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Travelers to NYC usually seek indoor recreation, but with Covid-19, outdoor tourism has seen a big boost. You can spend most of your time touring outdoors in NYC, popping into museums (with their enhanced filtration system sand social distancing rules) to warm up briefly. Here, a lifelong New Yorker and outdoor enthusiast shares her tips and secrets for outdoor fun in New York City.
Broadway shows are closed, filtration systems in historic buildings may be suspect and interactive elements in museums are turned off. Should you visit NYC during the pandemic? Yes. Whether you are a local or live within driving distance, New York has green spaces and more that you can enjoy year round.
Here are 20 fun ways to spend time outdoors in NYC no matter when you visit.
Outdoors Across NYC
Get on the Water
In warm weather, Hudson River Park in Manhattan has free kayaking; Brooklyn Bridge Park offers free kayaking in the East River. But all year, you can ride the Staten Island Ferry (it’s FREE and one of the best free things to do in NYC) for close up views of the Statue of Liberty.
Or you can take one of the NYC Ferry rides on the East River. It costs the same as a ride on the NYC subway and offers much better views!
Bike Around the City
The Bronx Outdoors in NYC
The Bronx Zoo
The Bronx Zoo is open year round, with new restrictions in place. Every visitor must have a timed, dated ticket to enter.
One thing I love about going to the zoo in winter: You don’t notice the animal aromas quite so intensely.
Zoo Neighbor, New York Botanical Garden
Brooklyn Outdoors in NYC
Flowers and More
The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, a 52-acre oasis in the city, now requires timed tickets, and all indoor venues are closed.
But the garden shines year round. See fall foliage and colorful pumpkins and squash in autumn. Cold weather brings winter-blooming witch-hazels and winter-blooming hellebores. By early spring, cherry trees and tulips bloom; in summer, roses and the native flora garden burst into color. Any time of year, see the koi in the Japanese Garden.
Prospect Park Green Space
Prospect Park has a zoo, a year-round farmers market, a children’s history museum with outdoor programming (closed for repairs) and two outdoor ice skating rinks that convert to roller skating in warmer weather.
The carousel is closed due to the pandemic.
New York Aquarium
The aquarium is open 365 days a year, with the animals on exhibit all year round. The penguins at the outdoor Sea Cliffs exhibit are particularly frisky in cold weather. Aquatheater shows are weather-dependent.
Before my kids were in school, we always preferred the cold to warm weather visits to avoid school groups and camp visits. Covid-19 restrictions require an advance, date-specific ticket.
After the aquarium, walk on the boardwalk and on the empty beach if it’s not too cold. From October 1 to May 1, leashed dogs can go on NYC beaches.
Also, you can’t ride the Cyclone or other amusement park rides due to the coronavirus. This can be an advantage if you are too scared to ride.
Skyline Drive-In Movie Theater
When movie theaters shut down, retro drive-in theaters stepped in to fill the Void. Because so many New Yorkers don’t have cars, Skyline Drive In, in Greenpoint, also has bike-up and walk-in options.
But if you’ve driven to New York, you might want to stay warm in your car and watch a movie with a view. And since the sun sets earlier in winter, you can get the kids to bed at their regular time.
Manhattan Outdoors in NYC
Green Space with a View
Lincoln Center Music and Dancing
Climbing The Vessel is an interactive way to see NYC from up high. And climbing almost 2,500 steps, spread over 154 interconnecting flights of stairs generates heat when you climb in cold weather.
Get that View
Queens Outdoors in NYC
Socrates Sculpture Park
Who says you need to visit a museum to see art? This park features sculptures and plenty of grass to run around and warm up. The current exhibit, Monuments Now, focuses on marginalized populations. Socrates is open 365 days a year from 9am – sundown, and dogs are allowed on leash.
Queens County Farm Museum
This working farm, in Floral Park, is open year round and FREE to visit. The Children’s Garden lets kids touch and smell herbs and vegetables grown on site.
Wildlife in Jamaica
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, has great birding spots. You can see many migratory species. There are walking trails (no biking) and dogs are not allowed.