There’s no doubt that Manhattan’s playground game is strong, but some on the island go above and beyond, with design features that make them more of a destination than the basic park around the corner. From playgrounds featuring awesome jungle gyms for adventurous climbers to imaginative play spaces, hidden slides and a playground kids make themselves there’s an outstanding playground for kids of every age. Keep reading to check out the best playgrounds in Manhattan where you can to slide, climb, splash and imagine the day away. You should go at least one time; you’ll probably go many.
To Beat the Heat On the West Side: Chelsea Waterside Playground
One of the newest playgrounds in the city (Domino Park and Pier 3 in Brooklyn also recently debuted) the Chelsea Waterside Play Area in Hudson River Park has always been a popular spot for locals and otherwise. A $34 million overhaul from architect Michael Van-Valkenburgh (his firm is behind the design of Brooklyn Bridge Park as well) brought playground equipment from Danish firm MONSTRUM to the northeast for the first time. Play structures include a giant, one-of-a-kind, multicolor Robina wood pipefish (found in the Hudson), and a 64-foot wooden slide. You'll also find sprinklers, a large sandpit, and limestone cattle head sculptures salvaged from an old building in the meatpacking district. After you’re done playing, hold hands and cross the West Side Highway to access a sprawling grassy field along the Hudson River. After you relax, go for a ride on the Pier 62 Carousel, featuring 33 hand-carved wooden animal figures, open daily for rides ($2 each).
Where: Chelsea, West 23rd St. and 11th Ave.
What’s in it for you: Lots of tree plantings for shade and shutting out city noise, and tiered granite seats made with material from Pier 54, where the Titanic was to have docked.
Water feature: Gentle sprinklers.
Restroom: There’s a Port-o-let in the playground for emergencies and a public restroom across the street on the north side of Chelsea Piers building.
For an Upper West Side Institution: Hippo Playground
Much-beloved by the community (and taken extra special care of, thanks to The Playground Project), Hippo Playground takes its name from the impossible-to-miss Bob Cassily hippopotamus statues found "frolicking" in the park. There's something for all ages here, including swings, a wood play structure, jungle gym, a slide, a soft play surface, sand pit, and spray fountain. There's also picnic tables, and shade, to keep everybody cool. In the summer, there's free art in the park, as well as a free July concert series. (Check The Project's Facebook page for the day's happenings.) Come fall, head to the park for pumpkin carving and a Halloween parade.
Note: Thanks to a renovation, the playground's Park House can now be booked as an affordable party space. Click here for booking inquiries.
The Playground Project also holds a boffo fundraiser every year (typically in the spring) with pony rides, a bounce house, petting zoo, face-painting, glitter tattoos, and much, much more.
Where: Riverside Park at 91st Street
What's in it for you: Shady spots, and picnic tables. Plus free programming in the summer. (Plus: a cool Joan of Arc statue at 93rd Street!)
Water feature: Yes—in the shape of a hippo, naturally
Restrooms: Yes, on site.
For a Playground You Can Hit Coming Or Going: Evelyn's Playground
You'd be forgiven for thinking this is called "Union Square Playground", because it anchors Union Square Park on the north side. A good spot for kids of all ages, the park has climbing structures, slides, swings, a gentle water feature in warmer weather, a generous sandbox, and a big giant silver dome to scale. A great spot to play in the heart of the city, and steps from the Union Square subway lines, making it easy to get to, and leave. Bonus features of the park include statues of Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, and a dog run.
Where: Union Square, Union Square West and E. 17th St.
What’s in it for you: The famed Union Square Greenmarket is a stone's throw away.
Water feature: Gentle sprinkler.
Restroom: Accessible restrooms are located on site. (There's also a Barnes and Noble across the street on 17th.)
For an Arty Afternoon: Tom Otterness Playground
Way on the west side in the 40s, sits a gentle giant waiting to be scaled and slid down. The Tom Otterness Playground sits between two apartment buildings and it features a massive play-sculpture by the artist who gives the spot its name. (If the towering metal man looks familiar, it's probably because Otterness' whimsical work, "Life Underground", featuring similar tiny beings and alligators emerging from manholes, inhabits the subway station at 14th Street and 8th Avenue.) Canine lovers will also enjoy the dog run nearby — although watch your step: not everyone cleans up after their four-legged friend.
Where: Midtown West, 630 W. 42nd St. between 11th and 12th Aves.
What’s in it for you: You'll find some shady spots to get a respite from the sun, and will probably think the play-sculpture is pretty cool, too.
Water feature: No.
Restroom: Again, no. It's really about the art here.
For a Triple Play: Washington Square Park
It’s been called “a battleground for chess enthusiasts,” but Washington Square Park (home to the famous arch) is so much more than that. For starters, it’s gone through some major renovations, so if your kids love to climb, this is a must-visit. Washington Square Park actually contains three playgrounds. The first is a small kids' playground for newly-minted walkers (that also has an infant swingset). There's also a play space for older kids where they can dig in the sand, run amok, and go down slides. Surrounded by artificial turf mounds, Washington Square Park is perfect for good old-fashioned play like rolling down a hill. In addition, a new rope, spider-web-like obstacle course in the southwest corner of the park offers extra fun for city kiddies of all ages. Note: The playground features JennSwings, which are full-body positioning support swing, adding an extra touch of safety.
Where: Greenwich Village, 4th St. to Waverly Pl. and Macdougal St. to University Pl.
What’s in it for you: Musicians such as jazz bands and a piano man entertain at all corners of the park. And yes, there are chess players for your little Bobby or Barbara Fisher to watch or challenge.
Water feature: The “big kids” playground has a mini-arch that sprays a tunnel of water; kids also like to jump in and out of the big water fountain in the middle of the park.
Bathrooms: Comfort stations on site.
For an Updated Park With Two Granite Slides: Billy Johnson Park
Pioneering landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg designed the Billy Johnson Playground (in 1981!) to be a rustic, mini reflection of the surrounding area in Central Park, featuring stone walls, bridges, a small shelter and naturalistic plantings. The big draw here is the 45-foot granite slide built into the landscape; not only is it fun to slide down, it's also a bit of an adventure to scale the slight grade to the top.
The playground recently underwent a major renovation and upgrade, which not only made it safer and accessible for kids of all abilities, but added many new features. Additions include new swings, a sand table, and refreshed rustic structures and seating. The renovation also added a dozen user-activated water jets to the playground's amphitheater area.
A major new feature is a custom-designed net climber, made with climbable cables and nets on sloped embankments, with stairs, platforms, slides, and a rope bridge; designed for kids ages two to five, it will probably draw the attention of older kids, too. Keeping with the aesthetic theme of the playground, the structure's rustic timber posts are made from Douglas fir trees.
Where: Upper East Side, E. 67th and Fifth Ave.
What’s in it for you: A brand new playground, spots to sit, some shade, and lovely plantings. The slide is adult-friendly, too.
Water feature: Yes
To Make Like King Tut: Ancient Playground
Just north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ancient Playground has a climbing pyramid, obelisk and sundial inspired by the museum’s collection of Egyptian Art. You’ll also find pyramid-shaped climbers with slides, and tunnels linked by concrete bridges to make older kids happy. Little ones like to explore an obelisk-shaped structure in the sandbox. Bucket, tire and strap swings will also get a squeal out of all ages.
Where: Upper East Side, East Side of Central Park at 85th St.
What’s in it for you: You’re right near the Met!
Water feature: Water runs from a central obelisk across two bridges and cascades like a mini-waterfall into an open area with water jets. A separate space for younger kids has spray nozzles set into a wall.
Restroom: Comfort station in the playground.
For Downtown Playtime: Nelson A. Rockefeller Park
Nelson A. Rockefeller Park is best known as the large lawn at the north end of Battery Park where kids can run, tumble and play yard games with oodles of green space to spare. The park has a large playground with three tall wooden climbing forts connected by a rope bridge for older kids and plenty of sand, swings, and small slides for the toddlers and infants. There’s also a small kid-powered merry-go-round. All sports equipment, toys, books and games are available to rent for free, at the on site Park House — just bring a photo ID. The Park House will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 7 days a week, starting May 1st.
Where: North end of Battery Park City, west of River Terrace
What’s in it for you: Soft rubber turf protects the knees and legs. Plus, there are picnic tables and benches to unwind and have some snacks.
Water feature: There are small water fountains inside the playground to keep little ones cool, or you can drop by nearby Teardrop Park featuring a natural rock climbing wall, which takes you up to a long slide back down.
Restroom: Located at the northwest corner of the Solaire Building, across the street from the Parkhouse
For Nature Lovers and Fans of Secret Spots: Teardrop Park
The two-acre, sustainable Teardrop Park was designed by child development experts and it shows. The park's play elements are integrated into the awesome landscape, which allows children to interact with water, plants, rock, and sand. The shadier southern half of the park features a rock step-path that leads up to a long slide, two sand pits, “theatre steps”, and a water playground. The northern half of the park features a broad lawn (which receives lots of sunlight), park benches, a wetland, and a perched gathering area made from rocks, the last of which is an installation created by artist Ann Hamilton. Dividing these two areas is a large wall, composed of rocks brought to lower Manhattan from elsewhere in New York State. A short tunnel connects the two areas, and paths criss-cross the site, providing elevated views within the park and beyond as well as connections across the park. It’s a hidden gem of a spot for those really looking to connect with nature and take a literal few steps out of the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Where: Warren Street; Battery Park
What’s in it for you: Its relaxing vibe. Plus it’s not your run-of-the-mill playground.
Water feature: Water sprouts from the ground in a special section of stacked rocks, creating kid-friendly sprinklers.
Restroom: Located at the northwest corner of the Solaire Building, across the street from the Parkhouse.
To Spark Creativity: Imagination Playground
More than your standard swings and slides, Imagination Playground, designed by famed architect (and dad) David Rockwell, is a an interactive play space that prompts kids to engage in unstructured creative free play and make a play space of their own. Kids use sand, water and loose parts like giant foam blocks, mats, and fabric to engage in fantasy and cooperative play, as well as good old fashioned running around like nuts.
Where: The flagship Imagination Playground is located near South Street Seaport at Burling Slip (South St., Front St. and and John St.). Portable Imagination Playgrounds pop up in playgrounds around the city as well. (Check the Parks Department website for news on where they will be.)
What's in it for you: It's a pretty cool idea — and you'll probably want to play along!
Water feature: A separate water play area for hot weather fun is open during the summer at the Burling Slip locale.
Restroom: Public restrooms on site.
For a Waterwheel Near a LEGO Store: Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park Playground is known as a smaller space with big fun. The playground features a jungle gym and appropriate play equipment for both tots and older kids. The highlight during the summer is when the 15-foot tall waterwheel and sprinklers are activated. Bonus: a LEGO store/experience is located a stone's throw away on 5the Avenue at 23rd Street.
Where: Madison Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets
What's in It For You: Wifi hotspots, and Eataly is right across the street on Fifth Ave.
Water Feature: The aforementioned water wheel.
To Splash and Slide: Heckscher Playground
Constructed in 1927, Heckscher Playground is the oldest playground in Central Park and the largest at 1.8 acres. It’s best known for its rock hills with ladders that lead down into tunnels, providing city kids with hours of exploration. Kids can also swing and slide in a shaded area, run and roll on a synthetic turf, and climb and splash in a large, maze-like climber and water feature with tunnels, ramps, and slides. There really is no shortage of things to do here. Plus, the playground is housed in a confined area — helpful for keeping your critters from darting into the Central Park Zoo.
Where: Columbus Circle, 7th Ave. and Central Park South from 61st to 63rd St.
What’s in it for you: Plenty of benches and green grass.
Water feature: Water spews from the highest point of the climber and down to elevated water channels, plus there’s a separate semi-enclosed area for tots to splash.
Restroom: Located at the playground entrance inside the Heckscher Building
For a Water Park with a Pirate Edge: Pier 51 Hudson River Park
Ahoy, mateys! A neighborhood favorite with river views, Hudson River Park’s Pier 51 Playground is great for water lovers. At the heart of the playground is a wooden pirate ship. A spiral ramp leads to the lookout, then kids slide down into a water play area outfitted with huge water gushers and buckets. Kids can also "search for lost treasure" in the sand pit. A yellow, tree-like structure spritzes water for those who kiddies who can’t get enough of H20. Brass animals, such as turtles and crabs, adorn the playground and the sand play area and fences explain Manhattan’s ecological history. Little tots like wading in the moving stream and playing in the small spray sprinklers. Don’t forget your towels and sunscreen!
Where: West Village, Horatio St. at the Hudson River
What’s in it for you: It’s a public water park! Who needs a Montauk getaway?
Water feature: The whole park is a splash-splash paradise.
Restroom: Comfort station on site along the walking path.
To Blow Off Steam in SoHo: Vesuvio Playground
Hidden within the crowded streets of SoHo, Vesuvio Playground (formerly known as Thompson Playground) takes its name from the popular NYC Italian bakery. Kids can spend hours climbing a wooden play structure, monkeying on monkey bars, and sliding down inclines. Their little toes never have to touch the ground as they wander through the playground’s elevated fort maze and climb funky blue structures. Meanwhile, big kids can play basketball or bocce on an adjoining court. There’s also a plethora of swings, a sandbox, sprinklers, and a three-foot-deep (clean!) mini-pool for wading. Locals engage in storytime (usually in the fall) and other kid-friendly activities like playing live music at the park. Rumor has it Manhattan-based celebs bring their kids here, so keep an eye open: you just never know who will make a cameo.
Where: SoHo, Thompson St. between Spring St. and Prince St.
What’s in it for you: It’s right around the corner from Dominique Ansel Bakery (home of the cronut!) and it’s in SoHo (a shopaholic’s dream).
Water feature: Water sprays at ground level, and the fenced-in public mini-pool measuring 40 feet long by 20 feet wide.
Restroom: Public restrooms on site.
For Fun for Everyone: Pier 25 Hudson River Park
River Park’s Pier 25 Playground is the golden ticket of playgrounds with a rock climbing wall, two space-age climbing structures for big kids, small slides for toddlers, a modern merry-go-round, roomy sandbox, multiple swing sets and huge water play area. Not to mention, it’s next door to a skate park, snack shack, mini-golf course, beach volleyball court and soccer field. Need more?: how about a historic steamship and tugboat? There really is something for everyone here. The park also features an on-site (free) Art Shack, where kids can get crafty and creative at no cost.
Where: Tribeca, North Moore St. at Hudson River
What’s in it for you: Giving back! There’s an on-site snack bar with yummy treats, and proceeds support the park and Manhattan-based youth programs.
Water feature: Large buckets and spray cannons create a splashy, wet-and-wild time.
Restroom: Courtesy station located on site along the walking path.
—Rachel Sokol & Mimi O’Connor