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Outdoor Activities in New York City

Man walking across bridge in Central Park with NYC high rises in the background.

The list of outdoor adventures in New York City is endless. I will share some of our favorites after two recent trips to the city during winter and summer.

Our son Henry had wanted to visit NYC for a VERY long time. At least since 2019 when we first watched the movie The Secret Life of Pets, which includes cozy city apartments, walks through Central Park in full bloom, and talking animals of all kinds. It's our favorite feel-good movie and Henry and I have watched The Secret Life of Pets 2 at least 10 times...because the second one is even better than the first. Henry decided that a trip to NYC would be his best 13th birthday gift, so we did that as a family over February break. Henry and I returned in early July for a summer trip, just the two of us. We made a long list of sites to see and tackled all of them in a marathon trip fueled by little sleep and loads of coffee.

For me, the highlight was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in the early morning. For Henry, it was the view from the 100-story observation deck of the Edge at sunset. I'll share the full list of outdoor activities with you, plus details on the budget-friendly hotel we stayed in during our last trip. It was $89 per night, conveniently located, and modern. Yes, you read that right. I was as shocked as you are to discover such affordable accommodations in NYC. Details on that later.

Let's start with a fun 1/2 day adventure which includes three outdoor activities connected by a pedestrian walkway - no lights to wait for or busy roads to cross.

1st Stop - Little Island

A new public park on the Hudson River located at Pier 55. This winding walk is short, fun and trippy. It also offers great views of the city.

According to the Little Island website, this park is ADA compliant and all areas are accessible, including bathrooms. Kid-friendly attractions here include: optical illusion spinning discs, music makers, spun chairs, and and dance chimes. There are two performance areas here: an intimate stage called The Glade and an open, amphitheater-style plaza called The Play Ground. All events at Little Island are free!

This island filled with art and botanical gardens is an initiative of The Diller – Von Furstenberg Family Foundation (DVFFF) in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust leadership. The idea was first conceived by Barry Diller in 2013, after Hurricane Sandy had damaged Pier 54. He imagined rebuilding with a new public space that would create an immersive experience with nature and art.

"What was in my mind was to build something for the people of New York and for anyone who visits—a space that on first sight was dazzling, and upon use made people happy." - Barry Diller

This idea was brought to fruition by 16 construction, engineering and design teams. The park was designed by UK -based Heatherwick Studio and the landscape was designed by Signe Nielsen of MNLA. The surface structure of this park is made up of 132 "Tulip Pot", concrete modules. These structures were built around the remainder of pier 54's structural wooden piles, still sticking out of the water. These piles were left to provide habitat for aquatic life.

New York City's Little Island with old structural wooden pilings, remnants of the original  Pier 54

Here's a fun fact from the Little Island website:

In 1912, the survivors of the Titanic shipwreck (706 in total, according to my google search) were brought to safety at Pier 54 by the rescue liner Carpathia. Find more fascinating history on the pier here.

After several years of planning, construction began in 2016 and Little Island opened in May of 2021. For all of the details and activities happening at this sweet spot, link here.

Little Island is located between 13th and 14th streets in Hudson River Park. From here, it's just a five minute walk to our next stop on this adventure...

2nd Stop - The High Line

After leaving Little Island, follow 14th street, crossing over 11th Ave and 10th Ave, until you've reached the stairway leading up to the High Line.

The High Line in NYC at sunset.

This public park and pedestrian walkway was built on a historic 1.45-mile-long elevated rail line. It offers 500+ species of plants and trees, public & community programs, and world-class artwork and performances. All of this is free and open to the public. The High Line was heading for demolition before community members rallied together to repurpose it into the park it is today.

Owned by the City of New York, the High Line is a public park maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line, in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. For more information and warm weather photos, click here.

Here is a history of the High Line from their website. I've condensed it a bit.

Mid-1,800's - Freight trains on street-level delivered food to lower Manhattan, but conditions were dangerous for pedestrians. 10th Avenue was known as "Death Avenue", leading to 540 deaths by 1910.

1920's - The railroad hired men on horses to protect pedestrians by waving red flags to warn of incoming trains. They were called the "West Side Cowboys."

1924 - The city's Transit Commission ordered the removal of street-level crossings, which eventually led to an elevated rail line.

1933 - The first train ran on the elevated rail line, then called the "West Side Elevated Line." It transported meat, dairy and produce and even cut through some buildings.

1960's - Due to trucking, train use slowed and came to a full stop by the 80's.

1983 - Chelsea resident Peter Obletz formed The West Side Rail Line Development Foundation, in hopes of preserving the structure.

1999 - After decades of disuse, a vast garden of wild plants took over the structure. Inspired by this, Joshua David and Robert Hammond founded a non-profit called Friends of the High Line, which is responsible for maintenance and operation of the High Line to this day.

2006 - City Council passed the re-zoning of the High Line to become a public park.

2009 - The first section of the High Line opened to the public.

2023 - The final link was completed and today, The High Line is now a continuous, 1.45-mile-long greenway.

Walk the High Line to your final stop, the craziest viewing platform you’ve ever stepped foot upon.

3rd Stop - The Edge

Opened to visitors in March of 2020, this 100-story-high observation deck with a section of glass floor and slanted glass walls offers the most impressive 360-degree views of NYC. Holy crap is this terrifying and thrilling…mostly terrifying. It’s also higher than the Empire State Building and currently the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. And heads up, you will be looking straight at it for most of your walk on the High Line. How's that for build-up?

Look for the platform at the top of this skyscraper. That's where you'll stand if you buy tickets to The Edge. If you're feeling brave, walk over the section of glass floor and look 100 stories down to the cars and traffic below.

Two people looking New York City through the glass viewing wall at the Edge

Finn was not afraid of this glass floor, walking it effortlessly over and over. The rest of our family, well, we froze every time we reached the edge of it. This would not satisfy our son Finn though. Nope, he made sure every one of us faced our fears, experiencing the sheer terror of walking across this floor of death. I did not look down when I stepped onto the glass and I'm pretty sure Tim had his eyes closed, but we all did it.

The view from the exterior glass walls though, is incredible...and a bit less intimidating. This 7,500-square-foot outdoor viewing area is more than 1,100 feet above the ground. You can see the entire city of New York from this vantage point, including our Lady Liberty.

The Edge is accessible with elevators and ramps. If you're over the age of five, you will need to purchase tickets for The Edge. You can do that here. Prices vary, but we paid $40 per person and the tickets were 100% worth it. Plus, the first two stops on this adventure were 100% free, so the entire 1/2 day adventure was pretty reasonable compared to other New York City activities.

Located at 30 Hudson Yards, The Edge is where you will end up if you walk the entire High Line. For us, it was an exhilarating finish to a really fun day. Henry and I returned to The Edge in July for a sunset viewing at 8:30pm. The observation deck was jam-packed with people this time around, but we were able to see the most incredible sunset from the floor-to-ceiling windows inside the building.

To fuel this 1/2 day adventure, head to The Chelsea Market, located on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th streets is an 8 minute walk to Little Island. This block-long indoor market offers something for just about everyone - the list of food choices here is endless. It was also once the home to the Nabisco factory where the Oreo cookie was first created in 1912. If you want the best croissant in the city of New York, visit Alf Bakery, located in the downstairs level of Chelsea Market.

Next we'll head to Lower Manhattan. During our summer visit, Henry and I started our first morning in the city with an early walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

Boy standing on the Brooklyn Bridge with skyscrapers in the background.

This hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge with neo-Gothic stone towers is 1.1 miles long. A pedestrian-only promenade runs through the bridge's center, offering a unique experience for walkers and bikers. Here are some fun facts about the Brooklyn Bridge:

  • Completed in 1883, this bridge spans the East River, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn.

  • At its opening, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

  • According to, the bridge's chief engineer, John A. Roebling, died of tetanus during its construction. His son Washington Roebling saw the project to completion, although he suffered from Caisson's disease, now known as "The Bends." This condition left him bedridden, so he watched over the bridge's progress with a telescope and dictated instructions to his wife who shared them with the workers.

  • It took 14 years to complete the construction of this bridge.

  • Roebling and Sons also designed The Swinging Bridge in Brunswick.

  • The granite blocks found in the bridge's two suspension towers were quarried on Vinalhaven Island in Maine.

To walk across the bridge, use the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway. It starts at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place. I'd recommend starting early since this bridge can fill with people throughout the day. For incredible views of the city and waterfront, I highly recommend adding this walk to your itinerary.

Just a 12 minute walk from the start of the Brooklyn Bridge is the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. I was not prepared to feel as emotional as I did when we arrived at the first of the two giant, square holes in the Earth filled with water flowing into smaller square holes in the center of each memorial. The surrounding walls are engraved with the names of the 2,983 people killed in the attack of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Standing at the memorial was a moving experience and I was aware of the fact that most of the other viewers were also standing there silently, phones in pockets.

You can purchase tickets for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, also located here. We chose to continue on, taking the 15 minute walk to the free Staten Island Ferry for close-up views of the Statue of Liberty. But when we arrived, we decided we'd rather visit the Ghostbuster's Headquarters, so we pivoted...after a quick trip to China Town. As I said, this was a marathon of a trip.

Nothing makes me happier than 80's nostalgia, so this stop was a real bonus for me. Henry was equally excited about a visit to this famous firehouse, shouting, "Dad LOVES that building!" ('cause my husband also grew up in the 80's and every 80's kid is a Ghostbusters fan).

Boys standing in front of the Ghostbuster's Headquarters in NYC.

Located on Moore Street in the Tribeca neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, this 1903 Beaux-Arts building was used for the exterior scenes from the 1984 classic Ghostbusters. This is was also the home of the real-life Hook & Ladder Company 8. You can't go inside of the firehouse, but they didn't use the inside for filming anyway. It is still a fully functional firehouse and its firefighters were among the first responders to the World Trade Center on September 11.

Once you've explored Lower Manhattan, you could spend a full day at Central Park in Upper Manhattan. We didn't spend too much time here, but we did enjoy the Sheep Pasture on the southwest side and a small pond on the southeast side of the Park. There are lots of family-friendly activities here.

Central Park South is 1.3 miles from the Pod Times Square hotel, where Henry and I stayed during our summer trip. It cost us $89 plus taxes per night for a bunk room. This price may change, so do check the website, linked above. Although the space was cozy, it was clean and offered great views of the city. It was also in the heart of the action, just a couple of blocks from Times Square.

If large crowds and bright lights energize you, Times Square is a must. Just a heads up, if someone grabs your camera and offers to take pics of your family with a giant gorilla, they may demand $20 for the service after the fact. At that point, you may want to pay them, because hustling is hard work...and in the end, it will be your favorite photo from the trip. Or maybe it will be the photo of your kid's smiling face in the Lego Store on Fifth Avenue. Or the sunset view between skycrapers from Bryant Park.

Although I'm a nature lover, there is just something so energizing about New York City. I do truly enjoy it, for about 48 hours, and then I usually hit a wall. I'm always happy to return to Maine where our world is filled with woods and wildlife. It's always good to come home.

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1 Comment

Excellent post! We’ve done about half of this stuff so far. You did NYC right! Next time take some ferry rides, go to Governor’s Island. We once spent a whole weekend going everywhere by ferry, from a cheapish lodging in Weehauken.

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