With its 341 hectares of extension, Central Park is the largest urban park in New York and its green lung, undoubtedly one of the essential things to see in Manhattan. A beautiful place where New Yorkers gather to take a nice walk, sunbathe or play sports and disconnect from the bustle of the city. What to see and what to do in Central Park?
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 and series. Before embarking on a visit, it is worth remembering that it is more than 800 meters wide and more than 4 kilometers long, so its dimensions are larger than the Vatican and Monaco, two independent countries.
Taking this into account, a complete tour of Central Park would be exhausting. In order to get an overview of the park and have energy left to continue exploring New York after this visit, I have made this list of must-sees:
1. Rent a boat on The Lake
The Lake is the second largest lake in the park after Reservoir. It is spanned by the Bow Bridge, where you can rent small boats or take 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 feel like renting a boat at The Lake, you should know that it can accommodate up to four people and the price is 15 dollars per hour, although you will have to pay four dollars more for each additional 15 minutes it takes to return it. Normally you will be asked for a deposit of $ 20 which is returned upon your return when they check that the boat is in perfect condition.
2. Ice skate at Wollman Rink, their winter rink
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 12 dollars and children 6, and skate rental is available at the entrance of the rink for ten dollars 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 the right 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: 11 Christmas things to do in New York City.
3. Visit the Central Park Zoo
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 be familiar with it because of its famous penguins, which inspired the successful "Madagascar" movies.
Advance ticket purchase is required, but fortunately the prices are not excessive. An adult ticket costs $13.95 and children pay less than $9, making it an affordable plan (considering standard Manhattan prices).
And if you prefer to see the flora
Visit the Conservatory Gardens: this is a huge garden divided into three distinct 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 and enjoy the scenery.
4. Ride the mythical Central Park Carousel
This carousel is an icon of the park that has been in operation since 1871. It is one of the largest merry-go-rounds in the country and has been enjoyed by many generations. A 3:30 minute ride costs $3. Nearby is an outdoor sports area.
Although it may seem a bit childish, you'd be surprised how many adults come and try it without children. Maybe it has 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 a lot of play to the whole family.
5. Stop to recharge your batteries at Tavern on the Green
Open since 1934, Tavern on the Green is the most famous restaurant in Central Park. 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 warm up) before or after your walk through the park.
In their menu you can find 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.
6. Go for a run along the beautiful promenade The Mall
If you go to Central Park you have to walk at least part of this wonderful promenade. The Mall is the main promenade of the park, which runs 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 city's upper class arriving at the park in their carriages decades ago and coming down for a nice stroll here - a real trip back in time!
Today it is a popular gathering place where street performers and skateboarders, among others, hang out (by the way, you will be amazed at the level of many of the skateboarders that hang out here!) It is also quite common to see live music along the route.
At the southern end of The Mall is The Literary Walk, a promenade with statues of famous writers such as Shakespeare, Robert Burns and Sir William Scott.
7. Take pictures from Bethesda Terrace
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 upper part of the terrace and the beautiful lower passageway decorated with tiles and arches deserves much attention as well.
It's not uncommon to have live musicians playing around the fountain and many New Yorkers use it as a meeting point 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!).
8. Pay tribute to John Lennon in Strawberry Fields
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 Lennon's songs live around it, as well as a group of tourists waiting to take the mythical photo with the mosaic.
9. Walk around The Pond
Most of the park's attractions are located in the southern half, between 59th and 86th. The Pond, at 1.4 hectares, is the fourth largest lake in Central Park and a haven for migratory birds. The Pond is located in a sort of valley, so the noise is surprisingly muted 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 gem 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. Surrounded by large trees, it gives the sensation of being isolated from urban New York for a moment, and 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.
10. Go in search of Alice in Wonderland
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).
11. Visit Belvedere Castle
It is a Victorian-style fortification designed in 1865. Today there is a weather observatory here but you can visit the castle and enjoy panoramic views of the Delacorte Theater, the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond Lake and Ramble Forest.
12. Have a picnic on Great Lawn
It is the largest meadow in Central Park, where New Yorkers gather to sunbathe or have a picnic when the weather is nice. If you visit the park in summer, several free events are organized here, such as 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 pleasant garden where to 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.
13. Bike through the park
There are many ways to tour Central Park, but the time you have available may not be infinite and you are afraid of leaving things to see. The truth is that touring the park by bicycle 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.
At the main entrances to the park you will see that there are stands where you can rent a bike: I recommend that you take it for about two hours, so you will have time to get to almost everything you need.
A different and fun way to discover Central Park is to take a private bike taxi tour where a professional guide will show you the most iconic places of this place and also others that usually go unnoticed by tourists. You will also see some of the locations of movies that have been filmed here, as well as several of the houses of celebrities.
14. Visit the museums and landmark buildings surrounding Central Park
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 around 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 home of the iconic Ghostbusters building, where some of the most mythical scenes of the movie take place.
15. For lunch, The Loeb Boathouse
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
How to get there
- Bus: M1, M2, M3, M4 and M10 lines.
- Subway: 5, 6, 7, A, B, C and D lines.
Location and hours
Between Fifth and Eighth avenues and 59th and 110th streets. The park is open from 6AM to 1 AM.
What is the most popular entrance?
The one on Fifth Avenue by 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:
- If it is a short visit, you can dedicate a morning or an afternoon, for which you will have to plan an itinerary thinking about the time you have available, 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.
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 numbers 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.
In addition, the even digits mean that you are closer to the east side of Manhattan while the odd digits indicate that 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 9AM to 5PM.
- 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 during your visit to Central Park you feel the call of nature, don't worry, there are public restrooms! Here are the ones that are open all 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?
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 where to rest when the high temperatures of New York press.
What day of the week is the best day to explore Central Park?
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 because 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..
What are the best views of Central Park?
Central Park is well appreciated on foot or by bike, as we have seen. It is full of hidden hills, bridges, lakes and viewpoints 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.
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?
It is, in fact, 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.