Central Park, Battery Park, Washington Square—New York City’s list of green spaces goes on and on. They’re particularly popular in summertime, when the most famous swell with locals and tourists alike seeking refuge from the baking concrete jungle. But if you’re looking for a quieter connection with nature, there are plenty of hidden spots all over the city that only those in-the-know frequent. Explore our list of favorites and enjoy summer on the wilder side.
Alpine & Heather Gardens, Fort Tryon Park
First up are these 2-for-1 destinations in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan, accessible by the 1 and A trains and sitting right on the majestic Hudson River. Commissioned by Rockefeller over 100 years and designed by the Olmsted Brothers—the same ones behind Central Park, Prospect Park, Riverside Park, and quite a few others all over the city—Fort Tryon is home to the Heather Garden, one of the largest collections of heath and heather on the East Coast and the largest public garden boasting unrestricted access in the city.
Just a little further north you’ll find the Alpine Garden with meandering pathways and hidden staircases traversing the 50-yard rocky slope. Bring a buddy and explore all the interesting plantings within the rocks in the first alpine garden to ever appear in a public park.
Though not technically a garden per se, we love this tucked-away green space in the busy Turtle Bay neighborhood of midtown Manhattan. The buildings that surround the L-shaped courtyard have evolved over the years—rumor has it was a stagecoach stop on the Boston Post Road back in the 18th century—and in the mid-20th century it was purchased by interior designer James Amster, who put in the lush shrubs and trees that now line the slate pathways. Sit at one of the little cafe tables and admire the rotating collection of sculptures on this historic site in the middle of the metropolis.
The Garden of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields
Built exactly 200 years ago, this West Village church garden is a more secluded public space, thanks to its surrounding brick walls that help keep it a quieter oasis. Take a rest on one of its large wooden benches and watch the copious number of butterflies attracted by the bright and fragrant flowers and berries that pack the space. Be sure to take a close look at the church’s windows, as centuries-old blooms are preserved within some of the panes.
Owl’s Head Park & Narrows Botanical Gardens
Down towards the tip of Brooklyn and right off the Pier 69 NYC Ferry stop you’ll find Owl’s Head Park: 24 acres of shady woods and waterside pathways with arresting views of the Upper Bay and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It also boasts basketball courts, a skate park, dog run, playground, and spray pool, so it’s the perfect place to take the family or a date for a day of outside summer fun.
Just south of Owl’s Head, on the other side of the pier lies the charming Narrows Botanical Gardens, a testament to the determined spirit of New Yorkers. This area was once barren and neglected, but a few enterprising neighbors got together in the mid-90s and transformed it into a beautiful natural space that’s been listed as a must-visit NYC garden by Condé Nast Traveler. Enjoy the rose gardens, feed the chickens, and maybe even forget you’re anywhere in the Big Apple for a little while.