15 Awesome Outdoor Activities in NYC for Adventure Lovers
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated September 14, 2021
While New York City is often known for its food, shopping, and entertainment, one of our favorite ways to get to know the city is through its varied outdoor spaces. With over 28,000 acres of green spaces, New York City has no shortage of outdoor adventures, from water sports to rock climbing. We’ve compiled this list of the best outdoor activities in NYC so you can plan an adventure outside without having to leave the city!
New York Outdoor Adventures: Best Outdoor Activities in NYC
Go on a themed walking tour of the city
Whether you’re visiting New York or have lived there your whole life, free walking tours are a fun way to get outdoors and learn fun facts about this vibrant city.
There are tons tour companies that offer walking tours around different parts of the city. Free Tours by Foot offers over a dozen different guided walking tours of different parts of the city. Some of these tours include Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge & DUMBO, Harlem, and holiday themed tours. Village Alliance also offers several comprehensive themed self-guided walking tours for visitors to Greenwich Village. If you’re looking for more of a natural spin in your walking tour, the Central Park Conservancy offers free guided walking tours of some of the most important conservation areas in the park.
Here’s how it works: Typically, these tours last anywhere from 3-6 hours, and instead of paying for the tour, you tip the guide what you felt it was worth at the end of the experience. We usually tip $10-20 per person, depending on the length of the tour and the quality of the guide.
Walk the High Line
Although it’s a popular tourist attraction, one of our favorite outdoor activities in NYC is walking the High Line. This historic railroad line, originally built as the West Side Elevated Line in 1933, served as a freight line to the many factories and industrial centers in Chelsea. After it was considered for demolition in the early 200s, it was converted to an urban walking path and art exhibit area in 2009, and since then has served as a beloved green space to go hiking in New York City.
Today, the High Line’s 1.5 miles of trail are open free of charge to visitors and locals, and hosts several design and art projects throughout the year. The High Line also boasts beautiful views of Chelsea’s renovated factories and industrial spaces.
Pro tip: If you’re visiting New York City by MegaBus, this is a great place to visit near the departure terminal. Drop your baggage off at Schwartz Luggage Storage on 9th Ave and 37th Street and head to the High Line. While you’re there, you can also climb the Vessel (see below) as well.
Climb Vessel in Hudson Yards
If you’re looking for a stair workout at one of the strangest and most unique structures in New York, take an afternoon to climb around Vessel in Hudson Yards. Designed by famed British designer Thomas Heatherwick, this iconic landmark is composed of 154 flights of stairs, which breaks down to over a mile of walking that includes 80 platforms and over 2,500 individual steps. From the top, you can catch some really scenic views of the surrounding neighborhoods, the waterfront, and the city skyline.
For those looking to escape the main tourist drags of Manhattan, head to Alley Park Pond in Queens for a unique scavenger hunt of sorts. Between the throngs of cheerful families and joggers along the park’s hiking trails, you can find the tallest and oldest tree in New York City – affectionately known as the Queens Giant.
Standing at 134 feet tall, the Queens Giant is a towering tulip tree that experts believe is close to 400 years old. Today, it’s a protected landmark in Alley Pond Park that’s a fun stop when paired with a longer walk through the park. It’s also a great excuse to explore Queens’ green spaces by foot – one of the lesser known outdoor activities in NYC.
Ride a jet ski to the Statue of Liberty
During the summer and early fall, the weather is perfect for getting out on the water and seeing the city from a new perspective. In our opinion, one of the coolest outdoor sightseeing adventures offered in New York City is jet skiing to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and other iconic attractions on the water. Get your heart pumping as you jet around from sight to sight, catching breathtaking views of the New York skyline from the water as you go.
There are several outfitters who offer jet ski sightseeing tours, but one of the best-rated and most beloved is Sea the City. Their classic jet ski tour, the New York Harbor Tour, starts at $159 for a 1-hour experience, and you can have 1 or 2 riders on the jet ski at a time.
Go for a sunrise jog on a waterfront path
With its massive population, there aren’t many places you can go in New York without crowds. However, if you can get up early, taking a sunrise walk or jog on one of the city’s waterfront pathways is a great way to avoid the crowds and get some fresh air to start your day. The Hudson River Greenway is one of the most popular spots to run, walk, and ride in New York City, and it’s much less crowded in the sunrise hours than later in the day, when large crowds make this trail a bit more difficult to navigate.
Additionally, the Hudson River Greenway connects to several other trails in a large trail network that spans all the way to Saratoga County. If you’re a biker or simply want to explore more than just the main stretches of the Hudson River Greenway, consider checking out one of the other greenway trails in New York City.
Try your hand at outdoor bouldering
There are plenty of indoor climbing gyms in New York, but if you look hard enough, you can also find a few interesting places for outdoor climbing in the city.
One beloved bouldering gym is The Cliffs Climbing, which offers several outdoor routes at its DUMBO location. Located at Brooklyn Bridge Park, they merge an indoor climbing experience with an outdoor atmosphere, which is a breath of fresh air from the traditional urban climbing experience. Climbing outdoors is one of the coolest outdoor activities in NYC, and we’d recommend trying it out for a good workout and an adrenaline fix.
For actual bouldering in NYC, you can also pick up a copy of Bouldering in NYC by Gaz Leah, which offers several suggestions for bouldering problems you can try in Central Park and beyond. If you want to attempt this, go with a trusted, experienced friend and don’t forget to bring your own crash pad!
Go surfing at the Rockaways
Did you know you can surf in New York City and its immediate surroundings? Yup, you can actually catch the waves in the Rockaways in Queens! Surf enthusiasts love this spot for riding the waves in the early mornings of summer, and there are actually a few surf shops near the Rockaways area that offer rentals and surf lessons.
Boarders Surf Shop offers half- and full-day board and westuit rentals at reasonable prices, and can set you up with group or private lessons if you’re hoping to learn. All lessons include board and wetsuit rentals as well!
Learn to stand up paddle board
Stand up paddle boarding is one of the hottest trends in water sports, and you can learn how to do it right here in New York! Paddling the city’s waterways is one of the best outdoor activities in NYC, and is a great way to get some fresh air and a solid workout while experiencing some absolutely beautiful city views.
For the most iconic Hudson River views, rent a stand up paddle board or book a guided lesson/tour with Manhattan Kayak. They’ve got lessons for all experience levels, from absolute beginners to intermediate level. During the warmer months, they organized guided tours and excursions for beginners through advanced level paddlers, perfect for experiencing some of the hidden gems the Hudson River has to offer.
This one’s pretty simple and self-explanatory, but experiencing a beautiful, golden sunset from one of the most famous green spaces in the world is definitely an experience worth having. We’d recommend getting to Central Park about 90 minutes before sunset so you can find the perfect spot to sit down and enjoy a peaceful evening in the park. (If you need some suggestions, here are a few.) As the sky turns orange and pink, you’ll find wonderful opportunities for people watching, photography, and meditation as you take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Run an iconic New York City road race
New York City is a metropolis of runners, and there are plenty of opportunities to show off your skills in road races that run past some of the city’s most famous sights. The most iconic road race in New York City is the TCS New York City Marathon, which takes place in early November every year. The lottery for the race is tough, with the chance of getting an entry less than 20%.
If you’re not a marathoner or half marathoner, there are hundreds of road races in NYC year-round that you can participate in. Some of the coolest shorter road races in NYC include the New Year’s Eve Midnight Run in Central Park, the Jingle Bell Jog, the 5th Avenue Mile, and the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5K.
Kayak the Hudson River to catch incredible skyline views
With over 500 acres of park land, Hudson River Park offers a range of canoeing and kayaking experiences, from free to guided tours (recommended if you are a new paddler). If you are looking to fill an open afternoon, Hudson River Park will not disappoint; kayaking the NYC shoreline is sure to be an exhilarating time.
If you are nervous about paddling on higher-speed waters, Manhattan Kayak offers guided tours from Pier 84 ranging from three to 30 miles, depending on how far you want to adventure, as well as rentals by the hour or day. With views of the Statue of Liberty from downtown and the Empire State Building from Midtown, you’ll want to adventure far.
Manhattan Kayak operates from Pier 84, Downtown Boathouse from Pier 26, and Manhattan Community Boathouse from Pier 96.
In our opinion, one of the best things about exploring a city is the uptick in bike sharing companies that have infiltrated the sidewalks. New York City’s bike sharing platform is called Citi Bike, and it’s a wonderful way to rent a bike for a day and explore the city on wheels. There are terminals all over the city, and you can simply pick up a bike from one terminal and drop it off at another as you move from place to place around the city.
If you want to spend a day biking through New York, we’d recommend starting out early so you can ensure bikes will be available (they’re often in high demand during rush hour and weekends, so try to avoid these times if possible!).
Tackle a challenging hiking trail outside the city
New York City might seem like all skyscrapers and concrete from afar, but if you look closely, it’s also a city surrounded by tranquil green spaces with fantastic access to hiking trails. You can hike in the nearby Hudson Valley or travel further upstate for a weekend hiking trip.
Case in point: there’s a fantastic variety of hikes near NYC that you can get to easily on public transportation! While there are several hiking trails in the city, you can also hop on many of the MTA lines to get to more challenging or technical hikes in the mountains upstate.
For an extra challenge, we’d recommend Breakneck Ridge, which is a local favorite that offers a good scramble and an even more rewarding view.
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