Exploring New York City – 9 Iconic Manhattan Running Routes
Running is a great way to explore a new city. For me, specifically, following Manhattan running routes helped to really feel the New York City’s vibe, pulse and character.
And that character is intense – after just a couple of steps you feel the energy, hustle and chaos around you. All at the same time.
Still, with all the haste, it fascinates me how many people do take the time to run and exercise. And that’s in one of the busiest cities in the world!
Back in Latvia running culture is still developing. Or, maybe, there are much less runners out there in general. Either way, when you run past one and make eye contact you’ll inevitably greet each other by waving a hand.
This trick doesn’t work in NYC, though. I bet I made at least 15 people wonder if they know me, before I stopped doing that. Hopefully, I made their day a bit better.
Most iconic Manhattan running routes – the Central Park
The most popular place to run in the city is, of course, the Central Park. After all, it was featured in 300+ movies about New York, which, probably, made the whole ‘urban running’ culture explode so much.
Central Park is one of the world’s largest urban parks. It’s located in the Northern part of Manhattan island and at 3.41 sq. kilometers it’s more than twice the size of Monaco. Yes, the country.
Park’s popularity is totally earned. Apart from being this ‘tranquil oasis’ in the middle of a concrete jungle with stunning views, it also provides endless routes with varying difficulty levels for all runner types. Smooth paved roads, rolling hills, flat trails, dirt roads, stairs – you name it.
One can prepare for any kind of race here. And not only running race – I saw a couple of people on triathlon bikes putting in some serious watts.
#1 Central Park reservoir loop
Where to start: Anywhere around the loop. Closest subway station is 86 St.
Distance: 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles), pancake flat.
Running around the Jacqueline Kennedy reservoir is what people might imagine when thinking about running in Central Park. It’s amazing how you can almost experience the ‘inner peace’ while still technically be in the concrete jungle.
And for a good reason. Cherry blossoms, cool fresh breeze and an overall amazing view of the New York City skyline – all that awaits, as you run around one of the most popular Manhattan running routes.
#2 Central Park loop
Where to start: Anywhere around the loop. Most popular is at the Columbus Circle subway station.
Distance: 9.8 kilometers (6.1 miles) with ~50 meters of elevation gain.
For those not willing to run many loops around the same path, going for a full or partial Central Park loop may provide a more interesting experience. You can really notice the change in pace and surroundings from very dense and busy in the South to a more quiet and relaxed in the North.
Central Park loop is not flat, though, so get ready for some uphill running.
The Southern part of Central Park is also the finish line of the world’s largest marathon – the New York City Marathon. To get a sense of finishing it run south alongside 5th Avenue until the Plaza hotel, then run across the W59 St towards Columbus Circle and turn back into the park for the final 400 meters.
More authentic Manhattan running routes
Yes, Central Park is an experience on its own and very popular among tourists and locals. However, there are other cool places to run in the city that bring a much different – more local and authentic – vibe.
The beauty of running in Manhattan is that wherever you are on the island, you can quickly get to an uninterrupted stretch of a road to run on.
Most of Manhattan running routes are located along the banks of the East and Hudson rivers. Theoretically, you can also explore the inside of the island and do a ‘landmark jog’, but with all the traffic, street crossings, shops and people I cannot possibly suggest you to do that.
NYC can get quite windy and with all streets lined up like a squared notebook there’s not much room to hide. So, unless you’re a New Yorker, when it’s chilly and the wind blows – take a hat with you and dress warm.
#3 Battery Park Esplanade
Where to start: Battery Park. Closest subway station is Bowling Green.
Distance: 2.6 kilometers (1.6 miles) one way, flat.
Battery Park Esplanade is a short waterfront way along the Hudson river. It starts in Battery park at the Southernmost part of Manhattan with views of the Statue of Liberty in the distance and Manhattan skyline around.
The route stretches north until Tribeca with skyline views of New Jersey on the other coast of the river. As you continue ‘up’ the promenade, you’ll notice far less runners than in the Central Park.
One can squeeze in a short run here, but those looking to go the distance can just continue to the Hudson River Park.
#4 Hudson River Park
Where to start: Lower Manhattan or SoHo. Most convenient subway station is Canal St.
Distance: 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) one way, flat.
Hudson River Park is the second most popular place to run in Manhattan. And I can understand why. With high-rise buildings on one side and the river on the other it’s well separated from all the stress and urgency that is New York City.
The park stretches from Tribeca in the South to Central Park in the North, but those who want to run even longer can continue further up the Hudson River Greenway. Just watch out for cyclists and, possibly, motorized vehicles…
#5 The High Line
Where to start: Northern entry to the High Line. Closest subways station is 34th St – Hudson Yard.
Distance: 2.3 kilometers (1.5 miles) one way. Flat, if not counting the stairs up.
If running along the waterfront in Hudson River Park is not exciting enough, take a detour via The High Line located in Chelsea. For a portion of the run, at least.
The High Line is an old rail track that has been refurbished as a lush urban garden, featuring 500+ species of plants and providing nice views of the city. It’s ‘suspended’ almost 10 meters above the ground and away from the street noise, making it surprizingly calm.
The High Line opens at 7 a.m. and during the day can get crowded. So, better wake up early and jog while it’s not busy.
#6 The Northern end of East River Greenway
Where to start: Anywhere in Upper East Side or East Harlem. In Queens the most convenient subway station for running across the Queensboro Bridge back to Manhattan is Court Sq – 23 St.
Distance: 5.9 kilometers (3.7 miles) one way, flat. Additional 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) and 15 meters of elevation gain for crossing the Queensboro bridge.
The Northern end of the East River waterfront may not be as scenic as the Lower Manhattan part of it. However, that’s precisely the place to escape the ‘tourist’ path. While most will opt for Central Park, the East River Greenway also provides some nice waterfront views.
For even more spectacular views of the river and the city, take a train to Queens and run across the Queensboro bridge back to Manhattan. That section also happens to be the 24-26 kilometer part of the NYC marathon.
#7 East River Promenade
Where to start: East Village. Closest subway station is 1-Avenue.
Distance: 2.3k (1.4 miles) one way, flat.
If you’re staying in the area of Lower East Side and East Village, then East River Promenade is a real bang for your buck in terms of views.
This beautiful waterfront park provides spectacular views on Manhattan and Northern Brooklyn skyline, Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, as well as the Statue of Liberty far in the distance.
#8 The Two Bridges
Where to start: Anywhere between Battery Park and the Pier 36. For going across to Brooklyn – subway stations Chambers St and East Broadway.
Distance: 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) one way, flat. Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges are both ~2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) long with ~20 meters of elevation gain.
Two Bridges is the area that surrounds Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. That is one of the most scenic parts of the city with views of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, both Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, Brooklyn waterfront, Verrazano bridge and Manhattan skyline. With so much to look at, running here feels very much surreal.
For a run that will take your breath away and push you a little, go across the East River to Brooklyn or better from Brooklyn to Manhattan and soak in the views of the city. Just be prepared that there might be a lot of tourists on Brooklyn bridge in the afternoon.
#9 Brooklyn Bridge Park
Where to start: City Hall Park.
Distance: 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles) one way. Includes crossing the Brooklyn Bridge (15 meters of elevation gain).
Not entirely one of the Manhattan running routes, but too spectacular not to include here. If you do decide to cross the East river to Brooklyn, you’ll find yourself in the Brooklyn Bridge Park with stunning views of Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Brooklyn bridge can get very crowded with tourists and cyclists, especially during the afternoon. So, either go early in the morning or do it like a local and use Manhattan bridge instead.
If you come late in the afternoon you might witness the sun setting over the Manhattan skyline. Gorgeous views.
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