Despite its reputation as a bustling urban jungle, there are lots of outdoor activities in New York City to help you get some fresh air, exercise, and peace of mind. If the weather complies during your trip to the Big Apple, you’re in luck because there are lovely outdoor spaces and attractions to check out.
We love to have outdoor adventures, and while New York City may at first seem suffocating and uptight, we’ve found plenty of ways to stretch our legs and spend time in the sunshine.
In this guide, I’ll share the 15 best outdoor things to do in NYC, from nearby hikes to open-air markets and rooftop bars. Also, if you’re looking for more outdoorsy places near Manhattan, read our guide on the best things to do just outside NYC.
1. Spend a day at the park, the best outdoor activity in NYC
First, you can’t go wrong with a day at one of NYC’s top parks. They’re the perfect pocket of green space and fresh air you crave after spending hours in the concrete jungle.
Of course, Central Park is a must-see, thanks to its public art, monuments, sports facilities, and natural areas. Come here for a picnic on the Great Lawn and a ride on the carousel, or rent a bike and check out the sculptures and structures in the park, like Belvedere Castle. If you prefer to see the highlights with the help of a local, this bike tour is a good choice.
Besides Central Park, I recommend visiting some other parks in NYC. Bryant Park hosts summer movie nights and, during Christmas in NYC, the Winter Village. Madison Square Park, at the corner of the Flatiron District, is another gorgeous park and home to Madison Square Garden, where you can catch a sports game or performance.
Prospect Park, a New York Scenic Landmark, is a huge outside space in NYC with a lake, a boathouse, and a bandshell. You can go boating or ice skating at the LeFrak Center or walk through The Ravine and see the Binnen waterfall. It’s the perfect way to get some outdoor time without getting out of the city.
2. Dine alfresco, a nice outdoor date idea in NYC
If you’re visiting the city during the spring or summer, dining alfresco at one of NYC’s best rooftops is a must-do. It also makes for a great outdoor date idea in NYC, so keep that in mind if you want to celebrate a special day!
There are countless restaurants and bars to enjoy an alfresco meal, but one of the best outdoor places in NYC is 230 Fifth. This rooftop lounge is 20 stories above Manhattan, so you’ll get great views of the Empire State Building and other attractions. It’s open for weekend brunch, but our favorite time to go is sunset when we can sip on cocktails at golden hour.
Mr. Purple, on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo, and JIMMY, on the 18th floor of Modernhaus SoHo are two other rooftop bars where you can get sweeping views of the city while noshing on shareable appetizers and small bites.
For something more substantial, you can find restaurants with outdoor dining all over the city. Kokomo serves an incredible Caribbean-inspired menu, while Oxomoco’s outdoor patio is the perfect place to enjoy delicious Mexican cuisine.
Also, Olmsted offers a unique backyard dining ambiance, while the Waverly Inn has a charming garden courtyard in the West Village.
3. Go kayaking, a great way to experience nature in New York City
You don’t have to escape the city to have an outdoor adventure. Weather-permitting, consider a river kayaking experience at one of the city’s community boathouses. Many of these places offer rentals and lessons at no cost, so it’s a great free outdoor activity in NYC if you have some spare time.
The Manhattan Community Boathouse at Pier 96 gives free kayaking lessons on the Hudson River, and all you have to do is sign up on the website. If you’re in Brooklyn, check out the North Brooklyn Community Boathouse or the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse.
You can also explore the aquatic nature in New York City at the Downtown Boathouse or with Kayak Staten Island, both of which offer complimentary rentals. These companies provide kayaks, paddles, and lifejackets, so all you have to do is show up. Without a doubt, it’s one of the top free things to do in NYC, especially when it’s a beautiful day and you can feel the river breeze.
4. Walk the High Line, an outdoor activity in NYC for families
Another way to explore the outdoors in New York City is to walk the High Line in Chelsea. This elevated park, which spans about one mile, was built on old train tracks. Today, it’s a unique park and walkway with benches, lookout points, public art, and garden landscaping.
As you walk along the High Line, you’ll see the entire Meatpacking District sprawled out below you. You’ll also pass The Vessel observation deck and Chelsea Market, which I highly recommend visiting. It’s one of the best things to do in New York City, and if you’re interested in learning about the history of the High Line and Chelsea Market, this guided tour is fantastic.
During the tour, you’ll discover more about the development of the High Line and Chelsea Market, which was once a Nabisco boxing factory. Then, walk through the vendor stalls and booths at the market, which range from artisanal foods to vintage clothing, jewelry, and artwork.
5. Browse an outdoor market, the best summer outdoor activity in NYC
Speaking of Chelsea Market, browsing all the treasures at an outdoor market is a great outdoor activity to do in NYC in the summer. One of the most famous markets in the city is the Brooklyn Flea in DUMBO. Here, you can find everything from antiques and collectibles to used furniture, vintage clothing, and crafts made by local designers. There are also fresh produce and food stalls to peruse. The Brooklyn Flea is open seasonally from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
If you’re visiting NYC when the Brooklyn Flea is closed, check out its sister market, the Chelsea Flea. This one is open year-round from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and it has a similar vibe to the Brooklyn Flea.
I also recommend visiting Artists & Fleas at Chelsea Market and the Grand Bazaar on the Upper West Side, which is open on Sundays. The Union Square Greenmarket is another top-rated market, and one of the coolest outdoor places in NYC. Not only can you buy local baked goods and specialty crafts, but you can also explore Union Square, one of the most impressive parks in the city.
Finally, over in Harlem, the Uptown Night Market is a large-scale outdoor shopping venue that’s open every second Thursday of the month from 4 pm to 10 pm.
6. Visit a botanical garden, a romantic outdoor activity in New York City for couples
Another lovely place you must visit in NYC is the New York Botanical Garden, a gorgeous venue spanning over 250 acres. It’s among the best places to go in NYC as a couple, and it’s open year-round, so there is always something new to see. The Garden Glow at Christmas is lots of fun, while the seasonal blooms are extraordinary.
Among the areas here, you should visit the Azalea Garden, the Rose Garden, the orchid collection, and the water lilies and lotuses. There is also a conservatory and a Wetland Trail that you can stroll along.
If you’re looking for outdoor activities in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of the top sites to check out. Spend a relaxing moment at the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, smell the roses at the Fragrance Garden, and capture beautiful photos at the Shakespeare Garden. Brooklyn Botanic Garden also has roses, cherry blossoms, herbs, woodland shrubs, aquatic plants, and other floral species that make it a romantic place for a daytime date.
Both the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the New York Botanical Garden are included in the New York Pass, so if you get it, you can enjoy discounted admission to both venues.
7. Go to the beach, a fun thing to do outside in NYC
It may seem weird to hear that there are beaches near NYC, but it’s true! You can venture to the outskirts of the city or travel further towards the coast to enjoy some fun in the sun, and it’s a nice outdoor activity in NYC to do in the summer.
First, Rockaway Beach is one of the few surfing beaches in NYC. Located in Queens, it offers sports facilities, a skate park, playgrounds, and a boardwalk. The beach has accessible showers and bathrooms, so it’s a good choice for families with kids.
Over in the Bronx, Orchard Beach is an artificial beach that’s part of Pelham Bay Park. It’s located along Long Island Sound, so it’s a great place to swim and cool off from the heat. During the summer, lifeguards are on duty and the community hosts a free concert series.
Another option is South Beach, part of the South Beach Wetlands. Besides swimming, it offers a scenic boardwalk, so it’s a fun outdoor activity on Staten Island to do. Further outside of NYC, the Hamptons are home to several lovely beaches, including Main Beach in East Hampton and Cooper’s Beach in Southampton. If you don’t want to drive, this day tour will provide transportation to East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Southampton.
8. Green-Wood Cemetery, a beautiful outdoor place in NYC you should visit
Visiting a cemetery might not seem like fun, but Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn has some of the best nature near NYC, as well as art and tons of history. Across Green-Wood’s 478 acres, you’ll find old mausoleums, catacombs, chapels, and scenic lookouts. Besides the gravesites, there are expanses of green space where you can sit and admire the views of the city in the distance.
Once you visit, you’ll see why it’s one of the nicest outdoor activities in New York City. The cemetery is free to access, and I recommend entering at 5th Avenue and 25th Street. Take your time walking through the grounds, and don’t miss the Gothic Chapel, the arched Brownstone gate, and the old catacombs, which have dozens of underground vaults.
It may be a bit creepy, but it’s also very beautiful. Keep an eye out for quiet pockets of nature, like the ornamental pond surrounded by Japanese cherry trees. You may see some bullfrogs, turtles, or herons by the water, or some vibrant green monk parakeets.
I also recommend walking to Battle Hill, where you can see the Minerva statue and the Civil War Soldier’s Monument. Finally, don’t miss Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery, an ongoing exhibit where you can write down your deepest secret and leave it to rest at the gravesite.
9. South Street Seaport, one of the best outdoor places in NYC
A fun outdoor place in New York City for all ages is the South Street Seaport. Located in the Financial District, along the East River, the Seaport is one of the oldest parts of NYC, encompassing nearly 400 years of history.
From its days as a port for the Dutch West India Company to today, the South Street Seaport is a lively place to visit year-round. Of course, the most exciting time to visit this New York City outdoor venue is in the summertime. This is when you can watch concerts at Pier 17, see art exhibits, listen to live entertainment and dine outside. I also recommend stopping for cocktails and food at The Rooftop at Pier 17.
It’s also worth visiting the South Street Seaport Museum, where you can learn about NYC’s port legacy through artifacts, records, and a gallery of historic vessels. If you like to shop, stop by Fulton Market, an indoor/outdoor attraction with local vendors selling produce, artisan products, and more.
10. Take a walking tour, the best outdoor activity in NYC for groups
A walking tour is another outdoor activity in New York City that won’t disappoint, and there are plenty of options. If you’re just looking for a general overview of NYC, do this free walking tour, which goes past Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, and other popular attractions.
That said, there are more specialized walking tours that may interest you. For example, this half-day tour is led by a local who was personally affected by the 9/11 attacks, and they’ll take you through some poignant landmarks like St. Paul’s Chapel, the Firefighter’s 9/11 Memorial Wall, and the Survivor’s Tree. You can upgrade your tour to include admission to the 9/11 Museum and One World Observatory.
You’ll also love this walking tour through SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown. It’s one of the best walking tours in NYC since it explores three distinct neighborhoods and covers lots of history. On the other hand, Greenwich Village is another top neighborhood, so consider this 2-hour tour that visits the Stonewall Inn, Washington Square Park, the Friends apartment, Cherry Lane Theater, and other landmarks.
If you’re visiting with kids, this NYC Superheroes tour is a fun walking tour and one of the best outdoor activities in NYC for families. Kids and the young at heart will love seeing famous settings from Superman, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and The Avengers movies.
11. Take a boat ride, something fun to do in NYC outside
As an old port city, the Big Apple is a hub for boat rides and cruises. So, if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure in NYC, book one of these top New York City boat rides.
First, this one-hour tour takes you along the Hudson River and past the Statue of Liberty, one of the most important landmarks in Manhattan. If you’re looking for a free outdoor activity in NYC, the Staten Island Ferry also goes past Lady Liberty, although the views aren’t quite as good.
For something more romantic, this dinner cruise in a glass-enclosed boat is just the ticket. A brunch option is also available, so it can be a good activity to do with friends. In addition to enjoying a gourmet meal, you’ll have access to the outdoor viewing deck where you can see attractions like the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower.
Last but not least, a ride on the BEAST speedboat is an experience you’ll never forget. Reach speeds up to 45 mph while cruising past Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
12. Coney Island, a place with fun outdoor activities in New York City
If you’re looking for more ways to get the family outside during your trip, a visit to Coney Island is a must-do. Not only is it one of the best things to do in NYC with kids, but it’s also a great outdoor summer activity in NYC, thanks to its beach, boardwalk, and amusements.
Treat yourself to a day of fun at Luna Park or Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, where you can enjoy rides like the iconic Ferris wheel and play carnival games. Then, stroll along the boardwalk and browse the shops or people-watch. Along with the stores, there are food stalls like Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs.
Coney Island also has a beach, so it’s a cute place for an outdoor date in NYC. It’s in south Brooklyn, so you can easily take the subway there.
13. Take a bike ride, a must-do outdoor activity in NYC
Besides walking, kayaking, and taking a cruise, you can enjoy a scenic bike ride through NYC. This is a great way to get some exercise while maximizing your sightseeing time.
As I mentioned earlier, you can rent a bike or take a bike tour through Central Park. If you do the tour, your guide will take you past the highlights of the park, including Bethesda Fountain, Strawberry Fields, and the Great Lawn. Over the course of two hours, you’ll make the most of your visit to this famous urban green space.
Another outdoor place in NYC where you can ride a bike is the Hudson River Greenway. It runs for about 11 miles from Battery Park to the Bronx, and you can rent a Citi Bike from one of the stations along 11th or 12 Avenue. There are several playgrounds, picnic areas, monuments, and sports facilities along the way, so you can make stops at your leisure.
Over in Brooklyn, you can rent a Citi Bike and ride along the waterfront greenway from Pier 1 to Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
14. Visit Times Square, a free outdoor activity in NYC
Times Square has something for everyone, so you can’t go to New York without coming here. This area is full of attractions, restaurants, and shops, but it’s also a lot of fun to just walk around and experience the atmosphere of this outdoor place in NYC.
While you’re here, visit the famous Red Stairs and stop by the TKTS Pavilion for discounted Broadway tickets. There are lots of theaters around here, as well as TV recording studios and street performers waiting to entertain you.
If you’re with family, satisfy your sweet tooth at Hershey’s Chocolate World or M&M’s World, then check out the interesting exhibits at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! or Madame Tussauds.
Times Square is always open, although coming here is one of the best things to do in NYC at night because this place is most exciting after dark. Grab drinks at one of the lounges, nightclubs, or bars, or sit down to dinner at one of the nearby restaurants like Los Tacos No. 1.
For some after-dinner fun with friends, head to Dave and Buster’s or Bowlmor Lanes for bowling and arcade games.
15. Hike one of the trails near NYC, the best activity in NYC for nature-lovers
Finally, one of the best outdoor activities in NYC or anywhere really is to take a hike. There are lots of great hikes near NYC, although I’ll recommend a few of my favorites here.
First, the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail is an easy out-and-back trail near Yonkers, NY. It’s a long route, but not hard, so you can take it easy while you enjoy the scenic views. You’ll also pass the old aqueduct, which was used to transport water to Manhattan from 1837 to 1842.
A shorter hike is the Reeves Brook Loop in Harriman State Park, one of the best weekend getaways from NYC. This intermediate loop is just under four miles and has a steep ascent that leads to beautiful views. The Lake Skenonto Loop, which is also in Harriman State Park, is an eight-mile route through gorgeous natural areas and past the glistening Skenonto Lake.
Closer to the city, the Staten Island Greenbelt Trail is an easy 3.3-mile hike with lots of flora and fauna. Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, great-horned owls, hawks, and other critters. It’s a great place to explore the outdoors in New York City, although I suggest venturing out of the Big Apple if you have time.
That’s it for the 15 best outdoor things to do in NYC. I hope this gave you some inspiration for your next trip or outdoor date idea in NYC. Don’t hesitate to leave me any questions below, and don’t forget to download this map with all the outdoor spaces in NYC that I mentioned!