New York City is home to a wonderful network of parks and gardens. Some of these green spaces, like Central Park, Prospect Park, or the New York Botanical Garden, are famous attractions that draw visitors year-round in droves. However, scattered throughout New York City you’ll find approximately 1,700 different parks, meaning that there are plenty of delightful spots slightly more off the proverbial beaten path.
Okay, okay, fair enough: maybe the following hidden gems aren’t, technically speaking, “super-secret,” as the headline would have it. Still, they’re pretty special places where you’ll be able to step away for a moment from New York City’s hustle and bustle and enjoy all that a lovely, outdoor public space has to offer.
Paley Park is not only a peaceful retreat set in the midst of one of New York City’s liveliest areas, it’s a place of some historical importance. Considered by many to be one of America’s first “pocket parks,” Paley Park’s mere 4,200 square feet have charmed guests ever since its opening in 1967. Here you’ll find plenty of chairs to rest in as you gaze at the park’s centerpiece, a 20-foot-tall waterfall. There’s a food kiosk located at Paley Park’s entrance, and numerous seasonal plantings add a green touch to the cozy environment. What’s more, Paley Park is located at 3 East 53rd Street, putting it just steps away from major New York City attractions like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, and more.
Who doesn’t love to daydream from time to time about the idea that they could discover their own little secret world just by accessing a hidden door or secret passageway? Well, the Elevated Acre is about the closest you can come to living out such a fantasy in New York City. This secret park is, you guessed it, only an acre big, and must be reached by a non-descript escalator tucked away at 55 Wall Street. Elevated Acre packs a lot into a small space. Here you’ll find a pleasant lawn where you can stretch out and relax, as well as an amphitheater. In the summer, the space hosts a beer garden, but year-round the views (specifically toward the East River and Brooklyn, as well as of the Brooklyn Bridge) are outstanding. And when you’re ready to move on, you’ll find yourself not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, One World Observatory, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and Battery Park, where you can catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park is consistently rated one of New York City’s best garden parks, and it’s most definitely worth visiting if you’re looking for a quiet space to explore on a beautiful afternoon. Comprised of three lush acres that support many different kinds of trees, shrubs, and plants, the headliner here is the heather collection. This hearty evergreen grows in a variety of sizes and colors, and is well-represented across this splendid park. In addition to the plant life featured in the Heather Garden, Fort Tryon Park offers stunning views out across the Hudson River (there are portions where the park is some 200 feet above the water, which makes for majestic sightlines). Furthermore, The Met Cloisters—a branch of The Met that houses European medieval art in a monastery-like museum structure—can be found at the north end of the park.
Sutton Place Park
Set right alongside the East River waterfront, Sutton Place Park actually consists of 5 pocket parks (be advised: they don’t all connect together as one park, so if you want to experience every single one, you’ll need to locate multiple entrances). It’s a great spot to get some fresh air by going for a little stroll or sipping a coffee on a bench. Here you’ll have practically unmatched views of the Queensboro Bridge, as well as Roosevelt Island and Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park. A popular spot for pictures is the Porcellino statue, a replica of the famous 17th Century Pietro Tacca artwork that anchors a fountain in Florence, Italy. There’s also a playground for the kids nearby.
Gil Hodges Community Garden
This community garden, named after the great Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, is part of the New York Restoration Project, an organization that has spent roughly 30 years striving to “ensure that all New Yorkers have equitable access to green space” (as their official website describes their mission). Free and open to the public, the Gil Hodges Community Garden contains a sophisticated stormwater management system, a peaceful patio, and most notably, a “fragrance walk.” This distinctive park path is lined purposefully with aromatic plants like magnolias, azaleas, mint, and more. It’s located just 1.5 miles east of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Prospect Park Zoo.
As we mentioned in the introduction above, a hidden gem like Wave Hill isn’t a secret so much as it is under-visited by guests to New York City. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, this beloved Bronx treasure is well worth the time and energy it takes to seek it out. Wave Hill is an approximately 30-acre estate found in the Riverdale neighborhood, situated alongside the Hudson River. The Wave Hill House dates back to the mid-19th Century, when it hosted such prominent figures as Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain, and today it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The real attraction, though, is its Public Garden and Cultural Center. These spaces feature a beautiful array of flowers, plants, and herbs, a stately pergola, and breathtaking views of the New Jersey Palisades. Plenty of special events take place here throughout the year, too.
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