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15 Enjoyable Things to Do in Central Park (Local’s Guide)

best things to do Central Park

This list of the best things to do in Central Park was written by Antonina Pattiz, a local of NYC and the founder of New York Simply (an official partner of Apple Maps). We’re happy to have you here!

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 most mornings with a stroll. Having daily access to the park is one of the biggest perks of living in NYC! So today, I’ll be providing a quick roundup of my favorite things to do in Central Park.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, I’m always happy to help (that’s what I’m here for)!

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 10 Best Neighborhoods & 3 to Avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.


Central Park Map
Fun Things to Do in Central Park Map | Created by Alice Negri

The 10 Best Things to Do in Central Park

(Table of Contents)


Best ice skating NYC

10. Admire the Views from Wollman Rink

Found in the southern part of Central Park, the city skyline serves as a backdrop to one of the most famous ice rinks in New York City. The rink is open from late October through early March, so there’s plenty of time to partake in this iconic NYC pastime.

My suggestion is to visit in early November so you can enjoy ice skating in Central Park surrounded by beautiful fall foliage. The winter activity comes at a high-demand and gets crowded quickly, especially during the Christmas season. Try to visit during the week and arrive early to avoid mind-boggling crowds.


Things to do Central Park

9. Stroll the Conservatory Garden

Location: East Side between 104th and 106th

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.

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, offering a small semblance of reprieve. Pity, considering the gardens burst with spectacular fall and spring color in unparalleled fashion.

Getting to the gardens: You can get to the Conservatory Garden by walking through Central Park or taking the subway to the nearest stop (West 103rd Street and Central Park North from the east side).

Planning to visit NYC in spring? Here’s the BEST spots for spring blooms in Central Park.


The Ramble Central Park Fall

8. Get Lost in the Ramble

Location: Between 73rd and 79th

In an effort to provide an escape from the skyscrapers, the Ramble was designed to feel like a real forest from the Adirondacks in northern New York. The 36-acre woodland 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 of fragrances and birdsong.

Local’s Tip: over 210 species of birds spotted in the area, the Ramble is the best spot in Central Park for birding, especially during migrating season (spring and fall).


Best Things to do Central Park

7. Rent a Boat at the Lake

Location: 72nd Street

Those looking for romantic things to do in Central Park should make a beeline for the Loeb Boathouse. Rent a rowboat and serenade your special someone amidst the spring blooms or fall leaves while admiring the dramatic New York City skyline. I mean, does it get any better than this? I don’t think so.

There’s 100 boats available for rent at the Loeb Boathouse on a walk-up basis (first come, first served). At $25 per hour (credit card or Apple Pay 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.


best things to do Central Park

6. Walk the Length of the Reservoir

Location: Between 86th and 96th Streets (east and west sides)

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is more commonly known as the Central Park Reservoir, or simply Reservoir. This decommissioned reservoir is massive (covering 10 city blocks), and holds more than one billion gallons of water. In fact, when it was constructed in 1862, it was the largest man-made body of water in the world.

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.

Further Reading: Where to Find Cherry Blossoms in New York City


Strawberry Fields

5. Visit Strawberry Fields

Location: Near entrance at West 72nd Street

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 (Italy). 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. This is one of the top attractions in Central Park and most folks make an effort to see it, as should you.


Belvedere Castle

4. Check Out the Panoramic Views at Belvedere Castle

Location: Mid-Park at 79th

Completed in 1872, Belvedere Castle sits high atop a hill on a large rock outcropping known as Vista Rock (the second-highest point in the park). The castle gets its name from the Italian word for “beautiful view,” Belvedere. This iconic Central Park spot aptly named! The high vantage point and well-kept terraces offer sweeping panoramic views of the park.

Local’s Tip: Belvedere Castle was renovated in 2019 to modernize the terraces and building. The effort definitely shows. This is a great spot to swing by and I would recommend going out of the way to see it.


Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park

(Bonus: Swing by 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 3,500 years old, imagine!).

Here’s the (super-quick) quick history recap:

  • Around 1450 B.C. Pharaoh Thutmosis III commissioned the construction of two obelisks to celebrate his 30th year of reign.
  • In 1881 Egypt gifted one of the obelisks to Central Park and the other to London (it stands on the bank of the Thames River).
  • Before the obelisk was erected in Central Park (in 1881), a time capsule was buried underneath.
  • The time capsule contains: 1870 U.S. census, a Bible, a Webster’s Dictionary, the complete works of William Shakespeare, a guide to Egypt, and a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Also worth noting, in 2011 the Egyptian government threatened to revoke the obelisk due to neglect, but the Central Park Conservancy was able to raise money and restore it properly.


3. Walk the Mall (Famous Promenade)

Location: 66th to 72nd Street

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 canopy that offers a shady retreat during our hot 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. 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.

Central Park the Mall fall autumn

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.

Further Reading: 12+ Epic Spots to Find Fall Color in Central Park


autumn Bow Bridge Central Park fall

2. Cross the Bow Bridge

Location: 72nd Street

Central Park is home to more than 40 bridges, but the most popular by far is the romantic Bow Bridge. Built in 1862, 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.

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 at once. 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.

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.


Cherry blossoms in Central Park, Bethesda Fountain

1. Take in the Splendor of Bethesda Fountain & Terrace

Location: Mid-Park at 72nd Street

Bethesda Fountain is one of the most beautiful places in Central Park. The Terrace is actually the park’s only formal architectural design. 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!


Extra Time? More Great Things to Do in Central Park


things to do Central Park

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.


Best things to see Central Park

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 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.


Central Park best things to do

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.


Sheep Meadow Central Park
Best things to do Central Park

Have a Picnic at Sheep Meadow

Location: West Side between 66th and 69th

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.

Tucked under the shadow of NYC’s iconic skyline, there’s plenty of areas to stretch out. From the shade of mature oak trees, to the wide open patches for those interested in sunbathing. But if action is more your speed, the entire meadow is at your feet. Bring a Frisbee, run wild with the kids or toss around a soccer ball with what feels like half of NYC.


Conservatory Water  in the Fall

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.


Tulips at the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park in NYC

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? Named after William Shakespeare, the four acre park is inspired by classic English cottage gardens. If you have the time, I suggest reading the various quote plaques throughout the garden. The garden’s curator makes it a point of pride to make the garden different every year.


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.


Tips for Visiting Central Park for the First Time

Dog offleash 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. Here’s a list of the best restaurants near Central Park.


Our Video on the Fun Central Park Activities


Best Things to See in Central Park (Summary)

In sum, these are the best spots in Central Park:

  1. Bethesda Terrace
  2. The Bow Bridge
  3. The Mall
  4. Belvedere Castle
  5. Strawberry Fields
  6. The Reservoir
  7. The Lake
  8. The Ramble
  9. Conservatory Garden
  10. Wollman Rink
  11. Sheep Meadow
  12. Bike the Park Drive Loop
  13. North Meadow
  14. Gapstow Bridge
  15. Conservatory Water
  16. Visit the Shakespeare Garden

Visiting Central Park FAQ

(FAQ)
What is the best way to see Central Park?

The best way to see Central Park is to walk around. But because the park is so large (with tons of meandering paths) it’s best to pick up a free map from the staffed booths throughout the park. Use this helpful guide to pick out some must-see spots and make a game plan!

How long do you need to explore Central Park?

I’d say 2 hours max. I mean, you can easily spend half the day in the park, but if you’re looking to see the most iconic spots (mentioned on this list), you can easily do that within 2-3 hours (2 hours minimum, 3 hours at a leisurely pace).

Which part of Central Park is best?

The best part of Central Park is the southern end, specifically the area on the Upper East Side. I suggest starting your tour there and working your way toward the Upper West Side (end at John Lennon’s Memorial, Strawberry Fields).


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The 20 Best Restaurants Near Central Park (A Local’s Favorites)
5 Best Spots to See Cherry Blossoms in Central Park (Local’s Guide)
15 Fascinating Facts About Central Park That May Surprise You
20 Epic Spots to Grab Brunch Near Central Park (For ALL Budgets)


What to See in Central Park (Helpful Map)


And there you have it – a quick roundup of the best things to do in Central Park. I hope you enjoyed the post!

Cheers!

Maggie

Saturday 23rd of December 2023

I visited the Shakespear Garden on your recommendation -- what a beautiful place! Had no idea they had so many pretty tulips during the spring season, thanks for letting me know!

Antonina

Saturday 23rd of December 2023

Absolutely! So happy to hear you enjoyed it, it's one of my favorite spots in Central Park.

Jenny

Saturday 23rd of December 2023

Yes to everything on this list! I visited NYC from London a few weeks ago and followed your advice to a T. Loved every second of my trip, thank you so much for sharing your experience.

Love, Jenny from London

Antonina

Wednesday 27th of December 2023

Hi Jenny, thank you so much for your kind words. So happy to hear you enjoyed NYC!

Roger

Saturday 19th of August 2023

Great post. New York's early planners had great foresight creating such an awesome park.

Antonina

Wednesday 20th of December 2023

@Roger, I couldn't agree more!

Patricia McConnell

Monday 26th of June 2023

I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Central Park Zoo! Most people do not know that there is a zoo in Central Park. It’s a great zoo with a variety of animals considering it is not large.

Catherine

Saturday 23rd of December 2023

@Patricia McConnell, I love the zoo! I thought it'd be a tourist trap but it wasn't, highly recommend!

Antonina

Wednesday 20th of December 2023

@Patricia McConnell,

Hey Patricia, great call! I just visited the zoo this past weekend with a friend's 5 year old daughter. It was such a blast! I'm planning to add it to the list soon, thanks for your suggestion!

Melissa

Friday 2nd of September 2022

Hi there,

Great post. I haven't been in like 10 years and didn't bike the first time and don't recall seeing half these spots. lol. Just wanted to confirm - if we bike, can we see all of the spots you mentioned? You said bikes aren't allowed on the paths.. I would love to ride around and see them all rather than walking since a lot of the day will be on foot as it is!

New York Simply

Monday 5th of September 2022

Hey Melissa, most of these sites will require you to dismount and walk the bike to check out. You can bike the main road from one point to the next, but once you're there you will have to walk the bike.