Many visitors to New York think that it is a great city to visit, but feel that it would be far too frantic a place to call home. While neighborhoods like Midtown are full of energy and the bustle of cars and pedestrians, not to mention some of the world's finest dining and cultural attractions, the experience can become overwhelming after a few days. Factor in the occasional lunatic, the overly aggressive cab drivers and the din of construction, car horns and sirens, and you may feel as though your sanity is beginning to slip.
We understand. Even veteran New Yorkers sometimes feel the same way. Finding a moment of downtime is the only way that anyone can survive here, and even the most high-energy, Wall Street types know that, while time is money, peace and quiet are two of the most coveted luxuries in the city. What follows is ten of the best places in New York to enjoy a moment or two (or three) of serenity.
Yes, it is obvious. However, Central Park has served as the city’s backyard for over 150 years for a multitude of reasons, and it is not only because of its central location. It is also a great place to enjoy a lazy picnic, a hike through the Ramble or a quiet moment along the banks of the Pond. Designed by the legendary team of Olmstead and Vaux, the 843-acre park is a masterwork of landscape architecture that is big enough to afford plenty of seclusion, even at the height of summer. The park is also renowned for its birding, if you’re into that type of thing.
Located in Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is about as far away as one can get from Midtown without leaving the island of Manhattan. This is one of the primary reasons why it is rarely crowded and, more importantly, what makes it one the quietest museums in the city. The name says it all: The word “cloister” is derived from the Latin claustrum, meaning “a thing that is shut up.” On top of being a spectacular museum dedicated to the art of medieval Europe, the gardens and the architecture of the Cloisters are attractions in and of themselves.
Riverside Park stretches from 59th to 158th Street along the Hudson River. It is a haven for joggers and bikers, as well as anyone hoping to enjoy a quiet, riverside walk. Though one can often still hear the sound of traffic from the Westside Highway, the beauty of the landscape (yet another Olmstead masterwork) makes this mild nuisance easy to ignore. Even more impressive, the views within the 330 acres of the park are so magnificent that you may forget that it’s New Jersey sitting across the river.
The Earth Room
While many of the destinations mentioned so far are green, this one is a rich brown. Located just over a block away from the SoHo stop on Gray Line New York's Downtown Hop-On Hop-Off tour (141 Wooster Street, to be exact), the Earth Room may be the most unique art instillation that the city has to offer. Furthermore, it is quiet, loamy and an experience that will leave a lasting impression—or, at the very least, serve as an excellent conversation piece.
The bad news: The island is only open from Memorial Day weekend until the last weekend in September. The good news: Governor’s Island is one of the most interesting public spaces in New York City. This is not only because of the island’s history as a military base, but because it is home to no one. In this regard, everyone who visits the island is a tourist. Furthermore, there are no private cars on the island, which means there is zero chance of a car alarm interrupting an afternoon nap in the grass.
Visitors to Brooklyn Heights often think that the neighborhood’s main attraction is the Promenade, the first stop on Gray Line New York's Brooklyn Hop-On Hop-Off. While the view of Lower Manhattan from the Promenade is difficult to beat, anyone with a camera and the will to travel to Brooklyn knows this. On a particularly crowded day, you may end up interrupting no less than 10 family portraits within just a few steps if you're not careful. Venturing just a few blocks into the neighborhood, however, and the environment changes abruptly. You may feel as though you’ve traveled to another city. Known as the first American suburb, Brooklyn Heights is home to a myriad of tree-lined residential streets on which one will find numerous townhouses and brownstones that are well over 150 years old. The bounty of small restaurants, cafes and parks—which all offer a reprieve from the sound and fury of many parts of Manhattan—only add to the neighborhood’s charm.
Central Park may be the most famous park in all of New York, but any Brooklynite worth his or her salt will tell you that it was a just a practice run for Olmstead and Vaux. Their true brilliance was realized in Prospect Park. This 526-acre gem is smaller than Central Park, but it still offers a variety of landscapes to explore. Conveniently located just footsteps away from the Brooklyn Library stop on Gray Line New York's Hop-On Hop-Off Brooklyn Loop tour,or the All Loops tour, the park is an ideal place to visit any time of year for a few moments of peace.
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Yes, trees do grow in Brooklyn. While there is no shortage of trees of heaven or, as they have become known, ghetto palms, chances are you won’t see one in the Botanic Gardens. These gardens represent a wide variety of styles (Japanese, English, Italian, etc.), all of which are breathtaking. At 52 acres, it is large enough to block out virtually all of the noise from the surrounding city. More importantly, the Botanic Garden contains some of the most mature and odd-looking trees in all of New York City, particularly the wisterias that have become entangled in the pergolas of Osborne Garden.
Though it may seem macabre to visit a cemetery in order to find a moment of peace, Greenwood has been regarded as one of the most pristine natural landscapes in New York City for over 150 years. In fact, during the early 1860s the only tourist attraction in America more popular than Greenwood was Niagara Falls. While it remains a favorite destination to this day for a myriad of reasons, including birding, its 478 acres never feel too crowded. Furthermore, after strolling out of the southwest exit, it’s only a block or two down Fifth Avenue to one of the best taco trucks in all of Brooklyn.
Cobble Hill Park
The park itself may be small, but it is set in the tranquil neighborhood of Cobble Hill. The area is both similar to and just south of Brooklyn Heights, but its main thoroughfares, Smith Street and Court Street, offer far more in terms of shopping, dining and nightlife than the Heights. However, the park is situated in the more residential part of the neighborhood. Surrounded by magnificent brownstones, it is an ideal place to take a break from a busy day of walking and sightseeing with a cup of coffee from Café Pidlar (one block east of the park, on Court Street) and a book or a newspaper. It is not an attraction. It is just a park. Perhaps that’s why it may be one of the most serene places in all of Brooklyn.
New York City has far more attractions than one could possibly see in just one visit, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that the city offers. It's important to remember that even an hour of peace and quiet be rejuvenate, make your visit more enjoyable and restore your sanity before you return to the fast-paced streets of one of the world's greatest metropolises.