17 things to do in Central Park

The lung of the Big Apple is an ideal place for strolling, picnicking, renting a boat or riding a bike.

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

16 min read

17 things to do in Central Park

A sunny day in Central Park | ©Hellotickets

With its 341 hectares of extension, Central Park is the largest urban park in New York and its green lung, a beautiful place where New Yorkers gather to take a nice walk, sunbathe or play sports and disconnect from the bustle of the city.

It tops the list of the best parks in New York and surely you have seen it countless times as a scene of many movies. It is convenient to remember that it is more than 800 meters wide and more than 4 kilometers long. Considering this fact, walking through Central Park would be exhausting. In order to get an overview, you can join a guided tour or see it on your own, for which I have made this list of must-sees:

1. Tour the park by bike

Central Park Bike Tour| ©Hellotickets
Central Park Bike Tour| ©Hellotickets

There are many ways to tour Central Park, but the time you have may not be infinite and you may be afraid to leave things behind. The truth is that touring the park by bike is a very good option, as it will allow you to go around the park in much less time and see its main points of interest. Besides, you have several options:

Rent a bike in Central Park

2. Visit the Central Park Zoo

Image of one of the sea lions at the Central Park Zoo| ©NYC & Company
Image of one of the sea lions at the Central Park Zoo| ©NYC & Company

It was the first zoo in New York (1860) and specializes in certain species such as lemurs, grizzly bears, white leopards, red pandas or sea lions, but children will know it for its famous penguins, which inspired the hit movies "Madagascar".

You need to buy the ticket in advance, but fortunately the prices are not excessive. An adult ticket costs around 14 € and children pay less about 10 €, which makes it an affordable plan (considering the standard Manhattan prices). Another option is to take this tour of New York with a visit to the Central Park Zoo.

And if you prefer to know the flora

Visit the Conservatory Gardens: this is a huge garden divided into three different styles (English, French and Italian) with beautiful seasonal plants and flowers. The atmosphere here is very relaxed, as there are no cyclists or joggers, so you can take a leisurely stroll enjoying the scenery.

Book tickets to Central Park Zoo

3. Tour Central Park by horse-drawn carriage

Carriage in Central Park| ©Euan Semple
Carriage in Central Park| ©Euan Semple

If you want to feel like a movie star, there is no better plan than a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. A tour of approximately 20 minutes in which you will discover the most interesting points of the park and, in addition, you will have the option to customize the tour thanks to the recommendations and guidance of the professional driver-guide.

This tour is private for you and a maximum of four people can ride in the carriage. An ideal option if you want to visit the park and have little time or if you want to have a special evening. In addition, it has a wide variety of departure times. My recommendation: take your ride at sunset to appreciate all the beauty of the sky.

Book a horse-drawn carriage tour of Central Park

4. Immerse yourself in the movies with a tour of the locations of legendary films

Movie in Central Park| ©agent j loves nyc
Movie in Central Park| ©agent j loves nyc

And if you are passionate about movies, don't hesitate to book a tour of Central Park with movie locations, where you will visit up to 30 movie sets. *Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sex and the City, Taxi Driver, The Avengers or Ghostbusters are some of the films that chose Central Park for their scenes. You will be amazed!

You will not miss any detail of all the historical places in the park, because you will be accompanied by a professional guide in this two-hour walking tour.

Book a tour of Central Park with movie locations

5. Visit the museums and landmark buildings surrounding Central Park

Dakota Building and Upper West Side skyline from Central Park| ©Hellotickets
Dakota Building and Upper West Side skyline from Central Park| ©Hellotickets

Apart from all the sites I have already mentioned to see in Central Park, in your route you have to include some museums and buildings that are on the edge of the park. The most important from north to south are the following:

  • Guggenheim Museum: One of the best museums in New York for its magnificent collection of modern art and the spectacular architecture of its modernist building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Guggenheim is an icon of the 20th century.
  • MET Museum: The largest museum in the city and one of the most prominent in the city. Its collection brings together works of art from all over the world with more than 5,000 years of history. The MET is fascinating!
  • Museum of Natural History: This is one of the must-see museums in New York. It was created for the study of the universe, the Earth, the human being and the dissemination of science.
  • Dakota Building: Located on the Upper West Side, this apartment building is sadly famous for the murder of John Lennon in 1980, when he was about to enter his house.
  • Ghostbusters Building: At 55 Central Park West is the iconicGhostbusters building, where some of the most mythical scenes of the movie take place.

Book your ticket to the American Museum of Natural History

6. Walk around The Pond

Girls playing at The Pond| ©Hellotickets
Girls playing at The Pond| ©Hellotickets

Most of the park's attractions are located in the southern half, between 59th and 86th. The Pond, at 1.4 acres, is the fourth largest lake in Central Park and a haven for migratory birds. The Pond is located in a sort of valley, so that the noise is surprisingly quiet and it is a haven of peace, ideal for watching the sunset.

Other lakes or reservoirs in the park:

  • Harlem Meer: Another of the lakes that exist in Central Park and a jewel that not many know about. It is common to see fishermen here on the condition that they return the fish to the water and people having a picnic. Being surrounded by large trees, it gives the feeling of being isolated urban New York for a moment. In spring it is impressive to see how the roses invade this part of Central Park.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir: With 43 hectares it is the largest lake in Central Park. Until the 90's it was a drinking water reservoir for New York, but nowadays it only supplies the other lakes in the park.

Book a tour of Central Park

7. Rent a boat on The Lake

Central Park Boat Tours| ©Hellotickets
Central Park Boat Tours| ©Hellotickets

The Lake is the second largest lake in the park after Reservoir. It is crossed by the Bow Bridge, where you can rent small boats or gondola rides during the summer. Taking a boat ride at any time of the day is a quiet and super relaxing experience, but if the weather permits, I recommend you do it at sunset, when the colors of the park and the surrounding buildings take on a magical color.

If you want to rent a boat on The Lake, you should know that it can accommodate up to four people and the price is from 15 € per hour, although you will have to pay 5 € more for each additional 15 minutes you take to return it. Normally you will be asked for a **deposit of around 20 € ** which is returned upon your return when they check that the boat is in perfect condition.

The opening hours are from 10 a.m. to sunset, from April to November, so take advantage of this plan if you are traveling to New York in the spring, summer or fall.

8. Go ice skating at Wollman Rink, their winter rink

Central Park Ice Rink| ©FJKFJK / Flickr.com
Central Park Ice Rink| ©FJKFJK / Flickr.com

One of the most typical plans in New York during the winter (and even more if we talk about Christmas) is to go ice skating in Central Park. Just in the south corner of the park you will find Wollman Rink, a spectacular ice rink where you can slide on the ice from 10 am to 10 pm every day of the week (be careful, on Mondays they close around 2:30).

Regarding the price, adults pay about 12.50 € and children from 6-7 € approximately, and skate rental is available at the entrance of the same rink from ten euros more. Remember to bring cash because they do not accept credit cards. Once there, they will ask you your foot size so they can give you a pair of skates. It is a great plan that awaits you in New York from November.

If you are dreaming of a postcard city because you are lucky enough to visit New York at Christmas, I leave you other plans like this that you can not miss in the most magical time of the year: 15 Christmas things to do in New York City.

9. Take a ride on the mythical Central Park Carousel

The famous Central Park Carousel| ©Bike Rental Central Park
The famous Central Park Carousel| ©Bike Rental Central Park

This carousel is an icon of the park that has been in operation since 1871. It is one of the largest carousels in the country and has been enjoyed by many generations. A 3 and a half minute ride costs $3 (about $2.80). Nearby you will see an area for outdoor sports.

Although it may seem a bit childish, you would be surprised at the number of adults who come and try it without children. Maybe it has something to do with the photos that many people think of uploading to their Instagram, but the truth is that the location of the merry-go-round gives the whole family a lot of fun.

10. Refuel at Tavern on the Green

Tavern on the Green's terrace in Central Park.| ©Paul Wagtouicz
Tavern on the Green's terrace in Central Park.| ©Paul Wagtouicz

Open since 1934, Tavern on the Green is Central Park's most famous restaurant. It specializes in American cuisine and is a highly recommended place to enjoy its terrace in spring, with a garden full of flowers and wonderful views of the park.

It is probably not the best restaurant you will try during your trip, but the location and the environment make it a very nice place to stop to rest (or to warm up) before or after your walk through the park.

On their menu you can find everything from salads to sandwiches and burgers, but what I liked the most was the soup of the day, which I assure you is perfect to warm up your body after an ice skating session on a winter day in New York.

11. Go for a run on the beautiful promenade The Mall

Running in Central Park| ©Hellotickets
Running in Central Park| ©Hellotickets

If you go to Central Park you have to run at least part of this wonderful promenade. The Mall is the main promenade in the park, running from 66th Street to 72nd Street, leading to the beautiful Bethesda Terrace, which I'll tell you about in a moment.

I like to imagine the upper class of the city arriving at the park in their carriages decades ago and going down for a nice stroll here - a real trip back in time!

Today it's a popular gathering place for street performers and skateboarders, among others. (By the way, you'll be amazed at the level of many of the skateboarders that hang out here!) There is also quite often live music along the route. At the south end of The Mall is The Literary Walk, a promenade with statues of famous writers such as Shakespeare, Robert Burns and Sir William Scott.

12. Take photos from Bethesda Terrace

From the steps of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park| ©Hellotickets
From the steps of Bethesda Terrace in Central Park| ©Hellotickets

Bethesda Terrace is considered the heart of Central Park. The ensemble is presided over by the Bethesda Fountain (1873), one of its most photographed attractions, but the top of the terrace and the beautifully tiled and arched lower passageway deserves a lot of attention as well.

Live musicians playing around the fountain are quite common, and many New Yorkers use it as a meeting place to catch up with friends (and first dates). You'll also see groups of teenagers strolling here after school and it's a place where more than one has proposed to their significant other (I'll leave it at that!).

13. Pay tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields

John Lennon Tribute in Central Park| ©Hellotickets
John Lennon Tribute in Central Park| ©Hellotickets

Strawberry Fields is the name of the John Lennon memorial located between 71st and 74th Streets that was named after a song by The Beatles: "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Lennon lived very close to here, in the famous Dakota Building and in tribute a large mosaic was set in the ground with the word "Imagine", referring to one of his best known songs. Today, this circular mosaic has become a center of pilgrimage for his fans.

You will identify it right away because there are usually musicians playing live Lennon songs around it, as well as a group of tourists waiting to take the mythical photo with the mosaic.

14. Go in search of Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland Statue| ©Hellotickets
Alice in Wonderland Statue| ©Hellotickets

One of the most famous statues in Central Park in honor of the characters of the writer Lewis Caroll. It was specially designed for children to climb on it and take a fun photo with Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter. Not far away is the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, author of "The Little Mermaid".

Other statues in Central Park

Most of the statues that we can see in Central Park have been donated by organizations and private individuals while a few by the city itself. There are statues dedicated to animals, writers, fictional characters, historical figures, scientists and even a World War I regiment.

  • Writers: William Shakespeare, Lewis Caroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Sir Walter Scott and Fitz-Greene Halleck.
  • Fictional characters: Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet and Burnett Memorial Fountain.
  • Historical figures: Christopher Columbus, Simon Bolivar, King Władysław II Jagiełłło and Secretary of State Daniel Webster.
  • Scientists: naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.
  • War memorial: to the 107th New York infantry regiment that participated in WWI.
  • Animals: Eagles and Prey, Still Hunt and Balto (the latter in honor of sled dogs that went through a snowstorm to deliver medicine to stop a diphtheria epidemic in Alaska).

15. Visit Belvedere Castle

Views of Belvedere Castle| ©Centralpark.com
Views of Belvedere Castle| ©Centralpark.com

This is a Victorian-style fortification designed in 1865. There is now a weather observatory here, but you can visit the castle and enjoy panoramic views of the Delacorte Theater, Great Lawn, Turtle Pond Lake and Ramble Forest.

16. Have a picnic on Great Lawn

Enjoying an after-dinner nap in Central Park.| ©Hellotickets
Enjoying an after-dinner nap in Central Park.| ©Hellotickets

This is the largest meadow in Central Park, where New Yorkers gather to sunbathe or picnic when the weather is nice. If you visit the park in the summer, several free events are held here, including concerts by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Where to buy take-out food

If the weather is fine and it's a sunny day, don't hesitate to organize the perfect plan in Central Park. But where to buy food for a picnic?

  • Whole Foods Market: Located at 10 Columbus Circle, this supermarket has a large buffet of salads, prepared dishes, sandwiches, burgers, organic products and juices.
  • The Plaza Food Hall: This is a food market in the subway floor of the Plaza Hotel with a bakery, pastry shop and bar/restaurant where you can buy different products. You can eat here at one of its tables or bars or order a take away to go to Central Park. The Plaza Food Hall is located at 1 W 59th St., Central Park.
  • Street stalls: Scattered throughout Central Park there are several food stands where you can buy hot dogs, waffles, ice cream, sandwiches and drinks.
  • Café Express: It is the cheap option of The Loeb Boathouse where they offer hamburgers, sandwiches and salads. It has a very nice garden where you can eat when the weather is nice, although they also have a take-away service that allows you to enjoy your meal with a picnic in the park.
  • Le Pain Quotidien: It is a simple cafeteria with affordable prices for lunch or snacks. They have a healthy menu, coffee, pastries and a delicious lemonade, which you can enjoy on their cozy terrace overlooking the park. They also have free WiFi.

17. For lunch, The Loeb Boathouse

The Loeb Boathouse behind the lake| ©Posta.com.mx
The Loeb Boathouse behind the lake| ©Posta.com.mx

On the shores of The Lake is this elegant restaurant that has been the setting for popular movies and series such as "When Harry Met Sally," "27 Dresses" or "Sex and the City" during its more than six decades of history.

Plan your visit to Central Park

Subway| ©Franco Folini
Subway| ©Franco Folini

How to get there?

  • Bus: lines M1, M2, M3, M4 and M10.
  • Metro: lines 5, 6, 7, A, B, C and D.

Location and schedule

Between Fifth and Eighth avenues and 59th and 110th streets. The park is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

What is the most popular entrance?

The Fifth Avenue entrance to the Plaza Hotel. It is the most frequented, although if you are looking to start the visit with less hustle and bustle of tourists and more tranquility you can go north towards Harlem.

How much time to spend

Depending on the length of your stay in New York, you can plan your visit to Central Park in different ways:

  • In case it is short, you can dedicate a morning or an afternoon for which you will have to draw an itinerary thinking about the time you have, since you will not be able to see everything as it is a park of enormous dimensions. If you only have a couple of hours, rent a bike to make sure you cover the main points.
  • If you are in New York for a week you can dedicate a whole day and take the opportunity to eat there either with a picnic or at a restaurant such as Tavern on the Green.
  • Another option is to explore Central Park for several days combining different parts of the park each day with some of the museums that are close to it.
  • If you are short on time, consider taking an electric scooter tour of Central Park- the fastest way to make sure you don't miss anything!

How to find your way around Central Park?

Central Park has many different entrances and once there you can get disoriented due to the sheer size of the park. In order to avoid this, I advise you to look at the lampposts because they are numbered. The first two digits correspond to the street number that is closest to you while the last number indicates whether you are more on the west or east side of the park.

Also, the even digits mean you are closer to the east side of Manhattan while the odd digits indicate you are on the west side.

Information points in Central Park

In case you feel lost or want to find the best route to get somewhere in Central Park you can go to any of the four information points in the park.

  • Dairy Visitor Center: Located in the center of the park at 65th Street. It is open Monday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • Information Kiosk: In Central Park there are three information kiosks to go to if you have any questions during your visit: West 60th Street, West 72nd Street and East 72nd Street.

Public Restrooms in Central Park

If you feel the call of nature while visiting Central Park, don't worry, there are public restrooms! Here are the ones that are open year-round:

  • Heckscher Playground.
  • Delacorte Theater Restrooms.
  • Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.
  • Ramble Shed.
  • Ancient Playground.
  • Conservatory Garden.
  • North Meadow Recreation Center.

When to visit Central Park?

Getting to know Central Park| ©Central Park Tours
Getting to know Central Park| ©Central Park Tours

Central Park is, without a doubt, one of the must-see things to see in Manhattan. The best time to visit the park is spring or fall, two times when the beauty of Central Park's flora is at its peak with the flowering of the vegetation or the changing color of the leaves on the trees, which is a beautiful spectacle of color for the eyes.

However, winter also has its charm as the iconic Wollman Rink ice rink is set up and in summer Central Park is an oasis of coolness to relax in when New York's high temperatures are at their peak.

What day of the week is the best day to explore Central Park?

Central Park tops the list of the best parks in New York and any time is a good time to take a nice walk through this Manhattan park, but it is true that Sundays have a special magic as it is a holiday and many New Yorkers take the opportunity to go to Central Park for a picnic in the meadows, a photo tour, sports, etc..

Book a tour of Central Park

What are the best views of Central Park?

A day in Central Park| ©Central Park Tours
A day in Central Park| ©Central Park Tours

Central Park is well appreciated on foot or by bike, as we have seen. It's full of hidden hills, bridges, lakes and overlooks that will give you incredible postcards.

But as with almost everything in New York, it is best to enjoy Central Park from a bird's eye view. If you want to see Central Park from above, the best views are from the Top of the Rock or from the terrace of the MET Museum.

Another option is to join a helicopter ride over Manhattan and enjoy the immensity of the park in its entirety. There are several tours that comb the entire park, from south to north, and I assure you that they will leave you with your mouth open.

Book a tour of Central Park

Frequently asked questions

  • Is it dangerous to ride a bicycle in New York?

    New York has improved greatly in recent years for the average cyclist, thanks to the many bike lanes available for use.

  • Can you ride a bike on the sidewalks in New York City?

    In fact, it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, however, it is a law that is rarely enforced. If you ride on the sidewalk, the most important thing is to respect pedestrians, pedal slowly and get off the bike when necessary.

  • Should I wear a helmet while cycling in New York?

    Most bike tours and rental agencies will ask you to wear a helmet for your safety, and although it is not required by law we strongly recommend that you wear one, especially in a city as busy as New York.