Posted on 17 Comments

The Green Heart of Brooklyn: Prospect Park (Brooklyn, NY)

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Endale Arch, bridge, tunnel to Long Meadow from Grand Army Plaza, Happier Place

The vast and diverse Prospect Park in Brooklyn is arguably the best park in New York City – maybe in the world. But we’re probably as biased as the thousands of others who have called this park their backyard.

Supposedly, even designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux considered Prospect Park an improvement over their previously created Central Park in Manhattan. Or maybe that’s just one of those hyper-local urban myths. At least they appreciated that they weren’t as restricted as with the rectangular Manhattan park.

Brooklyn’s Big Green Heart

Okay, so we’re not objective. Prospect Park was our local park for over a decade**. And since the urban park is located more or less in the heart of Brooklyn, which has an estimated population of about 2.6 million, it’s also simply the closest big green park for so very many other people.

Because Brooklyn is still very diverse, despite ongoing gentrification, Prospect Park is also a place where people of all backgrounds go to be in nature, meet friends, have fun, and be happier. In that sense, the park can also be seen as being at the heart of people getting along despite their other difference. Here we’re all just neighbors.

Prospect Park has so much nature, culture, activities, and people-watching to offer that it’s a NYC must-see. So no matter if you live in the city or are just visiting, we highly recommend you plan a relaxing, fun, and rejuvenating visit to Prospect Park. Leave all your stress behind and come out refreshed and rebalanced.

Turtles sunning by a willow tree on Prospect Park Lake sidearm, Brooklyn, NY, Happier Place
Turtles warming up in the sunshine on a sidearm of Prospect Park Lake.

Quick Overview of Prospect Park

Prospect Park covers 526 acres (213 ha) and is surrounded by the neighborhoods Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Garden, Flatbush, Windsor Terrace, and South Slope.

The city park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and first opened in 1867. Olmstead focused more of the landscape design (parts of the park are inspired by the Adirondack Mountains), the architect Vaux specialized in the buildings and bridges. Since then many of the original buildings designed by Vaux have been destroyed and other structures have been put up in their place.

At nearly 1 mile length, the Long Meadow is the longest meadow in any urban park in the USA. The Ravine, Brooklyn’s only forest, features 150 acres of woods, a creek and even small waterfalls.

Two women are having a Happier Place in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY
Relaxing with a view of the short side of Long Meadow and Park Slope “high rises”.

Prospect Park Visitor FAQs

The park is open every day from 5am to 1am. There is no entry fee.

Private vehicles are no longer allowed to drive on the roads inside the park. The main roads (Park Drive, Center Drive, Wellhouse Drive) are now shared mostly by people on bikes, skates, skateboards and running shoes. Everyone on wheels should move counterclockwise around the Loop on Park Drive (aka West Drive and East Drive). All other paths and trails are for pedestrians, dogs on leashes and wildlife only. There are lots of turtles. You don’t want your dog licking a turtle shell. Also, don’t touch them. The turtles, that is.

Painter turtle covered in duckweed walking on log, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NYC
Painter turtle covered in duckweed walking along a log.

There are several subway stations on the outskirts of the park: on the F + G lines (7th Avenue, 15th St – Prospect Park, Fort Hamilton Parkway), on the 2 + 3 + 4 (Grand Army Plaza, Franklin Ave), and on the B + Q (Prospect Park, Parkside Ave). Various bus lines stop along the different sides of the park.

How about cycling up to the Brooklyn park? Bike lanes can be found on streets leading up to the park. Keep in mind that the park is on a hill – it was named after its “highest peak”: Mount Prospect.

Car parking spots around Prospect Park are limited but not impossible to find. Good luck.

Smoking, alcoholic beverages and loudly amplified music are officially not allowed in Prospect Park. There are lots of grills, tables and benches to be found around the park. Grilling is only allowed in designated areas.

Dogs need to be on leashes except for the amazing off-leash hours (!!!) in the park. This is when we get to the many reasons why we think Prospect Park is the best urban park!

Prospect Park tree near Nellie's Lawn
Why not see the forest and the individual trees? You can have it all in Prospect Park!

12 Reasons Why Prospect Park is the Best City Park

  1. So much NATURE – and a great variety at that! Trees, lawns, creeks, ponds, lake, waterfalls, birds of prey, fowls, turtles, squirrels, flowers…
  2. Diversity of people! Thanks to the very different neighborhoods around the park, people of all colors, cultures and creeds come to play in Prospect Park.
  3. Live concerts at the Bandshell (especially the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival) – mostly free of charge and always audible from outside the seated area.
  4. Off-leash hours for dogs: 5am – 9am and 9pm – 1am at the Long Meadow, Nethermead and Peninsula. There’s even a dog beach!
  5. Easily accessible via public transportation. (See section above for train lines and stations.)
  6. Unique seasonal sports: ice skating, roller skating and pedal boating – all via the LeFrak Center at Lakeside. Does riding a carrousel count? That’s over by the zoo.
  7. One of the best places in Brooklyn to run or cycle. The wide car-free running and cycling Loop on Park Drive inside Prospect Park is 3.5 miles long – just a bit longer than a 5k and with some hill challenges.
  8. The Prospect Park Zoo! It has red pandas (born in the zoo). Red pandas are the cutest.
  9. The New Year’s Eve fireworks! Shot up right from the lawn to light up the sky above you.
  10. Historic buildings, memorials and markers – some obvious, some more obscure. For example, try to get a glimpse of the old Quaker Cemetery or discover where the Americans held the line against the Brits during the Battle of Long Island (aka the Battle of Brooklyn) in 1776. [Spoilers: the Americans lost that battle but won the war.] No marker, but now you know: East Drive follows an ancient Native American path.
  11. The vast and delicious choices of local and international food on the outskirts of the park – not just but including classics like Brooklyn bagels, NYC pizza, and Jamaican patties.
  12. Impressive nearby attractions start right outside the main entrance with Grand Army Plaza (also designed by Olmsted and Vaux) featuring the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, Bailey’s Fountain and view of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Brooklyn pad. And there’s so much more…
Sailors and Soldiers Arch, Grand Army Plaza, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Sailors and Soldiers Arch on Grand Army Plaza, at the corner of Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Prospect Park.

Nearby Brooklyn Attractions

As mentioned above, right outside the north entrance of Prospect Park is Grand Army Plaza. Besides the arch, fountain, and statues, it’s also home to New York City’s 2nd largest greenmarket on Saturdays. There are several more places worth a visit on their own accord in walking distance. Well, it depends on which side of the park you are and how much you like to walk. Our favorites are the Brooklyn Central Library, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Museum, and on the other side of the park the magnificent Green-Wood Cemetery.

Neptune aka Poseidon Bailey Fountain, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
Neptune is a joyful feature of the Bailey Fountain, in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.

More Photos from Prospect Park

Home of the Brooklyn Blades, girls on rollerblades, LeFrak Center, Lakeside
Home of the Brooklyn Blades and other girls on rollerblades.
Cast iron Lullwater Bridge seen from the Prospect Park Boathouse
130 years old: the cast iron Lullwater Bridge seen from the Prospect Park Boathouse.
Swan feeding on duck weed on the Lullwater by the Boathouse and Audubon Center
Swan feeding on duck weed on the Lullwater by the Boathouse and Audubon Center.
Flock of blue and orange pedal boats waiting for you on Prospect Park Lake
A flock of pedal boats waiting for you to get the water fun started on Prospect Lake.
Litchfield Villa: Brooklyn Department of Parks and Recreation
The 1850’s Litchfield Villa (aka Grace Hill) that was built before the park existed now houses the Brooklyn Department of Parks and Recreation.
American Red Robin, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Stop. Look. Appreciate: an American Red Robin in the woods of the Ravine in Prospect Park.
Dark angel and soldier, War Memorial, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
The dark angel and soldier are part of the Prospect Park War Memorial honoring Brooklyn’s fallen.
The Cleft Ridge Span under Well House Drive, Prospect Park
The Cleft Ridge Span under Well House Drive – and between the Audubon Society Boathouse and Concert Grove, where you’ll find the composers’ busts.
Water lily leaves reflected in the creek that runs through the Ravine
Water lily leaves reflected in the creek that runs down the Ravine.
Prospect Park Boathouse and Audobon Society and Erica of Sanhedrin, Brooklyn
The Prospect Park Boathouse and Audobon Society… and if you look closely you can see Erica, the singer of Brooklyn band Sanhedrin.
NYC Hydrant covered in green plant, Brooklyn
Nature takes back!
More wild turtles swimming in Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn
More wild turtles swimming in Prospect Park Lake, Brooklyn.

Happier Place Guides to Other City Parks

Südgelände Nature Park (Berlin, Germany)
Green Oasis in the City Center: Tiergarten Park (Berlin, Germany)
Park Above The Rest: The High Line (New York City)
On The Post-Industrial Waterfront: Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn, NY)
Berlin’s Oldest Park: Volkspark Friedrichshain (Berlin, Germany)

Traveling back in time, here is a 1-minute video about the park from Luci’s weekly Moving Postcard web series from back in 2011: Prospect Park – In A Brooklyn Minute (Week 73)

Pigeon on eagle statue, entrance to Prospect Park, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Pigeon on eagle statue at the north entrance to Prospect Park.

Let’s Inspire Each Other!

Have you been to Prospect Park? Is it your local park? What’s your favorite part? Do you have a different favorite city park? Which city – and what do you like about it so much?

Please leave a comment below – inspired by these questions or whatever you’d like to share or ask…

Like it? Want to share or revisit this post? Pin one of these images.

The Green Heart of Brooklyn: Prospect Park - along the Lullwater

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal. See all and more in the park gallery on her website. Click on any image to see a larger, higher resolution version.

**… it’s the park where we got lost when we first moved to Brooklyn and where we built our first NYC snowman. Here we participated in the legendary “Park Slope against The World” lawn games, got hooked on running and saw hasidic women jog along in long dresses and buddhists in robes – and women in full hijab play frisbee. It’s where we filmed short films and music videos, attended lots of picnics and concerts and where one afternoon Luci recognized Nick Cave’s voice during a soundcheck for a surprise appearance for a Leonard Cohen tribute later that night… and it’s the park we still miss dearly and visit everytime we’re back in New York. It’s home.

17 thoughts on “The Green Heart of Brooklyn: Prospect Park (Brooklyn, NY)

  1. I love going to parks! I think this one’s iconic and definitely worth seeing especially if you’ve never been to this part of Brooklyn. It’s so nice to spend the afternoon here just enjoying the view.

    1. Couldn’t agree more! Lovely to read from someone who knows the park and this side of Brooklyn. Thank you for your comment, Terri!

  2. I have been to NYC so many times but I have never been here. The park is beautiful but I have to say our parks here in Vienna, Austria are the most beautiful ones ever. I might be in NYC in the near future and will stop by.

    1. Austria is such a beautiful country! Have seen Vienna only covered in snow, a lot of snow – so I didn’t explore any parks. But they must be stunning – old and full of statues. Hope to explore Austria, its mountains and parks, in the summer soon. And maybe you’ll indeed make it to Prospect Park one day.

  3. You got some cool pictures. I have to say the turtle photo is my fave. Nice close-up.

    1. Thank you so much, Rose. The turtle photo is one of my favorites, too. It seemed to have a bit of attitude.

  4. The park is so green! It feels like such an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ashley. It really is amazing how you can step into the park and all that hustle and bustle just seems to disappear behind you.

  5. Oh NYC! My second favorite city! My daughter just graduated from NYU, so I visited A LOT!!!

    1. Must be so fun to visit your daughter in college at NYU! You must be very proud of her. But please tell us: which city is your FAVORITE?

  6. Sometimes it seems unbelievable that in a chaotic and metropolitan city like New York there can really be such a big and beautiful green lung!

    1. Right? I think that’s exactly why I love city parks (almost?) more than the so-called “Great Outdoors”. It’s so amazing that in a place like New York City you can just get off the train, walk down a path, leave all the noise behind and quietly watch a turtle walk through the grass.

  7. I love to visit this place when I visit NYC, we are planning to visit within the next 2 years.

    1. I hope you’ll make it to the park. There’s so much to do and see in NYC that you might not plan “park time”. But I think especially because there’s so much to do and see, it’s really helpful to take a break in nature for a few hours.

  8. Can you believe I lived in NYC for 3 years and only visited Prospect Park once?? That’s a classic Manhattanite though isn’t it? “What?? I have to take a bridge or tunnel to get there?? No thank you!” 😉 Great post, great pics!

    1. Yeah, I totally believe it. 🙂 And it goes both ways. I remember when I first moved to Brooklyn back in the late 90s, there was still quite an incentive to travel up to Manhattan for work, culture and socializing. But then more and more people and businesses moved to Brooklyn and weeks would go by without me setting foot into Manhattan. And don’t even talk to me about going anywhere north of 14th Street… 😀

  9. I love Brooklyn but never been to this park! I love going to parks, going to this one next time i am around!!!!

Leave a reply...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.