos of the lush landscape. Unlike Central Park, Prospect Park allows barbecuing in designated areas and group cookouts are common in the summer. This summer I attended free performances by country/rock singer Lyle Lovett and the New York Philharmonic, which capped of their set with a fireworks show.

Location: In the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights and Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
Public Transport: Many subway lines reach the park, including the B, Q, S to Prospect Park station; Q to Parkside station; F or G to 15th Street/Prospect Park; and 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway.

5) Socrates Sculpture Park

Long Island City Sculpture Park Queens NY
Overlooking the Manhattan skyline, this site was a landfill until it was transformed into an outdoor museum by a group of artists and community activists in 1986. It is now home to large-scale art installations, including sculptures and multimedia projects. The only downside to this creative public space? It’s a bit of a hike from the nearest subway stop. Check the Socrates Sculpture Park’s website and Facebook page for the latest art exhibits and events.

Facebook: SocratesSculpturePark
Location: 32-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway, Long Island City, Queens, NY
Public Transport: A one-mile walk from the N or W subway stop at Broadway.


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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.