Walking Paths in New York City
New York isn’t merely a concrete jungle. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Yet while pounding the pavement is certainly one way to see the city, you can also enjoy grassy, leafy, flowery walkways, and take one of the most unique strolls on the planet -- over the Brooklyn Bridge. Here are some of the best paths and trails for sauntering -- and they’re all free.
Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, a half-mile from Lower Manhattan, has surfaced since 2010 as a hip strolling spot. Getting there is half the fun—the free 7-minute ferry ride over is relaxing. The island dates back to the 1600s and several historic forts still stand. In recent years, Governor’s Island was home to the Coast Guard. Walk the Great Promenade, a 2.2 mile loop that hugs New York Harbor with plenty of shady spots to stop for a bite to eat and to drink in the views of Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. It’ll take you less than an hour to walk it but chances are good you’ll come across an art exhibit, concert or festival, each scattered randomly throughout the island, so you may want to linger. If you hear a honk, it’s a goose, not a taxi; cars are not allowed on Governor's Island (bliss!). Sadly, the island is only open on weekends from the end of May through September.
New York apartment dwellers fondly consider Central Park their backyard. And while the 843-acre park is obviously good for walking, there are some off-the-beaten-path locations in the park idyllic for lazy strolls. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a favorite jogging route of Jackie O’s, is a lovely spot for a walk. Not only is the 1.5-miledirt path a respite from the city’s frenetic pace, the views of Manhattan are as stunning as the former First Lady.
Bird watching (and we’re not talking pigeons) is big at The Ramble, a lush 38-acre wild garden and woodland in the middle of the park. The manmade garden, with a maze of trails, streams, bridges and arches, is home to 230 bird species. Or stroll the park’s Shakespeare Garden, a 4-acre rock garden that features plants and flowers that are mentioned in the playwright’s works. Not up on your Shakespeare? Fear not thee. As you amble the winding paths dotted with rustic benches, you’ll stumble upon bronze plaques that identify the plants along with quotations from the corresponding work (think pansies in Hamlet.)
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also gives a nod to the Bard. Walk the red-brick pathways that snake through the colorful Shakespeare Garden to see 80 plants mentioned in the playwright’s plays and sonnets. Then, strut your stuff on the nearby “Celebrity Path,” where stepping stones are inscribed with the names of Walt Whitman, Jackie Robinson, Barbra Streisand and about 100 other Brooklynites.
A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is a treat. A wide, pedestrian walkway runs through the center of the iconic bridge and, as you stroll the breathtaking 1-mile span, you’ll be wowed by the views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. In Manhattan you enter the bridge across from City Hall Park; be sure to mind the bridge’s designated lanes for walkers and cyclists because collisions do occur. Once you’ve crossed into Brooklyn, if you’re up for it, walk another 10 minutes to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade for more scenic views of Manhattan.
The new kid on the block is The High Line, a 1.5 mile stretch of abandoned, elevated railway along Manhattan’s West Side neighborhoods including the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, also known as Clinton. The High Line is turning heads with art installations such as rooftop sculptures, rows of gardens with indigenous plants, a sundeck and stunning Hudson River views (come at sunset and you’re in for a treat). They say the best things in life are free, and walking in New York City ranks right up there. The beauty of these walking paths, too, is that they are not “touristy”—New Yorkers love to lace up and stroll these same outdoor spots for entertainment, exercise and pleasure.
Laurie Bain Wilson writes often about New York City and is the author of several travel guidebooks, including New York City Made Easy and New York City with Kids.