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.
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.
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.
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!
12 Reasons Why Prospect Park is the Best City Park
- So much NATURE – and a great variety at that! Trees, lawns, creeks, ponds, lake, waterfalls, birds of prey, fowls, turtles, squirrels, flowers…
- 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.
- Live concerts at the Bandshell (especially the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival) – mostly free of charge and always audible from outside the seated area.
- Off-leash hours for dogs: 5am – 9am and 9pm – 1am at the Long Meadow, Nethermead and Peninsula. There’s even a dog beach!
- Easily accessible via public transportation. (See section above for train lines and stations.)
- 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.
- 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.
- The Prospect Park Zoo! It has red pandas (born in the zoo). Red pandas are the cutest.
- The New Year’s Eve fireworks! Shot up right from the lawn to light up the sky above you.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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.
More Photos from Prospect Park
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)
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…
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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.