Summer is finally here and it’s time to get out and explore.
Heading out on two wheels makes it easy to explore some of the New York City’s less traveled neighborhoods. New York’s super-popular bike share program, CitiBike, is easy to use, and the following mini itineraries have been chosen with CitiBike docking station locations in mind–just download the app to your smartphone to easily locate bike stations and availability. Or you could use your own bike or rent one by the hour/day–CitiBike just gives you the option to drop your bike off and take the subway home instead. Keep in mind that rides over a certain amount of time incur extra charges, but you can always stop and trade in your bike for a different one to reset the time. One-day and three-day pass holders get unlimited 30-minute rides; annual members get unlimited 45-minute rides.
The City of New York City has handy maps of the city’s greenways and bike routes, which are updated each year. You can pick up hard copies at bike shops, libraries and NYC Parks Recreation Centers, or you can download them.
INSIDER TIPIf your plans take you over any of the city bridges, keep in mind that the Brooklyn Bridge is the steeper than the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge, and also much more crowded, especially with pedestrians who sometimes wander into the bike lane. Your best bet is to avoid the Brooklyn Bridge unless you’re biking early in the morning on a weekday.
Red Hook has long been considered off the beaten path because it’s so far from the subway, but a bike makes this artsy and eclectic neighborhood within easy reach. Head out here for stunning panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor from Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier, art installations and events at Pioneer Works, and standout dining options that include some of New York’s best-smoked meat at Hometown Bar-B-Que, several levels of outdoor dining and seafood at City Crab and divine desserts at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. Stroll down Van Brunt Street to check out antiques and jewelry at Erie Basin, adorable gift items at Foxy and Winston and high-quality men’s clothes and accessories at Wooden Sleepers. Stick around into the late afternoon or evening for live music and a couple drinks at Sunny’s, a dive bar institution, then if you don’t feel like biking all the way home, just ride to the Smith-9th Street subway station, dock your CitiBike and hop on the subway.
For wide expanses of bike paths blissfully free from cars, trucks, and traffic, take the ferry to Governor’s Island and rent a bike when you get there (CitiBike stations and bike rental operators, as well as food/beverage vendors are available when the island is open to the public May to October). Paths cover the 172-acre national monument and former military base so you can explore the sprawling parkland, historic buildings, and frequent art installations. Each season brings a roster of fairs, festivals, and music events to the island, too. There are plenty of dining options on the island but you could also pack a picnic.
If you can’t get enough of Governor’s Island, spend the night! Collective Retreats offers premier tent lodging and dining so you can get a 24-hour experience of NYC’s closest island getaway. Dine under the stars, take a midnight stroll and wake up to the peaceful chirping of birds accompanied by splendid views of the Manhattan skyline.
Greenpoint, a longtime Polish neighborhood, is full of excellent but low-key drinking and dining options. But because the only direct subway line to the neighborhood is the G train, even locals tend to complain that it’s too hard to get to. It’s not really that remote, especially with a bike. The quickest way to get to Greenpoint is to take the L train to Williamsburg (the Bedford Avenue stop) and hop on a CitiBike, then you can breeze by McCarren Park and head to the quieter, waterside Transmitter Park, a local favorite for stunning views of Manhattan, especially at sunset. There’s excellent Polish food, of course (Karczma has delicious hearty dishes like pierogi and pickle soup), and high profile spots like Paulie Gee’s pizza and Five Leaves.
If you don’t feel like biking all the way home to Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn, steer over to Greenpoint’s NYC Ferry dock and take a scenic boat ride: the ferry crosses to Manhattan at East 34th Street and Wall St./Pier 11 and also has stops in Williamsburg and DUMBO if you’re staying in Brooklyn.
Long Island City
Many have biked at least one of the three bridges that connect Brooklyn and Manhattan (the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge) but for something a little different, hop on a bike and pump your way over the Queensborough Bridge to Long Island City (alternatively you could take the subway and grab a bike when you get there). Once you’re in LIC, pedal over to waterside Socrates Sculpture Park, which is known for its yearly art installations. There’s bound to be an Instagram-worthy photo or two. Nearby is the lovely but little-known Noguchi Museum and sculpture garden. Hop on another bike for the short ride over to MoMA PS1, where the galleries are spread around the old rooms and basement of an old public school building.
There are tons of dining options in Long Island City but save your appetite for the renowned M. Wells Dinette, MoMA PS1’s onsite restaurant, serving delicious, very un-cafeteria-style eats in the old cafeteria.
Central Park is New York City’s vast, famed green space, designed in the 1800s by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. But did you know the talented, greenery loving duo were also responsible for Prospect Park, a smaller (526 acres vs 843 acres) but equally charming green space in Brooklyn? The two parks have a lot in common: a lake, a bandshell, a challenging bike hill (Prospect Park’s is along the north section of East Drive, if you get tired, you probably won’t be the only one walking your wheels), and a museum backing onto the park. Central Park has the Metropolitan Museum of Art while Prospect Park has the Brooklyn Museum (plus the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens), so it’s easy to combine some nature with some culture. Note that if you’re CitiBiking, there are only docking stations around the northern half of the park, so plan your rest and snack stops accordingly.
On Saturdays, the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket at the northwest entrance of the park, is the perfect stop to shop for snacks or picnic fixings before you head around the loop.
Brooklyn Navy Yard and Vinegar Hill
DUMBO is one of Brooklyn’s very much discovered, glossy neighborhoods—but hop on a bike and head east and you’ll quickly be immersed in more obvious history. First there are the quiet streets of Vinegar Hill, one of the borough’s oldest residential neighborhoods lined with classic buildings from the 1800s. Keep heading east and you’ll see the gates and hulking buildings of the Navy Yards, the military-site-turned-manufacturing-complex that played a crucial role in Brooklyn’s 20th-century history. If you’re intrigued, stop by the free museum at BLDG 92 or take a (paid) tour of the sprawling grounds; there are even bike tours!
Keep to the historic theme and stop into the tasting room at the Kings County Distillery, in the Navy Yard’s 19th-century Paymaster Building, to drink in the classic atmosphere while you’re having a drink.
Hudson River Park and Riverside Park
These days the crowds along the Highline mean that you can never walk much faster than a leisurely stroll –but if you want a bit more speed, grab a bike and cruise north along the Hudson River Greenway. The dedicated bike lanes wind scenically for miles along the Hudson River past Chelsea Piers, landscaped parks, and the Intrepid Museum and into the locally beloved Riverside Park. There are several levels of paths here, one right on the water and one slightly higher up, past abundant plantings of flower beds.
For a real treat, park your bike and walk back into the park at 79th Street for drinks or dinner at the seasonal Boat Basin Cafe, a classic spot to watch the sunset.
Over by the water in Sunset Park is one of the city’s hottest food and fun destinations, Industry City. The sprawling food hall has a whirlwind of global options, including stalls that specialize in ramen, döner kebab, tacos, and Thai food, not to mention Blue Marble ice cream, Colson Patisserie, LiLac chocolates, and soon to open an outpost of Hometown Bar-B-Que. The sprawling space is also the winter outpost of the Brooklyn Flea and hosts events such as vintage shopping extravaganzas, yoga classes, and an eclectic roster of festivals. Until the city extends the waterside Greenway, there are bike routes along 4th and 5th avenues, and there are two CitiBike racks outside on 2nd Avenue, one at 39th Street and one at 36th Street.
There aren’t any CitiBike docks at nearby Sunset Park but it’s worth a walk over to check out the views of the city and NY Harbor before you hop on a subway home. There’s a reason it’s called Sunset Park; come at dusk.
Astoria residents extol the merits of waterside Astoria Park but outsiders seldom know what they’re talking about. Hop on a CitiBike to see what’s so memorable, including the mesmerizing simultaneous views of both the Triborough Bridge and the so-called Hell Gate Bridge (did you know there’s a section of the East River called Hell Gate?). If it’s summer, take your bathing suit–there’s a giant outdoor swimming pool. It’s one of the largest pools in the country and was used in the qualifying events for the 1936 and 1964 Olympics. Then pedal over to the quintessential outdoor drinking destination, the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, where you can relax at one of the communal picnic tables and refuel with beer and hearty snacks.
If all this outdoor activity is getting to you and you’ve had too much sun, head to over to the Museum of the Moving Image to take in behind-the-scenes film and tv lore or just sit back at a movie screening.
Upper East Side
There’s something supremely exhilarating about biking along a waterfront path with great views and the car traffic at least a few lanes away.Since Manhattan is an island, there are plenty of these paths to take advantage of. Hop on a bike north of 63rd Street on the east side of Manhattan and you can ride up the shared walking/bike path to lovely Carl Schurz Park. You’ll have views of the East River, the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, the Triborough Bridge, and Randall’s and Wards islands from the promenade. Park your bike, stroll through the park, and get a good glimpse of Gracie Mansion next door: it’s the official residence of the New York City mayor. If you feel like more biking, the path extends farther north along the water, and CitiBike stations can be found up to about 130th Street.
Free tours of Gracie Mansion are offered on Mondays at 10 am, 11 am, and 5 pm but you need to reserve ahead.
North Section of Central Park and Harlem
Central Park’s popular Sheep’s Meadow, Bethesda Fountain, and Reservoir are all frequent stops on a typical tour. To see some of the park’s less visited attractions, hop on a bike and head north along East Drive. There’s a fun downhill curve at about 106th Street, at the bottom of which you’ll pass by Lasker pool on the right (it’s a skating rink in winter). Relatively few people know about the Conservatory Garden here, with its lovely formal French, Italian, and English gardens. From here you can also visit the Harlem Meer at the very northeast corner of the park, where the park path curves around the lake and you can get up close to the ducks and swans.
From here you can bike a bit farther north and check out some of the popular Harlem area restaurants: renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is a happening brunch (or anytime) spot with high-caliber comfort food, but Melba’s is a bit more laidback with knockout chicken and waffles.