Secret Places to Find Solitude in Manhattan

By Ben Fractenberg on April 25, 2011 6:53am 

By Ben Fractenberg

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — New York is a city of teeming streets, labyrinthine subway stations and imperious skyscrapers. It's a place whose denizens are used to fighting for space in a cacophony of crowds, cabs and chaos.

Needless to say, this can begin to wear on the soul. Which is why we seek places of solitude hidden within the frenetic city. Here's a list of some of our favorite spots, in case you find yourself needing a moment away from the masses.

Swindler Cove

Tucked between P.S. 5 and the Harlem River, Inwood's Swindler Cove is a small state park with a boathouse and gardens. You can sit near a small pond in the park popular with ducks and look over the Harlem River, with only the sound of the rumbling traffic on the Harlem River Drive to remind you you're in the city.

The park was once an illegal dumping ground until the New York Restoration Project spent three years cleaning out garbage, rusted cars and sunken boats between 1996 and 1999.

For a more New England experience, take a stroll down to the boathouse early in the morning to watch the row teams practicing.

How to get there: Take the 1 Train to Dyckman Street. Walk east on Dyckman toward the Harlem River Drive. You'll see the school across the street and, behind it, the park.

Paley Park

Midtown Manhattan can seem like an endless maze of right angles and towering buildings, but there are some peaceful nooks and crannies to be found.

Paley Park is a pocket of green space on 53rd Street, just east of MoMA, where you can sit beneath a tree next to a man-made waterfall. The sound of rushing water is enough to drown out traffic on 53rd Street. The tables allow you to have an intimate lunch conversation with a friend or get some reading done during your break.

The central location means a quick escape for many, without having to venture far.

How to get there: Take the E or M to 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The park is on the north side of 53rd between Fifth and Madison avenues.

East Village resident Reid Thompson enjoys some downtime in The Creative Little Garden.
East Village resident Reid Thompson enjoys some downtime in The Creative Little Garden.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

City College

It may seem odd to describe a college campus as "hidden," but The City College of New York feels undiscovered compared to its southern neighbors, Columbia and NYU. What a shame. The grounds are incredible. Gothic-style stone buildings surround verdant lawns, making it feel more like you are in Cambridge, England, than Hamilton Heights.

There's lots of green space to lay out and pretend you are back in college with all the time in the world. After about a half hour your mind will start to have trouble accepting you're still in the city.

How to get there: Take the 1 to 137th Street and head east, or the C to 135th, cross the street and walk up the stairs in St. Nicholas Park toward campus.

The Church of St. Luke in the Fields

This West Village church has a secluded garden open to the public during the day. The church outlaws cell phone use and walking dogs through the gardens, so you are assured some real peace and quiet.

The gardens are primarily for walking through, but there are three benches scattered throughout.

Weekday afternoons, if you have the time, are especially quiet. Go for some respite from the madness of Manhattan.

How to get there: Take the 1 Train to Christopher Street and head west until you get to Hudson Street. The church is on the southwest corner of Christopher and Hudson streets.

Carl Schurz Park

Carl Schurz Park feels like a mini-Central Park on the East River. Enter through 87th Street and head down the path, through the arched stone bridge to find a secluded nook of park benches surrounding a bronze statue.

Head toward the water and you have a direct view of the Randall's Island lighthouse. If you want some real seclusion you can hide out on the rocky hill overlooking the park's short promenade.

Carl Schurz seems to be inhabited primarily by Yorkville residents, so no worrying about tourists asking you to snap their picture. It's also directly south of Gracie Mansion. Who knows, even Mayor Bloomberg might head to the park when he needs time for reflection.

How to get there: Take the 4,5 or 6 train to 86th Street and head east until you hit the park.

The Creative Little Garden

The East Village is awash with urbane gardens, but East Sixth Street's The Creative Little Garden stands out for its quiet anonymity. You won't have to worry about crusty punks hassling you for change like you would in Tompkins Square Park, for example.

"It's off the beaten path," said Reid Thompson, 32, who said he lived nearby but had just recently discovered the park. "It feels like a little canyon."

A tiny waterfall near the back of the narrow garden, which is nestled between two tenement buildings, provides some nice ambient noise. Tables in the back also make it a great spot to read while nursing a cup of tea or glass of lemonade.

How to get there: Take the F to 2nd Avenue or the L to 1st Avenue. The park is on the south side of 6th Street between Avenue A and B.

Oval Lawn

There aren't too many places in downtown Manhattan where you'd find a family picnicking beneath cherry blossoms on a weekday afternoon. Luckily, the Oval Lawn in the East of Esplanade Plaza is an exception.

Located west of Ground Zero over the old pumphouse that provided water to the Twin Towers, the park is away from the city's overcrowded tourist centers. Grab a seat on one of the benches surrounding the lawn and watch the boats float up the Hudson. Or lay down on the grass facing west for that rare Manhattan view of open sky.

There are lots of Battery Park moms and nannies pushing strollers through the park, but nowhere near Park Slope levels. You'll get some peace and quiet within walking distance of TriBeCa and the Financial District.

How to get there: Take to E train to the last stop at the World Trade Center. Head west, crossing over West Street. Take a left and walk down to Liberty Street and then take a right.

Do you have a favorite secret spot in your neighborhood?

Email a photo to dnaphotos1@gmail.com, and we can add your photo to our "Manhattan's Secret Spots" Facebook album, or Tweet us a pic @dnainfo.

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