It’s easy to get caught up in New York’s frenetic energy. If you’re there as a tourist, the checklist of must-see attractions is exciting, but long and tiring: Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Broadway shows, amazing museums. If you’re there for business, it’s easy to go from hotel to conference room to bar, repeat. But there are plenty of opportunities to find some beauty and tranquility within NYC’s nonstop style. Take some time to get outside, do something healthy, and take a few deep breaths.
Yes, there is nature within New York City’s urban jungle. The most obvious place to get outside is Manhattan’s massive, iconic Central Park. Within this 843-acre green space, you can visit the formal Conservatory Garden, pay your respects at the Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial, rent a boat and paddle around the lake, and check out the Literary Walk, which is lined by statues of authors.
For a very New York walk, stroll the 1.45-mile High Line. Manhattan’s elevated linear park, created from an old New York Central Railroad spur, has attracted a constant stream of locals and tourists since opening in 2009. Come as you are; you’ll see jogging shorts, haute couture, and everything in between.
The 250-acre New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is gorgeous in every season. Peacefully wander through water lilies, lilacs and roses, or take advantage of the ambitious schedule of programming. The NYBG is on a serious sustainability mission, providing research to support government policy and protecting the world’s flora and biodiversity.
Manhattan Kayak Company offers guided expeditions on the Hudson River, including its popular Skyline and NY After Dark tours. They also have many excursions for more experienced paddlers. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse has a free kayaking program during the summer. You’ll need to stay within a supervised area to participate. On Sundays, you can join them for kayak polo.
Wellness in NYC
You can find any type of yoga you like in New York. But if you want to try something new and different, you’re in luck. Are cats your cup of tea? You can enjoy both cats and tea during a Yoga & Kitties session at Meow Parlour. Like to let it all hang out? Bold & Naked might be the yoga class for you. If you want to get even bolder, one-on-one tantric yogassage is also available. During summer, consider joining a yoga class in a park or on a rooftop farm at sunset in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Two of NYC’s most popular water therapy options are the old-fashioned Russian & Turkish Baths, serving New Yorkers since 1892, and the modern Great Jones Spa. At the Russian & Turkish Baths, you can get a platza oak leaf treatment, which involves being beaten with a broom made from fresh oak leaves dripping with olive oil soap. At Great Jones, the water circuit atmosphere is peaceful if a bit sterile.
NYC appeals to spiritual seekers across the spectrum. Stop into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, opened in 1879, for a few minutes of quiet or prayer. Visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island for tai chi, meditation, and a look at one of the biggest collections of Himalayan artifacts in the US. Join devotees of The Path for a nondenominational meditation, followed by relaxing in the Montauk Salt Cave. Or experience the power of spending time with ancient art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dining out in NYC
Just as you might want to try an unusual yoga class while visiting NYC, this is a chance to eat vegan food that’s hard to find elsewhere. For example, vegans are out of luck in your average dim sum restaurant. But at Bodhi Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant in Chinatown, vegans can safely grab anything off the dim sum cart. When’s the last time you had gluten-free veg shark fin congee?
Vegan star Beyond Sushi has six locations, including in the Chelsea Market food hall, ironically situated in the Meatpacking District. Their sushi rolls are creative and ambitious. For example, the smoky jack contains black rice, pickled cabbage, mango, hickory-smoked jackfruit, watercress, mint, dehydrated olives and tomato guajillo sauce.
Cinnamon Snail, in Pennsy Food Hall right by Madison Square Garden, specializes in “vegan kosher food made by a gaggle of wild ponies who live in a magical tree.” Start the day here by raiding their case of vegan donuts and baked goods, or get a hearty serving of mac ‘n’ cheese at lunch or dinner.
While a Pew Research Center survey found that about 88 percent of Americans own cars, only about 22 percent of Manhattan households are auto owners. This is good news for tourists, as it means lots of public transportation. Trains serve all three of NYC’s airports, connecting to buses and the subway system to get you wherever you want to go. That said, NY public transit can be overwhelming, and New Yorkers tend to move fast. If you’re unfamiliar with public transit, New Yorker Minh Nguyen kindly put together this website for newbies.
Commuter rail lines serve outlying areas. You can also ferry around town. NYC Ferry operates six routes spanning more than 60 nautical miles of waterways, and service is still growing. You can even charge your phone and get a snack while cruising.
The Benjamin Hotel was one of New York’s first hotel to focus on both sustainability and luxury, partnering with students from the New York Institute of Technology to help them revamp and earn a Green Key Eco-Rating. The hotel’s wellness offerings include the Rest & Renew program that helps guests improve their sleep.
The Element New York Times Square West incorporated recycled material into its furnishings, such as carpets made from recycled plastic bottles. This Marriott hotel features loaner bikes for guests and a free breakfast bar with fresh fruit.
For budget travelers who value a hotel’s gym over in-room amenities, consider staying at one of NYC’s YMCAs. Your room will resemble a monk’s cell, but you’ll wake up in a huge gym with spin class, weights and a pool.
Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat and New York Botanical Garden