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New York is one of those running cities where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For some, it is a magical inspirational place, where the miles whizz by as they glide past world-famous landmarks and take advantage of the many free water fountains and public toilets en route. 

For others, running in New York is a torturous exercise of avoidance. Avoiding pedestrians — especially of the tourist variety — avoiding the extremes of heat and cold, and most of all, avoiding the endless succession of crosswalks that dominates most of Manhattan and much of the other boroughs. I’ve been a New Yorker for almost a year now; these are the top 5k runs that keep me firmly in the camp of NYC running enthusiasts. 

1. Lower Manhattan/Hudson River Park 

  • Good for: stunning views of the Hudson river
  • Not so good for: anyone who likes hills
  • FYI: there are plenty or toilets and water fountains on the route
Map showing running route in Lower Manhattan, New York

My most frequent New York 5k starts around Castle Clinton in Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan, with views of the Statue of Liberty to the left, and the towering One World Trade to the right. Keep the river to your left, and follow the path north, towards the residential towers of Battery Park City and Brookfield Place shopping centre. 

Running along the banks of the Hudson River at dusk © Getty Images/EyeEm

Run early in the morning to beat the tourist crowds (especially in fine weather), and watch the commuter boats dispatch hundreds upon hundreds of people on the riverbank for work at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and American Express, who all have big offices a stone’s throw from the path. Run on a summer evening, and you might see — and hear — jet skis and their overexcited patrons; during the winter, you’ll have the glistening lights of Hoboken’s skyline across the river for company. 

For a looped run, turn back just after Brookfield. For a one-way 5k, keep going to discover the joy of the piers on the Hudson river. You’ll have time for Pier 25, with its beach volleyball courts to distract you. Then you’ll pass the Tribeca Dog Run, a small off-lead dog park packed with some of the most well-coiffed pooches you’ll ever see. Keep going to the basketball court by Pier 34, and finish up with a lap of the pier. The route has water stops galore, and public toilets. Carry on to Pier 40 (a few hundred metres from Pier 34) for outdoor vending machines with cold drinks. 

2. Brooklyn Bridge/Manhattan Bridge loop 

  • Good for: hill lovers
  • Not so good for: hill haters
  • FYI: New York’s most iconic views 
Map showing running route around Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, New York

My favourite NYC 5k starts at the less-than-scenic (but very easy to get to) Fulton Street Subway station in the financial district. From Fulton station, head north for a few hundred metres along Broadway, and the Brooklyn Bridge will rise up before you on your right. Run towards it and you’ll be rewarded with a scenic overload: the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and Brooklyn’s marina to your right, the Manhattan Bridge and the rest of Brooklyn to your left, with the bridge’s iconic metal spokes overhead and the gleaming East River all around. 

It's a steep rise on to the Brooklyn Bridge but the views are spectacular
It's a steep rise on to the Brooklyn Bridge but the views are spectacular © Dag Olav Nielsen/Alamy

Take the first ramp to run across the bridge and head into Brooklyn. Turn right to head east on Prospect Street followed by a right on to jay street to pick up the Manhattan Bridge, where the city’s iconic skyline will rise before you as you run back to the island. A 5k circuit will take you right to the end of that bridge. From there, it’s a short walk back to Fulton station, or if you have time and fancy something longer, head back to the river and run around Manhattan’s southern tip. 

The absolute best time to run the bridges route is at sunrise, when your only company will be other joggers and couples taking wedding photos — and when the views will be at their most spectacular. Failing that, late evening. Do not even contemplate it during the middle of the day, even out of peak tourist season, as the Brooklyn Bridge will be unbearably crowded. Also be prepared: the ramps on to the bridges are deceptively tough and there are no easily accessible water fountains on the route. 

3. Central Park loop 

  • Good for: people watching
  • Not so good for: getting trampled 
  • FYI: if you want to buy drinks, bring cash — vendor stalls don’t accept cards 
Map showing running route in Central Park, New York

No New York running list would be complete without a nod to Central Park. My favourite 5k begins at the entrance on West 67th Street. Head north on the main outer loop before joining the stunning reservoir at the centre of the park. Run a lap around it anticlockwise before heading south again. 

Central Park provides encounters with all man kind - and plenty of animals too
Central Park provides encounters with all man kind - and plenty of animals too © Pascal Perich

This is a people-watching route like few others; on a recent lap I encountered a man pushing a buggy containing two little dogs (dog prams are a thing here), and teenagers zipping around on electric skateboards. You’re equally likely to see Columbia University’s track teams, cross-country skiers in winter and Olympic speed cyclists — and that’s just on the running paths. The rich tapestry of humanity elsewhere in the park offers such ample distraction that you’ll barely feel the miles fly by. 

The park also offers facilities galore: there are water fountains to drink from, vendors selling drinks and ice lollies, and free public toilets dotted at various places. Day break and sunset are the best times to run it to get the full effect of the sun reflecting off the reservoir as it rises and falls against the silhouette of Manhattan’s skyline. During the summer, the route will be well-traversed long after the sun sets. In winter, the path will be lit but for safety’s sake, if you’re running alone, it’s best to avoid the reservoir and stick to the main path. The reservoir section is also best avoided during peak tourist hours in the middle of the day, unless you have especially sharp elbows and are inordinately patient. 

4. The High Line 

  • Good for: unique views of New York’s skyline
  • Not so good for: long-distance runners
  • FYI: it’s probably the city’s least well-known amazing run
Map showing running route on High Line, New York

The High Line is a 1.5 mile public park on the west side of lower Manhattan, situated on a disused stretch of elevated railway line. It runs from Gansevoort Street and 12th Street in the Meatpacking district, north through Chelsea to 34th Street. It’s thronged with tourists for much of the day, but in the early mornings and late evenings, it’s runners’ territory. 

High Line opens at 7am in the summer
High Line opens at 7am in the summer © Jon Arnold Images/Alamy

For the full effect, start at the southernmost point, and run north, among old classic New York buildings and wonders of modern architecture such as Zaha Hadid’s curved glass apartment on 28th Street. You’ll pass carefully planted shrubs and greens, various contemporary art exhibits and even the occasional coffee stand. As you round the curve towards the Hudson river at the end of the path, above the sprawl of Penn Station’s infinite railway lines, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the water. Double back to see it all again — this time with the towers of Wall Street in the south rising up to meet you. The High Line opens at 7am in the summer but is pleasurably runnable until at least 9pm; it closes at 11pm. 

5. Upper East Side river run 

  • Good for: getting close to the river
  • Not so good for: traffic noise
  • FYI: be prepared to detour off the river when roadworks are taking place (as they often are)
Map showing running route by East River, New York

The East River is something of a puzzle for New York runners. On one hand, it offers stunning views of Roosevelt Island and the city’s bridges, including the Williamsburg, Queensboro and Manhattan bridges, and it tends to be less crowded than the Hudson River path to the west, which is crammed with amenities. 

TCCP5K Aerial view looking up towards the river bank of the Upper East Side, NYC which looks over towards Roosevelt Island. New York City from helicopter point of view. Queensboro Bridge with Manhattan skyscrapers. Credit: age fotostock / Alamy
The East River offers stunning views of Roosevelt Island and the city's bridges © fotostock/Alamy

On the East side, the river seems closer. Purer. But, on the other hand, the path seems to be in a permanent state of redevelopment, sending runners back on to Manhattan’s tangled streets for unpredictable stretches.

Time for a trot

In a series from FT Globetrotter, our new insider city guides for the modern business traveller, FT writers share their secrets for great runs in global business destinations

London 
Royal parks and Thames riverside

Paris
Pleasant gardens and urban grit

New York
Central Park and priceless views

Tokyo
The Imperial Palace stands out

For a straight shot, start at 60th Street, just under the Queensboro Bridge, and run straight up the hill towards the river. It’ll hurt — but it’s immediately followed by a downhill stretch that takes you to the riverbank. Run along the riverside path, interruption free, for about 2k, finishing up with a big ramp up to a bridge that crosses FDR Drive around 81st Street. Run up the bridge for spectacular views and the reward of running right back down the hill and looping back to your starting point.

Graphics by Liz Faunce 

Where do you go running in New York? Or simply, what do you do in New York and where do you go? We’d love for you to share your city secrets here, or in the comments

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FT writers and readers share their top tips for staying healthy when travelling for work, including the best ways to navigate a city, where to work out and great places to eat well. See more in FT Globetrotter, our new insider city guides for business travellers.

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