These unexpected outdoor experiences will show you a different side of the city.
New York is the city that never sleeps. It’s the quintessential destination for fashion, culture, cocktails, dancing, drinking, eating, museums, festivals, music, theater, nightlife, and so much more! Yup, the five boroughs have it all, and there’s also just about every kind of outdoor activity, whether you’re looking for an adrenaline-fueled romp or a good place to get in some deep breathing. Here are our top outdoor activities.
Manhattan is an island, surrounded on all sides by water—have you ever wondered if you could swim in it? You can with Urban Swim, which gives you the opportunity to get wet in the Hudson River or the East River, with open-water swim events of varying lengths. Better yet, though, are the city’s free outdoor public pools, found in all five boroughs and generally open throughout the summer. Favorites include the giant Hamilton Fish on the Lower East Side; the magnificent McCarren Park pool on the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn; the Astoria Pool in Queens; and Lasker Pool, in the northeast corner of Central Park. For a more exclusive splash, many of the city’s hotels offer day passes (for a price) to their rooftop pools.
If boating is your thing, there are plenty of summertime options. Several outfitters, including Manhattan Sailing School and Atlantic Yachting, offer sailing lessons in New York Harbor. If you’d prefer to have someone else take the rudder, Tribeca Sailing has small boat options, while Manhattan by Sail and Classic Harbor Line operate schooners that cater to large groups and have some themed trips. If you like to paddle, there are several options: Atlantic Kayak Tours offers guided kayak trips, including ones around the Statue of Liberty or from Staten Island to Coney Island, while New York Kayak and Manhattan Kayak offer kayak as well as stand-up paddleboard lessons and tours. Manhattan’s Downtown Boathouse has several locations and offers free kayak instructional trips. The North Brooklyn Boat Club also has free public paddles, usually in large-size canoes.
Come fall, outdoor skating rinks open throughout the five boroughs. The Rink at Rockefeller Center tends to be packed, so for more space to practice your double axels, head to Lasker Pool in the northeast part of Central Park or out to the LeFrak Center in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Every once in a blue moon, there’s enough snow (6 inches according to the Parks Conservancy) to go cross-country skiing, but you’ll need your own skis as finding rentals when you want them is no easy task.
If you have some climbing experience, there are a few non-gym options around the boroughs. In Central Park, Rat Rock, Wave Rock, and Worthless Boulder are some of the more popular challenges for rock climbing and bouldering, and Fort Tryon in Inwood Park also attracts climbers. REI offers bouldering classes in Central Park, too, which are a great idea.
Bicycling is a favorite outdoor activity around the five boroughs. Citi Bike, the NYC bike-sharing program, makes it easy to bike around in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, but renting a bike for the day will give you more opportunities to cruise around town and get off the beaten path. There are countless bike paths around the city (the NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Bike Maps are excellent resources) but a perennial favorite waterside ride is the West Side Bike Path, which goes all the way up to the Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge. For something a little different, head out to Bay Ridge, where you can ride south from Owl’s Head Park with stunning views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. If you prefer to cycle out of the way of cars, both Central Park and Prospect Park are car-free (cars still travel Central Park’s transverse drives, but these don’t intersect with the scenic loop).
New York City may be the quintessential destination for big-city hustle and bustle, virtually synonymous with the yellow cab, and horseback riding is usually associated with wide-open spaces, but did you know these two things go together? Both Central Park and Prospect Park offer riding lessons and tours and there are opportunities to take to the trails all around the other boroughs.
Running, or jogging, as the case may be, is the easiest way to enjoy some outdoor activity. All you really need is a pair of running shoes and you’re good to go. There are plenty of park and waterside trails throughout the five boroughs and it’s easy to find a scenic path. To leave the route planning to someone else, and do some sightseeing while you get your exercise, why not join a group run? You’ll meet some like-minded people and there’s often the option of going out for food or drinks after. City Running Tours and On Course Run Tours each have a variety of tour options of varying mileage, while Free Tours by Foot has group runs in Central Park (they’re fun and free; tipping at the end is encouraged). Running stores like Jack Rabbit also organize group runs.
Outdoor Fitness Classes
If you’re looking for some exercise, taking a workout class is great but being inside, especially when the weather’s good, is a drag. Instead, search out one of the city’s many outdoor classes. Come summer, parks around the five boroughs put on free outdoor yoga classes, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation includes tai chi in Bryant Park or Battery Park. REI also has outdoor yoga. Bootcamp sessions in the fresh air with fun locations are a great distraction from how hard you’ll be working out: Brooklyn Body Fit has classes on the Brooklyn Bridge and in Central Park; NYC Adventure Boot Camp specializes in classes just for ladies.
For mini-golf and maxi fun, there are 18 holes at Pier 25 Mini Golf in Manhattan and at the Coney Island Batting Range (there’s also indoor mini-golf at Shipwrecked in Red Hook, but that doesn’t count as an outdoor activity). If you want a more serious game, you don’t have to get out of New York City to get a few holes in. Staten Island has no less than three golf courses, while the greens in the Bronx include the stately Van Cortlandt Golf Course, established back in 1895, and notable for, among other things, being the first public golf course in the United States. There are more listings via the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as the driving range at Chelsea Piers.
When it comes to bird-watching a lot of people think New York City is just about pigeons and seagulls (and those bright green parakeets in Green-Wood Cemetery), so it may come as a surprise that the five boroughs offer some magnificent bird-spotting opportunities. The New York City Audubon Society has an extensive list of places to go birding but, if you’re not even sure what to look for, it’s worth signing up with an expert like Birding Bob or a guided birding walk led by the Staten Island Museum or the Brooklyn Bird Club. The New York Department of Parks and Recreation has a full roster of bird-watching events.