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Three Unique Outdoor Activities To Do in New York City

Little Island in New York City with bridge leading to it and skyscrapers in the background.

The list of outdoor adventures to be had in New York City is endless. Today I'm sharing just three, because they are relatively new to NYC, so you may not know about them yet. They are also all connected, one activity leads effortlessly into the next.

Our son Henry had been wanting 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 that is what we did over February break.

Here is my favorite 1/2 day adventure from our trip that includes three outdoor activities. The best part, these activities are all connected by a pedestrian walkway with 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.

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, link 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 all the way to your final stop, the craziest viewing platform you’ve ever stepped foot on.

3rd Stop - The Edge

Opened to visitors on March of 2020, this 100-stories-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. Even more impressive, it's the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere. And heads up, you will be looking directly 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 be standing if you buy tickets to The Edge. If you're really feeling brave, stand on 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 each and 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, that's 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 pretty much 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.

I can't give you a list of outdoor activities to do in New York City without mentioning food. 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.

Before letting you go, I'll throw out one more suggestion for a free and fun outdoor activity in NYC: a visit to the bright lights and action of Times Square.

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 just pay them, because hustling is hard work...and in the end, it will be your favorite photo from the trip.

Since we only had three days here, we barely scratched the surface of all the things we still want to explore. We will likely return in the summer months when the NYC outdoor activities list grows even longer, including things like kayaking at Pier 26 and enjoying a snack at the MET's roof garden bar. Hope you make it here too!


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