Best things to do in New York: an eco-friendly guide

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New York City is a bucket list destination for many, and it’s easy to understand why. The iconic landmarks such as Bow Bridge in Central Park, Manhattan’s skyline, the nightlife scene, and the glamorous portrayal of the city in movies (which is not always based on reality) attract many visitors. Whether you have only a few days or a few weeks, there are things you should not miss. Below are the best things to do in New York, for an eco-friendly trip. 

PS: most people say New York but mean New York City, not New York State. Throughout the article we also refer to New York City as New York, and “the city” refers exclusively to Manhattan.

Read up on more essential facts about New York to know before your trip.  

Oh and look no further for the best eco hotels in New York City.

The best things to do in New York: an eco-friendly guide

The best parks in New York to explore

Despite being a busy city with skyscrapers, New York actually has a lot of green spaces. During summer, check out free events in the park, such as free movies, Broadway shows snippets, and the NY Philharmonic concert. 

All the parks are easily accessible via subway, or are within short walking distances of the subway. All the parks mentioned below are free public parks aside from the Botanical Gardens.

Central Park

best things to do in new york
Gapstow Bridge, Central Park

The most renowned is Central Park, which is absolutely a must-see. It occupies a large part of Manhattan and takes a few hours to explore properly. Central Park is free to enter and has carousels, a conservatory garden, a skating rink, a turtle pond, a small castle, a reservoir, a zoo, a few bridges, a baseball pitch, a quiet garden (Shakespeare garden), and lots of nature to observe.

High Line

The High Line is interesting to visit as it was built on an old rail line, and is elevated, so you’re walking above the streets of Manhattan. It’s a great spot to photograph New York, but can however get really crowded during the day.  

Bryant Park

Right in the middle of Manhattan is Bryant Park. It’s a small park usually crowded with people who work around the area. It has a few restaurants and plenty of benches to sit on. It holds a lot of free events (for e.g. snippets of popular Broadway shows in the summer, a free ice skating rink in the winter), and is close to the New York Public Library. It’s a convenient stop for when you need a break from exploring the city.

Battery Park

battery park
Battery Park

Now known as The Battery, it’s a park by the Hudson river, and a great place to watch the sunset or go for a run. It also has few memorial dedications, and you can spot the Statue of Liberty at a distance from The Battery. It’s not as crowded as the other parks, and is mostly visited by people who live in the area.

Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island

Gantry Plaza State park: best things to do in new york
Gantry Plaza State Park

One of the best views of the Manhattan skyline is from Long Island City (not Long Island) in Queens. Gantry Plaza State Park is a large area surrounded by apartment buildings and a few restaurants, and is very residential and therefore not very crowded. It has a lot of green spaces and large benches to lie down on, from which you can also enjoy a great view across the East river.  

Botanical Gardens in Queens or Brooklyn

The Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn and Queens feature special seasonal events, educational programs, flower gardens, and special plants. The cherry blossoms trees at the Brooklyn Botanical gardens are a popular attraction during spring time when in bloom. Both gardens are a good option for families with children, or to take a break from buildings and busy streets.   

Kayak in the river

There are quite a few spots for kayaking in New York, either by the Hudson river or the East river. Both are equally thrilling and eco-friendly, although we liked the East river kayaking better because we had the Brooklyn Bridge as our backdrop.  

Free ferry to see the Statue of Liberty

If you’re short on time or not convinced about visiting the Statue of Liberty, you can take the free ferry to Staten Island and see Lady Liberty quite close. The New York City ferries are environmentally-friendly, as they are slow vessels and therefore emit less carbon dioxide.

See the skyline from these neighbourhoods

manhattan view from brooklyn

The best way to see the Manhattan skyline is to get out of Manhattan. Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Ford Green in Brooklyn are really fun neighbourhoods to explore and offer great views. Astoria in Queens is right by the river overlooking Manhattan, full of trendy restaurants, and a great vibe as well. 

Watch the sunset from DUMBO

best things to do in new york

Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass is a neighbourhood for the creatives. It has a lot of interesting concept stores, restaurants, bakeries, and is right by the Brooklyn Bridge. At dusk you will see small crowds gathering to watch the sunset reflecting on the East river. 

The best eco-friendly indoor activities in New York


There are a lot of museums to explore in New York. The most interesting ones are the Met, the Natural History Museum, the Guggenheim, and Moma (Museum of Modern Art). 

PS: most of these museums have a free day pass. The Met has a suggested entrance fee, but it’s actually up to you to decide how much you want to pay.

Read more tips about New York. 

Aside from these four popular museums, there are alternative ones that are worth a visit: the Whitney museum for its sustainability initiatives and art collections, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) for exploring Chinese Americans’ influence and heritage, Arcadia Earth for an understanding of climate change, Tenement Museum for immigration-related walking tours, and the National Museum of the American Indian for artefacts and cultural understanding of Native Americans. 

The New York Public Library

The NY Public Library has shown up in many movies, which is one main reason people list to visit. However, the library is more than just a photo op. It is a research centre, provides free resources to NY residents, has historical book collections, and can even host weddings and events. The popular Rose Main Reading Room is actually used for quiet time and studying, but offers guided tours. 

Broadway shows

Broadway shows are theatre performances, usually plays and musicals, performed live. The people who work on Broadway shows are incredibly hard working and passionate about their craft. Broadway shows are definitely worth seeing, and by doing so you are empowering the artists. 

Activities in New York you can easily skip

Not everything in New York is as glamorous as it looks in movies and tv shows. There are definitely places you can skip or spend just a few minutes at:

Times Square

Any New Yorker will tell you: Times Square is not worth seeing and is not the real New York. Most avoid going there as much as possible. It is crowded and filled with chain restaurants, people in various costumes, huge billboards, tourists, and stressed-out people who unfortunately work in the area and are trying to and from work. 

The Bull and “Fearless Girl” statue

Unless you’re already in the Financial District, there is no point in going out of your way to see these two statues. The Charging Bull of Wall Street is a bronze sculpture of a bull, and represents aggressive financial strategies and success. It is likely that the bull will be surrounded by a crowd. 

On the other hand, there is a statue of a little girl standing with her hands on her hips, representing women empowerment. It’s likely to have a crowd around as well.   

Empire state building

Skip the long queues at the Empire State Building and get out of Manhattan for better (and free) views of the city. The Empire State Building gets really windy at the top, plus if you’re on it, you won’t see it, you will just see what’s around it. 

Our final thoughts

With so much to see in this bustling city, we recommend the best things to do in New York  as eco-friendly activities that allow you to explore the beauty and culture of the city without leaving a large carbon footprint. 

Before you start your trip, grab our free sustainable travel pdf guide.

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