With its 842 acres of extension, Central Park is the largest urban park in New York and the green heart of Manhattan, a beautiful place where New Yorkers go for a walk, sunbathe or play sports and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city. A beautiful place where New Yorkers gather to take a nice walk, sunbathe or play sports and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the city. But, as a newcomer to the city, what is there to see and do in Central Park?
Surely you have seen Central Park countless times in movies and series. Before embarking on a visit, it is worth remembering that it is more than half a mile wide and almost 2,5 miles long. This is larger than the Vatican or Monaco, two independent countries.
With this in mind, touring Central Park in its entirety might be exhausting and perhaps unnecessary. Just so you can visit the best of the park and continue exploring New York afterward, I've put together this list of the highlights of the city's world-known park:
1. Rent a boat at The Lake
The Lake is the second largest lake in the park after Reservoir. You can cross it 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 peaceful and relaxing experience, but if the weather is nice, I recommend you do it an hour before sunset when the colors of the park and the surrounding buildings take on a charming hue.
If you feel like renting a boat, you should know that it has capacity for up to four people and the price is $ 15 per hour, although you will have to pay four dollars more for each additional 15 minutes it takes you to return it. Normally you will be asked for a $ 20 deposit which will be 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.
2. Ice skate at Wollman Rink, their winter rink
Ice skating in Central Park during the winter, and especially during Christmas, is a classic in New York City. To the south corner of the park, you will find Wollman Rink, a spectacular ice rink where you can slide on the ice from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week (except on Mondays, when they close around 2:30 p.m.).
Regarding the price, adults pay $ 12 and children $ 6 and skate rental is available at the entrance of the rink for an extra $ 10. Remember to bring cash because they do not accept credit cards. Once there, you will be asked for your foot size so they can give you a pair of skates.
If you are lucky enough to visit New York at Christmas, here are other things to do 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 (open in 1860) and specializes in certain species such as lemurs, grizzly bears, white leopards, red pandas, and sea lions. Children will be familiar with its famous penguins, which inspired the hit movie 'Madagascar'.
It is required to buy the admission ticket in advance, and 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). You can get your tickets on the official website linked above.
A treat for plant lovers
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 and enjoy the scenery.
4. Ride the iconic Central Park Carousel
This carousel is a symbol of the park and 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. You will find an outdoor sports area nearby.
Although it may seem a bit childish, you'd be surprised at the amount of adults who come and try it without children. Maybe it has to do with how popular the carousel is on Instagram, but whatever's the case, you can enjoy it regardless you're visiting New York with your friends or family.
5. Pick yourself up at Tavern on the Green
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 dine al fresco 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, before or after your walk in the park.
In 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 is perfect to warm up a bit after an ice skating session on a cold day in New York.
6. Go for a run on the beautiful promenade The Mall
If you go to Central Park, you should go for a jog on this wonderful promenade, even if it's a short one. The Mall is the main walk of the park, which goes from 66th Street to 72nd Street, leading to the beautiful Bethesda Terrace, which you can read more about below.
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's a popular gathering place where street performers and skateboarders, among others, hang out. Skaters here are quite good and you can watch them perform jaw-dropping tricks. Here, you can also find live music quite often.
At the south end of The Mall is The Literary Walk, a walk with statues of famous writers such as Shakespeare, Robert Burns, or Sir William Scott.
7. Take beautiful pics at 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 top of the terrace and the beautiful lower passageway decorated with tiles and arches deserves a lot of attention as well.
It is quite common to have live musicians playing around the fountain and is the meeting point of many New Yorkers both for friends and dates alike. 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 (wink, wink).
8. Pay homage to John Lennon at 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 nearby, in the famous Dakota Building and as a tribute a large mosaic was set in the ground with the word "Imagine", referring to one of his most famous songs. Today, this circular mosaic has become a center of pilgrimage for fans.
You'll identify it right away because there are usually musicians playing Lennon songs around it, as well as groups of tourists waiting to take the iconic photo with the mosaic.
9. Go around the lake The Pond
Most of the park's attractions are in the southern half, between 59th and 86th. The Pond, at 3.4 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 surprisingly the hustle and bustle of the city disappears and it is an ideal place 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 pop up in this part of Central Park.
- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir: With 106 acres it is the largest lake in Central Park. Until the 1990'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 Central Park's most famous statues honoring the characters of 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, and a few put in place by the city itself. You can find works of art 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 World War I.
- Animals: Eagles and Prey, Still Hunt and Balto (the latter in honor of sled dogs who rode through a snowstorm to deliver medicine to stop a diphtheria epidemic in Alaska).
11. Visit the Belvedere Castle
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, the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, and Ramble Forest.
12. Have a picnic on Great Lawn
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 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 think twice and go for 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 on 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 takeaway to go to Central Park. The Plaza Food Hall is located at 1 W 59th St.
- Street stands: Scattered throughout Central Park there are food stands where you can buy hot dogs, waffles, ice cream, sandwiches, and drinks.
- Express Coffee: It is the cheap option of The Loeb Boathouse where they offer burgers, sandwiches, and salads on their menu. 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 delicious lemonade, which you can enjoy on their cozy terrace overlooking the park. They also have free WiFi.
13. Ride a bike through the park
There are many ways to tour Central Park, but the time you have may not be infinite and you are afraid of leaving things to see. The truth is that touring the park by bike is a very good option, as it will allow you to visit it 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 tour every one of the park's points of interest.
A different and fun way to discover Central Park is to take a private bike taxi tour where you will be guided by a professional guide to see the most iconic places of this park 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 famous people.
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 located on the edges of the park. The most important ones 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: 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 New York's must-see museums. The Museum of Natural History 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 infamous for the 1980 murder of John Lennon as he was about to enter his home.
- Ghostbusters Building: At 55 Central Park West sits the iconic Ghostbusters building, where some of the film's most iconic scenes 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.
16. Plan your visit to Central Park
How to get there?
- Bus: M1, M2, M3, M4 and M10 lines.
- 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 a.m. to 1 a.m.
What is the most popular entrance?
The Fifth Avenue entrance to the Plaza Hotel. It is the most frequented one although if you are looking to start your 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 you want to do a short one, you can dedicate one morning or one afternoon for which you will have to plan an itinerary thinking about how much 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 of interest.
- If you staying in New York City for a longer time, a week for example, you can dedicate a whole day and take the opportunity to have lunch there, either with a picnic or at a restaurant like Tavern on the Green.
- Another option is to explore Central Park in separate days visiting different parts of the park each time and including visits to some of the museums located on the rim of the park.
How to find your way around Central Park?
Central Park has many different entrances and once there you can easily get lost given the sheer size of the park. If you don't want this to happen to you, you should keep an eye on the park's 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 any case, if you're 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 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Information Kiosk: There are three information kiosks in Central Park 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 while visiting Central Park you feel the call of nature, don't worry, there are public restrooms! Below you'll see 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
17. 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 blossoming 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 cool breeze where you can rest when New York's high temperatures strike the city.
What day is the best day to explore Central Park?
Any time is a good time to take a pleasant stroll through this Manhattan park but Sundays indeed have a special charm 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...
What are the best views of Central Park?
If you want to see Central Park from above, the best views are from the Top of the Rock or from the rooftop of the MET.
Frequently asked questions
Is it dangerous riding a Bicycle in New York?
New York has improved a lot over the years for the common bicyclist, as there are many bike lanes available to use.
Can you ride bikes on sidewalks in NYC?
It is actually illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk, however it is a rarely enforced law. Most importantly, you should respect pedestrians right of way, going slowly and walking your bike when necessary.
Do I need to wear a helmet when riding a bike around New York?
Most bike tours and rental agencies will require that you wear a helmet for safety, and while it's not against the law it's definitely recommended to wear one, especially in a city as busy as New York.