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30 Things to Do in Central Park

Updated: November 3, 2023

This post covers things to do and see in Central Park, New York City's green lungs, arguably known the world over as the best city park anywhere.

We include the top attractions, activities, and places to eat and stay, updated for 2023. 

aerial view of Central Park

At 843 acres, Central Park is simply too big to cover in-depth in just one day, but if you want to try, a bike is essential.

We suggest either choosing one section to see (either the lower or middle) or if you want to see it all, doing so in two visits.

This list is organized by location, starting with the southernmost spots and then going north.

This map can help you locate these sites. If you would like in-depth information on these sites, download our Central Park Self-Guided Tour.

If you only have a few hours and want to make sure you see the most famous parts of Central Park, consider joining one of our pay-what-you-like guided Central Park tours.

We are local tour guides who also spend our free time here. We are experts on Central Park.

We comprised this list from our more than a decade of experience leading daily tours in Central Park, from its southern to its northern borders.

And, in this video below, let Katie, a tour guide with us, Free Tours by Foot, take you on a virtual walking tour of Central Park's southern half.

We also asked the roughly 200k members of our NYC Travel Tips Facebook group what they liked most about Central Park.

What to Do in Central Park

The group consists of locals, like us tour guides, expats, regular visitors, and newbies to Central Park and NYC.

There's no need to be a member to search for and read the posts, comments, and recommendations.


You might like our GPS-enabled audio tours of Central Park. We also offer bike tours

If you like to explore on your own, here are the must-see sights and best things to do in Central Park!

Now, without further ado, on to the post.


1. Cross Gapstow Bridge

Gapstow Bridge is one of the most recognizable -- and most charming -- Central Park sights.

It's the first structure you'll see when you enter the park at Fifth Avenue and E. 59th Street.

Instantly you are transported from the hustle and bustle of the city into the peaceful beauty of nature.

gapstow bridge

Gapstow Bridge spans The Pond.

Given the serenity of this body of water, it's hard to believe that it is man-made and fed from the city water supply system! 

Gapstow Bridge is one of our picks for the best photo spots in Central Park.


2. See The Sea Lions in Central Park Zoo

The park's brilliant architects, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux wanted the park to mimic nature.

Thus the original design for the park did not include a traditional zoo.

But from the 1860s to 1890s, prominent citizens donated animals, some rare or exotic, to the park.

These animals were first housed in The Menagerie and in 1934 a formal zoo was created.

It was too small to house large animals.

New York Central park zoo

In the 1980s, plans for a larger, modern zoo began and in 1988, the zoo that exists today was opened.

Though it is a relatively small zoo, it does have an interesting mix of residents!

The sea lions and penguins are the most famous, but there are also snow leopards, red pandas, lemurs and a Grizzly bear.

Not what one would expect from a zoo in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

Find out about visiting the zoo and getting discount tickets from our detailed post about Central Park Zoo.  


3. Ride The Central Park Carousel

This elaborate Carousel is one of the most beloved attractions in the park, particularly with kids.

The original carousel from 1873 was powered by a horse or mule under the platform.

This original carousel was replaced in 1924 but shortly after its opening, it burned down. The replacement also burned down in 1950.

The Carousel in Central Park

The current carousel was discovered abandoned in a trolley terminal in Coney Island. It was constructed in 1908.

It has 57 horses and plays beautiful calliope music. The carousel runs 7 days a week in the summer.


4. Bask in the Sun in the Sheep Meadow

On summer weekends, the Sheep Meadow is filled with New Yorkers basking in the sun and throwing frisbees.

The view of the surrounding buildings makes it an attractive location for a picnic in Central Park.

Sheep Meadow in Central Park

Looking at this expansive manicured field it's hard to imagine that sheep grazed here up until 1934!


5. Walk Through The Mall

Whereas most paths and paved walkways in the park follow the flow of nature, The Mall is the only path laid out as a straight line in the park.

The American Elm trees that make up the cathedral-like ceiling over the path are among the largest collections of these trees in the United States.

The Mall Central Park

Many famous photographs and film scenes have been filmed here such as Doctor Who, Jessica Jones, Person of Interest, and the movie Enchanted. 

At the south end of The Mall is Literary Walk, with statues of famous authors Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Fitz-Greene Halleck, and William Shakespeare.


6. Sit a While at Bethesda Terrace

As you leave The Mall, you will find yourself at Bethesda Arcade, lined with grand columns and a spectacular ceiling made up of 15,876 individual tiles.

The Arcade opens up onto Bethesda Terrace and Bethesda Fountain.

This formal landscape was considered the heart of the park architect Calvert Vaux.

Bethesda Terrace Movies

As this is one of the most photogenic spots in Central Park, you will usually see lots of professional photographers.

Television series like Sex and the City and Law and Order have episodes with scenes here.

Other well-known movies shot here include Woody Allen's Annie Hall, John Wick, One Fine Day, and the classic Christmas movies Home Alone 2 and Elf.


7. Go Rowing On The Lake

The Lake was used year-round in the early days of the park to go rowing in the summer and ice skating in the winter.

Though ice skating ceased on The Lake when the park's Wollman Rink was opened in the 1950s, people can still enjoy rowing boats.

Bow Bridge in Central Park

Crossing over The Lake is Bow Bridge, perhaps the best photo locale in Central Park.

Find out about boat rentals from the Loeb Boathouse website. The Loeb Boathouse also has a restaurant with lovely views.


8. Watch the Mini Sailboats at Conservatory Water

To the east of The Lake is the Conservatory Water. Since the 19th century, it has been a popular spot for launching and racing miniature sailboats.

There are plenty of benches to sit on while you watch the mini boats go by.

If you feel like having a go as a captain, you can rent a boat at the Kerbs Boathouse.

Adjacent to the boathouse is a small cafe, Le Pain Quotidien. You can dine there or get food to go.

Conservatory Waters

Fans of the book Stuart Little, the children's classic about a mouse living in New York City, will recognize this pond as the place where Stuart races a mini sailboat.

The Conservancy Water has also appeared in scenes in a dozen movies, most notably Breakfast at Tiffany's and Person of Interest.


9. See Alice in Wonderland

Just north of the Conservancy Water is the Alice in Wonderland statue depicting Alice and the Mad Hatter Tea Party.

The statue was donated by George Delacorte, a philanthropist, and publisher, in honor of his deceased wife.

Alice in Wonderland Central Park

At the dedication ceremony in 1959, the Delacorte grandchildren unveiled the statue.

They then proceeded to climb on it, just as children do today!

George Delacorte also donated money for the creation of the Delacorte Theater where Shakespeare in the Park is held every summer.


10. Honor John Lennon at Strawberry Fields

To the west of The Lake, you'll find this quiet area of the park dedicated to John Lennon, who lived just outside of the park in the Dakota building.

The name comes from the Beatles' song Strawberry Fields Forever. The garden was planned together by John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and the city.

Its central feature is the Imagine Circle mosaic, designed by Italian mosaic artists. Read more about Strawberry Fields.

Strawberry Fields is just next to Central Park West, the border of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Venture out of the park to explore this off-the-tourist-track neighborhood.


11. Hike Through The Ramble

To the north of The Lake is The Ramble, a 38-acre was built to resemble a forest, with winding paths, boulders, and even man-made waterfalls.

Olmstead and Vaux wanted to provide a wild environment to contrast with the formality of the nearby Bethesda Terrace.

The Ramble was the answer. It is one of the places in Central Park where one can most escape the city.

The Ramble

The Ramble is one of the best spots for bird-watching in the United States. Over 230 different species have been spotted. 

See the section below on park activities for information on bird-watching

Read more about The Ramble here.


12. Get Great Views of the Park from a Castle

Belvedere Castle was built in the park in 1869. Its name, Belvedere, is Italian for “beautiful view”.

Though it's called a castle, designers Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould built it as a "folly”, an architectural term for a purely decorative building.

Belvedere Castle

Situated on Vista Rock, the castle's two balconies overlook Turtle Pond, The Ramble to the south, and the Great Lawn to the north.  

The castle is now a visitor's center as well as a Nature Center, where visitors can get information about the flora and fauna of the park and rent bird-watching kits.  

The castle's views are among the 28 best views in NYC.

Read more about Belvedere Castle.


13. Stop and Smell the Flowers in Shakespeare Garden

This formal garden was originally a flower garden called Heart Garden.

It was redesigned and designated Shakespeare Garden in 1915, in honor of the famous poet and playwright William Shakespeare.

Each of the plants and flowers in the garden is mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Throughout the garden, there are small plaques with Shakespeare's quotes.

Shakespeare Garden

When the garden was dedicated to Shakespeare, 60 starlings, mentioned frequently in Shakespeare's works, were released into Central Park.

These birds were not native to North America, and those originals became over 150 million on this continent.


14. See Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre

This 1800-seat, open-air theatre is home to the famous Shakespeare in the Park performances every summer.

Over 100,000 people flock to this theatre every summer to see Shakespeare's greatest hits starring top-notch actors, some of TV and movie fame.  

Shakespeare in the Park

The theater was built in 1962 and named after George Delacorte who financed the project.

Find out how to get tickets to this amazing theater series.


15. See a Real Egyptian Obelisk

Cleopatra’s Needle is the oldest structure in Central Park having been constructed in Egypt in 1400 BC!  

The obelisk was moved from Alexandria, Egypt to New York City in 1880, and it was an arduous task.  

Cleopatra’s Needle Central Park

A hole was cut into the hull of the ship, and the obelisk was rolled into it atop cannonballs.  

Once it reached New York, it was moved very slowly in a wagon hitched to 32 horses. It took 112 days to move the obelisk from New York Harbor to Central Park.

Egypt had threatened to take the obelisk back due to neglect, but the Central Park Conservancy was able to raise enough money to restore it.


16. Picnic on the Great Lawn

This massive lawn is one of the most famous in the United States and one of the best picnic spots in Central Park.

Over the years, the Great Lawn has been used for many concerts, including Simon and Garfunkel, Bon Jovi, and the New York Philharmonic, just to name a few.

The Great Lawn was not included in the original park design because in 1842 it was the site of a massive reservoir that was part of the Croton Aqueduct System.

The Great Lawn

The reservoir was drained in 1931 and filled in with excavation from the building of Rockefeller Center and the 8th Avenue Subway.

The site of the New York Public Library's main branch in Midtown was another gigantic reservoir that fed off the Croton River.

Read more about the New York Public Library.


17. Walk or Run Around the Central Park Reservoir 

The Reservoir is one of the most popular spots in the park. 

IT was officially renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir when she passed away in 1994. It was her favorite spot in the park.

The one billion gallons (3.7 billion liters) reservoir was built in the 1860s as a backup water supply for the city while the Croton Reservoir System was shut down for two weeks for repairs.  

Central Park Reservoir 

The Reservoir was permanently decommissioned in 1993. It was no longer needed because of a new underground water tunnel.

The Reservoir is one of the best places to go for a run in NYC. The jogging path goes around the water (approximately 1.6 miles or 2 km) and offers gorgeous views.


18. Play Ball in the North Meadow

This 23 acres (10 hectares) meadow has 7 baseball fields and 5 softball fields. It is the largest meadow in Central Park.  

North Meadow

It's used by baseball teams in the spring and then is turned into football and soccer fields in the fall.

The North Meadow also has a recreation Center, which is a great place to find water fountains and restrooms while you are in the park. 


19. See The Waterfalls of The Loch

You probably didn't have waterfalls on the list of things to see in New York City, but you can see several in Central Park.

Three of these waterfalls flow from The Loch (“Loch” is Scottish for “lake”) located in The Ravine, a wooded valley in the lower part of the North Woods. 

Central Park Waterfall

All the waterfalls are man-made and are fed by hidden pipes but they look quite natural.

The Ravine’s towering trees and the sound of flowing water muffle out the sounds of the city.

This is a popular spot for birdwatching, one of many activities to do in Central Park.


20. Wander in the North Woods

The North Woods spans 40 acres at the north end of Central Park and is the largest of the park’s woodland landscapes.

Calvert and Vaux were inspired by forested areas of the Catskills and Adirondacks in northern New York State. 

North Woods

The goal was to offer New Yorkers who could not afford a vacation a  place to get away from urban life.

To this day, New Yorkers head to the North Woods when they want to immerse themselves in the wilderness, without leaving the city.


 21. Admire the Landscape of the Conservatory Garden

The formal Conservatory Garden is a stark contrast to the expansive green fields and leafy woods of Central Park.

The garden opened in 1937 and is named for the glass conservatory that stood at the site in 1899.

This sophisticated garden is split into three sections: the French-style North Garden, the Italianate Center Garden, and the English-style South Garden.

Conservatory Garden

On its six acres, there are three fountains, and an array of flowers, including summer perennials, chrysanthemums, tulips, and lilacs.

This charming garden is a popular spot for small weddings.


22. Harlem Meer and Lasker Rink

Located at the northeast corner of the park is Harlem Meer (Dutch for lake), a man-made body of water named for the adjacent neighborhood of Harlem.

The surrounding vegetation includes various types of trees like cypress, oak, and beech trees. 

Catch-and-release fishing is a popular activity at the Meer. In the winter, there’s ice skating at Lasker Rink.

Harlem Meer

Note that from 2022 through 2024, the north end of the park is undergoing extensive reconstruction.

The result will be a new recreational facility with a new pool and rink as well as increased outdoor activities.



ACTIVITIES IN CENTRAL PARK

23. Take a Bike Tour

One of the most popular activities in Central Park is bike riding. There are dedicated bike lanes around the perimeter of the park.

There are several companies that offer bike tours of Central Park. We offer a pay-what-you-wish Central Park Bike Tour (not including bike rental).

Our guests are entitled to 20% off on all of our partner shop's Central Park bike tours. Just use promo code FTBF.

You can rent a bike and ride through the park on your own. See our list of reputable bike rental companies.

New York City's bike share program CitiBike has docking stations at various locations around the park.


24. Be a Photographer for a Day

Central Park is one of the very best places in New York City to take photos.

With so many scenic locales one could take hundreds of pictures.

Our post on the best photo spots in Central Park takes you to the iconic sites that are most photogenic.


25. Take a Horse and Carriage Ride

Get a different perspective of the park from the back seat of a horse-drawn carriage.

Carriage Ride in Central Park

Our post on horse and carriage ride companies compares the different options and the costs.


26. Ice Skate at Wollman Rink

In the winter months, Wollman Rink at the southeast corner of the park is open for ice skating.

If it looks familiar to you, it's because this rink is seen in a number of films like Serendipity, Night at the Museum, and Home Alone 2.

Find out about this rink and other places to ice skate in New York City.


27. Look for the Birds

Central Park is known for its great bird-watching opportunities. The prime locations are The Pond by Gapstow Bridge, North Woods, The Ramble, and the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

See the official Central Park bird-watching guide.


28. Go for a Run

Central Park is one of the best spots for running in the city. It offers different distance options and terrains.

Read our post on running in the park for the best routes.


29. Attend a Rollerskating Party

From mid-April to late October, on the weekends, the Central Park Dance Skaters Association (CPDSA) hosts a roller skate dance party in the Skate Circle (see a map of the location).

The parties are from 2:45 pm-6:45 pm and music is provided by a DJ. It is free to attend, but bring your own skates. 

Check CPDSA’s event calendar to see what's on. 


30. Go Fishing

Catch-and-release fishing is allowed only at these three locations in the park: The Lake, The Pond and Harlem Meer (the best of the three fishing spots).

The best season to fish is from April to October. If you don't have fishing equipment, you can borrow some from the Charles A. Danna Discovery Center.

Note that participants 16 and older must have a valid NYS fishing license. Read these important Central Park Fishing Guidelines before thinking of going.


31. Hear Free Music

New York Philharmonic

Every summer, usually in mid-June, the New York Philharmonic puts on a free performance on Central Park's Great Lawn.

New York Philharmonic

If you can make it, this is a quintessential New York experience. Get details here.


Global Citizen Festival

This yearly concert is held in Central Park and the proceeds go to help fight hunger. Find out how to get your free tickets here.


SummerStage

SummerStage is a summer-long series of free concerts. The diverse line-up is amazing and it's hard to believe that the performances don't cost a thing!

Check our Summerstage post for the annual line-ups and dates.


Classical Music

Since 1905, there Naumburg Orchestral Concerts have been presenting free classical music at the Naumburg Bandshell. See the schedule here.


The Met Opera Summer Recital Series

Each year, up-and-coming opera singers from the Metropolitan Opera perform well-known arias and duets in concerts in all five boroughs, including one recital in Central Park. 

Find out more about Summer at the Met.


Where to Eat in Central Park

Tavern on the Green

67th Street at Central Park West. This restaurant, once the sheepfold, has become a New York City landmark. $$$

The Loeb Boathouse

East 72nd Street and Park Drive North. Set on the edge of The Lake, this restaurant has an unbeatable ambiance. $$$

Boathouse Express Café

Tucked behind the Loeb Boathouse restaurant, this take-out café offers quick fare for a reasonable price. $$

Maoz Vegetarian

Fast, healthy food including falafel, smoothies, and breakfast foods, is located on the southeastern edge of the Harlem Meer. $

Dancing Crane Cafe

Located near the Central Park Zoo, the Dancing Crane Cafe serves hot and cold meals, snacks, and beverages.

Ballfields Cafe

A casual eatery on the northern edge of Heckscher Ballfields.

Le Pain Quotidien

This US chain restaurant offers casual sit-down and take-out service. There are two locations in the park.

One is at the historic Mineral Springs pavilion, on the north end of the Sheep Meadow. The other is at the Kerbs Boathouse on the south side of the Conservatory Water. $

Snack Carts  

Food carts selling hot dogs, pretzels, and other snack food can be found throughout the park. $


Hotels Near Central Park

If being right by Central Park is a must for your stay, you might want to consider the Upper West Side or Upper East Side.

Recommended Hotels

*Price brackets are higher than for other neighborhoods

Budget

Mid Range  

Expensive

Take a look at our post, 25 Cheap (And Nice!) Hotels In New York City, include some excellent hotels and a great hostel right near the park.


Good to Know

Public Transporation to Central Parks

Subways:

  • B, C, 2, and 3 on the north side
  • 1, 2, 3, B, and C trains along the west side
  • 4, 5, and 6 trains along the east side
  • A, B, C, D, 1, N, R, and Q trains on the south side

Buses:

  • M1, M2, M3, M4 on the east side
  • M10, M72 on the west side

Bathrooms and Vistors Centers

Use this map to locate bathrooms and Visitor's Centers in the park, as well as open hours.


Safety and Central Park

Read our post on staying safe in Central Park. The park is generally safe but there are a few tips you may find helpful.


Related Posts

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: November 3rd, 2023
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