7 Environmentally Friendly Activities and Tours in NYC

Kemi Ibeh

(Updated 08/18/2022)

New York ranks high on many lists of top eco-friendly cities, reflecting its dedication to a better environmental future. For a start, the five boroughs are full of green buildings, small urban farms and garden-filled areas, many of which offer fun activities, educational tours and ways you can join in to make a positive impact. Explore sustainable things to do at the seven spots below, and see our Green NYC guide for other environmentally friendly ways to explore the City.

Billion Oyster Project

Governors Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Soundview and Coney Island

New York Harbor was once home to a thriving oyster population that cleaned and filtered waterways and protected the shoreline from river erosion. The Industrial Revolution and growing sewage introduced pollution to the harbor, killing off oysters within a century. In 2014, Billion Oyster Project began restoring oyster reefs back to their habitat in sites across the City. There are programs for individual volunteers, students and corporate entities that cover species identification, restoration and monitoring—you can become a project ambassador or a community scientist with your own research station. The organization, which has field stations in the five boroughs, aims to restore a billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2035.

Courtesy, Randall's Island Park Alliance

Randall’s Island Urban Farm

Wards Meadow Loop, Wards Island Park, Randall’s Island

Despite its building density, NYC has hundreds of urban farms and gardens that produce fruit, vegetables and herbs distributed and consumed within the five boroughs. Randall’s Island Urban Farm, set on an acre of land, grows hundreds of plants and teaches visitors botany and sustainable farming practices like pollination and composting. The farm also has rice paddies, berry bushes and greenhouses, all of which are open to the public on Exploration Days during weekends in the summer months.

Javits Center Green Roof Tour. Photo: Julienne Schaer

The Javits Center Green Roof Tour

429 Eleventh Ave., Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan

If you’ve never been on a working green roof, seeing the 6.75-acre sedum rooftop of the Javits Center makes a great first experience. You’ll learn about the birds and bees: that is, the roof has honeybee hives that produce jars of honey for sale and is also home to bats, nesting birds and various insects. Find out about the reduction of bird hits on the building’s windows thanks to recent renovations, and how the green roof helps lower energy consumption in parts of the property. Tours are available to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Photo: Victor Llorente

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

1000 Richmond Terrace, Randall Manor, Staten Island

Staten Island is known as the “greenest borough” of NYC, with nearly 60 percent of its area covered by greenery—and much of that open for nature-oriented activities. So put on comfy shoes and hop on the ferry for a volunteer day at Snug Harbor Heritage Farm, which grows produce using sustainable practices like composting and crop rotation. There is plenty of opportunity to weed, plant or otherwise help in the gardens. In 2021, the farm generated 22,000 pounds of produce, roughly a fifth of which was donated to the community.

Bryant Park Beekeeping

Bryant Park, 40th to 42nd Streets, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Manhattan

Climate change and rapid urbanization threaten bee species globally, but NYC beekeepers have made it their duty to maintain these insects in apiaries around the City—a good thing, as without these tiny pollinators, many fruits, flowers and vegetables would simply not exist. The one in Bryant Park, which holds 10,000 honeybees, is open for viewing between April and July. You can also attend instructional classes on beekeeping on select noon Fridays at Bryant Park’s Reading Room (also seasonal); it’s a chance for budding beekeepers and gardeners to learn about bee colonies and their role in the ecosystem.

GrowNYC Teaching Garden

Governors Island

This urban farm educates guests on farming and harvesting vegetables, fruit and herbs. It also incorporates zero-waste ideals by using recycled lumber for vegetable beds and rainwater harvesting as irrigation. Other educational sights include an aquaponics system, rain garden and nutrition workshops, affording visitors the opportunity to plant, water and cook produce. The farm is mostly aimed at students and conducts programming throughout the school year, but it is open to the public on weekends between May 1 and October 31.

Courtesy, Brooklyn Grange Farm

Brooklyn Grange Farm

850 3rd Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Brooklyn Grange operates rooftop urban farms in Brooklyn Navy Yard and Sunset Park, growing more than 100,000 pounds of fruit and veg using hydroponics systems and organic farming practices. They have a range of events, including classes like Introduction to Microgreens, so you can learn to cultivate them in those cramped NYC apartments, and Caribbean Cooking, to learn Taino ingredients and methods. Also on offer are farm tours (at both locations), workshops and hive inspections.

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