Riverside Park, down by the Hudson

New York City is the biggest city in the U.S. and one of the biggest cities in the world. While all the chaos of eight million people coexisting in only a couple hundred square miles is incredibly exciting, it’s easy to feel trapped – especially when it’s ninety degrees outside and you’re living in a double without A/C. When claustrophobia strikes, you can get a quick breath of fresh air by heading to a park. And luckily, there are several great ones within walking distance of Columbia’s campus. This guide will help you figure out which park to visit and how to get there.

Riverside Park:

  • Why go? This park is perfect for long walks, runs, or bike rides, because it connects into a network of parks along the Hudson River called the Hudson Greenway. You can start at Columbia and bike all the way to Battery Park without ever needing to ride on the street. Plus, Riverside has a dog park, making it your best place to spot good dogs near campus.
  • How do you get there? From anywhere on campus, go west. You’ll run into it. Then, you can go down into the middle level of the park at 116th, 108th, or 103rd Street, and down into the lower level (which runs directly along the Hudson River) at 96th Street.
  • What do you do there? Walk, run, bike, look for good dogs, find a nice bench and get ahead on some reading. Visit Ellington Bar’s park location before it closes for the fall. Riverside Park is also a common spot for another certain social lubricant – you can probably guess which one.

Morningside Park, a.k.a. the ideal place for a stair workout

Morningside Park:

  • Why go? Great views of Harlem, especially at night or early in the morning. Potential interactions with some of Morningside Heights’ more colorful characters. And a couple of excellent playgrounds.
  • How do you get there? Similar to finding Riverside Park: head east, and you’ll see it. But unlike Riverside Park, Morningside has a narrow boundary, running only from 110th Street to 123rd Street, so you may miss it if you’re too far north or south.
  • What do you do there? Take the stairs, but not too quickly – there are a lot of them. Maybe sit and eat some halal. (Unless it’s after dark; in that case, you might not want to stay too long.)

Central Park view

Central Park:

  • Why go? Why not go? Central Park has everything, from trails to tennis courts to a small zoo. It’s an iconic New York City landmark, so you might as well get the lay of the land before your visiting friends and family members demand to go there with you. Also, turtles.
  • How do you get there? Go down to 110th Street, then go east three or four blocks (depending on if you started on Broadway or Amsterdam) until you see the trees.
  • What do you do there? Host a picnic! Take a nap in the grass! Do some people-watching! Or wander around and see what you can find – Central Park is full of weird landmarks, like the Ladies Pavilion and Cleopatra’s Needle. The Reservoir is a great spot for long walks, too. And if you have a few hours to kill, you can take your CUID across the park to the Met (it’s about a forty-minute walk from campus) and get free admission.

Seriously, what is up with this statue

West 111th Street People’s Garden:

  • Why go? It’s next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Morningside Heights’ resident cathedral (because of course we have one), making it a great spot to take in the architecture. And it’s home to one of the strangest sculptures in New York City, if not the world. It has to be seen to be believed.
  • How do you get there? From Amsterdam Ave., walk a few blocks downtown and you’ll find it next to the Cathedral – spanning 110th to 112th Street.
  • What do you do there? Mostly, sit there and admire the sculpture. What is up with that sculpture? What was the sculptor thinking? Is all artistic work slowly slipping into abstract chaos? Etc.

Check out those cherry trees!

Sakura Park:

  • Why go? Come for the cherry trees, stay for… well, the cherry trees. They’re pretty much the only thing in this park. But in the spring, that’s more than enough.
  • How do you get there? Head uptown to 122nd Street, then go west. You’ll see this park nestled between Claremont Ave. and Grant’s Tomb.
  • What do you do there? Take some photos with the cherry trees.

We’re not kidding about the geese

West Harlem Piers:

  • Why go? In this park, you’ll see more geese than you ever thought you’d find in one place. Plus, you can see nice views of downtown Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge, New Jersey, and Fairway Market (which is, in this Bwogger’s opinion, superior to Trader Joe’s.)
  • How do you get there? The short way: walk along the upper level of Riverside Park uptown to 125th Street, then go down the St. Clair Stairs. The medium way: walk along Broadway or Amsterdam to 125th Street, then go west until you reach the Hudson. The long way: go into the lower level of Riverside Park at 96th Street, turn right, and follow Cherry Walk uptown (towards the George Washington bridge.)
  • What do you do there? Feel the breeze coming off the Hudson! Watch the boats! Bowl for geese! And then stop by Fairway for dinner and/or some groceries.

Absolute Bagels is across the street from here

Straus Park:

  • Why go? It’s right next to Absolute Bagels.
  • How do you get there? Go to Absolute Bagels, and you’ll see it.
  • What do you do there? Sit on a bench and eat your Absolute Bagels.

Riverside, Central Park, West Harlem Piers photos via Betsy; West 111th Street photo via David Jones (Flickr); all other photos via NYC Parks Department