They might be behind baseball and the Beach Boys in summer's pantheon, but amusement rides are as much a rite of sunny, sticky days as any pastime. New York City has its share of such seasonal thrills, mostly down in Brooklyn, though you'll find less-publicized diversions around the five boroughs. And it's not just fun fairs that hold the capacity to thrill: let the definition of ride expand and you'll soon think of other types of spins to take for adventure, contemplation, scenery gazing, jolts of culture or even just hitting hard-to-reach parts of the City. Read on for a quick whirl around some of our favorites. —Andrew Rosenberg
A Thrill a Minute
There's one place to go in New York City for real thrill rides: Coney Island. The seaside amusement district, in the southern reaches of Brooklyn, offers loads of options for fun—an old-timey freak show, a stroll on the boardwalk, the quintessential experience of eating a Nathan's hot dog—but it's the stomach-churning rides that most come here to conquer. Foremost among them is the hair-raising Cyclone, whose capacity to induce screams hasn't let up for its nearly 90-year history. Part of the charm of this wooden coaster is auditory; you can hear (and, yes, feel) every creak and rumble as the cars roll up, down and around the tracks, the clapping and exhalations of relief at the end as much for the whole thing having held up as for you having passed your initiation. Its legend and top-billing intact, the Cyclone does have a new nearby competitor for the fast-pumping hearts of adrenaline junkies: the Thunderbolt. Though the speed of the Cyclone was increased in 2014, it still doesn't reach the 65 miles per hour that the Thunderbolt (which debuted that same year) hits. This coaster climbs at nearly a 90-degree angle, inching toward a height of 125 feet before plunging back down at that same angle. A large loop de loop and a corkscrew add to the two-minute-long excitement.
Both are part of Luna Park, which also features the human-cannonball imitation of the Sling Shot, the seemingly constant curves of the Steeplechase, the flat-on-your-stomach flight of the Soarin' Eagle and the how-did-I-get-myself-into-this flip-flopping of the Zenobio.
The other theme parks in town—such as Adventurer's Park in Brooklyn and Fantasy Shore in Staten Island—offer up relatively tame thrills. There's a Tilt-A-Whirl and water slide at the former, a free-fall ride and smallish kiddie coaster, the Verrazano Viper, at the latter. Along with the amusements at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Luna Park's neighbor in Coney Island, and Victorian Gardens (Wollman Rink's summertime alter ego in Central Park) they should at the least give the littlest ones in your group some kicks. —AR
Chewing the Scenery
A beautiful example of function meeting form, the Roosevelt Island Tram emerges from the buildings of Manhattan's east side to sidle alongside the Queensboro Bridge as it crosses the East River. It's just a regular MetroCard fare to enjoy the aerial views—and reach a scenic spot of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, that relatively few visitors venture to.
Another alternative piece of transportation, the free City Island Seaside Trolley (first Fridays of the month) is a hop-on, hop-off affair, running from the terminus of the 6 train in the Bronx, at Pelham Bay Park station, toward the end of City Island Avenue on City Island. It does stop at the garden-fronted Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, but you needn't use that feature to enjoy the ride. Just sit back and look at the woods and greens of Pelham Bay Park, the City's largest green space, and the low-lying buildings on City Island, akin to a small fishing village. At the end of the road, you can walk to Johnny's Reef, a seafood shack with an array of picnic tables outside: grab some raw clams, fried scallops and a cold beer and look out on the Long Island Sound during sunset.
Of course if you really want to see some arresting sights, sign on for the Wild Asia Monorail at the Bronx Zoo. It's a slow-moving 20-minute crawl through a forested corner of the park, crossing the Bronx River twice during its loop. Your tour guide will point out the tigers and elephants, exotic birds and red pandas roaming the pastures, riverbanks and other natural habitats. —AR
Active and Interactive Trails
There might be some times when you want to take control of the reins yourself, rather than getting whizzed and tossed around, powerless to stop the ride. If that's the case, consider taking advantage of one of the City's few remaining horse stables. The Jamaica Bay Riding Academy offers the most exotic locale, with rides along the trails and beaches of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Kensington Stables, in Brooklyn, offers lessons and rides in Prospect Park, while the Bronx Equestrian Center does the same up in Pelham Bay Park. In addition to moseying along both of these trails, at the latter you can treat the kids to a pony ride for as little as $5 a pop.
Further south in the Bronx, the Bronx Culture Trolley runs the first Wednesday of every month, taking visitors around a host of cultural spaces in a bus that's a replica of a vintage streetcar. Here, the point is definitely to step on and off, so you can look at artists' studios, catch a poetry reading or watch some other similarly edifying performance. —AR
Spinning in Circles
Central Park's Friedsam Memorial Carousel is the NYC ride with the most literary pedigree: it was immortalized in Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield has a rare moment of joy watching his little sister go round and round. This is actually the fourth carousel on this spot since the 1870s, with the latest one installed in 1951.
Jane Walentas is the artist behind historic Jane's Carousel, in DUMBO's Brooklyn Bridge Park. The ride is an American classic from the famed Philadelphia Toboggan Company, built in 1922 for a park in Ohio and then auctioned off in 1984 to Jane, who led a painstaking and personal restoration of the ride that took more than two decades. Today it resides inside an acrylic jewel box designed by Jean Nouvel and is dramatically situated for magnificent views from the Brooklyn waterfront.
The borough's Prospect Park Carousel originally spun its magic in Coney Island way back in 1912. It's got 53 hand-carved horses and a menagerie of other animals like a lion, a giraffe and even a couple of dragons, whichwere originally crafted by famed carousel designer Charles Carmel. Moved north into Prospect Park in the 1950s, it was restored to its original glory in 1990.
A touch of Paris, meanwhile, can be found in Bryant Park on Le Carrousel, one of the latest additions to the City's carousel inventory. Designed to complement the park's French classical style, the ride was custom designed and built in Brooklyn and installed in the park in 2002. This kid-size carousel is on the petite side, with just 14 animals, and instead of the usual carnival calliope music it features French cabaret songs. Zut alors!
Watching the Wheels
Construction has begun on the New York Wheel, Staten Island's entry in the world’s tallest observation wheel sweepstakes (it will best Vegas' High Roller by about 100 feet). But there's a very worthy consolation prize for those unwilling to wait. For almost 100 years, the Wonder Wheel has towered over Coney Island, providing riders with some stunning views and surprising scares too. This Ferris wheel on steroids has eight stationary cars that rise 150 feet for some spectacular vistas of the City and the Atlantic Ocean. But the real thrills are found in the 16 swinging cars that move along twisty tracks, making this landmarked ride uniquely fun.