Busy, concrete jungle New York City may not seem like the ideal place to take young children, but the first time you visit with kids, your eyes will be opened to a magical world that you never realized existed right there in the bustle of it all. There are over 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreational centers across NYC’s five boroughs, and a whole world designed just for little ones in mind. Since there are so many, we decided to focus on our 5 favorite Manhattan playgrounds!
When traveling with kids, especially to a city, make playtime a priority every day. You’ll give your kids a break from being dragged around from site to site (not to mention a chance to burn a bit of energy), and you’ll also get to really experience your destination in a truly local way: through the eyes of a parent. It is such a fun thing, witnessing your child start to naturally play with other kids, and observing how other parents interact with their children on the playground gives you such an interesting peek into the culture.
Here are five Manhattan playgrounds that my kids love and that we make sure to visit anytime we go back home to NYC for a visit, perfect for really getting a taste of what parenthood is like in the city. And try chatting up with a parent! The NYC playground crowd is an understanding and welcoming one – you never know what kind of tips you’ll get!
Heckscher Playground is quite literally in the heart of Manhattan. Or maybe it’s a kidney, I don’t know, I’m not great at anatomy, but it’s right there in the middle of the southern end of Central Park. Here you’ll find play areas suitable for all ages full of climbing structures, slides, water play, and even a grassy area for the tiniest visitors to stumble or roll around upon, and all in the beautiful shadow of the Central Park South skyline. From here you can easily explore many of the highlights of the Park that your family will likely be interested in seeing, such as the Central Park carousel, the Central Park Zoo, and viewpoints like Gapstow Bridge. Collect items for a picnic at nearby Maison Kayser or Breads Bakery, or see if you can snag a table with stunning views at the Ballfields Cafe.
Ancient Playground is another iconic spot in Central Park but located on the Upper East Side right at the doorstep of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The playground itself is inspired by the Met’s Egyptian collection, so you’ll notice the pyramid-shaped climbing structures, a sundial, and even an obelisk. There is plenty to climb, slide, splash, and swing on at this adventure-packed playground! From here of course you can visit the museum (hmm, maybe museum first, playground second!), plus the nearby Great Lawn and not-too-far Belvedere Castle, or head south towards the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and Conservatory Water for snacks and model boat sailing.
If spotting a celebrity parent is high on your to-do list, Bleecker Playground is one of your best bets. Right in the middle of the West Village is a big playground where all the cool kids hang out. It’s a bustling city playground, with loads of climbing structures and even communal toys that will teach your kids the very important NYC art of negotiation. This is a fun place to chat with parents and let your kids go wild. If you’re really feeling generous, the original location of the famed Magnolia Bakery is right across the street for all your cupcake and banana pudding needs.
Washington Square Park
There are a few different play areas within Washington Square Park, which is great because there is something different happening in every corner of the Park! You’ll love bouncing around between the grassy climbing play area, the chess boards, the piano players, the jazz bands, the singers, the dancers, the more traditional playground with swings and slides, and of course the famous fountain and arch. A perfect little microcosm of NYC, Washington Square Park is a beautiful place that the whole family will enjoy spending time in. For snacks, check out a huge offering of takeaway places on nearby MacDougal Street. We love Creperie!
Chelsea Waterside Playground
The beautiful Chelsea Waterside Playground is slightly off the beaten path all the way over between 11th Avenue and the West Side Highway, but it’s worth the detour or a good place to make a stop if you’re visiting the High Line. One of the best Manhattan playgrounds designed by lauded Danish playground builders Monstrum, the show-stopping wooden pipefish structure is sure to delight everyone in your family and make for some really stunning pictures! The kids will love climbing through the fish and if they’re big and brave enough, sliding all the way down! There is also sand and water play, plus quick access to all of Hudson River Park for a lovely walk along the Hudson River. We love nearby Artichoke Pizza for a fun lunch!
It goes without saying, but always bring a change of clothes for kids who can’t resist splashing in the water or digging into the sand, plus a bag for the wet stuff! Hand wipes are a must! And don’t worry; one of the best things about Manhattan is that no matter where you are, you’re always close to a shop selling whatever you forgot or didn’t realize you need. Have fun climbing and sliding around NYC like a local!
Have you visited any great Manhattan playgrounds? Let us know in the comments below!
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