Travel

Underrated NYC Waterfronts You Should Be Visiting in All 5 Boroughs

Beaches not included.

Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow & Picnic Area on Randall's Island
Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow | Courtesy of The Randall's Island Park Alliance
Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow | Courtesy of The Randall's Island Park Alliance

NYC is gorgeous. Period. Its skyscrapers, bridges, islands, and rivers are in leagues of their own, and for a so-called concrete jungle, there's a shocking amount of green space where you can take it all in. Central Park and Prospect Park are the most obvious options for an outdoor day, but 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, yet people still fall back on spots like Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO, and Riverside Park in the UWS, and Domino Park in Williamsburg -- and don't even get us started on the chaos that is Pier 45 in the West Village.

Luckily there are plenty of lesser known NYC waterfront areas worthy of your attention. If you're not adding these underappreciated -- and, frankly, under-respected -- waterfront parks to your destination rotation, it’s time to diversify your outdoor routine. And that's the tea.

Biking through The Hills on Governors Island
The Hills | 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, shrubs, and a permanent art installation; 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.

Jeffrey Gibson exhibit at Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park | Scott Lynch

Socrates Sculpture Park

Astoria
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.

Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow & Picnic Area on Randall's Island
Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow | Courtesy of The Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Hell Gate Wildflower Meadow & Picnic Area

Randall's Island
You probably associate Randall's and Wards Islands with athletic fields and music festivals, but you don't need an event to make visiting worth your while. 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.

WNYC Transmitter Park mural along the East River in Greenpoint
WNYC Transmitter Park | Steven Oldak

WNYC Transmitter Park

Greenpoint
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.

Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens
Gantry Plaza State Park | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Gantry Plaza State Park

Long Island City
Easily one of NYC's best waterfronts, Gantry Plaza (and it's neighbor, Hunter's Point South) boasts unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline -- and plenty of spots to enjoy them, including benches of every shape and size, built-in lounge chairs that double as a lovers' lane at dusk, and picnic tables beside the park restaurant. 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.

Sisyphus Stones at Fort Washington Park in Manhattan
Fort Washington Park | 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.

North Shore Esplanade

St. George
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.

Astoria Park lawn in front of the Triborough Bridge
Astoria Park | Steven Oldak

Astoria Park

Astoria
This enormous waterfront area isn't exactly Queens' best-kept secret, but it is a place that other boroughs foolishly overlook. 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
Remember Roosevelt Island? You know, that mysterious sliver of land between Manhattan and Queens that you visited for like three minutes when you first moved to NYC because your coworker lied and told you that riding the aerial tram is a rite of passage? Well this state park, located at the base of Roosevelt Island, gives you a good reason to return. Honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt, the tree-lined lawn points to a granite memorial, and the often-photographed staircase at the park's entrance doubles as a canvas for periodic political exhibits.

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.

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Kyler Alvord l-o-v-e-s waterfront parks. See proof on his Instagram and Twitter.