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New York City Guide

Relaxing & Unwinding in New York

New York City may be the most densely populated city in the United States, but it also has a surprising amount of green space and recreational attractions. New Yorkers need to take a break from their hectic lifestyles now and again, too, you know.

Most famous among the city's parks is vast, glorious Central Park, stretching between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, 59th and 110th Streets. But The Central Park, as it was once known, is just the beginning. Smaller parks can be found all over Manhattan, while the other boroughs offer several even larger parks and such unusual recreational areas as Coney Island/Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and the Bronx Zoo in the Bronx.

The Staten Island Ferry, which travels between the southern tip of Manhattan and the borough, is a relaxing and completely free way to enjoy the great views of New York Harbor. Along the West Side is the still-developing Hudson River Park, which when finished, will stretch all the way from Battery Place to 59th Street. Currently lined with a promenade for walking and biking as far north as 28th Street, the park is the largest open space development in Manhattan in 150 years.

A horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park.
©2006 NYC & Company
A horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park is a great way to take
a little vacation from your New York vacation.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in New York

Central Park is a "must stop" in the Big Apple. More than just a park, it offers some of the best people-watching in the city, along with a myriad of attractions. At its southern end are a first-rate pocket zoo, skating and roller rink, and classic carousel. Near its center is peaceful The Lake, where rowboats can be rented; ornate Bethesda Terrace, surrounded by tiered steps where you can sit and listen to musicians; and the Conservatory Water, better known as the model-boat pond. Farther north is the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir, surrounded by a popular jogging track, and the lovely, formal Conservatory Garden.

You can easily spend an entire day in Central Park relaxing, sunbathing, meandering, exercising, picnicking, and snacking on vendor fare -- and many New Yorkers do exactly that. Central Park is mobbed on warm weather weekends, which only adds to its appeal. The park's famous horse-drawn carriages can be rented along Central Park South (59th Street).

Other great places for people-watching in the city include Fifth Avenue in Midtown, SoHo, and the East Village Downtown, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. Coney Island may no longer be the amusement center that it was in its heyday, but it's still a one-of-a-kind spot that must be seen. Now in the midst of a small renaissance, it centers on a magnificent boardwalk lined by a beach that gets very crowded in summer. Just off the Boardwalk is Astroland Amusement Park (1000 Surf Ave, near W 10th St), where you can ride the Cyclone, a classic wooden roller coaster, or the nearby Wonder Wheel, a 1920s Ferris wheel.

At Sideshows by the Seashore (1208 Surf Ave, at W 12th St), live the Snake Ladies, the Fire Eater, the Elastic Lady, and the Torture King. Run by actors, the place is a kind of shrine to the way Coney Island used to be. A few blocks away is the New York Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation (Surf Ave at W 8th St), a first-rate place housing everything from walruses to electric eels. In summer, dolphin and sea lion shows are featured daily.

Adjoining Coney Island is Brighton Beach, home to a large Russian community. Lining the main drag, Brighton Beach Avenue, are dozens of Russian shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. Stop into the bright, modern M&I International Food Shop (249 Brighton Ave) to stock up on caviar and borscht.

The Bronx Zoo (Fordham Rd and Bronx River Pkwy) is another excellent get-away from the madness of Manhattan. One of the world's largest and most important zoos, it holds about 4,000 animals. Be sure to ride the Wild Asia Express, a monorail that travels above a savanna inhabited by elephants, tigers, rhinos, and the like.

There's so much to see in New York that you may want to take a guided tour to ensure that you don't miss anything. Keep reading for our guide to organized tours in New York.