As we showed in an earlier post this week, New York is pulling out all the stops for National Walking Day, which is today, April 2. And that’s as it should be: with a relatively compact land area, Manhattan remains one of the densest, most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world. Plus, Central Park and the well-maintained green spaces along the East River and Hudson River make the city ideal for travelers who like a little nature with their urban trekking.
And speaking of the East River, we can’t recommend highly enough the pleasures of exploring – on foot, of course – the quieter, more neighborly environs of Manhattan’s little sister across the river, Brooklyn.
Below, we offer a ready-to-go walking guide to one of the borough’s most iconic (and culturally rich) neighborhoods, Park Slope.
Though most Brooklyn-for-beginners guidebooks will lead you straight to the borough’s most recognizable monument – the 122- year-old Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza – we suggest starting a few miles south, in South Park Slope. By riding the F or G train to 15th Street/Prospect Park, you’ll wind up right at the entrances to two sprawling green spaces: Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery. While both parks are completely free to visitors, the latter – a 478-acre expanse with rolling hills, shaded ponds, and tombstones belonging to the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Boss” Tweed, and Leonard Bernstein – has specific opening hours, so plan accordingly.
After getting your green fix (and possibly even taking a pedal boat ride around the lake at Prospect Park’s brand new LeFrak Center), it’s time to mosey down Seventh Avenue in search of some grub. Sifting through Park Slope’s many restaurant choices can seem daunting at first. Allow us to simplify things: within a two-block radius you’ll find some of the neighborhood’s top dining spots. Try the Vietnamese banh-mi-slinging sandwich counter Hanco’s (which also makes a mean bubble tea), or homey coffee shop Naidre’s, which has been perfecting its menu of hearty sandwiches, wraps, salads, and pastries since opening in 2000. Meanwhile, if it’s Italian you’re after (this is Brooklyn, after all, home to “Cannoli Heaven,” per the New York Times), you’re in luck. Just down the street is Russo’s Mozzarella & Pasta, where you’ll find – you guessed it – fresh mozzarella, fresh pasta, and home-cooked staples like chicken cutlets and lasagna.
By now, you’ve reached the heart of Park Slope, home to the most famous food co-op in the world (a version of the members-only grocery store will open in Paris next year). Exploring the area on foot is the best way to get a feel for its laid-back, cosmopolitan-suburbs feel. For instance, you might wander into a bar with its own indoor bocce courts (Union Hall); or perhaps revamp your wardrobe with a few oddball finds at Beacon’s Closet. Architect-lovers might content themselves by simply strolling up and down side streets admiring the rows of brownstone homes, with their steep stoops and narrow arched doorways.
Punctuating the northern end of Park Slope is its main attraction, the magnificent Grand Army Plaza. Functioning as a complex intersection, the large space manages to re-route eight arteries of traffic while also providing benches, a fountain, and one of New York City’s biggest and most popular farmers markets. Show up on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. to browse the produce from nearly 50 farms, bakeries, and other vendors. Best of all is the market’s location: not only is it right next to Prospect Park’s main entrance (making a late afternoon picnic an obvious choice), but it’s also near the 2 and 3 train, which are ready to whisk you straight back into Manhattan at the end of your day.