Cloudless autumn skies make a perfect backdrop for exploring New York’s green spaces, including the enchanting Little Island.
Fiery bursts of orange, red and gold light up the parks of New York during the fall. Vendors sell steaming cider, pumpkins dot the markets around town, and the crisp air seems to make the city feel more alive than ever. It’s no wonder Billie Holiday sang with such joy about post-summer life in “Autumn in New York.”
While strolling through Central Park has a touch of nostalgia, other parks offer new and surprising perspectives of the city. Chief among these is Little Island, which opened on the edge of the Meatpacking District in May 2021, attracting visitors with its charm and beauty.
True to its name, the whimsical Little Island sits in the Hudson River, a short walk from Manhattan’s west side. Offering a unique space unlike any other in the city, the park feels like something out of a fairy tale, particularly as you walk under a great archway, where the petals of two massive tulips appear to join.
On the undulating island
Once on the island, you enter an oasis of lush lawns, gently sloping hills, and an impressive variety of plants. The island features 35 species of trees, including Japanese cedar, red oaks, and a lone cherry tree. In the understory, you’ll find azaleas, hellebores, and more than 300 varieties of grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants—carefully selected for their color, fragrance, and ability to attract birds and other pollinators.
Fully accessible pathways wind around the park, leading to various viewpoints, including the southwestern overlook—the park’s highest point. Here you can enjoy a panaoramic view of the Lower Manhattan skyline, a wide expanse of the Hudson River, and Jersey City on the horizon. Down below, New Yorkers find a sunny spot on the soft grass for a picnic or spontaneous gathering with friends.
On the west side of the island, an intimate 687-seat amphitheater hosts concerts, plays, dance performances and other events. Even when nothing is scheduled, it attracts a good number of New Yorkers and travelers who come for a peaceful place to watch the sunset.
Insider tip: Access to Little Island is free, but you’ll need to reserve a time slot at littleisland.org to visit during the afternoon on weekends and public holidays. It opens from 6 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. daily (and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. between November and mid-March).
Four parks that revitalize NYC
New York’s artfully designed green spaces are as talked about today as the skyscrapers of old, providing a meaningful way to experience nature in the city.
See new perspectives of Manhattan atop the High Line
Built on a set of abandoned elevated railway tracks, the High Line stretches for 1.5 miles along the west side, and is lined with wild grasses, flowers and sumac trees. There are also glass-walled cutouts over the street, where you can enjoy some great people watching.
Entrances on Gansevoort Street, 20th Street and 30th Street; thehighline.org
Stroll along the riverfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park
A once-barren set of piers was torn down to make way for 550 acres of greenery that wraps around the East River. Lawns, forested thickets, and a salt marsh set the stage for memorable walks along Brooklyn’s waterfront. One of New York’s best-loved parks, it draws thousands of people each year who come for waterside picnics and breathtaking views of the skyline.
Entrances on Atlantic Avenue and Old Fulton Street; brooklynbridgepark.org
Find an uptown pocket of peace in Waterline Square Park
Sandwiched between modern high-rises on the Upper West Side, this park makes excellent use of its limited space with water features, walking paths and lush greenery. The spacious lawn is a great place for a picnic, yoga class, or evening concert.
400 W 61st Street; waterlinesquare.com/the-park
Admire avant-garde artwork in Socrates Sculpture Park
Built on top of a former landfill, this waterfront park in Queens offers incredible views of Midtown and a dynamic line-up of cultural events. Site-specific art installations steal the show, with featured artists that include Agnes Denes, Tanda Francis, and Isamu Noguchi, as well as Mark di Suvero, who founded the park in 1986.
32-01 Vernon Boulevard; socratessculpturepark.org