Post overview: A list of the best things to do in Central Park
Is there any place more magical in New York City than Central Park? For me, that’s an easy no.
I currently live two blocks from Central Park and start every morning with a stroll. Having access to the great things to do in Central Park is one of my favorite things about living in NYC.
Today, I wanted to share my personal list of the best things to do in Central Park. I’ll cover the most iconic spots in Central Park alongside descriptions and helpful tips to make your visit as enjoyable as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, I’m always happy to help!
Tips for visiting Central Park for the first time
Dog off–leash hours: Central Park has designated off-leash hours from 6am-9am and 9pm to close every day of the week. During these hours, dogs are free to roam off leash throughout the entire park. If you love dogs, this is a great time to visit the park, it never ceases to amaze me how many New Yorkers have dogs.
Best time to visit Central Park: I can give you a winsome answer like “anytime is magical” but I’d be lying. The best time to visit Central park is during the fall and spring season. Central Park is home to a plethora of trees that truly come alive with vibrant hues during these two seasons. What’s more, the temperatures are mild which makes exploring the extensive park a more relaxing experience. And yes, all seasons have their beauty, but fall and spring are by far the most enjoyable in the park. 😉
Wear sunscreen: You know I’m a stickler for sunscreen! Here’s the only sunscreen I recommend. I’ve been using it exclusively for the past 8+ years and can’t recommend it enough.
Pick up a map: You’ll see a handful of helpful little stands throughout Central Park that are staffed with kind and knowledgeable folks eager to help you make the most of your visit to Central Park. Ask for a map before embarking on your day, it will greatly help you understand the size of the park.
Restaurants in Central Park: In terms of food options, I’d say Central Park is quite limited. There’s the Loab Boathouse, Le Pain Quotidien (bakery), Tavern on the Green and Dancing Crane Cafe but these places are on the pricier side.
Apart from that, you’ll also find hot dog stands in most of the popular spots in Central Park – I don’t care for hot dogs, so I find food options within the park limiting. As such, I suggest waiting until you leave the park to find food, just me two cents.
10 Best Things to Do in Central Park
A great day in New York would be to wake up, get a cup of coffee and head up to Central Park for a nice walk.Emmanuelle Chriqui
#10. Picnic at Sheep Meadow
Having a picnic in Sheep Meadow is one of the most popular things to do in Central Park. In fact, during the summer months this 15-acre green space swells with locals and tourists alike to the tune of 30,000 people.
It’s a sight to behold, but it’s not hard to see why this Central Park activity is so loved.
Tucked under the shadow of NYC’s impressive (and looming) skyline, you’ll find plenty of mature trees that offer welcome shade if you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon.
If you crave Vitamin D, find a sunny patch and sunbathe with what feels like is half of NYC.
But if action is more your speed, the entire meadow is at your feet. You’ll find folks throwing frisbees, kids running wild while laughing uncontrollably and folks tossing soccer balls around.
Whatever it is you’re after, Sheep Meadow has you covered. My favorite way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon is to park myself under a tree with a picnic blanket and small snacks from nearby Zabar’s while people-watching.
Location: West Side between 66th and 69th
Further Reading: 18+ JAW-DROPPING Views of New York City (For All Budgets)
#9. Stroll the Conservatory Garden
Opened in 1937, the Conservatory Garden is the only formal garden in Central Park. Spanning six acres, the garden is sectioned off into three beautiful gardens– the French North Garden, Italian Center Garden and English South Garden.
You can get to the Conservatory Garden by walking through Central Park or taking the subway to the nearest stop (103rd stop from the east side and Central Park North stop from the west side).
The small effort is worthwhile, the gardens burst with fall and spring color in unparalleled fashion. In fact, I visit every single fall and spring season, regardless of how many times I’ve seen this splendor in the past, it’s irresistible.
I’ll also let you in on a little secret: Since the Conservatory Garden is located in the northern corner of Central Park, it doesn’t get as many visitors as the other parts of park. Pity for the others but not for you!
Thanks to the lack of crowds, you can actually find reprieve and peaceful contemplation in the most picturesque setting.
Location: East Side between 104th and 106th
Planning to visit NYC in spring? Here’s the BEST spots for spring blooms in Central Park.
#8. Hike the Ramble
The Ramble was designed to feel like the Adirondacks in northern New York to allow visitors an escape from the bustle of the city. And it’s true, between the fragrance and muffled sounds, you completely forget you’re anywhere near NYC while walking through the Ramble.
The 36-acre woodland area is full of meandering paths, rustic bridges, rock formations, peaceful streams and plenty of shady seating areas. The best way to explore the Ramble is to get lost in its thick canopy, seriously!
Explore around and see if you can’t find the Azalea Pond and/or the Ramble Stone Arch. I currently live on the Upper West Side and get to wander through the Ramble whenever I need to get to the Upper East Side or to most other parts of the park, it’s a real treat.
Also worth mention, with over 210 species of birds spotted in the area, the Ramble is the best spot in Central Park for birding, especially during migrating season.
Location: Between 73rd and 79th
#7. Rent a boat at the Lake
The Lake in Central Park is as romantic as you can imagine. Rent a rowboat and serenade your special someone amidst the spring blooms or fall leaves while admiring the dramatic New York skyline. Does it get any better than this? I don’t think so either.
The Lake is a man-made body of water that covers 20-acres and marks the very heart of Central Park. Thankfully there’s plenty of vistas and ample shoreline to take in the views.
Or like I mentioned earlier, grab a rowboat and jump right in! There’s 100 boats available for rent at the Loeb Boathouse and at $20 per hour (cash only), they’re actually reasonably priced. Interested? Read more here.
There’s also an option to rent a guided Gondola tour, if you’d prefer not to break a sweat. Tours are $50 per half hour and need to be reserved in advance.
Location: 72nd Street
#6. Walk the length of the Reservoir
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is more commonly known as the Central Park Reservoir, or simply Reservoir.
It’s a decommissioned reservoir located between 86th and 96th Streets (covering 10 city blocks). Holding more than one billion gallons of water, this was the world’s largest man-made body of water when it was constructed.
The 1.5-mile loop around the Reservoir is a very popular running and walking track among locals. You’ll notice a lot of folks using the path for exercise, which is why the loop is designed to be used in one direction.
Be prepared for crowds any time of year, but especially in the spring when the surrounding trees explode with vibrant colors and fragrant blooms.
Location: Between 86th and 96th Streets (east and west sides)
Further Reading: Where to Find Cherry Blossoms in New York City
#5. Visit Strawberry Fields
Strawberry Fields was intended to be a spot for peaceful reflection in honor of John Lennon — who lived across the street in the impressive Dakota building. The most prominent feature of Strawberry Fields is the Imagine Mosaic which is often adorned with flowers and serenaded by live musicians playing famous Beatles songs.
This mosaic was designed by Yoko Ono (Lennon’s widow), and gifted to New York City by the city of Naples. The well-received gift speaks to Lennon’s legacy and his impact on the world.
Although Strawberry Fields was intended to be peaceful, it’s very popular. Expect crowds regardless of when you visit. This is one of the top attractions in Central Park and most folks make an effort to see it, as should you.
Location: Near entrance at West 72nd Street
#4. Check out the views at Belvedere Castle
Completed in 1872, Belvedere Castle sits high atop a hill on a large rock outcropping known as Vista Rock — which happens to be the second-highest point in the park.
The castle gets its name from the Italian word for “beautiful view,” Belvedere.
And boy, is this iconic Central Park spot aptly named! The high vantage point and well-kept terraces offer sweeping panoramic views of New York City’s iconic skyline.
Belvedere Castle was renovated as recently as 2019 to modernize the terraces and building and the effort shows. This is a great spot to swing by and I would recommend going out of the way to see it, if needed.
Location: Mid-Park at 79th
p.s. check out Cleopatra’s Needle
I suggest swinging by the Obelisk (better known as Cleopatra’s Needle) while visiting Belvedere Castle. It’s the tallest and oldest man-made structure in Central Park (more than 3,000 years old).
History: Around 1450 B.C. Pharaoh Thutmosis III commissioned the construction of two obelisks. In 1881 Egypt gifted one of the obelisks to Central Park and the other to London. The icing on the cake? Before the obelisk was erected a time capsule was buried under the base, which includes a copy of the declaration of independence.
Also worth noting, in 2011 the Egyptian government threatened to take the obelisk back due to neglect, but the Central Park Conservancy was able to raise money and restore it properly.
#3. Walk the Mall
The Mall is an iconic American elm-lined promenade that leads directly to Bethesda Fountain. This is the largest plantations of American elms in the world!
The mature trees create an enchanting and lush canopy that offers a shady retreat during hot city summers. Thankfully, there’s plenty of benches to sit and enjoy while you watch the world go by.
The wide path invites visitors to stroll the promenade at a leisurely pace — see if you can spot young couples giddy with excitement during their first visit to Central Park.
Also, here’s a fun fact: the width of the Mall as purposely designed. The Mall was originally designed to accommodate wealthy inhabitants who would come to this portion of park in their carriages.
They would get dropped off at the start of the Mall so they could mingle with people of “lesser status” before making their way to the carriages that await them at Bethesda Terrace.
Make sure to check out the Literary Walk in the southern end of the mall where you’ll find statues of notable literary figures.
Location: 66th to 72nd Street
Further Reading: 12+ Epic Spots to Find Fall Color in Central Park
#2. Cross the Bow Bridge
Central Park is home to more than 40 bridges, but the most photographed by far is the romantic Bow Bridge.
The bridge gets its name from the shape of the arch which resembles an archer’s bow. It’s one of the most photographed attractions in Central Park.
Built in 1862, the bridge spans 60 feet over the Lake, connecting Cherry Hill and the Ramble. Oh, lest I forget, the views of Manhattan’s skyline from the Bow Bridge are absolutely breathtaking!
As such, this is where you’ll find the highest concentration of folks getting pictures taken. Without fail, you can’t cross the Bow Bridge during sunset without rubbing elbows with brides or accidentally crashing an engagement photo shoot. In fact, I once counted three brides on the bridge, imagine!
But listen, you know it’s going to be a picture-perfect spot when you see so many photographers in one area, right? There’s a reason the Bow Bridge is often most people’s favorite spot in Central Park.
Location: 72nd Street
Did you know? The Bow Bridge is the second-oldest cast-iron bridge in the country. Here’s 20 Fascinating Facts About New York City Everyone Should Know.
#1. Take in the splendor at Bethesda Fountain & Terrace
Bethesda Terrace is remarkable. It’s the park’s only formal architectural setting and it was executed perfectly. Lined with 16,000 ceiling tiles, the terrace’s arcade creates the ideal acoustic environment and draws in some of the city’s most talented street musicians.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a summer evening than wandering through this area before parking on a bench for some live music and great people watching.
Based on personal experience, this is one of the most popular spots in Central Park. It’s always full of people, which only makes the experience better because it’s so lively!
Fun fact: Measuring twenty-six feet high and ninety-six feet wide, Bethesda Fountain is one of the largest fountains in New York.
Location: Mid-Park at 72nd Street
Have more time? More Great Things to do in Central Park
#1. Bike the Park Drive loop
Central Park’s Park Drive Loop is always buzzing with activity – bikers whizzing past runners, whizzing past walkers. Survival of the fittest!
You can easily rent a city bike (they’re available right outside the park) and take the wheels for a scenic spin. The entire one-way loop is 6 miles long, but you can cut the distance down by using the various bike paths that run east to west.
Take note: Bikes are NOT allowed on paths and pedestrians always have the right of way.
#2. Find peace in the North Meadow
Similar to the Conservatory Garden, the 23-acre North Meadow is often overlooked because it’s located in the north end of the park.
What a pity that is, especially considering this is one of the most relaxing spots in Central Park. You’ll find rocky outcroppings peppered between sugar maples, dogwoods and hickory trees bordering a pristine meadow pronounced by a hilly landscape.
This is where locals go to escape the congestion and crowds of the more popular Sheep’s Meadow area. It’s a great place to let kids run around or simply to people watch.
There’s also a great dog run in the area that’s perfect for letting fido burn some energy.
#3. Cross the Gapstow Bridge
I probably don’t have to tell you that Central Park is full of romantic bridges, but the Gapstow Bridge is one of the most intriguing.
The view from the bridge is beautiful, especially when the area is engrossed in fall color. You’ll see an impressive variety of colorful trees, such as oaks, tupelo trees, cherry trees and birches.
Take in the splendor of fall in Central Park by sitting on one of the many benches and soaking in the view of the Pond, which is usually full of ducks and geese.
#4. Watch the sailboats at Conservatory Water
Conservatory Water might be better known as the Model Boat Pond because of the great model boats launched here. You’ll find charming mini sailboats and can easily get engrossed watching them whiz by.
If you’d like to try you hand at one, you can rent them at the Kerbs Boathouse. The area is home to an abundance of benches, so park yourself for a while and take it all in.
This area is especially beautiful in the fall when all the cheery tourists rub elbows with the quick-walking locals.
#5. Visit the Shakespeare Garden
I’m reluctant to mention a visit to the Shakespeare Garden because I love this spot so much and want to keep it a secret. But alas, I’d be doing you a great disservice, wouldn’t I?
Shakespeare Garden is named after none other than William Shakespeare. The four acre park is akin to a classic English cottage garden. If you have the time, I suggest reading the various quote plaques throughout the garden.
What’s more, the garden’s curator makes it a point of pride to make the garden different every year. The garden is so interesting that some folks visit on a daily basis, so the curator tries to change it up from year to year. How sweet is that?
How big is Central Park?
Central Park is 2.5 miles long and 1/2 a mile wide. Technically you can walk the length of the park at a leisurely pace in about two hours.
Just be careful not to rush the experience — because, frankly, you don’t need to. Soak in the magnificent beauty of New York’s most beloved city park and pop off at all the iconic spots. When you get your fill of the best spots in Central Park look for new spots discover, it’s an incredible experience.
Our Video on the Best Things to do in Central Park
Best things to see Central Park (Summary)
In sum, these are the best spots in Central Park:
- Bethesda Terrace
- The Bow Bridge
- The Mall
- Belvedere Castle
- Strawberry Fields
- The Reservoir
- The Lake
- The Ramble
- Conservatory Garden
- Sheep Meadow
- Bike the Park Drive Loop
- North Meadow
- Gapstow Bridge
- Conservatory Water
- Visit the Shakespeare Garden
What to see in Central Park Map
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
And there you have it – a quick roundup of the best things to do in Central Park. I hope you enjoyed the post!