Central Park is the largest green space in Manhattan and, within its 843 acres, there is an incredible variety of things to do in Central Park. From quirky sculptures to magnificent architecture, wide-open spaces and fun things to do, Central Park is a serene and beautiful space in the heart of Manhattan and is a New York must-see. We’ve spent countless hours exploring, running, cycling and walking through the park and it is our favourite place to escape to from the chaotic city streets! We’ve put together this list of our favourite things to do in Central Park: it’s our guide to the best things to do in Central Park.
The Best Things to do in Central Park
From running loops to lazy afternoons with a picnic, Central Park has something for everyone!
1 | Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
The Bethesda Terrace sits at the heart of Central Park and its stunning architecture and amazing views one of the park’s highlights. The open-air arcade is flanked by a grand staircase and is renowned for its colourful ceiling which is comprised of 16,000 patterned tiles.
A visit to the adjoining Bethesda Fountain, one of the largest fountains in New York, is among our favourite things to do in Central Park and one of the best photo spots in New York City. The fountain is topped by the beautiful ‘Angel of the Waters’ statue, which is said to represent health, purity, temperance, and peace.
There is always incredible energy around the fountain, but early morning just after sunrise is our favourite time when the only people you’ll meet are dog walkers and runners.
Where to stay in New York
We’ve stayed all over the city during our trips to NYC. Here are some of our favourite hotels:
- Courtyard Soho: for its downtown location and price. – click here for latest prices
- Pod 51: an awesome and funky option close to the Rockefeller Center – click here for latest prices
- Renaissance Times Square: for its Times Square location, spacious rooms and the stunning R Lounge bar. You can have breakfast overlooking the iconic Times Square and enjoy cocktails in the evenings overlooking the lights! – click here for latest prices
- Hi NYC: on the Upper West Side is a great hostel option – click here for latest prices
2 | Run a Central Park loop
Having ran the final miles of the New Marathon in Central Park, we always make sure to squeeze in a few running loops of the iconic park. From a scenic loop around the Central Park Reservoir to the 10km full loop around the park’s outer paths, Central Park is a runner’s dream.
A run is a perfect way to escape the chaotic city streets and take in some classic New York City sights. Bliss!
3 | Shakespeare Garden
A haven of peace and tranquillity in Central Park, Shakespeare Garden is designed to represent the English countryside and features hundreds of plants that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. It’s a beautiful quiet corner of the park and it’s easy to forget you are even in the city after a few minutes meandering through the paths of Shakespeare Garden!
4 | Belvedere Castle
A visit to Belvedere Castle is one of the most popular things to do in Central Park and visitors flock to the whimsical castle with its panoramic views of the Park. The castle is located on Vista Rock and was named for the Italian ‘Beautiful View’, a fitting name given its stunning views of the Great Lawn and the lush Central Park woodlands.
The castle was originally built as a lookout tower before serving as a weather station and has now been converted into a visitor’s centre but, for us, the highlight is the Halloween Haunted House!
5 | Alice in Wonderland statue
Dreams are made in New York City and the Alice in Wonderland statue tucked away in Central Park perfectly indulges childhood dreams! The Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse and Alice are all in attendance at this tea party and the statue is the perfect opportunity to capture a more playful side of the city.
Visitors are welcome to explore the statue and excited children clamber over Alice and friends all day long! It’s one of our favorite hidden gems in New York.
6 | Bow Bridge
There are over 40 bridges and arches dotted around Central Park. Our favourites are the Glade Arch, located just west of 5th Avenue and 79th Street, and the cast iron Bow Bridge west of Bethesda Terrace whose shape resembles the bow of a violin.
7 | Row a boat on Central Park Lake
One of our favourite things to do in Central Park! A fleet of 100 boats are available to rent at the Loeb Boathouse and it’s the perfect activity for a sunny New York afternoon. The Lake offers amazing views of the New York skyline and, at 22 acres, there’s plenty of water to explore! Best of all, the rowboats only cost $15 an hour, a bargain by New York standards!
Best things to do in Central Park tip: if you prefer not to row yourself there are also Venetian Gondola’s which can be rented for a guided tour!
8 | Strawberry Fields and ‘Imagine’
The beautiful Strawberry Fields memorial between 71st and 74th on Central Park West is dedicated to the late Beatle John Lennon who lived with his wife Yoko Ono in the Dakota Apartments adjacent to Strawberry Fields. It was in the archway of the nearby Dakota building that John Lennon was shot and murdered in 1980. It is named after one of his favourite songs, Strawberry Fields Forever.
The iconic ‘Imagine’ mosaic is located in the centre of Strawberry Fields and a visit is often accompanied by the strains of a Beatles song from the musicians who gather nearby.
9 | Shakespeare in the Park
The annual Shakespeare in the Park festival is one of Central Park’s greatest traditions. Every summer, the Public Theatre performs two productions in the amazing setting of the Delacorte Theater, an outdoor amphitheatre that boasts Belvedere Castle as its backdrop. 2018 saw performances of Othello and the Twelfth Night.
Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free and highly coveted so plan ahead if this is on your bucket list of things to do in Central Park!
Best things to do in Central Park tip: tickets are available on the day at the Delacorte Theatre at 12pm (arrive well in advance and remember to register for a Public Theatre Patron ID before you go). Other options include a mobile lottery or an in person lottery at the Public Theatre box office (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place). A limited number of tickets are distributed from locations in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.
10 | Hans Christian Anderson and Ugly Duckling
A statue depicting the well-loved children’s author Hans Christian Anderson reading his famous book the ‘Ugly Duckling’ to the little duckling at his feet is another Central Park highlight. Like the Alice and Wonderland statue, it is permissible to climb the statue much to the delight of visiting children.
Best things to do in Central Park tip: during the summer months a free storytelling session takes place on Saturday mornings at the statue. If you have a young child make sure to drop by for a reading from some of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous books including The Little Mermaid and the Ugly Duckling.
11 | Sheep Meadow
When the sun is shining in New York City Sheep Meadow in Central Park is the place to be! Food, drinks and a picnic blanket are all you need for an afternoon of fun and people watching in Central Park! From playing frisbee to reading books or enjoying a tasty picnic, Sheep’s Meadow is a magnet for locals and tourists.
It’s the perfect spot to chill out against the stunning backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
Best things to do in Central Park tip: it’s hard to imagine now but the area around Sheep Meadow was used for grazing sheep until 1934 when the sheep were transferred to Prospect Park.
12 | Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir
The Central Park Reservoir stretches from 86th to 96th street. Walking its perimeter is perhaps one of the most peaceful activities in the city and the views of the reservoir and the city skyline are picture-perfect.
13 | Central Park Carousel
The beautiful vintage carousel is a Central Park classic and a $3 ride is a nostalgic step back in time! The carousel is popular with both adults and children alike and stepping onto one of its retro horses or carriage can’t fail to bring a smile to your face! This is one of our favourite things to do in Central Park with kids!
14 | Delacorte Clock
The Delacorte Clock is Central Park’s performing musical clock and children flock to the clock to catch a performance! The clock plays one of a selection of nursery rhymes on the hour between 8am and 6pm. The clock is surrounded by a wildlife-themed animal carousel and, on the half hour, the penguin, elephant, goat, hippo and bear swirl around the clock!
15 | Love Quotes
On a morning run in Central Park we stopped to tie our laces and noticed a plaque inscribed on the bench: ‘this is a place to dream things that never were – and ask why not’. And so began our love affair with the Central Park benches! Around 1/3 of the park benches have been ‘adopted’ and inscribed with a personal quote. Let the search begin for your favourite!
16 | Loeb Boathouse
The Loeb Boathouse, now a bar and restaurant, is a Central Park icon and a great location for a relaxing afternoon in the park. Enjoy a drink at the outdoor terrace bar and you’ll be able to take in the beautiful views of the boathouse, the lake and its rowboats and the 55 Central Park West building, aka the Ghostbusters building.
17 | Rent a Bike
Covering 50 blocks and almost 850 acres, Central Park can only be described as huge! Hopping on a bike is an amazing way to explore the park from a different perspective and cover as much ground as possible. The Park Drive cycle loops include a 6.1mile, 5mile and 1.7mile routes and it’s possible to see some of Central Park’s most iconic sights including Belvedere Castle, Shakespeare Garden and the Loeb Boathouse
Best things to do in Central Park tip: It’s best to reserve your bike from a shop near one of the entrances to the park. The cycle route through Central Park follows a one-way system – cycling is not permitted on pathways and pedestrians always have right of way.
18 | Sailboats at Conservatory Water
From April to October, the boating season is in full swing at Conservatory Water, close to the 72nd Street and 5th Avenue exit of Central Park. Adults and children participate in the Saturday races and boats are available to rent throughout the week from the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse.
Best things to do in Central Park tip: literary fans will recognise Conservatory Water as the spot of the boat scene in the EB White children’s classic, Stuart Little. It was here that Stuart helps his friend George win a model boat competition and it appears in the movie version as well!
19 | The Central Park Playgrounds
If you are visiting Central Park with a child, make sure to stop by one of the 21 playgrounds dotted throughout the park. The playgrounds are all unique in design, only accessible when visiting with a child and are open from dawn to dusk.
Best things to do in Central Park: Our favourite park is the Billy Johnson playground at 67th and 5th. The design is based on the landscape of Central Park and there are two awesome granite stone slides built into the hillside.
20 | Balto the dog
In 1925 Nome, a small town in Alaska, suffered a diphtheria outbreak that threatened the lives of young children and the closest vaccines were 537 miles away in Anchorage. 20 guides and 100 sledge dogs made the journey with the vaccines in strong winds, freezing temperatures and Arctic blizzards. Balto, then known as Togo, was one of the heroes of the expedition and his statue was erected in Central Park in acknowledgement of the indomitable spirit of the sledge dogs who are credited with helping to save the young population of Nome.
21 | Catch a gig
Central Park hosts its fair share of concerts with the Naumburg Bandshell, Rumsey Playfield and the Great Lawn among its venues. In 1986 the New York Philharmonic played to an estimated 800,000 strong crowd, one of the biggest the park has ever seen. Elton John, Diana Ross and Pavarotti have also wowed the crowds.
During the summer, the SummerStage series of gigs take place in Rumsey Playfield and Good Morning America records a series of summer concerts on Friday mornings which air live.
22 | Recreate a scene from your favourite movie
Central Park is awash with filming locations from iconic movies. Home Alone 2 is a Central Park favourite with Bethesda Fountain, the Plaza Hotel and Gapstow Bridge featuring in prominent scenes. Then there are the appearances of Sheep Meadow in Wall Street, the Bethesda Fountain in Ransom and Spiderman 3 at Bow Bridge to name a few!
23 | Cleopatra’s Needle
New York, Paris and London are all home to an ancient Egyptian obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle. In New York, Cleopatra’s Needle was gifted in 1881 and is located close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park. The New York needle was originally built in 1475BC during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III using the granite from the quarries of Aswan.
The Egyptian hieroglyphs were later inscribed by Ramesses II to commemorate his military victories. It’s amazing to see a 3,500-year-old Egyptian treasure in the middle of one of New York City!
24 | Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
A Central Park staple since 1877, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is a quaint Swedish Cottage that hosts puppetry performances in Central Park. Aimed at younger kids, it’s a great place to watch a fairy tale come to life through the magic of the puppets.
Best things to do in Central Park tip: Tickets need to be reserved in advance so make sure to purchase online if you want to catch a show in the theatre.
25 | The Mall
The leafy Central Park Mall runs through the middle of the Park from 66th street to 72nd street and is a hive of activity during the day with street performers, skateboarders, walkers and people watchers. The leafy pathway contains statues of four famous writers: William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Fitz-Greene Halleck. The mall is a great place for photos and is one of the best Instagram spots in the city.
A statue of Christopher Columbus in the same stretch is usually referred to as the odd one out given his literary company!
26 | Conservatory Garden
Once the site of a huge glass conservatory, the Conservatory Garden is six acres of bliss within Central Park. The garden is split into English, French and Italian style gardens and the year-round bloom of the English Garden makes it a hit with visitors.
The entrance to the garden is also special: the entrance stands upon the original entrance of the Vanderbilt Mansion and the gardens are accessed via its old iron gate.
27 | The Dairy
First constructed in 1870, the Victorian Gothic style Dairy building was built to provide fresh milk and snacks to children in the park The charming Victorian cottage has been reconstructed and now serves as one of the park’s five information centers. It’s one of our favourite buildings in Central Park.
28 | The Great Lawn
The 55-acre great lawn is the heart of Central Park and is the perfect spot for a picnic in the park. It’s also home to the New York Philharmonic’s annual Concerts in the Park series with free outdoor concerts on the Great Lawn. Classical music, friends and a picnic…it’s a date!
Best things to do in Central Park tip: the Great Lawn was once the site of a huge reservoir until it was drained in 1931 and filled with the debris created by the construction of the Rockefeller Center and 8th Avenue subway. Turtle Pond, with it’s captivating turtle population is the last remaining part of the reservoir.
29 | Butterfly Gardens
The Butterfly Gardens were created to help support Central Park’s monarch butterfly population together with a variety of moths, insects, and birds.
Best things to do in Central Park tip: the summer months are a good time to see the butterflies before they begin their migration south.
30 | Beach Volleyball
Finally, one of our favourite things to do in Central Park is to watch a game of Beach Volleyball on one of the sand volleyball courts near to Sheep Meadow.
There’s usually a talented crew at work on the court and it’s amazing to sit in the middle of Central Park watching a game!
Best things to do in Central Park tip: if you want to play, the courts are available on a first come first serve basis and are bring your own ball. The sand volleyball courts have nets in place.