Washington Square Park
The cultural heart of Downtown bohemian culture and nerve-center of New York University, this 9.75-acre space is recognizable by Washington’s Arch (at the base of Fifth Avenue) and its famous fountain at the center, where performers entertain mass crowds on sunny weekends. Around the park you’ll find all types: NYU classes taking al fresco sessions, novice musicians jamming, families young and old playing on the grass, locals letting their dogs loose in the flirty dog park, and vibrant characters from every corner of the city reading, laughing, and checking each other out. Its history is long and varied; before the city society depicted in Edith Wharton’s books called the park and its surrounding area home, it was Native American marshland that was then claimed by the Dutch. Interestingly (don’t let this dissuade you, now), there are approximately 20,000 bodies buried beneath the park, due to its former status as a “potter’s field” during the yellow fever epidemics of the late-1700s. It was also the backdrop for the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire, where 146 workers died as a result of unsafe working conditions. Onto happier times (sort of), Washington Square was the heart of beatnik and folk culture in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, and to this day retains some of its renegade artistic air (although a severe clampdown on the drug dealers and seedy types of yore has stolen some of that rough-hewn charm). Today, it hosts a daily mix of diverse locals – from families to wackos – and you’ll be glad you were a part of it.