Underrated NYC Waterfront Parks to Visit in All 5 Boroughs

Add cool breezes and skyline views to your next park hang.

Astoria Park
Astoria Park | Photo by Steven Oldak
Astoria Park | Photo by Steven Oldak

For a so-called “concrete jungle,” New York City offers a shocking amount of green space. And while Central Park and Prospect Park are some of the more popular options for an outdoor day, nothing beats a park along the water, where cool breezes and skyline views complete the experience.

With 520 miles of shore, the city has seemingly endless waterfronts to explore in every borough, beyond fallbacks like Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO, Riverside Park in the Upper West Side, and Domino Park in Williamsburg (don't even get us started on the chaos that is Pier 45 in the West Village).

It’s time to diversify your outdoor routine with some lesser known (but very attention-worthy) destinations instead. For your next park hang, here are the best underrated NYC waterfronts to visit across the five boroughs.

This enormous waterfront area isn't exactly Queens' best-kept secret, but it is a place that’s often overlooked. Astoria Park has everything you'd hope for in an NYC gathering place: wide-open lawns, skyline views, a track and field, fourteen tennis courts, bocce courts, basketball courts, a skatepark, a mixed-use path, the city's largest swimming pool, public restrooms, and not one but two photogenic bridges—the Triborough and the Hell Gate. It spans nearly 60 acres along the East River in northern Astoria, leaving plenty of space for visitors to sprawl.

Four Freedoms Park

Roosevelt Island

Located at the base of Roosevelt Island—the sliver of (often overlooked) land in the East River nestled between Queens and Manhattan that’s accessible by the subway, car, or famous tram—is Four Freedoms Park. Honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt, the tree-lined lawn points to a granite memorial, and the often-photographed staircase at its entrance doubles as a canvas for periodic political exhibits.

Gantry Plaza State Park
Gantry Plaza State Park | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Gantry Plaza State Park

Long Island City

Easily one of the city’s best waterfronts, Gantry Plaza (and its neighbor, Hunter's Point South) in Long Island City boasts unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline—and plenty of spots to enjoy them, including benches of every shape and size and built-in lounge chairs. The famed Pepsi-Cola sign and restored gantries that read "Long Island" tastefully nod to the neighborhood's industrial past. It's a beautiful reading place, a romantic date spot, a calming breakup spot, and the perfect area for a grassy picnic, whether that's in the mid-afternoon or after dark.

The Hills
The Hills | Photo by Timothy Schenck

The Hills

Governors Island

The artificial hills on this artificial chunk of island are genuinely amazing. Spanning only 10 acres, the expertly engineered outdoor space makes for a remarkable day trip. Roam Discovery Hill, a 40-foot-tall mound with trees and shrubs, and art installations like Tree Chuangs; climb Outlook Hill, a 70-foot-tall lookout spot with unbridled views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the Verrazzano Bridge; and ride NYC's longest slide (57 feet long and three stories high!) on Slide Hill. When you're ready to get off your feet, lie out on Grassy Hill, a slightly smaller hump with an equally breathtaking vantage point.

Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow & Picnic Area
Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow | Photo courtesy of The Randall’s Island Park Alliance

You probably associate Randall's and Wards Islands with athletic fields and music festivals, but you don't need an event to make visiting worthwhile. The island's gardens dress up an already scenic chunk of land, and one of its best is the 14,000-square-foot meadow beside the Hell Gate Bridge that's known for its several species of native Northeast plants. Look out at Astoria beyond the East River as you breathe in fresh oxygen, and think about all the sorry New Yorkers who will never experience such serenity.

Fort Washington Park
Fort Washington Park | Photo by John Curry

Fort Washington Park

Washington Heights

The fun doesn't stop where Riverside Park ends; just north is a whole new territory to explore. Of course, there are the usual sports fields typical of most hotspots along the Hudson River Greenway, but there are also some unique sights that only Fort Washington Park can offer. Beneath the George Washington Bridge rests Manhattan's only surviving lighthouse, and the fan-favorite Sisyphus Stones by artist Uliks Gryka provide peaceful environs to meditate and look out at the scenic bluffs of the Palisades.

You should know by now that Staten Island has beautiful beaches, but if you don't want to venture too far down the island, there's a plaza near the ferry with stellar views of the New York Harbor and One World Trade. The best lookout point is at the Staten Island 9/11 Memorial (aka "Postcards"), which was intentionally positioned to frame the piece of NYC's skyline where the Twin Towers once stood. The North Shore Esplanade is a little more gray and a little less green than some other local waterfronts, but it's no less serene.

Pelham Bay Park

East Bronx

You thought Central Park was massive? Pelham Bay Park comes in at over three times the size of its Manhattan equivalent, making it NYC's largest park. Its nearly 2,800 acres include just about everything you can imagine: hiking trails, barbecue areas, playgrounds, every type of athletic field/court/course/track, a historic mansion, a dog run, and 13 miles of shoreline primarily along the Eastchester and Pelham bays. Orchard Beach is the most notable waterfront area—and for good reason—but you don't need sand to enjoy the area's many waterways. Just about any of the park's edges will tickle your fancy, but Hunter Island (which is actually a peninsula) steals the show.

Socrates Sculpture Park
Photo courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park

Rotating art installations transform this ordinary neighborhood park into an alluring spectacle in Queens by the East River and near the north end of Roosevelt Island. Even without the sculptures, though, the one-block-long landfill-turned-green space is worthy of a visit. There's a grove of trees, pockets of plants, and open lawn space that make circling the perimeter of the park a pleasant experience. Plus, it sits between a Costco and a miniature beach. Talk about range.

WNYC Transmitter Park
WNYC Transmitter Park | Photo by Steven Oldak

North Brooklyn knows it well, but to people who don't frequent the area, the former radio transmitter site makes a stellar first impression as an urban oasis tucked behind an unsuspecting fence at the end of Greenpoint Avenue. Walk out on the dock to look out at Manhattan, claim a bench to read on, take a picture in front of the mural, or pop a squat on the ground along the East River shore. The space isn't huge, but it's big enough, and it fosters a neighborly feel that'll make every fellow park-goer seem like an old friend.

Kyler Alvord is a former staff writer at Thrillist who keeps coming back for more. Find him on Twitter and Instagram, or in any Brooklyn coffee shop that serves bagels.