Known as the "green lung" of New York, Central Park is the largest park in the city.
It is New Yorkers' favourite place to relax – their haven of peace in the midst of the city's hubbub.
Central Park is above all an emblematic place of the Big Apple! It's impossible to go to New York without going to the park at least once for a walk. It's a must-see! But before you go, here is a list of what you must go visit in this fabulous and gigantic park.
If you don't know what to do in New York, discovering Central Park is in my opinion a must for any trip to New York! 🙂
The History of Central Park
In the early 19th century, New York was the largest city in the country. The inhabitants, who had very little green space at the time, wanted to create a large park where they could get some fresh air.
The State of New York therefore decided to build this park on a wasteland covered with swamps and rocks. A commission was created to supervise this development: the Central Park Commission.
A competition was organised in 1857 and the project of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, two American landscape architects, was finally selected. They both wanted to create a true oasis of greenery in the middle of New York's skyscrapers.
The development of Central Park took thirteen years of work (from 1860 to 1873). The rocks were cleared with explosives, some inhabitants were evicted and their houses destroyed. They also brought in a lot of soil – in short, it was a huge, major project 🙂
At first, the park was very popular, especially with the installation of its zoo (1864) and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art right next door. However, after some time, it was no longer maintained. The dissolution of the commission and the death of one of the fathers of the project, Calvert Vaux, accelerated the decline of the park. During the "Great Depression" (especially during the massive crisis of 1929), the homeless even moved in.
The election of a new mayor in 1934 (Fiorello LaGuardia), with his new policy of rebuilding New York, gave a new lease of life to the city and the park. However, the person who had been entrusted with the task of reviving the park, urban planner Robert Moses – who actually succeeded in rehabilitating the park – quit his post. The park was once again abandoned to vandals and gangs.
It was not until the mid-1970s that various associations (including many private donations) put pressure on the mayor (Edward Koch at the time) and rehabilitated the park. Over the years, restoration work continued and the park finally regained its glory and its original mission: to become the "green lung" of New York.
Today, more than 25 million people visit the park every year.
Discover Central Park by bike 🚲
You wish to visit Central Park and discover the vast majority of this fabulous park? Know that it will be complicated and time-consuming if you do it on foot! The best way, I believe, is to rent a bike to get around the park and its surroundings. Even at a slow pace you will be able to see most of the park in half a day. Depending on the rental period you choose, you can even go into the surrounding streets/neighbourhoods once you are done exploring the park.
Renting a bike will give you the opportunity to see more in less time.
Plus, a bike ride in Central Park is more than memorable, isn't it? 🙂
Other ways to discover Central Park are also available: guided tour, horse-drawn carriage ride, ... More details by following this link and by reading on!
Some figures to remember
The park has an area of 341 hectares, that is to say 6% of the total area of Manhattan.
Architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux devoted 19 years of their lives to its creation.
The work cost 500,000 million dollars. 200,000 people participated.
The park has:
- 500,000 trees/bushes,
- 9,000 benches,
- 1,600 lamp posts,
- 21 children's playgrounds,
- 51 sculptures,
- 40 fountains,
- 7 artificial lakes,
- 36 bridges/arches,
- 2 ice rinks
- 30 tennis courts.
There are also 9.7 kilometres of footpaths (for pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers) and 7 kilometres of bridle paths.
For the record, more than 250 films have been shot here.
15 places to discover in Central Park
Located in the heart of Manhattan, Central Park forms a large rectangle of greenery 4 km long and 800 metres wide. Its total area is 3.41 km² (341 hectares).
It is bounded by:
- 110th Street to the north, known as "Central Park North",
- 59th Street to the south – "Central Park South",
- 5th Avenue to the east – "Central Park East",
- 8th Avenue to the west – “Central Park West”.
The park has many wooded areas, lakes and lawns. There are also many sites of interest such as the Central Park Zoo and the Central Park Mall. It is maintained by the City of New York.
The park is open every day from 6 am to 1 am and admission is free (note that some of the activities inside are not free).
1. THE MALL
"The Mall” is the pedestrian avenue of Central Park. With its many trees and benches, this promenade is truly emblematic of the park! When New Yorkers talk about the "promenade", they mean The Mall.
You really can't miss it – it's one of Central Park's great "arteries".
2. THE GREAT LAWN
Located in the heart of the park, this lawn – the largest in the park – was once submerged and used to supply the city with water (it was then called the Lower Reservoir). Today, you can picnic on it, but above all you can play sports such as basketball or baseball on the various fields that have been built there. It is located between 79th and 86th Streets.
3. SHAKESPEARE GARDEN
This lovely flower garden with plants from Shakespeare's works is right next to the Delacorte Theatre – an open-air theatre just off the Great Lawn.
This is where “Shakespeare in the Park” takes place every year (May-August): a festival during which Shakespeare's plays are performed (tickets are free, but you will have to queue!).
4. SHEEP MEADOW
It's the perfect place if you want to relax a bit or enjoy the sun. New Yorkers come here in droves to relax, picnic and sunbathe on the lawn – which until 1934 truly was a sheep meadow.
In the summer, there are even open-air cinema sessions (which are free!).
The place is very popular, and also offers a nice view of the skyscrapers that surround the park.
5. THE RAMBLE
"The Ramble” is a wooded area on the edge of wilderness, which lies between the Bethesda Fountain and Belvedere Castle.
This is my favourite part of Central Park – you literally feel like you're in the middle of a forest, what with its small inclines, greenery, and its twisting path. Depending on the season, there may be lots of leaves on the ground, and in all it's just a great place to get some fresh air 🙂
This is the wildest part of the park and it's great to walk around knowing that you're only a few miles from the heart of Manhattan and the hustle and bustle of the financial district.
See Central Park from the air 🚁
Walking around Central Park is already a unique experience, but if you feel like immortalising your trip even more, you can admire the park’s immensity from the air 🙂
It's an experience I had the opportunity to do, and these memories and emotions are forever engraved in my memory! It was sensational to have my feet hanging in the air, and the most beautiful photos of my stay are obviously those taken from the helicopter.
Admittedly, this activity is rather expensive, but the memories it provides make it really worth it 🙂 You won't be disappointed! Especially since you will also see other landmarks of the city at the same time (Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty,...).
A little advice: remember to book your flight as early as possible to make sure you have availability during your stay. If possible, book your flight at the beginning of your stay – this way, if the weather is bad on the day of your flight, you can postpone it to the following days).
Of buildings and monuments
There are also many buildings and monuments to discover in Central Park.
6. STRAWBERRY FIELDS
In this small wooded place, you will find a memorial in honour of John Lennon (who was murdered in 1980 in front of the Dakota Building where he lived, at the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street – so not very far from there!)
You will see a mosaic with the word "Imagine" (in homage to the song he wrote) as well as the flowers or candles that his fans come regularly to lay.
7. BELVEDERE CASTLE
This reproduction of a real Scottish castle was built in 1869 on the "Vista Rock", the highest point of the park (this rock is over 450 million years old). The site’s main point of interest (besides the castle) is that from there, you can enjoy a very nice 360° panorama on the park and its surroundings.
Note that the view is better in the afternoon, because the sun will be behind you and you will be able to take some very nice pictures.
Until the 1960s, the New York Meteorological Observatory had a facility there. Nowadays, the Henry Luce Nature Observatory displays a sample of the flora and fauna that can be found in the park.
8. BETHESDA TERRACE / BETHESDA FOUNTAIN
Built between 1859 and 1864, the "Bethesda Esplanade" is always full of life. Tourists and New Yorkers alike come to sit on the steps and enjoy a beautiful view of "The Lake", which they also like to paddle on.
They also enjoy sitting by its beautiful and monumental fountain, located in the heart of the park. The world-famous Bethesda Fountain, nicknamed "the Angel of the Waters", was opened in 1973. The scene it represents is taken from a passage in the Gospel of John (Chapter 5).
9. THE BOW BRIDGE
The Bow Bridge, which can be found right next to the Bethesda Fountain, is the most famous bridge in Central Park.
More importantly, it is also one of the most romantic places in the park, so if you come as a couple, don't forget to take a walk across it 😉
It was built in 1862 and is 26.5 metres long.
10. Alice in Wonderland Statue
Inaugurated in 1959, the Alice in Wonderland statue is one of the children's favourite statues. It is also one of the most amazing in the park! It stands right in front of the Conservatory Water, the area reserved for model ships.
Most of the sculptures in Central Park come from private collections. They represent writers, poets or fictional characters.
11. The NAUMBURG BANDSHELL
This shell-shaped bandstand was built in 1923 by Elkan Naumburg, a philanthropic banker. Acoustic concerts are often performed here.
12. CLEOPATRA'S NEEDLE
Cleopatra's Needle is an Egyptian obelisk that was installed in the park in 1881.
13. CENTRAL PARK ZOO
Located in the heart of the park, this zoo is not very large (2.6 hectares). It opens daily from 10 am to 4.30 pm (November to March); and from 10 am to 5 pm on weekdays and until 5.30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays (April to October). You can buy a ticket up to 30 minutes before closing time.
If you are visiting New York with children, take them to the zoo, they will love spending time there! They will see 150 species of animals such as red pandas, seals, penguins, California sea lions and snow leopards, in three climate zones. Some rare or endangered animals can also be seen, such as the tamarin.
There is also an area dedicated to children under 6 years old, the "Tisch Children's Zoo". It is a small discovery farm where children can pet and feed pigs, cows, chickens and goats.
The zoo also has a "4-D theatre" with daily shows.
Here are the approximate rates for the Central Park Zoo:
Admission to the zoo
Admission to the 2 Zoos
+ 4D theatre
$14 / £11
$18 / £14
$11 / £8
$15 / £11
Children (3 to 12yrs old)
$9 / £7
$13 / £10
Admission is free for children under 3 years old.
If you just want to go to the 4D theatre, admission is $7 / £5.30 (for anyone over 3).
Note that Central Park is also a "sanctuary" for many animals such as migratory birds, squirrels, raccoons, marmots and rabbits.
14. THE JACQUELINE KENNEDY RESERVOIR
Central Park has 7 lakes, but the Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir is the largest of all. It is 43 hectares in size. It was named after First Lady Jacky Kennedy who liked to run there. In fact, many runners love to run around it (2.5 km).
15. Other bodies of water
- The Conservatory Water
This is a very small lake where the locals come to play with their model boats.
- The Lake
Located next to the Bethesda Fountain, this 7.3 hectares lake is used to feed two of the park's lakes: "The Pool" and the "Harlem Meer" (4.5 hectares). You can go boating or pedal boating There. It offers a very different view of the park!
- The Pond
This large pond (1.4 hectares) is located in the south-east corner of the park. It is one of the quietest places in Central Park.
- A well-kept secret: the waterfalls of Central Park
Most tourists are not aware that there are waterfalls in Central Park. But there are five of them, and they are beautiful places. You'll find them on the west side of the park.
Which activities are available in Central Park?
No time for boredom in this park! There are plenty of activities to do there, whatever the season.
First of all, you can of course walk, run or rollerblade along the 9.5 km long road that runs around the park. However, beware of cyclists who use the same route! Instead, use the other, smaller paths.
Moreover, this road is also closed to traffic after 7 pm on weekdays and weekends.
Secondly, you can also go cycling. It's actually the best way to see most of Central Park. You can bring your own bicycle or rent one (remember to book it beforehand!). You'll pick up the bike close to or directly in the park and then can go straight to exploring it 🙂
In half a day, you'll have time to see a large majority of the park – and that's without pedalling hard! It's quite practical, especially since, depending on the rental period you choose, you can also leave the park and ride around the surrounding area. By renting bikes, you will only save time to see more things while having fun (nothing better than a bike ride in Central Park! 🙂 ) and conserving your energy.
25 fields are also available to play football or baseball. You can also play tennis on one of the 30 courts in the park (clay or hard courts).
These courts are open every day from 6.30 am until the evening and are located in the western part of the park. Due to their popularity, it is necessary to reserve them! ($15 per hour or $200 for the season — between £11 and £151)
You can even fish on the Harlem Meer (from April to October). To do so however, you will need to first register at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, and then release the fish beforehand.
In winter, it will be possible to go ice skating (by the way, if you don't know when to go to New York, I wrote an entire article on the subject!):
- on the Wollman Rink, located north of the park entrance, from the end of October to March – this rink becomes an amusement park from June to September, with many rides and games;
- on the Lasker Rink, in the middle of the park (for ice hockey and sports skating) – this one becomes a swimming pool in summer (mid-June to September). You can bring your own skates or rent them on site.
It is also possible to sail on the lake – you can hire a boat or pedalo at the Loeb Boathouse.
Finally, you can take a tour of the park in a horse-drawn carriage or even on horseback. Those are interesting guided tours to take!
You can relax while going through the park to the rhythm of the horse's hoofbeats. As the horse-drawn carriage is a symbol of pre-modern life and the old way of getting around for New Yorkers, you'll feel like you’ve gone back in time and experience that unique atmosphere, while enjoying the stories of your guide 🙂
Activities for Children in Central Park
Children love to meet the animals in the zoo and the discovery farm. But they especially love the 21 playgrounds and the carousel in the park, which have been open since 1870.
The puppet theatre in the Swedish Cottage is also one of their favourite activities, and they love to celebrate their birthdays there.
The park hosts various cultural events
Central Park is also a place where many events take place. You can attend:
- music concerts, notably those organised in June and August during the "Summer Festival";
- the open-air concert given by the New York Philharmonic every summer;
- the free performances of the "Public Theater" (mainly plays by William Shakespeare);
- the two representations that the Metropolitan Opera gives every year...
Good to know about Central Park
- On the edge of the park, on Fifth Avenue, you will find the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the city's most famous museums, as well as the American Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum. Those are visits you cannot miss!
- Although the park had a high crime rate in the past, it is now a very safe place. The security of visitors is ensured by a special police department, attached to the New York Police Department. Surveillance is carried out until 9 pm every night by police officers and volunteers.
- In winter, Central Park transforms into a ski resort: it is then possible to go cross-country skiing or sledging.
- Where to eat in Central Park? You can go to the Loeb Boathouse, or to Petrie Court next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – but the most famous restaurant in Central Park is without a doubt the Tavern on the Green, on the west side of the park. There you can have lunch or dinner while enjoying a great view of the park. It's a very romantic place!
- You can opt for a guided walking or cycling tour of Central Park.