The early planners of New York understood the necessity of green spaces in their burgeoning metropolis, and it takes little more than a lazy summer afternoon in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow to know that they were right. From the wilds of the High Line to the urban oasis of Bryant Park, New York offers green spaces galore for recreation and relaxation.
But scattered in between and just beyond the city’s major parks are a number of other “secret gardens” that tend be shorter on people and long on charm and tranquility.
For those moments when you need to rest your feet, take a breath or just want to feel “in the know,” here are six secret gardens of New York.
487 Hudson StreetWest Village
It seems a surprise awaits around every corner on the crisscrossing streets of the West Village, and this secret garden is one of the greatest. From the street, St. Luke in the Fields looks like any of the countless religious houses scattered throughout New York City, but behind its brick walls and wrought-iron gates is a sanctuary sure to put you into a meditative state, whatever your religious inclinations. At once meticulously tended and a teensy bit wild, this tiny green spot overflows with magnolias, petunias, daffodils and a whole host of other wonders that are as delightful to speak of as they are to see and smell.
Elevated Acre is a hard-to-find Downtown oasis. Photo: Garrett Ziegler
55 Water StreetFinancial District
Long before there was the High Line, there was Elevated Acre, but the older, lesser-known park is far less likely to become overrun with crowds than the newcomer hotspot-in-the-sky. Originally built in the 1970s, the Financial District public space was remodeled in 2005—into an oasis with a lawn for lounging, wooden boardwalk for strolling and sweeping East River views for the ogling. An LED-lit tower makes it magical in the evenings, and come summer, it is the site of free events like music and movie screenings.
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51st Street between 2nd and 3rd AvenuesMidtown
Clocking in at just 6,000 square feet, this small-but-mighty “vest pocket park” is essentially the perfect urban space. Manhattan’s skyscrapers tower above a tiered park while a delicate light filters through the greenery and a rushing waterfall muffles the sounds of bustling Midtown. There is also an affordable café on premises, and even heat lamps for enjoying the park in cooler climes.
A waterfall in Midtown? Welcome to Greenacre Park. Photo: Randy Levine
Fifth Avenue & E. 105th StreetEast Harlem
Situated on the northeast end of Central Park, these six serene acres tend to have a whole different feel than the popular attraction that surrounds them. That is in part due to the fact that they make up the only formal garden in the park, in part due to the location up at 105th street, and in part because runners and cyclists are not allowed here. This combination creates a secluded feel, with shaded benches and hidden nooks perfect for settling in with a book. Be sure to wander through the whole thing to take in the different French, English, and Italian landscapes.
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About three times the size of Central Park, Staten Island’s sprawling green wonder is two free adventures in one. First, there is the journey you’ll take to reach it. The free Staten Island Ferry offers fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline, plus an up-close-and-personal pass in front of Lady Liberty herself. Once on the island, bus S62 takes you directly to the Greenbelt and all its hiking trails, shaded nooks, and lookout points. Try climbing up Todt Hill, the highest natural point in all five boroughs (and a film location for the 1972 The Godfather).
Teardrop Park in Battery Park City. Photo: Jason Reibold
Hidden in Battery Park City, away from the busy bike lanes along the Hudson and shrouded by a handful of skyscrapers, resides a tiny stretch of wilderness. At least that’s what it feels like when you finally find Teardrop Park, which sort of has the feel of an unoccupied patch of ancient wild. Here, boulders, canopied trees and shaded paths reign, and even the slides built into rock walls and sprouting water fountains feel like they’ve always just “been there.”