12 Things to Do in Central Park

Bow Bridge in Central Park, NYC

TripSavvy / Brakethrough Media


Central Park is on everyone's must-see list when visiting New York City. It's not just an oasis of green within this busy city, it's a place to go for art, music, entertainment, and even boating on the lake. 

The design for the park was conceived by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in 1857, who submitted their plan for Central Park during a contest organized by the Central Park Commission. When Central Park first opened in the winter of 1859, it was the first artificially landscaped park in the United States.

With 843 acres of land, Central Park offers top-notch entertainment like Shakespeare in the Park as well as fun things for children like carousel rides and a miniature castle.

01 of 12

Pretend You're Central Park Royalty at Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle in autumn with NYC buildings in the background

OlegAlbinsky / Getty Images

New York, NY 10024, USA
Phone +1 212-772-0288

Central Park is so vast that there's even a miniature castle hiding within its depths. The Belvedere Castle ("belvedere" meaning "beautiful view" in Italian) is a New York City landmark located atop a 130-foot-tall rocky outcrop known as Vista Rock. The Gothic-Romanesque folly is tucked in the trees overlooking the tranquil Croton Reservoir.

The castle dates back to the 1860s and long housed the New York Meteorological Observatory. The Central Park Conservancy took it over in the 1980s, a couple decades after the Meteorological Observatory moved to Rockefeller Center. It's now but a tourist attraction, boasting exhibit rooms and an observation deck.

Sometimes the Conservancy will host events around birding, stargazing, and wildlife education at the Belvedere Castle.

02 of 12

Engage in a Game of Beach Volleyball

People playing beach volleyball with NYC skyscrapers in background

Annalisa Cimmino / Getty Images

1802 65th Street Transverse, New York, NY 10065, USA
Phone +1 212-310-6600

In the summer, you'll often see Manhattanites taking advantage of the beach volleyball courts near Sheep Meadow. This is the perfect way to get a fun workout in on a warm day—and unlike most workouts in New York City, it's free. All you need is your own ball. There are two courts here, both first-come, first-serve.

For when the sand courts aren't available, there are two additional (bring-your-own-net) asphalt courts northeast of the Great Lawn.

03 of 12

Admire a Piece of Ancient History

Person climbing stairs to Cleopatra's Needle surrounded by cherry blossoms
Stacey Bramhall / Getty Images
E 81st St, New York, NY 10024, USA
Phone +1 212-310-6600

Besides Belvedere Castle, Cleopatra's Needle might be the most iconic historical landmark in Central Park. It's certainly the oldest.

The 69-feet-tall, 220-ton granite monolith was created in 1425 BCE in Heliopolis, Egypt, to celebrate 30 years of Pharaoh Thutmose III's reign. It's covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting ancient military victories and more. The Central Park obelisk is one of three, all sharing the same name, the others located in London and Paris.

Cleopatra's Needle made its way to Central Park in 1881, having previously been erected in Heliopolis and Alexandria. It stands between the Great Lawn and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

04 of 12

Ride the Central Park Carousel

Central Park Carousel, New York City

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1802 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065, USA
Phone +1 212-452-0707

Central Park has had a carousel since 1871 when it was powered by a horse and mule. It is said that the live mule or a horse was hidden beneath the carousel and would stop and start when the operator tapped on the wooden floor. Today's carousel has been there since 1950 and was originally built for a trolley terminal outside of Coney Island, before being moved to Central Park.

The Central Park Carousel is entirely hand carved and hand painted and features the largest hand-carved figures ever made. Rides on the Central Park are $3 each (cash only) for both adults and children. 

The Central Park Carousel is located mid-park at approximately 65th Street and Sixth Avenue.

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05 of 12

Take a Central Park Walking Tour

The Mall in Central Park, NYC

TripSavvy / Brakethrough Media 

If the size of Central Park seems overwhelming, consider a walking tour. The Central Park Conservancy offers a handful of free walking tours, each lasting an hour to 90 minutes. If you're into movies, you can take a tour of Central Park filming locations. History buffs, however, might better enjoy the Big Onion's Central Park Walking Tour lasting approximately two hours and covering between one and two miles. Those who don't want to walk might try a pedicab tour

06 of 12

Row A Boat Around the Lake

Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, NYC

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Park Drive North, E 72nd St, New York, NY 10021, USA
Phone +1 212-517-2233

Head to Loeb Boathouse and you can rent a boat to row around the Lake, Central Park's second largest body of water (only The Reservoir is bigger).

Boat rentals are charged in 15-minute increments and require a cash deposit. Boats are available for rent from April through November, weather permitting. Each rowboat can hold up to four passengers.

If you're looking for something more indulgent, gondola rides are available but you'll need to reserve in advance.

Boating is a way to get a closer view of waterfowl that are hard to see from the shore, including the park's famous egrets, herons, and loons.

07 of 12

Enjoy a Central Park Concert

Capital One Concert Takeover Featuring DNCE, B.O.B, QuestLove And DJ Moma
Noam Galai / Getty Images
5th Ave, New York, NY 10021, USA
Phone +1 212-360-2777

Throughout the summer, Central Park hosts many musical events, ranging from popular to classical music. Outdoor venues offer music in a relaxing natural setting.
Concerts regularly offered include: 

An online calendar of events includes concerts and performances. 

08 of 12

Watch the Sailboats on the Conservatory Water

Spring time in Central Park, Manhattan, New York, USA.

Corbis / Getty Images

Conservatory Water, New York, NY 10021, USA

The Conservatory Water was inspired by a model boat pond in Paris.

Even if you don't have a model boat of your own, you can rent one or join the crowd of observers enjoying the model ​sailboats on the Conservatory Water on Central Park's east side from 72nd to 75th Streets. Conservatory Water holds its boating season from April to October each year. Races are held on Saturdays, beginning around 10:00 am. 

Nearby, you can also check out the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture or do a little birdwatching.

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09 of 12

Experience Shakespeare in the Park

USA, New York City Central Park Delacorte Theater, aerial view
David Zimmerman / Getty Images
81 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024, USA
Phone +1 212-967-7555

For over 50 years, audiences have been enjoying free performances as part of Shakespeare in the Park, held at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Each summer schedule typically features two different productions, but not all productions are Shakespeare's plays.

You'll need to line up or try your luck at the online lottery for free tickets to same-day performances. Alternatively, you can become a Summer Sponsor, where your tax-deductible contribution ​lets you skip waiting in line for same-day performances.

10 of 12

Explore Woodsy Central Park

Central Park, New York City Shakespeare Garden
johnandersonphoto / Getty Images
79th St Transverse, New York, NY 10024, USA
Phone +1 212-310-6600

With 843 acres to explore, Central Park is a wonderful place for aimless wandering.

Wear comfy shoes, bring a map and enjoy Olmstead and Vaux's beautifully designed park. Take time to enjoy both the intensely manicured areas of Central Park, as well as the wilder places, like The Ramble, the lush woodland area of the park.

Central Park is dog-friendly, so if you are visiting with your best friend, the park is the place to go. Most areas require that you leash your dog although there are times and locations for off-leash romping. 

11 of 12

Explore the Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Trees and a pond seen from an elevated platform in Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Courtesy of The Central Park Conservancy 

6th Avenue &, Central Park S, New York, NY 10019, USA
Phone +1 212-310-6600

The Hallet Nature Sanctuary can be found at the southeast corner of Central Park. This four-acre woodland is a peaceful place to go to get away from some of the park's busy paths. Enter at Sixth Avenue and Central Park South.

Hallett Nature Sanctuary is one of the Park's three woodlands (along with the Ramble and North Woods). 

You can explore the sanctuary with Central Park Conservancy guides on a 90-minute tour.

Dogs are not permitted in the sanctuary.

12 of 12

Remember John Lennon at Strawberry Fields

Imagine Memorial in Central Park, NYC

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Strawberry Fields, New York, NY 10023, USA

In a tranquil section of Central Park, on the West Side between 71st and 74th Streets, you'll find a living memorial to the world-famous singer, songwriter, and peace activist, Beatle John Lennon. When Lennon lived nearby he enjoyed this peaceful area.

This part of the park was named after one of Lennon's favorite songs, "Strawberry Fields Forever." The song's title comes from an orphanage in Liverpool, England, where Lennon used to go to play with the children, much to his mother's dismay.

You'll find a round mosaic which was given as a gift by the city of Naples. It bears the word of another of Lennon's songs: Imagine.

This spot, with benches shaded by trees, is designated a Quiet Zone and is ideal for mediation. 

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12 Things to Do in Central Park