Our favourite playgrounds in Lower Manhattan

In a city where hardly anyone gets a garden, playgrounds are essential. Luckily, they’re everywhere, squeezed into unlikely corners between busy roads or empty building lots. The water fountains have just been turned on, so Summer is just around the corner. (Spring and Autumn are ridiculously quick seasons here). Have now added swimming costumes, flannels and suncream to the general clutter under the pushchair, ready for impromptu drenchings in the fountains.

I love this about New York playgrounds, almost all of them include water play. The kids are entertained for hours, joyfully skipping under the cold water and rushing out again with shocked expressions, before heading straight back in again. B’s nappies get so waterlogged, they drag around her knees. It keeps the kids in one place, too, so much less stressful for me trying to keep track on where each child is at any given moment. On the downside, it’s even harder to get them to leave. Resorted to striding into the water to catch slippery, giggling children and frogmarch them home for supper, covered in wet sand. At home in England I could have hosed them down in the garden, but that’s not possible on the 38th floor. Instead it’s gritting your teeth and holding them in the water stream as you get completely soaked too.

With playgrounds scattered throughout the city, it’s tempting to simply go to the nearest one. However, here’s my list of our personal favourite playgrounds in Lower Manhattan:

1) Imagination Playground, at Burling Slip, South Street Sea Port, between South,  John and Fulton Streets

This is without question our favourite playground. Designed for unstructured play, it is enormous, with a lot of open space for charging around and letting off steam. The water play area and sand pits are also really big, so there’s plenty of space for kids of all ages. But the thing which makes it unique is the vast pile of giant blue foam building blocks, which adults are not allowed to touch. The theory is that the children build whatever they want, adding on to other kids’ structures and working together. Hovering parents are waved back by the endlessly patient playground manager, who explains that the kids must be allowed to build for themselves. There is even a large bathroom complete with baby changing table. The roads are all quiet, so you don’t get so much of the blaring sirens, honking horns and general traffic.

Loving the water play at Imagination Playground
Loving the water play at Imagination Playground

Historic Sea Port itself is a great area to visit, with a v different feel to the rest of FiDi (Financial District). There’s a tiny cafe close by that serves v good tea and coffee, Rtisan Coffee Project, 190 Front Street, between John Street and Fulton Street. If you want food, we really like Fresh Salt‘s Mac & Cheese and quiches, at 146 Beekman Street, between Front and South Streets. Fresh Salt has one of those instant boiling water taps, so they serve properly scalding hot tea. Nice.

Imagination Playground in Seaport
Huge water play area at Seaport’s Imagination Playground

2) Nelson A. Rockefeller Park Playground – north end of Battery Park City, between River Terrace and Murray Street

This is considered a ‘destination playground‘, with families often travelling here from other parts of the City. And it’s easy to see why. Set in a beautiful park,  looking across the Hudson River to Jersey City and south to the Statue of Liberty, you can feel part of New York whilst also escaping it. Fab fab fab. This was actually one of the things which sold us on moving to Battery Park City when we first visited last Summer.

With plenty of shade given by the trees and water play, it’s perfect for hot days. It sports an enormous double decker climbing frame, complete with large red webbing for kids to roll and bounce on like a giant trampoline (can be a little hairy for younger kids as it’s too high up for you to reach without climbing up there with them). There are masses of wooden walkways, bridges, ladders and slides to venture down. B’s favourite is a stone hippo which squirts out water from its nose. She gives it little affectionate pats and kisses. T’s favourite is a mini carousel which the kids pedal themselves. Just watch out for clobbering your shins if you’re begged to help spin it round. Trust me. It really hurts.

At one end is a special zone for much smaller children, with adorably tiny slides and rocking ladybirds. This isn’t something you see much, so this is a great choice if you have a baby and an older child in tow.

For hungry tummies afterwards, head across the road to Le Pain Quotidien on the corner of River Terrace and North End Avenue for their hummus, cucumber, ham and cheese children’s platter. Even my picky eaters love that, and it makes a nice change from the ubiquitous fried food typically found on NYC children’s menus.

3) Teardrop Park between Murray and Warren Streets, North End Avenue and River Terrace

If your kids are slightly older, the Teardrop Park is about two blocks away from Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, sporting the most hair raising, 28 foot slide over rocks. There’s water play, vast amounts of sand, and unstructured play galore. I’m too nervous to enjoy watching T and C hurtle down the slide, and make myself slide down with B as I’m just not ready to watch her do it alone (as she dearly wishes I would).

4) Pier 25 – where Tribeca meets North Battery Park City, corner of West and North Moore Streets

Further north up Battery Park City, Pier 25 is a great choice if your family spans several different ages. It has an 18-hole mini golf course, sand volleyball courts, and a enormous playground described as ‘25,000 square feet of gated playspace‘. T is absolutely wild about the climbing walls, which is her top request whenever it’s her turn to pick the family’s weekend activity. They’re about five or six feet tall, so high enough to make kids feel like they’ve really achieved something, but low enough to let parents help position their feet if necessary. Perfect.

There are ‘restrooms’ (that’s loos), and Tribeca is just across West Street for endless places to eat.

This week’s Highs & Lows: 

Highs: Cherries coming into season. Tulips popping up around the trees along many of the streets, replacing the cherry blossoms. Giving accurate directions to two separate groups of tourists today alone. I am officially no longer a newby. I am a local (in my v specific part of New York, that is).

Lows: Accidentally letting a little boy escape from our nearest playground, resulting in a frenzied 200 meter sprint (ahem) towards the v busy West Street to catch him and bring him back. His parents hadn’t noticed when he pushed past my legs as I opened the gate. I trembled for twenty minutes afterwards. Also, sticking with this week’s playground theme, watching this video of a social experiment showing how easy it is to tempt children away by inviting them to meet your puppies. Scary stuff.

Tulips blooming all over Manhattan
Tulips blooming all over Manhattan
Big bowl of cherries. Lovely.
Big bowl of cherries. Lovely.

Author: Alex

Hello. Toddling Round New York is my own little blog of our family's experience of moving young kids from London to New York... And of having a baby out here. They are my own baby steps of exploring this incredible city. I lived in five countries in four continents growing up, so you'd think I'd be good at this by now. Here you'll find stories and photographs of our adventures, the highs and the lows of expat parenthood, and some ideas I hope you'll find useful if you're in New York with young kids.

14 thoughts on “Our favourite playgrounds in Lower Manhattan”

  1. Wow you are spoilt for choice! Lovely pics too! #MyExpatFamily

    1. Thanks Polly. There are literally hundreds of playgrounds in NYC, some are tiny (which can be rather restful, at least you can keep an eye on your kids more easily). Where are you based? Alex

      1. In Gibraltar – I think Gibraltar as a country could probably fit in Central Park, haha x

  2. Great post. We also live in a very large cut and we get excited every time we find a new park! Love how you have done your pics. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Laura. I had to think what you meant by ‘a large cut’, am I right that you mean a large city?! Love the language barriers, they throw up such funny confusions (see my blog post about ‘full of beans’!)

  3. Totally agree with Keri’s comment that this would make a great guide for visitors!!
    I think it’s amazing that there are so many wonderful parks available, ensuring kids (and parents alike) are never bored!!
    I wish there was something even a little like some of these parks here. The sad reality is that the couple of play parks that are here are totally unusable as have just been either destroyed or not maintained, not shaded (which here is ridiculous) and frankly just not nice places to be!!!

    Thanks for joining in again with #myexpatfamily really great having you and your lovely blog 🙂 x

    1. Thanks Keri, so pleased you think the blog would be a good guide. You should definitely come here, it’s an amazing place.

  4. These look amazing places. I love your pictures!

    1. Thanks Ersatzexpat, glad you like them. I use that technique to protect the identities of any kids in the shot, plus I think it looks so pretty too 🙂

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