While city-living is consistently exciting and provides seemingly endless sources of energy, it’s important to know where to escape when you need to wind down, re-center, and connect with nature. Research shows that getting outside and surrounding oneself in nature can actually make you healthier.
Luckily, there are several amazing retreats smack-dab in the middle of our favorite cities. Introducing the first installment of our Backyard Retreats series, where we list our favorite parks in major cities. No need to ship out for a weekend getaway, these spots are easily accessible and will give you that extra dose of calm you need in a pinch, whether you’ve carved out all Sunday afternoon or just have your lunchbreak to spare.
First we’re tackling NYC. Here are our favorite backyard retreats by neighborhood:
Uptown: Central Park
Perhaps the most obvious choice; this iconic and enormous park of 843 acres was the nation’s very first public park. Located in the middle of upper Manhattan, it is a landscape architecture masterpiece, designed by Fredrik Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. If you’re a New Yorker, you probably already know it well, and if you’re visiting, it’s likely a stop on your itinerary. Our advice: explore all this park has to offer. Make it a destination for your next run, picnic, quiet meditation, or to curl up under a tree with a good book. No NYC summer is complete without at least one afternoon spent in Sheep’s Meadow, and unlike some of the other parks on our list, in Central Park you can truly find yourself lost in nature in the middle of the city.
Upper West Side: Riverside Park
Also designed by Olmstead, this waterfront park spans from 72nd Street to 158th Street along the Hudson River. The tree-lined promenade is a magical place to take in the scenery while enjoying a stroll, jog, or bike ride. Stop by the Boat Basin on your way home for a reward.
Chelsea: The High Line
Developed originally as a train route in the 1930s, The High Line was recently revitalized and repurposed as a public park and walkway above ground. It is a modern feat of landscape architecture genius created by the collaboration of James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. The greenery on The High Line was inspired by the self-seeded plants that grew on the unused railways after they were shut down in the 1980s. “The species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.”-Friends of the Highline. Fun fact: Säpp source, birch trees, are part of this impressive vegetation lineup, so keep your eyes peeled for them! The High Line, which is exquisitely integrated into the city landscape, features street vendors, art installations, and even food along its route, so you can enjoy a bit of culture while you unwind.
Greenwich Village: Washington Square Park
Also rich in history is Washington Square Park, with its iconic Washington Centenary Arch, built in 1892. While not the best place to escape city life (the park is often super busy, making for some great people watching), Washington Square Park is a great place to meet a friend for coffee, tea, or with a bottle of Säpp for a mid-day catch-up.
The Battery: Battery Park
Located at the very bottom of Manhattan where the Hudson and East Rivers meet, Battery Park is a lovely place to take in the water views and enjoy a new perspective of the city – and Lady Liberty. It’s easy to get lost in the midst of the tall buildings and the street grid – it can make the city seem endless, but once you find yourself in Battery Park, looking out at the water, it can elicit a new and refreshing point of view. Take some time to enjoy the 10,000 square foot Garden of Remembrance, which pays tribute to the survivors and lives lost in 9/11, and also to those visiting the garden seeking hope and optimism.
Brooklyn: Prospect Park
The Brooklyn version of Central Park (also designed by Olmstead and Vaux), this gorgeous 585-acre sanctuary merges several neighborhoods and is another beautiful opportunity to explore nature in the middle of the city. Pack a picnic for Long Meadow field, get lost on the many tree-shaded trails, and make sure to check out the glamourous historic landmark, The Boathouse, which is tucked neatly in the middle of the park on a serene pond.
Greenpoint, Brooklyn: McGolrick Park
A lovely, quiet 9-acre enclave in the middle of Greenpoint, McGolrick is a nice alternative to some of the more populated parks nearby. Great big trees provide excellent shade on a hot summer day.
There you have it! We hope this will encourage you to #GetOutside, and explore the city’s green spaces. As always, make sure to be safe – don’t stay in the park after dark, and if you’re wandering around, be sure to bring a buddy. Enjoy and happy trails!