Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Central Park, NYC

  • Published 2023/03/15

When you mention New York City, Central Park almost immediately comes to mind.

This timeless urban park covers an area of 843 acres, the fifth-largest park in the country.

Around 42 million people visit Central Park each year.

Likewise, the most frequented urban park in the United States is the most filmed location in the world.

The architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux landscaped the park in 1857.

In 1876, the park opened to the public.

Through the years, Central Park remains a favorite location for first-time tourists and New Yorkers.

Central Park offers an endless list of activities for you and your family that will make your visit memorable.

Here are the best things to do at Central Park, NYC:

Check Out Classic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exterior of Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the world.

It also goes by the acronym MET.

It provides art and art education to the American public.

The MET’s main building is the world’s largest art museum, housing permanent collections that contain over 2 million artworks curated in 17 departments.

See the extensive exhibits of classic art pieces and remarkable ancient Egyptian antiquities, view paintings and sculptures from world-renowned European masters.

European gallery in Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Then, appreciate American contemporary and modern art collections.

You can’t miss the huge collections presenting Asian, African, and Oceanian historical culture.

See the extensive art exhibitions from the Byzantine era and interesting Islamic art.

Marvel at the comprehensive collections of costumes, accessories, and musical instruments.

You can also find antique armors and weaponry from around the world.

Greek exhibit in Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Have a Sculpture Tour at the Central Park Areas

Angels of the water sculpture at Central Park

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Don’t miss the exciting statues and historical monuments within Central Park.

The park has 70 art sculptures, and you’ll learn about the stories, the sculptors, and the inspiration behind each figure.

If you are interested in history, art, and conservation, stop by these sculptures.

Alice in Wonderland sculpture at Central Park

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Read about the lives of famous veterans, writers, philosophers, and thinkers who shaped Central Park into what it is today.

Some of the sculptures include Alice in Wonderland, the Samuel F.B. Morse figure, Angels of the Water, Eagles and Prey, the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, Indian Hunter, Balto, and the Group of Bears.

Hans Christian Andersen sculpture at Central Park

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Visit the Iconic Belvedere Castle

Exterior of Belvedere Castle

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The Belvedere Castle is Central Park’s iconic structure, a mini-castle perched on the dramatic Vista Rock.

Its name comes from the Italian term belvedere, which means beautiful view.

Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed the structure, a fusion of Romanesque and Gothic styles, completed in 1872.

A musician playing cello in Belvedere Castle

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The Belvedere was initially an open-air viewing platform.

Later, it became a weather station in 1919 until the 1960s.

Today, the Belvedere continues to delight visitors with the views of Turtle Pond, the Great Lawn, the Ramble, and the surrounding park and city view.

You can tour the exhibit rooms, observation deck, gift shop, and Central Park’s Visitor Center.

People on Belvedere Castle's observation deck

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Enjoy the Nature Views at the Ramble

Stone archway of the Ramble

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The Ramble is a 38-acre forested area on the Lake’s north shore.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is also designated as a nature preserve.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux wanted to provide the feel of a natural landscape.

Follow a series of walking paths beside the lake to see abundant flora and fauna.

Fall foliage on the Ramble's paved trail

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Construction on the Ramble began in 1857 and ended in 1873.

It’s the most complex and detailed artificial landscape in the Park.

Wander the Ramble’s rustic bridges to catch the birds and view the natural scenery and lush vegetation.

A stroll through the Ramble will make you feel like you’re in a different place.

It’s a real nature escape in sprawling Manhattan.

Trunk bench in front of the Ramble's boulders

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Meet the Amazing Animals at Central Park Zoo

Entrance of Central Park Zoo

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The Central Park Zoo spans 6.5 acres of land at the park’s southeast corner.

It offers educational programs, restores endangered animal populations, and encourages community volunteer participation.

Kids and adults will surely enjoy these unique animals showing their personalities.

Catch the majestic snow leopards, the lively sea lions, and giant grizzly bears.

A red panda at Central Park Zoo

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View the Polar Circle exhibit, where you can watch harbor seals, penguins, and puffins welcoming you.

See the rare Red Panda and the Snow Monkey at the Temperate Territory exhibit.

Drop by the Tropical Zone, where you’ll see a wide range of tropical birds and unique animals like the black-and-white ruffed lemurs, cotton-topped tamarins, and white-faced saki monkeys.

Your kids will have a memorable experience at the Tisch Children’s Zoo, where they will encounter pygmy goats, sheep, zebu, and waterfowl.

Sea lion at Central Park Zoo

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Level Up Your Chess Moves at the Chess & Checkers House

Daytime view of the Chess & Checkers House

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If you’re a chess fanatic, you should head out to the Chess and Checker House.

In 1952, the philanthropist Bernard Baruch built and donated the center to the city.

The center aims to provide visitors and chess enthusiasts a space to enjoy and play chess and checkers.

Chess tables and chairs at Chess & Checkers House

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Chess & Checkers House has several indoor and 24 outdoor chess and checker tables for amateur and professional players.

Today, the brick structure also has an outdoor arch, providing plenty of shade for guests.

Visit Central Park in the summer to join classes taught by chess experts and offered by the Conservancy.

Exterior of Chess & Checkers House

Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover New York History at the New York Historical Society

Exterior of New York Historical Society


Founded in 1804, the New York Historical Society is the city’s first museum.

The New York Historical Society features exhibits, research, and public programs that highlight New York and the nation’s history.

The granite building itself is a formidable classic Roman Eclectic structure, designated as a city landmark.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of New York Historical Society


Explore and discover the rich American history and culture with its comprehensive collections of memorabilia and antiquities.

Kids can also enjoy the interactive DiMenna Children’s History Museum and get guided access to the collections.

In 2005, the museum hosted an exhibit entitled Slavery in New York, the largest themed exhibition on the topic.

One of the exhibit highlights is the Center for Women’s History.

Building sign of New York Historical Society

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Enjoy a Quiet Afternoon at the Shakespeare Garden

Pathway lined with flowers at Shakespeare Garden

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In a hidden area tucked below the Belvedere Castle, you’ll find the lovely Shakespeare Garden.

New York entomologist Dr. Edmond Bronk Southwick created the garden.

An ardent Shakespeare fan, he made the place for children to study plants and natural history.

This four-acre green space is reminiscent of an old English cottage garden, a perfect spot to relax in the afternoon.

Vibrant flowers at Shakespeare Garden

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You’ll connect with the tranquil setting of lush trees, pretty flowers, and abundant shrubs and herbs, all mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

Read about these exciting facts displayed on the bronze plaques, with quotations from the Bard himself.

Shakespeare Garden is also near the Delacorte Theater, which features Shakespeare in the Park productions.

You can also see a granite bench in honor of Charles Stover, who became one of the Park’s Commissioners and played a vital role in the Park’s developments.

Exterior of Shakespeare Garden's cottage

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Ride a Boat at the Loeb Boathouse

Scenic view of Loeb Boathouse

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The Loeb Boathouse is a popular rowboat launching point.

Boat rides on the lake allow visitors to see the Park’s most unique landscapes.

It has remained one of the park’s continuing traditions since the 1860s.

It provided urban dwellers with a unique rural experience by touring the lake’s circuit on passage boats and gondolas.

People rowing boats in front of Loeb Boathouse

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Today, visitors can also get this experience and view the scenic lake, with rowboats and gondolas available for rent.

Another highlight and a popular destination is the restaurant where you can have a sumptuous meal with a charming view of the lake.

You can also rest, sip a cup of coffee and catch the birds at the café.

Exterior of Loeb Boathouse restaurant


Go Fishing at Harlem Meer

The calm waters of Harlem Meer

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Harlem Meer is one of Central Park’s most popular areas, with plenty of family activities.

This body of water is also known for its picturesque beauty, adorned with lush vegetation and wildlife.

The Meer’s edge has benches and lush lawns where you can relax, go for a picnic, bathe under the sun, and enjoy the views of rocky headlands in the south.

Men fishing at Harlem Meer

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You can enjoy catch-and-release fishing.

Catch largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish, carp, and some chain pickerel.

You can borrow fishing poles, get a supply of bait, and learn the fishing rules at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.

You can also enjoy skating and swimming at the Harlem Meer Center, playtime with your kids at the playgrounds, or see exhibits and community programs at the Discovery Center.

A duck on the waters of Harlem Meer

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Listen to Stories at the Hans Christian Andersen Monument

Hans Christian Andersen Monument at Central Park

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If you love Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, drop by the author’s sculpture in Central Park.

Since 1957, the Hans Christian Andersen Monument has allowed professional storytellers to share the author’s classic fairytales, and stories.

The site is near Conservatory Water.

Children flock here during summer on Saturdays to spark their imagination through storytelling.

School children from Denmark and the United States gave generous funding for this larger-than-life bronze statue.

The Danish-American sculptor George Lober created the monument.

It was commissioned in 1954 to celebrate the author’s birth.

Listen to the classic works of this renowned author, and maybe you’ll also bring out the kid inside you.

Stroll along the Old Bow Bridge

Daytime view of the Old Bow Bridge

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The historic Bow Bridge is a cast-iron bridge in Central Park.

It’s a popular spot for almost anything romantic and gives a stunning view of the Fifth Avenue skyline.

This intricately designed pedestrian walkway crosses over the lake, connecting the Ramble and Cherry Hill.

Close view of the Old Bow Bridge

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They named it Bow Bridge because of its elegant arc shape resembling the archer’s bow.

This 87-foot-long bridge is one of the most photographed sites in the Park.

It boasts unique Gothic, Neo-Classical, Renaissance, and Classic Greek refinements.

Take a moment to look at passing rowboats and surrounding park sceneries.

Walkway of Old Bow Bridge

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See the John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields

People entering Strawberry Fields

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Strawberry Fields is another well-visited attraction at Central Park.

They created this spot to honor the legendary Beatle and peace activist John Lennon.

The site officially reopened in 1985 on the 45th anniversary of the singer’s birth.

The architect Bruce Kelly designed this 2.5-acre site, naming it after Lennon’s famous song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Enjoy the peaceful setting of Strawberry Fields, lined with giant elm trees, foliage, and colorful flowers.

Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields

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You can also drop by the Imagine mosaic, created by a team of artists from Naples and named after one of Lennon’s “Imagine.”

The mosaic symbolizes a vision for a world free of strife, conflict, and war.

A plaque also describes over 120 countries that planted flowers and gave donations to maintain the area.

You can also see the Dakota Apartments adjacent to the parking area, where John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono lived.

Pathway at Strawberry Fields

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Visit the Stunning Bethesda Terrace

Exterior of Bethesda Terrace

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The Bethesda Terrace is a large plaza at the heart of Central Park, overlooking the Ramble and Lake.

The spectacular Terrace is a popular destination and well-admired for its architecture and scenery, a relaxing place for strolling and people-watching.

Passage tunnel of Bethesda Terrace

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At the Terrace’s center stands the Bethesda Fountain called the Angel of the Waters, one of Central Park’s beloved art pieces.

Appreciate this structure’s details, notable features, and surrounding areas.

Take pictures of this beautiful structure.

Angel of the waters fountain at Bethesda Terrace

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Learn about the History of Seneca Village

The area from West 82nd to West 89th Street was once the site of the Seneca Village, the largest African-American community during the antebellum period.

It sheltered many Black New Yorkers from crowded conditions and racial discrimination during the early 1900s.

Discover this history and gain insights into this unique community.

Trace the events that eventually displaced the Seneca Village residents and gave way to the Park’s construction.

In 1990, the Conservancy started undertaking extensive efforts to research and uncover important details of this unique community.

Learn the facts and lessons in history shared and narrated by Central Park Conservancy historians and guides in Seneca Village.

Have a Relaxing Stroll at the Conservatory Garden

A water fountain at Conservatory Garden

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Right on 5th Avenue and 105th Street is where you’ll find the Conservatory Garden.

This six-acre formal garden was designed by Gilmore D. Clarke in English, French, and Italian styles and was opened in 1937.

If you want a more tranquil space, to connect with nature, or just take a relaxing afternoon walk, you’ll enjoy spending time here.

You can enter through the southern area at Vanderbilt Gate and stroll along the lines of lilac trees and blooming magnolias at the English garden; stop by and see the statue of the famous author Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Trail lined with plants at Conservatory Garden

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In the central area is the Italian garden where you’ll see rows of yew and crabapple trees, along with a huge fountain and the beautiful Wisteria on a pergola.

The French garden on the north side is equally lovely with abundant spring tulips in bloom; you’ll also find the Three Dancing Maidens, a sculpture piece by Walter Schott.

You’re sure to have some enjoyable quiet moments at the Conservatory Garden.

A person jogging along Conservatory Garden

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Join the Attractions at the Annual Pumpkin Flotilla

If you’re dropping by to celebrate the Halloween season, make sure to join the Pumpkin Flotilla.

This yearly event happens on the 26th and 27th of October at the Harlem Meer.

It started in the early 1990s and was named after the Naval term “Flotilla” which refers to the formation of ships, this time the pumpkins become the ship.

You can bring your carved jack-o-lantern, then drop it off and see it float with over a hundred glimmering gourds setting sail at dusk; don’t worry because you’ll still get to keep your pumpkin after.

There are also lots of other attractions at this free event your family will enjoy like not-so-scary stories hosted by the New York Public Library, fun craft activities, and entertainment like magic shows.

Your whole family will have a fun Halloween at the Pumpkin Flotilla.

Take Time to Visit the North Meadow Butterfly Gardens

Located on Mid-Park at 103rd, the North Meadow Butterfly Gardens is one of the worthwhile Central Park attractions you need to visit.

For over 50 years, this garden has been a habitat for over 50 butterfly species.

It was established in 2000 through the efforts of The Central Park Conservancy and several volunteers; it’s also maintained by volunteers up to this day.

This area is a favorite spot for home gardeners, horticulturists, and those who simply enjoy nature.

You’ll see four planting beds that feature two milkweed species that are important for the caterpillars and butterflies to develop.

There are also other fragrant blooms and plants where insects, moths, and birds find food and shelter.

And if you drop by North Meadow Butterfly Gardens during the summer season, you’ll be fascinated by the number of monarchs that visit the area.

Drop by the Famous Central Park Carousel

Exterior of the Central Park Carousel

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Remember how you enjoyed riding the carousel when you were still a kid?

Let Central Park Carousel bring you back to those days.

This iconic attraction sits on East 65th Street and is one of Central Park’s most famous attractions, well-loved by local New Yorkers and tourists alike; it’s also one of the country’s largest merry-go-rounds.

More than an amusement attraction, it’s also considered one the greatest examples of American folk art.

The carousel features a mechanical organ, 57 brightly colored, hand-carved horses, and two intricately detailed chariots; these were crafted by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein in 1908.

Interior of the Central Park Carousel

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Initially, the carousel was found at Coney Island inside an old BMT trolley terminal; it was donated later by the Michael Friedsam Foundation to Central Park in 1951.

Bring your kids along and ride the carousel with them for a great bonding time, take photos, or celebrate special occasions like weddings, birthdays, or private events.

The Central Park Carousel is open daily so you can visit any day of the week.

Horse sculptures of the Central Park Carousel

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Bring the Kids to the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

Exterior of the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

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Your kids will definitely enjoy watching puppet shows at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

The Swedish Cottage, which houses the theater, is located at 79th Street and West Drive; the cottage itself has much history to it and is also part of the Historic House Trust.

The cottage is actually a historic building that was built in Sweden and was brought to the country in 1876 as part of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first World’s Fair held in the country.

According to sources, Frederick Law Olmsted saw the cottage at the exhibition and purchased and installed it in the Park; it eventually became a theater for NYC Parks’ traveling marionette theater productions during the 1970s.

A wooden bench beside the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

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Bring your kids and let them watch as puppeteers bring every magical story to life.

You can also celebrate your child’s next birthday at the Cottage to have a uniquely memorable experience.

Your family is sure to enjoy wholesome entertainment at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre.

Final Thoughts

There are endless things to do at Central Park, making it a well-loved attraction in New York.

The fascinating museums, park attractions, and historical sites are all worth seeing.

Most of the attractions are also kid-friendly, so even little ones can enjoy various activities here.

Central Park is a must-visit when you’re in New York.

Enjoy Central Park!

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