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Top things to do in Central Park

Top things to do in Central Park

Central Park is one of the treasures of New York City and many New Yorkers could not imagine their city without it. Central Park has around 40 million visitors every year and is a must during your visit.

Tourist or local, Central Park truly has something for everyone. Central Park has many beautiful places to visit such as Bethesda Terrace, Loeb Boathouse, Sheep Meadow, Belvedere Castle, Bow Bridge, or Wollman Rink during the holiday season. It’s not easy to see everything in one day so make sure you don’t miss out on your favorites.

Central Park is located in Manhattan between 59th Street, 110th Street, Fifth Avenue, and Eight Avenue.

We’ll go over everything you need to know about Central Park such as helpful tips, facts, and a list of the best things to do. We hope you’ll find something you like!

Bethesda Fountain & Terrace

central park new york bethesda fountain and terrace

Bethesda Fountain & Terrance is one of the most famous and popular things to see in Central Park. This place is beautiful to visit all year around and it’s a must on your Central Park bucket list. I make sure to pass by every time I visit Central Park. Love walking under the Terrace to look at the beautiful ceiling and listen to the street performers playing music.

Bow Bridge

central park bow bridge

Central Park has more than 40 arches and bridges, but the most photographed and popular one must be Bow Bridge. Bow Bridge is absolutely breathtaking and is located close to the Bethesda Fountain & Terrace. Bow Bridge was built in 1862.

Loeb Boathouse Central Park

Next to Bethesda Fountain is the famous restaurant Loeb Boathouse. Enjoy a luxury dinner or have a drink on their outdoor terrace to soak up the view of the lake. Loeb Boathouse has been featured in many movies and tv shows such as the episode of Sex And The City when Carrie and Big fall into the water, and the movie When Harry Met Sally.

Loeb Boathouse in Central Park with rowing boats in the forground

One of the best things to do in Central Park is to rent a rowing boat. Rowing around a lake in Central Park is magical and makes you feel like you’re in a movie. There is nothing quite like rowing a boat with the New York City skyscrapers in the background plus a beautiful view of the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. You can rent boats from Loeb Boathouse, costing around 20 USD per hour. They are normally cash-only here.

Gapstow Bridge

Gapstow Bridge is another extremely beautiful bridge in Central Park. This bridge is located a little more south in Central Park and will give you a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline and The Plaza Hotel in the background.

The Reservoir

The Reservoir is a large lake located between 86th and 96th Street in Central Park and looks like a beautiful reflecting pool of the city skyline. The lake is surrounded by a 1.58-mile track that draws joggers or other locals who want to enjoy a walk. Be ready for crowds here, especially during the cherry blossom season in the spring.

You will most likely recognize the Reservoir from many movies and tv shows filmed here.

Wollman Rink central park – Winter activity

wollman rink central park ice skating

Try to name anything more magical to do in New York than ice skating in Central Park! During the winter months, you can ice skate in Central Park at the Wollman Rink and enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline at the same time. This ice-skating rink is open from October to March and costs around $15-35 plus $10 for renting ice skates. The price can vary depending on the day of the month and what time of day. The Wollman Rink is located in the south park of Central Park, and you can find it by entering from 59th Street and 6th Avenue. You can buy tickets there or from their website.

The Great Lawn

The Great Lawn in Central Park New York

The Great Lawn is a large field located in the Middle of Central Park next to the Belvedere Castle between 79th and 85th Street. This is the place to be to have a picnic, enjoy the sun, play sports, or relax. The Great Lawn is the perfect place to play sports. Here you can find large open spaces for sports, baseball, and volleyball fields.

Belvedere Castle

belvedere castle new york central park

Belvedere Castle sits on top of Vista Rock and was completed in 1872. The castle got its name Belvedere from the Italian word for “beautiful view”. You can also head to the Great Lawn to enjoy a beautiful view of the castle itself.

Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden is one of the quiet zones in Central Park. This is a beautiful and peaceful European-style garden that changes from season to season. You can get here by walking from 105th Street from Upper East side towards the park. The garden is located right where the park starts, and you should be able to find the black entrance along Fifth Avenue. The entrance was once the gate to the Vanderbilt Mansion. Because it’s located so high up in the park it doesn’t get as many visitors as other parts of Central Park.

Sheep Meadow

Food, drinks, and a picnic blanket are all you need at Sheep Meadow. This large grass field is a popular destination for local New Yorkers to enjoy a break from the busy city. Sheep Meadow is located in the southwest part of Central Park and will give you a wonderful view of the city skyscrapers surrounding the park.

Alice in Wonderland statue

If you are bringing your kids to Central Park this is the perfect place to go. This eleven-foot bronze Alice in Wonderland state is a favorite climbing spot for local and visiting kids.

Central Park Carousel

Embrace your inner child with a ride at the Central Park Carousel. Around 250,000 people go on this ride every year and have been a popular thing to do in Central Park since 1871. It is the 4th carousel to stand in the park.

Strawberry Fields

John Lennon from the Beetles was murdered in front of his home in 1980. He lived in the beautiful Dakota building close to Central Park on the Upper West Side and loved coming here. Strawberry Fields is today a memorial to John Lennon and attracts many fans who come here to leave flowers. You can also hear street performers playing Beatles songs.

Conservatory Water

conservatory water model boats central park

Fans of the movie Stuart Little might recognize the Conservatory Water, which is usually filled with model sailboats. Find a bench and watch these miniature sailboats going around in the pond. The Conservatory Water is located right next to the Alice in Wonderland statue.

Shakespeare Garden

Shakespeare Garden is located on the west side of Central Park between 79th and 80th Street. This is a beautiful English cottage garden. All the plants and flowers here are mentioned in Shakespeare’s work. The garden is located next to the open-air Delacorte Theater which is the home to Shakespeare in the Park.

Summary of the best things to do in Central Park

  • Bethesda Fountain & Terrace
  • Bow Bridge
  • Loeb Boathouse Central Park
  • Gapstow Bridge
  • The Reservoir
  • Wollman Rink – Winter activity
  • The Great Lawn
  • Belvedere Castle
  • Conservatory Garden
  • Sheep Meadow
  • Alice in Wonderland statue
  • Central Park Carousel
  • Strawberry Fields
  • Conservatory Water
  • Shakespeare Garden

History of Central Park

Most people don’t know the full history behind the creation of Central Park and skip the tragic part when telling it. Here is a short summary of the history of Central Park.

In 1853, the decision was made to create Central Park in Manhattan. After a competition, the Englishman Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were chosen to create Central Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted also designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which you can tell from the design and layout. 15 years and 14 million dollars later, Central Park opened to the public in 1876.

Seneca Village

Before Central Park was created, the landscape was called Seneca Village. Seneca Village was a community of 225 residents made up of around two-thirds African Americans and one-third Irish and Germans, many of whom owned property. Because those black men owned property, they also had the ability to vote.

Despite New York State’s abolition of slavery in 1827, life was not easy for African Americans. Seneca Village was a thriving community that served as an escape from the harsh treatment and racial discrimination that Black people got in Manhattan.

Seneca Village was home to gardens, farm animals, homes, churches, graveyards, and a school for African American children.

When the construction of Central Park started in 1847, 1,600 people were forced to leave their homes, including those who lived in Seneca Village.

Fifth largest park in New York City

Most people think that Central Park is the largest park in New York City, but that’s not the case. Central Park comes in fifth place with 843 acres after Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens with 898 acres, Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx with 1,146 acres, Greenbelt in Staten Island with 1,778 acres, and the largest park is Pelham Bay Park in Bronx with 2,765 acres.

Tips before your first visit to Central Park

Central Park’s opening hours

You’re not allowed to be in Central Park after the sun has gone down. They open again at sunrise.

Important – DO NOT ride the horse carriages

Horse carriage rides are unfortunately something people think is a classic New York activity because they have seen it in the movies. The truth is that this is animal cruelty and people are constantly fighting to make this illegal in New York City. It’s not easy to miss that these horses are mistreated since they sometimes are seen collapsing on the streets during the hot summer days. It’s also been seen on video how some owners hit them while lying on the ground trying to force them to get up. When the horses don’t work, they live in a tiny stable with no place to run around free. We will never recommend anything with animal cruelty on this website such as horse carriage rides, or zoos.

Dogs in Central Park

Dogs are always welcome to Central Park as long as they are on their leash. They are allowed to run loose if you come here before nine in the morning or after nine at night. Come here in the morning if you want to enjoy the park filled with dogs.

Best time to visit Central Park

Central Park is magical all year round, but maybe that’s my personal opinion since I’m a photographer. The most popular and beautiful times of year to visit are in the fall when all the trees have turned red and orange, in the summer when the park looks like a green paradise, or during the cherry blossom season in the spring.

If you are a photographer and don’t mind the snow, you might enjoy the park during the winter. The best time to go is in the morning after a snowstorm. Make sure to come here as early as possible before people create footsteps everywhere. It’s so beautiful to see Central Park looking like a winter wonderland.

Don’t forget sunscreen

There are many trees in Central Park, but not enough to always cover you from the sun. Make sure to wear sunscreen if you’re planning to spend a whole day in Central Park.

Restaurants in Central Park

There are a couple of restaurants in Central Park but be ready for higher prices. You can eat at the famous Loeb Boathouse (or a cheaper grill in the back), Le Pain Quotidien, Tavern on the Green, Ballfields Cafe, Melba’s at Wollman Rink, Public Cafe, Maoz Vegetarian, and Dancing Crane Cafe. Make sure to check the restaurant’s website to make sure they are open.

All around Central Park, you will find concession carts where you can get a quick bite such as hot dogs, ice cream, pretzels, or sodas. If you want to save money it can be smart to either bring your own food or eat before you enter the park. I personally love to buy a coffee and a bagel from Pick a Bagel on Upper East Side and later eat it somewhere in the park.

Get around in Central Park

Central Park is a very large park, and many people don’t realize how big the park is. You can spend hours in the park without leaving and it’s easy to get lost. Luckily you have the skyscrapers around the park to guide you.

Since Central Park is so big, we recommend wearing comfortable shoes. That rule applies all over New York City since it’s very walking-friendly.

Rent a bike in Central Park

It’s a challenge to explore the whole park in one day, especially by walking. We recommend renting a bike if you want to see the whole park in one day. You can rent bikes from a few places around the park but here are two examples: bikerentalcentralpark.com and centralparkbiketours.com

Click here to rent bikes for Central Park.

Alcohol

It’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol on any public sidewalk, road or park in New York City.

Central Park with kids

There are plenty of things to do in Central Park with kids. Central Park has around 20 playgrounds, lakes and ponds, and other fun things to do. The biggest playground is called Heckscher Playground. Another option is to bring your kids to the Alice in Wonderland statue. Kids love to climb on it. Right next to the statue is the Conservatory Water where people come to drive around their model boats.

More information about Central Park in New York

How big is Central Park?

Central Park is actually larger than Monaco and is about 1.3 square miles and 843 acres big.

Is Central Park the biggest park in New York?

No. Central Park is not the biggest park in New york. Central Park is 1.3 square miles and 843 acres big and comes in fifth place.

How long does it take to walk through Central Park?

You can spend a whole day wondering around Central Park. If you only want to cross the past from the west side to the east side it takes around an hour depending on your speed and how often you stop.

Things to do in Central Park with kids

  • Heckscher Playground
  • Alice in Wonderland statue
  • Conservatory Water

What movies were filmed in Central Park?

Over 350 movies and tv shows have been recorded in Central Park such as Elf, Home Alone 2, Stuart Little, Sec and the City, Ghostbusters, Vanilla Sky, Wall Street, Enchanted, When Harry met Sally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Big Daddy and Maid in Manhattan.

How long should you stay in Central Park?

Central Park is an extremely large park, and it’s easy to spend a whole day here just wandering around. If you want to make your visit a little shorter we recommend planning in advance what you want to see and do so you don’t miss out on anything important.

Does it cost anything to visit Central Park?

No. Central Park is free. You only have to pay if you’re planning to rent a rowing boat or go ice skating and so on.

What is your favorite things to do in Central Park? Feel free to leave a comment!