New York City: Hot summer cool spots

By: Virgin Atlantic

July 24, 2019

Central Park © Shutterstock

Central Park © Shutterstock

Hot time, Summer in the City! With a heatwave descending on both sides of the pond, things are getting sticky. As we’re all aware, urban summers can be the most uncomfortable kind but luckily the Big Apple is more than well equipped for cooling outdoor activity, or non-activity if you prefer.

If you’re hitting NYC this season, at some point you’ll want to swap skyscrapers for (actual) sky and shops for shade of a more natural kind. Here’s a little rundown of our favourite open-air spots.

The Classic

It’s big, it’s obvious, it’s probably the world’s most famous and in the height of summer it’s going to be permanently packed, but Central Park, in its exquisitely landscaped glory, really is an amazing urban sanctuary and isn’t without hidden charms.

Harlem Meer © Shutterstock

Entering as many do from the southern end, it’s easy to miss out on some of Central Park’s uptown treats. If you’re with kids especially, it’s worth a trip to the very tip to check out the shady haven that is Harlem Meer and maybe even indulge in some catch-and-release fishing. If it’s more of a romantic rendezvous you’re after, The Pool is perfect for picnics and passion by the weeping willows.

Back down around 79th St, just west of the visitor centre at Belvedere Castle, lies Shakespeare Garden, whose flora consists only of plants mentioned in the bard’s plays. Again perfect for romance or solitary reading, if you’re after seclusion. Across the way, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art the area around the impressive Egyptian Obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle) which dates from 1450 BC is a good stop for history lovers and anyone looking for quiet contemplation.

The Loeb Boathouse on the eastern edge of the Lake is popular and its waterfront restaurant is perfect for al fresco evening dining. If you’re a casual daytime stroller though, this might seem a little fancy for a passing bite. If so, head round the side to the Loeb’s Express Café for great salads, burgers and chilli dishes you can enjoy on the go if you’re not stopping for a relaxing gondola ride.

The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park © Shutterstock

Brooklyn’s best

Even the shortest NY trip should take in a stop in the city’s hippest borough, home to the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park along the East River. A popular waterfront hangout for the cosmopolitan crowd, you can mingle with a good mix of locals and tourists on a walk along the boardwalk, or sit back with some street food and beer for one of the free summer movie nights throughout July and August.

Brooklyn’s premier open-air attraction though, is Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which offers 52 acres of gorgeous gardens within gardens – a place you might want to make a day of during a heatwave. Though the magnificent cherry tree esplanade will be past its spring bloom, the park’s Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden (America’s first) has plenty of calming capability with its zen-like bridges and winding walkways. For a different, more western vibe, we love the Cranford Rose Garden, but BBG’s delights are almost endless.

If you’re not averse to cemeteries, the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood is as its website says, a “Peaceful oasis in the heart of Brooklyn”  and has plenty of tours and events throughout summer.

Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden © Shutterstock

View from above

We’ve written about it many times before, the The High Line on Manhattan’s Lower West Side continues to bring new meaning to the idea of the urban park. The former elevated railway is where nature meets the old NYC, taking in modern landscape architecture, greenery and art installations along the way, with plenty of seating to watch the world go by from up high. In this, the park’s tenth anniversary year, you’ll find plenty of events, tours and stargazing parties to keep you occupied, or simply wander through the diverse garden zones, designed to evoke the natural landscaping of grasslands and woods.

The High Line © Shutterstock

Pride of Queens

You might have seen its iconic space-age Unisphere in photos or films, but Flushing Meadows Corona Park isn’t always on the must-see list for many sightseers. It’s a shame, as Queens’ pride – previously the site of two World’s Fairs, home to the US Open tennis tournament and the New York Mets baseball team – is even bigger than Central Park and has tons of playgrounds and playing fields spread over its 897 acres.

For the summer visitor, a row round Meadow Lake is one of the best ways to while away the afternoon hours. If you’re a little more passive and happen to hit the lake in early August, you might catch the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. As the park is home to the Queens Museum of Art and New York Hall of Science, there’s stuff to do inside if the sun does get too much.

Flushing Meadows Unisphere © Shutterstock

The big one in the Bronx

If you want to get right out of the city and have a day to head all the way uptown and across, the Bronx’s Pelham Bay is New York’s largest public park – triple the size of Central Park – and even has a beach. There’s a beach in The Bronx? Oh yes, and it’s a nice one, but it will be busy in a heatwave. However with 2,766 acres of islands, walking trails, cycling paths, playgrounds, wetlands, horseriding trails and wildlife sanctuaries, it would be hard not to find something to enjoy. If the heat takes a toll there’s always Bartow-Pell Mansion to explore; a 19th century country house surrounded by terraced gardens and wildflower zones.

Bartow-Pell Mansion in Pelham Bay Park © Shutterstock

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