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Skateboarder at Chelsea Piers Pier 62 Skatepark (Photo: iStockphoto)

8 Crazy-Cool and Totally Free Outdoor Activities at NYC Parks

You could go to a New York City park to kick back and relax, or you could step it up a notch and get involved in a not-your-every-day activity: there's juggling, skateboarding, cricket and more on the agenda

Springtime in New York City doesn’t just bring forth balmy breezes and blooming flowers — it also brings with it an array of organized activities in parks across the five boroughs. And we’re not just talking a friendly game of basketball or a casual Frisbee toss. How about beach volleyball, kayaking and stargazing? Helping New Yorkers “discover something new in the city’s 29,000 acres of parks and open spaces” is what New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is all about, according to its press officer Meghan Lalor. If you’re up for adventure, check out these eight activities that you can do in the city’s parks without paying a dime.

 

Volleyball at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Volleyball at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Photo: Stefano Giovannini)

Beach volleyball at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Can’t make it to Miami? This may be the next best thing. Pier 6, the southernmost pier of leafy Brooklyn Bridge Park, has three sand volleyball courts — all with sweeping views of New York harbor. The courts are regulation size, so you’re playing like the pros (if not as well as the pros). In the summer, the courts host organized leagues, teen clinics, competitions and more. No reservations necessary: Courts are open for walk-up play seven days a week. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Entrance at Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street, brooklynbridgepark.org

 

Juggling in Bryant Park

Juggling in Bryant Park (Photo: Bryant Park Juggling)

Juggling at Bryant Park
You know those days when life feels like a juggling act? Work off the stress by doing the real thing. Bryant Park is offering free juggling lessons throughout the summer (most days of week, noon to 1pm) at its 42nd Street Plaza in Midtown. The classes are open to all skill levels and equipment is provided. Limber up and leave your lunch break inhibitions behind. Between 40th and 42nd streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues, bryantpark.org

 

Kayaking at Valentino Pier

Kayaking at Valentino Pier (Photo: Nycgovparks.org)

Kayaking at Louis J. Valentino Park, Brooklyn
There’s no better way to escape the grit and noise of New York City than by stepping off land for a float on its breezy waters. Free kayaking is offered at many parks around NYC, but our top pick is Valentino Park in Red Hook, which overlooks the Buttermilk Channel and New York Harbor for phenomenal vistas. Manhattan and New Jersey just see the back and side of the Statue of Liberty, but from here, the view is face-front of the Lady. Red Hook Boaters provides free walk-up kayaking on Sundays (1–5pm), June 1 to Sept. 28, and on Thursdays (6–8pm), June 5 to Aug. 15. Coffey St., at Ferris St., Brooklyn, nycgovparks.org/parks/valentinopier

 

Hawk Watch at Freshkills Park

Freshkills Park (Photo: Kpaulus/Flickr CC)

Hawk Watch at Freshkills Park, Staten Island
Birding in New York City? Yes — across all five boroughs.  Embark on a Hawk Watch in Staten Island’s ever-growing Freshkills Park, which is one of New York City’s leading symbols of sustainability and renewal. The world’s largest landfill has been transformed into 2,200 green acres, and when fully complete (over the next 30 years), Freshkills will be nearly three times the size of Central Park. It’s also a top place to spy hawks, and park rangers will guide you past creeks and wetlands in search of the soaring birds. Bring binoculars or ask to borrow a pair from a ranger. Hawk Watch treks are offered throughout the year, as are birding tours at parks across New York, including Central Park and Prospect Park. Western edge of Staten Island, nycgovparks.org/park-features/freshkills-park

 

Stargazing on The Highline

Stargazing on the High Line (Photo: Bereninga/Flickr CC)

Stargazing at the High Line
The Meatpacking clubs aren’t the only place to see stars in New York City. From April to October, the Amateur Astronomers Association hosts free stargazing every Tuesday at dusk at the elevated High Line park, which was repurposed from an elevated freight rail line. There’s no better place to gaze up at the stars and planets via high-powered telescopes. Between W. 13th and W. 14th Sts., 212-500-6035, thehighline.org

 

Skatepark at Pier 62 at Hudson River Park

Skatepark at Pier 62 at Hudson River Park (Photo: Site Design Group)

Skateboarding at Hudson River Park
Get air at the Pier 62 Skatepark on the Hudson River. The sprawling 15,000-square-foot park, which is open to skateboards, in-line skates and roller skates, was designed by California Skateparks/Site Design Group. The skatepark incorporates structural foam to mimic the contours of the earth, with dips and peaks that have killer names like the Ollie Zone, the Intermediate Fun Box and Kinked Flat Rail. Pier 62, 22nd St. near the Hudson River, hudsonriverpark.org

 

Kite-Flying on Governors Island

Kite-Flying on Governors Island (Photo: Istolethetv/Flickr CC)

Kite-flying at Governors Island and other coastal NYC parks
The next time someone tells you to “go fly a kite,” head to Governors Island. Or Riverside Park. Or Brooklyn Bridge Park. Or Coney Island. Or even Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. In short, with all the water surrounding NYC, much of the city’s coastal parkland, with strong winds and a relatively flat terrain, is ideal for kite-flying. Many of the parks have annual events, including Kite Flight, usually in May, at Socrates Sculpture Park; the FlyNY Kite Festival in Riverside Park, generally in August; and a summer kite day on Governors Island. You can pick up kites at toy stores around town or in Chinatown, where neighborhood shops have kites in all the classic shapes, like giant butterflies and dragons.

 

Cricket at Van Cortlandt Park

Cricket at Van Cortlandt Park (Photo: Daniel Yeow)

Cricket at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx
It’s one of the most popular sports in the world, but you’d hardly know it in the U.S. Except, that is, at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. In 2013, 10 new cricket fields opened in Van Cortland, which is now the largest cricket site in the country. Head there on any warm-weather weekend, and you’ll see players decked out in white uniforms and shin guards, playing the game that gave rise to baseball. Thanks to a strong immigrant community, particularly from India, Pakistan and Jamaica, New York is one of the nation’s main hubs for cricket. Whether you’re playing or watching, it helps to pick up the sport’s quirky vocabulary: A dibbly dobbly is an easy ball; a mullygrubber is a ball that doesn’t bounce after pitching; and a slog is when it’s slammed out of the park. Cricket fields are in the parade grounds of Van Cortland Park, northern Bronx, nycgovparks.org/parks/VanCortlandtPark

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