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  • Escape the ‘concrete jungle’ and explore New York’s green oases

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    Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens offers a great view of the Upper Eastside. Dörte Nohrden/dpa

    Alicia Keys sang about New York City as a “concrete jungle,” and in fact the skyline of the metropolis of 8.8 million people between the Hudson River and Rockaway Beach appears to be nothing but wall-to-wall skyscrapers.

    But the “Big Apple” is more than glass, asphalt and concrete: 14% of its area consists of greenery. There is of course Manhattan’s famous Central Park, but that’s just one of numerous green spaces, both large and small, that show a lesser-known side of the city.

    Admiring the skyline from a hammock

    Just an 80-minute ferry ride from Manhattan’s southern tip lies an oft-overlooked oasis: Governor’s Island. Those visiting the 70-hectare, car-free island in New York harbour are rewarded with a panoramic view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

    In the park area Hammock Groves you can literally hang around in one of the hammocks set up among the trees. There’s a “Teaching Garden,” particularly suitable for children, while the “Friends of Governors” offer free 1-hour walking tours of the island. You can also rent bicycles.

    Take a break in Astoria

    Just the trip alone to the Socrates Sculpture Park is a pleasure. Those who hop aboard a ferry at Pier 11 (Station Wall Street) on the southern tip of Manhattan will experience the best way to reach the city’s largest borough, Queens. The 48-minute mini-cruise passes under four bridges, including the historic Brooklyn Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge, providing views of the city from both sides of the East River.

    Once arrived at the pier in Astoria, it is only a short walk to Socrates Sculpture Park. It is scarcely imaginable today that this spot on the banks of the river was nothing more than a trash dump until the late 1980s. It is thanks to a committed neighbourhood and artists’ community that the park was created, one that at the same time is a highly-regarded open air museum.

    The summer programme includes art and gardening projects but also free activities such as yoga courses and meditation, and even canoe tours which start out at the nearby Hallett’s Cove Beach. Through it all, visitors enjoy the panoramic views stretching from Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

    Concrete Plant Park: Pick your own herbs and fruits

    It’s a surreal spot filled with contrasts: The Concrete Plant Park on the Bronx River is New York’s first public “Foodway.” In this communal garden between the river and the Amtrak rails, anyone is free to harvest the herbs and fruits growing there.

    “Up to the end of the 1980s this was still a huge concrete plant,” project coordinator Nathan Hunter notes, pointing to the remaining giant rust-red cement silos. “Then the plant was shut down and the deserted place became a sad spot with a trash heap and drug-dealing.” Finally, following protests by local residents, in 2009 the park authority NYC Parks created Concrete Plant Park.

    Getting there: The Number 6 subway line to Whitlock Avenue station

    Wave Hill: Spectacular views across the Hudson

    The view from the pergola in Wave Hill in the north-western corner of the Bronx can only be described as spectacular. From the highest point in the park, the view to the west takes in further gardening areas, the glittering Hudson River and beyond to the New Jersey shore with its tree-covered basalt stone cliffs called “The Palisades.”

    Wave Hill is the best proof of the variety presented by a downright green Bronx. The nearby Van Cortlandt Park as well as Pelham Bay Park in the eastern part of the borough are among New York City’s largest parks.

    Getting to Wave Hill: Take the “Hudson Line” of the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Station. The half-hour ride offers views of the Harlem River and Hudson River. Get off at Riverdale station, from which it’s only a short walk up the hill.

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    Governors Island offers spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline. Dörte Nohrden/dpa
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    The terrace café of Wave Hill House in Wave Hill Park in the Bronx is the perfect place for a break. Dörte Nohrden/dpa
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    The giant rust-red cement silos in Concrete Plant Park are a relic of the site’s former use. Dörte Nohrden/dpa
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    The “Teaching Garden” on Governors Island. Dörte Nohrden/dpa

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