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Visiting New York's Central Park: 14 Top Attractions

Written by Lana Law
Updated May 26, 2022

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Central Park is New York's backyard. This lush 843-acre patch of nature in the middle of Manhattan is one of the city's biggest attractions and greatest assets, enjoyed by tourists and locals year-round. Countless scenes from movies and TV shows have been filmed here over the years.

Central Park
Central Park

The park is home to scenic hills; meadows; playgrounds; skating rinks; ball fields; and many well-known attractions, including Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle, and the Central Park Zoo. Be warned: the park is huge. The best way to explore it is to stop by the visitor center and pick up a map of Central Park showing the various attractions and things to do, and then plan out a walking route or take a tour.

See also: Where to Stay near New York's Central Park

1. Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle is a stone castle atop Vista Rock, offering a spectacular view of the park and the city from its rooftop lookout. Looking north, you see the open green space of the Great Lawn and the Delacorte Theater, where free Shakespearean productions performed by some famous names are held every summer. To the south is the forest area known as the Ramble.

It should be noted that the "castle" is not really a castle at all, but a miniature castle built in 1869 specifically to serve as a lookout within the park. It eventually fell into disrepair and was renovated and opened in the 1980s. Inside is a visitor center and gift shop.

The weather for Central Park is measured from the top of the castle.

2. Central Park Zoo

Snow leopard at Central Park Zoo
Snow leopard at Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo features animals from the Asia, polar regions, and the California Coast. In the Temperate Territory, watch for red pandas, snow leopards, and snow monkeys. Head over to the Polar Circles to see the much-loved penguins. Other animal highlights include grizzly bears, California sea lions, and lemurs.

Also located at the zoo is a 4D Theater intended for visitors aged six and up. The theater charges a fee but is included with a full price ticket.

Near the entrance is the charming Delacorte Musical Clock, where bronze animals encircle the time piece and play children's songs or seasonal pieces every half hour.

Location: 64th Street and 5th Avenue

Official site: http://centralparkzoo.com/

3. Strawberry Fields

Imagine mosaic
Imagine mosaic | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Located within Central Park, Strawberry Fields is a memorial to John Lennon, who was tragically murdered in 1980 in front of the Dakota apartments just off the west side of the park. A mosaic is set in the pathway with the word "Imagine" inscribed, named after Lennon's 1971 song.

The landscape was designed by Vaux and Olmstead and features 161 species of plants (one from every country in the world), and the area was named a Peace Garden. This area of the park is also a designated quiet zone

It is one of the main attractions in the park, and people often come here to have their picture taken with the memorial.

4. Bethesda Fountain and Terrace

Bethesda Fountain
Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain on Bethesda Terrace stands between the Lake and the Mall, and is one of the architectural highlights of Central Park. The fountain was dedicated in 1873 and the statue, Angel of the Waters, in 1842. The Spanish-style detailing of the double staircase with tiles and friezes was done by Jacob Mould. The terrace is a popular place for photos and a pleasant area to relax.

The Bethesda Fountain is located in front of the Bethesda Terrace. If you pass through the Bethesda Terrace, you will emerge on Central Park Mall.

5. Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden
Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden is a peaceful oasis, filled with thousands of trees and shrubs. Known for being the only formal garden in the park, this six-acre area has a much calmer atmosphere than other portions of Central Park, with no cyclists or skateboarders. It is frequently the setting for weddings.

The main entrance is through the large, wrought iron Vanderbilt Gate off Fifth Avenue. Inside, the garden is divided into three sections of different styles: French, Italian, and English. The French garden features the bronze fountain, Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Schott.

The gardens are particularly impressive in spring, when the fruit trees come into bloom and the tulips provide a showy display of color.

In 2022, the Conservatory Garden is scheduled for a significant infrastructure upgrade. Be sure to check online to see what is and is not open.

6. Loeb Boathouse on The Lake

Loeb Boathouse on The Lake
Loeb Boathouse on The Lake

On the far eastern shore of The Lake, the beautiful Loeb Boathouse is a restaurant with an indoor dining room and an outdoor seating area, set right on the water's edge. The picturesque setting here is often used for weddings and other formal events.

You can sit here on a warm afternoon sipping coffee or enjoying a meal while watching people row boats on the usually calm water. If you are looking for a little more activity, you can rent a boat yourself and go for a paddle around the lake.

7. The Mall and Literary Walk

The Mall
The Mall

A lovely area for walking, the Mall is a straight, wide pathway running beneath a canopy of huge trees in the south end of Central Park. This spot offers a peaceful retreat from the busy streets of New York City and a chance to enjoy a little nature.

Even in winter, when the park is covered in snow, this is a great place for a stroll. Joining the Mall is the Literary Walk, lined with statues of literary giants that include Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, as well as others.

8. Central Park Carousel

Central Park Carousel
Central Park Carousel

The Central Park Carousel has enjoyed a long tradition in the park, with the first carousel open for business in 1871. Over the years, four different carousels have operated in this location. It's one of the most popular things to do as a family in Central Park. In fact, hundreds of park goers ride the carousel each day with a yearly total of close to 250,000 riders.

The current carousel was added in the early 1950s and restored in the 1990s and features 57 hand-carved horses. It is considered one of the largest of its kind in North America. It's open seven days a week.

9. Conservatory Water

Conservatory Water
Conservatory Water

Conservatory Water, on the east side of the park near 72nd Street, is better known as the Model Boat Pond. People come here from spring until fall, particularly on weekends, to sail and race their model boats.

Benches around the shore, shaded by large trees, are a perfect place to visit to relax and watch the action. At the north end of the water is a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and on the east side is Kerbs Boathouse, with a café.

10. Ice Skating

Ice Skating
Ice Skating

Skating in central park is a great family activity, but couples can also enjoy a romantic skate. This is a seasonal activity, open from late October to April, and if you are visiting New York in the winter, a skate in Central Park on a sunny day is a memorable event.

Two options exist for skating in the park: Located near the Central Park Zoo, the Wollman Rink offers outdoor skating for a fee in a beautiful setting, surrounded by trees. Skate rentals are available on-site, and spectators are welcome but they also have to pay a fee.

The Lasker Rink serves as a skating rink in winter and a swimming pool in summer. The fees are less than Wollman Rink. Both rinks only accept cash.

11. Cherry Tree Blossoms in the Spring

Cherry trees blooming in Central Park
Cherry trees blooming in Central Park

Every spring, the cherry trees in Central Park burst into a blaze of pink and white, heralding the onset of warmer days ahead. Two types of cherry trees are in Central Park: the Yoshino (a gift from Japan in 1912) and the Kwanzan. Each bloom at different times in the spring, with the Yoshino blossoming in mid-April and the Kwanzan in early May.

The best places to see both types of cherry trees are along both sides of the reservoir. For Yoshino trees in particular, head to Cherry Hill, Pilgrim Hill, and Neil Singer Lilac Walk. The best areas for the Kwanzan trees are Cedar Hill, The Glade, and the Great Lawn.

12. Alice in Wonderland Statue

Alice in Wonderland Statue
Alice in Wonderland Statue

If you are traveling with young ones, and they need a chance to burn off some energy, take a stroll over to the Alice in Wonderland Statue located just north of the Conservatory Water area. Here, you and your youngest will be delighted to find an eleven-foot-high Alice sitting on a giant mushroom surrounded by other characters from the zany tale by Lewis Carroll.

First revealed in 1959, the statue has been a popular one. In fact, it's so popular that the bronze is rubbed to shiny finish from all the children playing on it over the years.

13. Cleopatra's Needle, The Obelisk

Cleopatra's Needle, Central Park
Cleopatra's Needle, Central Park

If someone told you that in the heart of New York, an ancient Egyptian monument dating from 1450 BCE existed, you may think that they were joking. Well, you would be wrong because such a thing does exist, and it's easily visited in Central Park.

A gift to the United States from Egypt in 1881, the Obelisk, or as it's also known locally, Cleopatra's Needle, stands 71 feet high near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are carved into the structure.

14. Harlem Meer

Harlem Meer in Central Park
Harlem Meer in Central Park

If you are looking for a quiet part of the park with pleasant walking trails, Harlem Meer is a good place to start. Located in the north end of the park, Harlem Meer is home to a collection of aquatic birds, and in the summer, turtles can be seen sunning on rocks.

The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center is almost perfectly positioned, so that photos from across the lake frame it perfectly, with the buildings in the background. The center is worth a visit for its kids' programs that include free Discovery Kits for exploring the park, fishing poles for catch and release, and lawn games like bocce ball and ring toss.

Where to Stay near New York's Central Park for Sightseeing

We recommend these convenient hotels a short hop from Central park attractions:

  • Park Hyatt New York: This hotel offers first-class luxury, a sophisticated style, and is just a block from Central Park. Other highlights include a pampering spa and heated indoor pool.
  • Hotel Beacon: For a mid-range hotel offering good value, head to this hotel on the Upper West Side, near the Museum of Natural History. The Beacon offers spacious suites with kitchenettes.
  • citizenM New York Times Square: Offering affordable rates, contemporary design, compact rooms with high-tech features, and free movies, this hotel is hard to beat.
  • HI New York City Hostel: If you are serious about saving money, this hostel offers dorm-style rooms, a good-value café, communal kitchen, and free daily tours. This is also a perfect place for backpackers.

Tours of Central Park

Central Park is huge, and exploring it can seem daunting, particularly if you have already spent time walking around the city. Navigating through the park can be time-consuming and tiring. If you only want to spend an hour or two in the park, here are some easy ways to see the highlights.

  • Horse and Carriage Rides: A relaxing way to see the sites in the park is on a Private Horse and Carriage Ride in Central Park. These rides can hold up to four people and last about 45 to 50 minutes. This is a good way to see the bridges and fountains, as well as landmark features, such as Conservatory Water, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, and Strawberry Fields.
  • TV and Movie Sites Tour: Central Park has been the setting for hundreds of movies and TV shows. To see where some of the most famous scenes were shot take the Central Park TV and Movie Sites Walking Tour. This is a two-hour tour that takes you to locations seen in Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Avengers, When Harry Met Sally, Love Story, and Sex and the City.
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