It’s no secret that New York City’s hustle and bustle can be stressful. From Times Square’s tourist mania, to the fast-paced financial executives on Wall Street, Gotham is a sea of workaholics, business owners, creatives, starving artists, and people trying to climb the social and corporate ladders.
More New Yorkers report higher stress levels than the American Psychological Association’s national average, citing reasons including money, work, health concerns and the economy.
With millions crowding the boroughs who have little time to take a deep breath, New Yorkers need places to relax and escape the relentless stress and noise of the big city — if only for a quick moment before it all starts again.
Today, mindfulness and self-care are being sold as commodities. The Apple Store sells a multitude of meditation apps. However, it’s just as important for one to find a sacred space: A place to be still, meditate, relax and find serenity. Preferably for free.
Here are some hidden places around the city to find a little Zen among the commotion:
Brook Park, Bronx, NY
In the South Bronx, community gatherings are often held at Brook Park, once a dirt plot amidst buildings and businesses. Managed by the Friends of Brook Park, the space now serves as an ecological and agricultural haven. A shared garden showcases the community-grown fruits and flowers, and Harlem River fishermen store their colorful boats when the park opens for the season.
Located: Between 140th and 141st Streets along Brook Avenue, South Bronx
Jefferson Market Library, Manhattan, NY
Everyone knows a library is a quiet place to curl up with a good book or to study. But along 6th Avenue in the Village, the Jefferson Market Library is an architectural gem. While tourists flock to the classic 5th Avenue branch, the Jefferson Market branch is a lesser-known, traditional library with plenty of seating and books for check-out.
The Victorian-style building was constructed in 1876, first as a women’s courthouse, and is marked by a 100-ft bell tower with a spiral staircase, stained glass windows, and Gothic-style reading room.
Wandering the iconic halls you’ll feel like you’re transported to the Victorian Age. Behind the library, the peaceful Jefferson Market Garden also boasts colorful flowers, a greenhouse, and a Koi pond from the spring to fall.
Address: 425 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
Elevated Acre, Manhattan, NY
Nestled behind a corporate building at 55 Water St. in the Financial District is Elevated Acre, a green-space with a view of the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the historic Seaport District. The acre-sized park has plenty of seating, a grass lawn amphitheater for concerts and events, as well as the Sky55 Beer Garden for visitors to unwind and take in a sunset view.
Address: 55 Water St., New York, NY
Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan, NY
Take the A train uptown towards Inwood to 190th Street, and the city almost disappears in the center of Fort Tryon Park. The park offers eight unrestricted miles of gardens, pathways and lawns to explore. It overlooks the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades Parkway to the West, while Broadway bustles to its right.
Across the street to the park’s entrance is the stunning St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, a pilgrimage site for many of the devout, but is open to all looking for a sacred space to meditate or pray. The site is managed by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who take care of the grounds and enjoy visiting with guests.
Address: 701 Fort Washington Ave. New York, NY
Two Large Tables, Manhattan, NY
Between Battery Place and West 59th Street the wide-open Hudson River Park is 550 acres of exploration and play. It’s as West as one can be without leaving Manhattan. Visit any of the park’s several art structures along the way, with great views of neighboring New Jersey and the sunset.
Hex & Company Gaming Cafe, Manhattan, NY
Hex & Company is the Upper West Side’s board-game cafe, serving locally-roasted coffee, snacks, and a selection of draft beer and wines. Located along Broadway two blocks from Columbia University, the cafe is open well into the night, so both hard-at-work students and patrons can embrace their healthy competitive side while enjoying each other’s company.
For a flat fee, customers can choose from thousands of classic, strategy, and role-playing board games specially curated by the staff. Hex & Co. holds educational after-school gaming programs for kids, and hosts local tournaments and meet-ups for popular community games like Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and Dungeons and Dragons.
“We strongly believe in an analog environment — face-to-face gaming — as a chance to put down your phones and really pay attention to the person in front of you,” says Greg May, 35, co-owner of the store.
Address: 2871 Broadway, New York, NY
Paley Park and Greenacre Park, Manhattan, NY
Paley Park and Greenacre Park, set in hectic Midtown East are known as “pocket parks” and live just two blocks from each other. They both function as urban oases hidden among the towering skyscrapers of the city. Paley Park boasts a 20-foot waterfall, wall-grown English Ivy, and honey locust trees growing surrounding the open chairs and tables.
Jean Mauze opened Greenacre Park in 1971 in hopes that visitors will “find some moments of serenity in this busy world,” and filled it with modern architecture, a 25-foot waterfall, and plenty of greenery in the terraces.
Both parks also have cafe-kiosks, making it the ideal lunch spot as the sounds of a waterfall helps to drown out the traffic noise.
Paley Park: 3 E 53rd St, New York, NY
Greenacre Park: 217 E 51st St, New York, NY
The Drama Bookshop, Manhattan NY
Since 1917, The Drama Book Shop has independently served thousands of actors, musicians, students, film and theater-lovers. Tucked away on 40th Street, the little shop keeps thousands of plays, scripts, Broadway musicals, theatrical works and memorabilia in its vast collection.
You’ll find actors, musicians and playwrights relaxing, rehearsing or expertly studying their craft. There is also a black box theater in the basement, with 60 seats for an intimate experience.
Address: 250 W 40th St #1, New York, NY
Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan, NY
While one of the city’s largest museums dedicated to contemporary art may elicit feelings of crowdedness for some, MoMA now offers a place for early-morning guided meditation with the museum’s sculpture garden as a backdrop — plus a chance to wander the museum’s collections minus all the crowds.
Started over the summer, Quiet Mornings at MoMa offers discounted admission on the first Wednesday morning of every month before the museum even opens.
“Meditation is about coming into the presence of the heart. If we come into meditation every day with reverence, it’s like stepping away from the negative life to meet the inner lover,” says Agapi Stassinopolous, 65, a spirituality author and speaker who leads the museum’s meditation sessions.
Address: 11 W 53rd St, New York, NY
Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens, NY
Along the East River, Gantry Plaza State Park has four piers and restored “gantries,” once used for loading and unloading rail car floats and barges on the property’s waterfront shipping dockyard. Here you’ll find the iconic Pepsi-Cola landmark sign, a part of a former Pepsi bottling plant that closed 18 years ago.
The park also offers recreational, mind-easing activities including basketball, fishing and handball, plus stunning views of the Manhattan skyline without crowds trying to snap the perfect picture.
Address: 4-09 47th Road Long Island City, NY
53rd Street Library, Manhattan, NY
Across from the Museum of Modern Art is the newest branch of the New York Public Library system, the 53rd Street Library, right in the center of bustling Midtown. With glass entrances and a sleek, modern look to accompany MoMA, the library is a well-lit, soothing place to settle down with a book and escape the noise of 5th Avenue.
A staircase amphitheater plays movies and New York City scenes on loop. And with Halal Guys right down the street, it’s a great place to enjoy a quiet lunch break.
Address: 18 West 53rd Street New York, NY
Sweetleaf Coffee, Queens, NY
Sweetleaf is one of those rare, coffee shop-cocktail bar combos in the city that actually stays open past 7 p.m. — so it’s perfect for the average student needing a place to camp out, as well the after-work crowd.
Tucked among luxury high-rise buildings, Sweetleaf has a 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekday happy hour that includes occasional live music, dollar oysters, and a draft beer menu with selections from local breweries. Guests are welcomed in with calming, acoustic music, and the shop boasts rustic couches, candle-lit lighting and warm-toned antique furniture, not to mention a view of the neighboring dog park.
Address: 4615 Center Blvd. Long Island City, NY
Powerhouse Arena, Brooklyn, NY
In Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, crowds often rush to get their shopping done or take the perfect photo of the Manhattan Bridge. But turn the corner of Water Street and behind the famed Gleason’s Gym, you’ll stumble upon The Powerhouse Arena, a bookstore and exhibition space with a view of the bridge through the store’s large glass windows.
Also home to Powerhouse Books art publisher, the shop’s large assortment of fiction, memoir, photography, travel, and children’s books makes it the perfect place to get lost in creative inspiration.
Address: 28 Adams St, Brooklyn, NY
St. Francis of Assisi Church, Manhattan, NY
A block from the chaotic transit hub that is Penn Station, is a spiritual haven open to all: St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Managed by Franciscan Friars, the church and friary always has its doors open for daily prayers, programs and events. The Great Mosaic in the sanctuary invites visitors to reflect on heaven and earth. A Peace Garden amid the surrounding buildings provides a quiet outdoor space for people to meditate and light candles under a patch of open sky, as a peace pole reminds visitors, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”
Address: 135 W. 31st St. New York, NY