Central Park, things to do on the Upper East Side

15 Best Things to Do in Central Park, NYC + Map

Central Park is one of NYC’s largest green spaces, offering all kinds of recreational facilities, waterways, and nature trails. There are many more things to do in Central Park, so it’s a must-see for anyone visiting the Big Apple.

You may pass through Central Park while making your way around Manhattan, but I recommend spending a few hours here. Not only is this one of the best parks in New York City, but you can visit any time of year, and there will always be something going on.

In this guide, I’ll share the best things to see in Central Park and some tips to help you make the most of your visit. If you can, I suggest renting a bike since it’s the best way to explore the park and see many different landmarks in a short time, especially if you’re visiting NYC in 3 days.

At the end of this article, I’ll share the best Central Park tours that you can take to see the most important spots. I’ll also share a map of NYC’s Central Park with all these attractions, as well as nearby hotels and restaurants.

1. Visit the Loeb Boathouse and paddle along The Lake in Central Park, NYC

Spanning 20 acres, The Lake is one of the highlights of Central Park, and people have been boating here since the 1860s.

The Lake, things to do in central park

1. Visit the Loeb Boathouse and paddle along The Lake in Central Park, NYC

It became apparent that the city needed a storage facility for the boats, so construction on the Loeb Boathouse began in the 1870s. Today, the Loeb Boathouse is more of a restaurant and event space, but you can still rent a rowboat or take a gondola tour. Gliding along The Lake is a famous Central Park activity, and one of the best things to do in NYC, especially as a couple. While rowing along the water, you can see the Bow Bridge, one of the most popular bridges in NYC since it’s a beautiful cast-iron bridge and walkway.

Afterward, check out the Loeb Boathouse restaurant, which is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner. There is also a seasonal outdoor bar where you can sit back and watch the boats float by while enjoying a cold drink. It’s one of the best outdoor activities in NYC.

2. Bethesda Terrace & Fountain, one of the most famous places in Central Park

On the southeastern edge of The Lake, you’ll find Bethesda Terrace, one of the best things to see in Central Park. This dual-level structure features some of the most intricate architecture in the park, with grand staircases, arches, balustrades, and an arcade.

The terrace’s lower level, the Esplanade, has columns and arches adorned with carvings representing nature and the four seasons. The upper level has a carriage road and connects to the Naumburg Bandshell and the Central Park Mall, which I’ll talk about later.

Bethesda Fountain, central park must see

2. Bethesda Terrace & Fountain, one of the most famous places in Central Park

What makes this one of the most famous spots in Central Park is the Bethesda Fountain, the terrace’s beautiful centerpiece. This large fountain is topped with the Angel of the Waters statue, which represents the Gospel story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man at Bethesda. Also, the fountain was completed at the same time as the Croton Aqueduct, which supplied clean water to Manhattan. As such, the Bethesda Fountain became synonymous with purity and cleansing.

One thing is for certain – if you look out from the terrace’s upper level, you’ll get a lovely view of the fountain and The Lake behind it.

3. Look out from Belvedere Castle, one of the best things to do in Central Park

Another great couples things to do in NYC is to enjoy the romantic view from Belvedere Castle. This decorative lookout sits atop Vista Rock, and it’s one of the highest points in the park. Not only can you see the Manhattan skyline from here, but you’ll also get lovely views of Turtle Pond, the Great Lawn, and The Ramble.

Belvedere Castle, central park nyc map

3. Look out from Belvedere Castle, one of the best things to do in Central Park

Besides its observation deck, Belvedere Castle has exhibition rooms, a visitor center, and a weather station. Even though the structure was completed back in 1872, it’s still one of the top places in Central Park, thanks to its scenic views, lush surroundings, and Gothic and Romanesque architecture.

I recommend visiting Belvedere Castle when you first come to Central Park since you can get visitor information to help you plan your day.

4. Conservatory Garden, another place in Central Park you must visit

Strolling through the Conservatory Garden is another romantic thing to do in Central Park, and you might even see a bride and groom taking photos here. The six-acre formal garden is split into three sections, each with its distinct florals and decor.

First, the Italian-style central garden features a symmetrical lawn with a fountain, a giant sycamore tree, and a wisteria-covered pergola that’s popular with wedding parties.

Conservatory Garden, areas of central park

4. Conservatory Garden, another place in Central Park you must visit

The English-style garden includes The Secret Garden water lily pool and the Burnett Fountain, as well as large shrubs, decorative grasses, and seasonal plants. As for the French-style garden, this is where you’ll find the Untermeyer Fountain, which features the Three Dancing Maidens bronze sculpture. This section is also known for its springtime tulips and its Korean chrysanthemums, which you can see blossoming in the fall.

A final interesting fact about the Conservatory Garden is that you enter through the Vanderbilt Gate, a wrought iron gate that once stood in front of the esteemed Cornelius Vanderbilt II House.

5. Visit one of the Central Park playgrounds

There are also plenty of things to do at Central Park with kids. There are over 20 playgrounds here, but I’ll tell you about a few of the most popular ones.

First, Heckscher Playground is the oldest and largest playground in Central Park, spanning three acres. It has restrooms, slides, swings, seesaws, climbing rocks, and water sprayers. You can find it on 7th Avenue, at Central Park South.

Another favorite among New Yorkers is the Billy Johnson Playground at 67th Street and Fifth Avenue. What’s unique about this playground is that it utilizes natural structures and even has a slide built into a rocky hillside. Besides that, it has picnic areas, a small amphitheater, and a sprinkler for summertime.

Ancient Playground, what to do in central park new york

5. Visit one of the Central Park playgrounds

Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Ancient Playground is one of Central Park’s most popular playgrounds. It’s inspired by the Met’s Egyptian collection and has pyramids kids can climb on and slide down, as well as an obelisk and sundial.

Two other famous spots in Central Park are the Safari Playground and the Tarr-Coyne Wild West Playground. The former is at 91st Street, off Central Park West, and is a quieter, more open space where kids can run around. It’s known for its hippo statues and treehouses. The latter playground is themed after the Wild West and has wooden play structures. It’s near Safari Playground, on 93rd Street.

6. Harlem Meer, a lovely, natural place in Central Park, New York

Besides The Lake, it’s also worth visiting the Harlem Meer, a man-made lake near the Conservatory Garden. This beautiful natural area of Central Park is a popular place for picnicking and relaxing.

Harlem Meer, areas of central park

6. Harlem Meer, a lovely, natural place in Central Park, New York

The Meer has undergone renovations over the years, with the most recent in 2018, when Lasker Rink was removed and replaced with the Harlem Meer Center, which has a new rink and pool. A grass-lined walking path along the edge of the Meer is the perfect spot to take a stroll or sunbathe. As you people-watch, keep an eye out for waterfowl like herons, as well as muskrats.

You can also go to the nearby Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, a visitor center that hosts free community events and exhibits. The center lets you rent out binoculars, lawn games, and fishing poles since catch-and-release fishing is permitted at the Meer.

7. Ride the Central Park Carousel, the best thing to do in Central Park with kids

For the young and the young at heart, riding the Central Park Carousel is one of the top things to do in Central Park. The stunning wood-carved vintage carousel is considered a scenic landmark in Central Park and all of Manhattan.

Central Park Carousel, cool things in central park

7. Ride the Central Park Carousel, the best thing to do in Central Park with kids

This is actually the park’s fourth carousel, with the original one dating back to 1871. Today’s Central Park Carousel is one of the largest in the country, with 57 carved and painted horses. Taking a spin on this attraction is one of the best Central Park activities, and a fun thing to do in NYC with kids. A single ride costs $3, and they only accept cash.

8. Have a picnic at the Sheep Meadow a romantic thing to do in Central Park

Escaping the noise and chaos of the city is one of the best things to do in Manhattan, and the Sheep Meadow is the perfect place to find fresh air and peace. Located between W. 66th and 69th Streets, this area covers 15 acres, so there is plenty of space to stretch out and relax.

Sheep Meadow, places in central park

8. Have a picnic at the Sheep Meadow a romantic thing to do in Central Park

The Sheep Meadow was originally intended to be a parade ground for military use, but the park’s designers were against the idea. Instead, it became a pasture for sheep, hence the name. There haven’t been sheep here since 1934, but the Sheep Meadow is still one of the best places in Central Park to visit.

On any given day, you can see dozens of people lounging on the grass, playing games, and picnicking. Thanks to its expansive lawn and lush surroundings, the meadow is a popular picnic spot, so grab some food from the Tavern on the Green or one of the nearby cafes and enjoy a meal outside.

9. The Mall & Literary Walk, one of the most beautiful places in Central Park

Another nice thing to do at Central Park is to stroll along The Mall, a wide path lined by elm trees and benches. The huge elms serve as a canopy, creating a scenic and shady spot to people-watch, read, or listen to musicians and street performers. It’s my favorite place in NYC during the fall.

The Mall, which was designed as a gathering space and promenade, is a beautiful place to visit year-round. You can follow it to Bethesda Terrace or The Ramble or walk north towards the Naumburg Bandshell. To the east, you’ll find Rumsey Playfield, which hosts musical performances and SummerStage events, and the Balto statue of the famous Alaskan sled dog.

The Mall, central park sightseeing

9. The Mall & Literary Walk, one of the most beautiful places in Central Park

The southern portion of the Mall is known as the Literary Walk, named after its collection of statues representing famous authors and historical figures. Among the statues here are William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Fitz Green Halleck, and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Suffrage Movement Monument.

The newest addition to the Literary Walk is the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, which was added in 2020. It was the first sculpture added to this famous Central Park walk in over 50 years.

10. Ice skating at Wollman Rink, something to do in Central Park in winter

If you’re looking for things to do in NYC during winter, I suggest going ice skating at Wollman Rink.

The rink has been a popular attraction since it opened in 1949, bringing locals and tourists together to slip and slide across the ice. Today, you can take lessons at the rink’s Skate School or rent skates and go out on the ice on your own. Storage lockers are also available to rent, and the rink’s Wollman Cafe is open for grab-and-go items.

Wollman Rink, fun things to do in central park new york

10. Ice skating at Wollman Rink, something to do in Central Park in winter

The ice-skating season runs from November to March, although if you visit NYC at Christmas time, you can enjoy the holiday festivities at Central Park. In addition to skating, you can visit Santa, listen to carolers, and see the Christmas tree lighting at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

Also, during the off-season, Wollman Rink transforms into Victorian Gardens, a kiddie amusement park with family-friendly rides, carnival games, and food vendors.

11. Imagine a different world at the John Lennon Memorial/Strawberry Fields

If you’re a fan of the Beatles, you can’t miss the John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields. This Central Park attraction is one of the most famous areas of the park, bringing fans from all over the world.

John Lennon Memorial/Strawberry Fields, free things to do in central park

11. Imagine a different world at the John Lennon Memorial/Strawberry Fields

The space covers 2.5 acres and is named after the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which was written by Lennon. The area features landscaped flowers, shrubs, trees, and rocks, and the centerpiece of the memorial is a circular mosaic made of stones that spell out IMAGINE. It’s a reference to Lennon’s song “Imagine,” which promoted global peace, respect, and understanding.

The mosaic, which is often adorned with flowers, candles, and gifts from Lennon’s fans, was made in Naples, Italy, and gifted to New York City. It’s a bittersweet reminder of the musician and peace activist, who was shot and killed in 1980, just a few hundred feet from the memorial.

12. Visit the Alice in Wonderland statue, a good thing to do in Central Park with kids

Another cool thing to see in Central Park, especially with kids, is the Conservatory Water boat pond. This scenic pond is surrounded by lush foliage including cedar, willow, pine, and beech trees. Interestingly, the pond is home to freshwater jellyfish, and a red-tailed hawk and his mate have resided here for years.

What makes this one of Central Park’s hidden gems is the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse, where you can rent a remote-controlled model boat and navigate it across the pond. The scene of little boats gliding across a picturesque pond is like something out of a storybook.

Alice in Wonderland statue, things to do in central park in the fall

12. Visit the Alice in Wonderland statue, a good thing to do in Central Park with kids

Speaking of which, it’s also worth visiting the nearby bronze statues around the Conservatory Water Pond, most notably, Alice in Wonderland. The sculpture features Alice sitting on a mushroom while enjoying a tea party with her kitten, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, and the Caterpillar.

You can also see the Hans Christian Andersen statue on the other side of the pond. The Danish author is memorialized holding a book, The Ugly Duckling, in his lap, and the statue was designed to be climbed on by children, so it has a flat place to sit.

Visiting the Conservatory Water Pond and its bronze statues is a great thing to do in Central Park in spring, especially since they’re next to Pilgrim Hill, where you can see groves of Yoshino cherry blossoms.

13. See a show and other events in Central Park

Central Park isn’t your typical park, so it’s no surprise that it hosts various performances throughout the year. Shakespeare in the Park is one of the most famous, as well as one of the top free things to do in NYC.

Shakespeare in the Park is a summer tradition in New York City and takes place outdoors at the 1,800-seat Delacorte Theatre, at the southwestern corner of the Great Lawn. Seeing one of these shows is among the best things to do in Central Park, and it’s free, although you’ll need tickets. Same-day tickets are available outside Delacorte Theatre or at The Public Theater, which organizes the event.

Summer Stage, central park itinerary

13. See a show and other events in Central Park

Typically, there are two featured productions every summer, and occasionally, non-Shakespearean plays are performed. These aren’t low-budget performances either! Shakespeare in the Park features large-scale productions with full costumes, sets, and sound design. In the past, several acclaimed actors have performed, including James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, and Al Pacino.

If Shakespeare isn’t your cup of tea, there are other events in Central Park, NYC, most notably, the SummerStage Festival. While it’s not free, this annual event features concerts and performances by world-renown artists, such as Michael Franti, Barenaked Ladies, and Modest Mouse.

14. See the cherry blossoms, the best thing to do in Central Park in the spring

The Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees are a must-see in Central Park, so if you want to see them, plan your visit for mid-April to early May.

Once the buds first open, it takes just a week for the cherry blossoms to reach their full bloom, and the pink and white petals quickly fall to the ground. The cherry trees are a reminder of the fleeting beauty and nature of life, and people flock to the park every season to witness these delicate flowers.

Cherry Blossoms, central park nyc map

14. See the cherry blossoms, the best thing to do in Central Park in the spring

You’ll find the highest concentrations of cherry trees at the Great Lawn, Pilgrim Hill, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a decommissioned reservoir renamed after the former First Lady. You can also see cherry trees and blossoms at the aptly named Cherry Hill, which overlooks The Lake, and Cedar Hill, at the 79th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance.

It takes a bit of planning but walking through the groves of cherry trees is the best thing to do in Central Park in the spring. Plus, you can see the lovely magnolia tree blossoms, which last a bit longer.

15. Take a nature walk at the Hallet Nature Sanctuary

Taking a nature walk is one of the best things to do in Central Park in the fall, and there are several places to explore in the park. First, the Hallet Nature Sanctuary at The Pond is a small, wooded area at the southeastern corner of the park. The sanctuary, which is part of the Atlantic Flyway, is a stopover for migratory bird species. Besides the beautiful birds, you can see the Gapstow Bridge, which spans The Pond.

Hallet Nature Sanctuary, cool things in central park

15. Take a nature walk at the Hallet Nature Sanctuary

The North Woods is another good place for a walk in Central Park, and its large rocks make it a popular bouldering spot. It was the last part of the park to be built, and at 90 acres, it’s the park’s largest woodland area. As you walk through the North Woods, you’ll pass The Ravine, The Pool, and the Loch, which drains into Harlem Meer. The woodlands also connect to the North Meadow recreation facility and the West 110th Street Playground.

Another scenic walking path and birdwatching spot can be found at The Ramble. It winds through rustic bridges, outcroppings, and streams, and it’s close to other Central Park sights like Bethesda Terrace, Belvedere Castle, and Cleopatra’s Needle.

Inscribed with hieroglyphics, Cleopatra’s Needle dates back to the 15th century B.C. when it stood in the ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis. It was gifted to New York City in the 1870s and stands 69 feet tall.

Central Park Zoo, a place we don’t recommend visiting

The Central Park Zoo is a popular place to visit, especially with kids. While it’s a top Central Park landmark, we don’t recommend visiting it since we prefer seeing animals in their natural, wild habitats. Besides, there are lots of other things to do in Central Park, as you can see!

Central Park bike rentals

Central Park covers over 840 acres, so don’t expect to see and do everything in one trip. That said, if you’re short on time or want to maximize your visit, Central Park bike rentals are available.

Central Park biking, fun things to do in central park

Central Park bike rentals

Renting a bike is the best way to get around Central Park and explore at your own pace. Your rental includes a park map, a helmet, a chain lock, and a basket. Plus, you can choose from a selection of mountain bikes, tandem bikes, baby seats, and more.

You can rent a bike for 1-4 hours, or for a whole day, so I recommend this activity if you know which attractions you want to see. If you prefer to explore the park with a guide, a Central Park bike tour is a better option. I’ll mention the different Central Park tour options in the next section.

Central Park tours

Again, there are different Central Park tours available, so if you want a general overview of the park or want to see the most famous areas, check out these options.

Central Park bike tours

This guided bike tour will take you to the most popular parts of the park over the course of two hours. A helmet, bike lock, and basket are included, and you’ll be led by a professional tour guide who will share their secrets and some history about Central Park.

This is the best Central Park bike tour if you’re interested in the most famous attractions like the Bethesda Fountain, Conservatory Water, the Conservatory Garden, Belvedere Castle, and Strawberry Fields. This tour is also included in the New York Pass.

Central Park walking tours

If you prefer a Central Park walking tour, I recommend this one. A guide will take you through the best areas of Central Park while sharing trivia, film and TV history, and other interesting tidbits. Movie buffs will love seeing some famous set locations from productions like Eat, Pray, Love, Cloverfield, and Sex and the City.

Bow Bridge, central park tours

Central Park walking tours

Bring your camera because you’ll pass by Central Park’s most famous bridges, waterways, monuments, and sculptures. This is one of the best walking tours in NYC, and it’s super affordable, too.

Central Park TV & movie sites tour

For those who are specifically interested in famous Central Park spots from TV and film, this walking tour is the best option. You’ll spend two hours visiting over 40 places in Central Park, including the Bethesda Fountain and Wollman Rink. See the Loeb Boathouse cafe from When Harry Met Sally and stop by the Bandshell featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will share interesting facts and trivia, and even give you recommendations for shows and other activities in NYC.

Central Park helicopter tour

Finally, one of the most memorable Central Park tours you can do is a helicopter flight over this famous landmark. This 15-minute flight over Manhattan is one of the best helicopter tours in New York City and takes you not only over Central Park, but iconic sights like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Central Park helicopter tour, romantic things to do in central park

Central Park helicopter tour

The tour is narrated, and the helicopter has 180° windows so you can get the best views and see the full scope of the park. So, if you want to do some Central Park sightseeing in a completely different way, I highly recommend this flight!

Hotels near Central Park, NYC

If you plan to stay overnight, these are the best hotels near NYC’s Central Park:

  • The Plaza – The famous Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South is one of the best 5-star hotels in New York and has been featured in iconic films like North By Northwest, The Way We Were, The Great Gatsby, and Home Alone 2. Stay here and enjoy 24k gold-plated bathrooms and rain showers, and the hotel’s spa, salon, and luxury shops.
  • Trump International New York – This 5-star hotel has spacious rooms with large windows overlooking the park, a pool, and a spa. It has the perfect location at Central Park West, in front of Columbus Circle.
  • Park Central – This is another good hotel with a 24-hour gym and a variety of rooms and suites. It’s located at 7th Avenue, within walking distance of The Met, the Rockefeller Center, and Radio City Music Hall.
  • West Side YMCA – The West Side YMCA is one of the cheapest hotels in Manhattan with shared and semi-private bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. You’ll have guest access to the large gym and two pools, and you’ll be just a five-minute walk from Columbus Circle.

We also have a complete guide on where to stay in NYC if you want more options in Midtown or Lower Manhattan.

Central Park restaurants

Whether you want to grab something quick for a picnic, or you prefer a sit-down meal, there are lots of places to eat in NYC’s Central Park. Here are my top recommendations:

  • Loeb Boathouse Central Park – The Lakeside Restaurant at Loeb Boathouse is a beautiful Central Park restaurant where you can dine alfresco or indoors. The Boathouse also has an outdoor bar where you can enjoy after-meal drinks while watching boaters on The Lake.
  • Tavern on the Green – This Central Park landmark was originally designed to house the sheep at the Sheep Meadow. The restaurant serves brunch, lunch, and dinner in its indoor bar room and outdoor patio.
  • Zuckers Bagels – For a quick bite, head to Zuckers Bagels, which is known for its bagels and breakfast sandwiches with smoked fish. This Central Park deli is a New York staple and a popular stop on many NYC food tours.
  • Per Se – Located at Columbus Circle, this fancy French establishment is one of the best restaurants in NYC and the perfect place for a romantic dinner of foie gras, ribeye, and fine wine.
  • Marea – Across from Per Se, you’ll find Marea, another top NYC restaurant serving delectable Italian entrees and desserts.

Central Park map

I threw a lot of recommendations at you, so here is a map of Central Park to help you plan your visit. You’ll find all the top things to do in Central Park that I mentioned, as well as the hotels and restaurants.

If you still have questions about Central Park’s activities and attractions, check out the FAQs below!

Central Park FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about visiting the world’s most famous park. If you don’t find the answer to your question here, feel free to leave me a comment. I’ll be happy to help you out!

Central Park stretches from 110th Street to 59th Street, between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, in New York City.

Central Park covers 843 acres (1.3 square miles), making it the fifth-largest park in NYC.

Most people spend 2-3 hours sightseeing in Central Park.

The idea for Central Park came about when the city’s population began to swell, and the elite class pushed for an urban green space, similar to those in London and Paris. Proposals for a large Manhattan park were created in the 1840s and were approved in 1853.

Central Park first opened in 1858, making it 164 years old as of 2022.

Mayor Fernando Wood organized a design contest for the creation of Central Park, with the winning entry being the “Greensward Plan” by two landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

Before it became the first part of Central Park, the area was Seneca Village, a predominantly Black neighborhood. The government had the power to seize it through eminent domain.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation owns Central Park, although the Central Park Conservancy manages the land.

With that, you have everything you need to plan your visit to Central Park! Don’t forget to download the Central Park map above and leave me a comment with any of your questions or recommendations!

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Hey there, I'm Ascen, your personal trip planner on a mission to help you craft the most incredible adventure of your life. While I'm based in Las Vegas, you won't find me there often. As a full-time traveler, I'm always on the go, exploring new destinations and capturing the world through my lens. From the enchanting shores of Almeria, Spain, where I grew up, to the far reaches of the globe, I'm here to provide you with detailed travel guides and practical tips to make your trip planning a breeze. Find out more about me here.
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