Along the waterfront: riverside retreats in New York City

The Big Apple’s skyline and streetscape are ever-changing, but the past year has also seen a revitalization of its waterfront, from retail hubs to elaborate green spaces. All accessible via ferry and a short stroll or Citi Bike ride, here’s where to encounter some of New York City’s newest waterside attractions.

Lawn chairs line up along the waterfront with the Domino Sugar Factory in the background at Domino ParkPull up a chair (with a view) in Domino Park © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Domino Park, Williamsburg

It’s easy to spot this particular green space on the banks of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, because it’s the fancy swath of green space in front of the dilapidated yet beloved Domino Sugar Refinery building. The refinery, which dates back to 1856, was once the largest and most productive in the world.

Completed in 2018, the five-acre public park, tucked in next to the Williamsburg Bridge on the East River, quickly became a favored summer playground for locals, thanks to its beach volleyball and bocce courts, dog run, fog fountain and ‘flex field’ – a playing field for daytime and nighttime sporting activities. (The row of wooden deck chairs positioned with stellar views of Manhattan also probably had something to do with it). You won’t go hungry either – chef Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (Gramercy Tavern, Manhatta, among others) has opened the Mexican-themed Tacocina to keep the park’s revelers satiated.

A maze is created with partitions on a brick pavement in Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 3The exploratory labyrinth at Pier 3 is just one of many interactive installations © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

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Pier 3, Brooklyn Bridge Park

The ongoing development at Brooklyn Bridge Park is nearing completion with the opening of the final pier to be converted to parkland, Pier 3. Similar to Domino Park, this green space is built for leisure and lounging, albeit with a slightly more artistic bent. Gazing out over Manhattan’s Financial District in one direction and Governor’s Island in the other, the park is home to a spacious central lawn, designed to be protected from the sun and wind by strategically placed groves of trees and hedges. Along with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables – most of which are moveable – Pier 3 also boasts its own interactive, exploratory labyrinth complete with a walk-in kaleidoscope, parabolic reflectors, dance chimes and an echo game, among other stimulating features.

If you’re looking for something a little fancier than a picnic, the pier is also a short walk from the swanky eco-themed 1 Hotel Brooklyn, which opened in 2017 and houses restaurant The Osprey, as well as a cafe, 10th-floor cocktail lounge, and a rooftop garden and bar with some of the best views of lower Manhattan (sadly, the rooftop plunge pool is only open to hotel guests).

Five Canada geese walk across a green space, with skyscrapers in the distance under a blue sky in New York CityEnjoy plenty of green space (and urban wildlife) at Pier 3 © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Pier 17, the Seaport District

Over in Manhattan, a little farther up the East River, sits the Seaport District. This area is not only known for being New York City’s founding neighborhood (try strolling its streets without singing at least a few bars from Hamilton), but also for the recent opening of the impressive Pier 17.

The sleek mixed-use structure is hard to miss – especially at night when it sets the waterfront aglow. Designed by SHoP Architects, Pier 17 incorporates restaurants, boutiques and pedestrian thoroughfares, along with a 1.5-acre rooftop (check out the Rooftop Concert Series in summer), complete with a restaurant and bar offering views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Lady Liberty herself.

A row of shops in four-story buildings from the 18th century line a street in NYCThe Seaport District is one of NYC’s oldest neighborhoods, and now boasts a sleek new shopping area © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Injecting a well-needed dose of life into what used to an oft-avoided-by-locals, tourist-trap part of town, the revamped Seaport District has enlisted a lot of big-name brands to rally its cause. The jewel is Milanese luxury retail haven, 10 Corso Como (its first US-based outpost), while other marquee brands to set up shop include Roberto Cavalli, Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP, and Cynthia Rowley.

But it’s not all luxury. The Fulton Stall Market hosts a farmers market on Sundays at Seaport Square from 11am to 5.30pm, where you can stock up on items from artisanal producers and local farmers (there’s even a CSA if you plan to stay in NYC for a while). The Indoor Farmers Market Store is open daily and purveys foods from more than 100 local farmers and small-batch specialty food producers.

Skyscrapers in East Manhattan, as seen from the Esat River on a sunny day, over the rail of a ferry boatThe East River offers stunning views of Manhattan © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

Hunter’s Point Park South, Long Island City

2018 was a good year for parks – it also welcomed the opening of the second phase of Hunter’s Point Park South in Long Island City. The former industrial area, once home to a gasworks, is now swathed in lush greenery, with the newest section of the park stretching from 54th Avenue to Newtown Creek. In addition to new bike and pedestrian parks, the 5.5-acre expansion boasts a 30-foot-high cantilevered platform with excellent views of Manhattan’s eastern flank (including the UN Building), as well as a playground, picnic terraces, seating areas, volleyball and basketball courts, fitness equipment and a kayak launch. Also handy: you can several access wifi hotspots here, just in case you’ve Instagrammed your way through all of your data.

The ferry stop at Hunter’s Point Park South is temporarily closed, but you can hop off at the Long Island City stop at Gantry Plaza State Park and stroll south to find your way here.

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