One of the most affordable activities in legendarily expensive New York City is to find things to do in Central Park.
In the park, you’ll find activities that can keep kids busy all afternoon, lowkey spots to hang out alone and read a book, and romantic date activities for a Saturday evening.
When I lived in New York City as a broke college student for four years, I learned a thing or two about budgeting. Luckily, many of the things to do in Central Park are cheap or free. So, it’s a match made in heaven for budget travelers staying in the Big Apple.
The massive park runs all the way from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side. So, grab your Central Park map, and let’s get down to it.
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Things to Do in Central Park
- Conservatory Garden
- The Lake
- Visit Belvedere Castle
- Rent a Bike
- The Central Park Zoo
- Bow Bridge
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The Bethesda Terrace and Bethesda Fountain
- Central Park Reservoir
- Sheep Meadow
- The Mall and Literary Walk
- Strawberry Fields
- The Turtle Pond
- Cherry Hill
- The Great Lawn
- The Central Park Carousel
- Wollman Rink
- The Ramble
- Conservatory Water
- The Ravine
- Delacorte Theater
- FAQs About Things to Do in Central Park
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21 Best Things to Do in Central Park
Explore 6 acres of the only formal garden of Central Park
The Conservatory Garden is one of the top things to do in Central Park. The six-acre garden is located near the Upper East Side and features an English, Italianate, and French Garden. The entrance to the Conservatory Garden was once the gate to the Vanderbilt Mansion.
It’s the only formal garden in Central Park. But, there are also unofficial gardens in Central Park like Shakespeare Garden. Shakespeare Garden is a bit smaller and filled with plant life that Shakespeare mentioned in his works.
Rent a rowboat or gondola from Loeb Boathouse and take a journey along the waters
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (212)-517-2233 | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 9 pm, weekdays / 9:30 am – 9:00 pm, weekends (closed from 4 pm – 5:30/6:00 pm) | Entrance: $20 per hour, $5 for each additional 15 minutes
Renting a boat and taking it for a spin on the Lake is a quintessential Central Park activity. There’s nothing quite like rowing your boat with the New York City skyscrapers as your background. It’s a heart-warming and budget-friendly date.
At the Lake located in Central Park West, you can rent your rowboat from Loeb Boathouse. You’ll have a choice of a rowboat or gondola. After your ride, you can grab a bite to eat at the Loeb Boathouse too.
Visit Belvedere Castle
Climb up the staircase of this Gothic fortress for sweeping views over the park
Once you’ve smelled the flowers and taken a voyage, head over to the Belvedere Castle. Built in 1869, the Belvedere Castle embodies a mix of Gothic and Roman architecture.
Feel free to enter the Belvedere Castle free of charge (donations accepted). After walking up its staircase, you’ll be greeted with open views over many of the other landmarks to see in Central Park. Like the Great Lawn and the Ramble.
Rent a Bike
Ride around all the Central Park attractions with ease
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (212)-664-9600 | Website | Hours: 8 am – 9 pm daily | Entrance: $32/all day or $11/hour for adult bikes, $25/all day or $8/hour for children bikes | 👉 Browse Central Park Bike Tours on Viator
If you want to take it up a notch from exploring Central Park on foot, just rent a bike! There are bike paths all around Central Park. It really speeds up the process of seeing every Central Park attraction and adds a fun, new element.
There are also plenty of bike tours of Central Park available. I’d go for this
Guided Bike Tour of Central Park. It includes the bike, helmet, and bike lock. Plus, they have gear for adults, children, and accessible hand cycles.
The Central Park Zoo
Wave Hello to sea lions, snow leopards, and sloths – oh my!
The Central Park Zoo is a favorite stop for many kids. It was definitely a core memory for me when I was growing up. The zoo has all types of animals, from penguins to grizzly bears. If you’re visiting with children, the Tisch Children’s Zoo is a must-see.
👉 Pro Tip: Midtown Manhattan is one of the best places to stay in New York City because it’s so close to everything. Central Park Zoo is right near many major Midtown hotels like the Plaza Hotel and the Peninsula. Check out Booking.com hotels in Midtown.
Take majestic photos at one of the most popular places to get engaged in NYC
Have you ever wanted to see someone’s proposal or wedding while you’re randomly wandering around? Well, the chance of that happening skyrockets significantly when you’re roaming Central Park. Specifically, Bow Bridge.
Like most things at the park, the Central Park Conservancy manages Bow Bridge. So, be sure to check out their website for more details if you want your wedding photos or have proposal plans there.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Discover two million+ pieces at one of the most-visited museums in NYC
Out of all the incredible museums in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the best. The enormous collection is featured right in Central Park east. When you’re done at the museum, don’t forget to take a stroll down Fifth Avenue, which runs alongside the eastern edge of the park. Fifth Avenue is one of New York’s most famous shopping streets.
👉 Pro Tip: The best way to get the most out of your visit to the MET is by joining a tour. Such as this Private Guided Tour Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’ll give you a better sense of the astounding art you’ll come across.
The Bethesda Terrace and Bethesda Fountain
Rest for a while at one of the most filmed locations in New York City
If there’s one part of Central Park that you’re bound to recognize, it’s the Bethesda Terrace. Maybe, you’ll vaguely recognize the Bethesda Fountain, too. They’re both heavily featured in media throughout the years. It has quite a history as a star on the silver screen.
The Bethesda Fountain and Terrace is just a nice spot to rest a moment on your Central Park exploration.
👉 Love TV and Movies? Check out this Central Park TV and Movie Sites Walking Tour. It includes a stop at the Bethesda Terrace and Bethesda Fountain. Fun fact: the movies John Wick, Annie Hall, Home Alone 2, and more had shots here at the Bethesda Terrace.
Central Park Reservoir
Take in photo-worthy views of the New York skyline
Sometimes, traveling in a new place can get tiring, and you just need a place to chill out for a bit. The Central Park Reservoir is an excellent place for that.
It’s officially named the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The area has lovely views of the NYC skyline at any time of day.
The perfect place to put out a picnic blanket and enjoy some snacks
Sheep Meadow is perhaps the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon in the entire park. Just bring a blanket, snacks, and some good company. You’ll be occupied for hours on end.
Sheep Meadow is also less than a 10-minute walk from the New York Philharmonic and Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West Side.
The Mall and Literary Walk
Take a stroll among giant, mature trees past statues of literary geniuses and historical figures
The next stop on your Central Park itinerary should be the Mall and Literary Walk. As you stroll underneath a canopy of American elm trees, you’ll come across statues of historical figures and writers.
There are statues of William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and more.
Check out the Imagine Mosaic Dedicated to John Lennon
Strawberry Fields is a Central Park attraction for lovers of the Beatles. The name, Strawberry Fields, pays homage to one of the band’s famous songs. People from all over the world come to pay their respects to Musical artist John Lennon at the Imagine Mosaic.
If you want more insight into the Beatles and the memorial, consider joining a tour. Like this Central Park Walking Tour that stops by the Imagine Mosaic.
The Turtle Pond
Relax at the waterfront and appreciate the little amphibian friends
You’ll come to find that Central Park has lots of gorgeous places to kick back and relax. It’s a necessity in a bustling city like NYC. One of those places is Turtle Pond. It’s also a favorite for kids.
Catch a glimpse of the cherry trees from April to May
Cherry Hill is a scenic area of Central Park right by the Lake, Bow Bridge, and Strawberry Fields. It features a Victorian-era fountain. But it’s best known for the labyrinth of cherry trees that pop up every year. It’s a sight to behold.
The best time to visit New York City to see the pink cherry trees in full bloom is from April to May.
The Great Lawn
Join hoards of New Yorkers reading books on blankets
When it’s summer in New York City, local New Yorkers swarm to the Great Lawn in Central Park. As the name suggests, the massive 55-acre has enough room for everyone who needs to recharge with some sunshine.
The Central Park Carousel
Embrace your inner child with a ride on an iconic merry-go-round
If you’re visiting the park with children, don’t forget to make a stop at the Central Park Carousel. They’ll have a blast choosing from one of the 50 hand-carved horses to ride on. The classic ride has been around for over 100 years and is still going strong.
Go ice-skating in the winter and rollerskating in the summer
The activities at Wollman Rink will change depending on what season you’re visiting New York. From late November to March, the rink turns into an ice skating wonderland. The space is converted into the Disco Oasis Roller-Skating Rink when it gets warmer during the summer.
No matter which season you decide to visit, it’s a great spot for a date in NYC.
Embark on a hike through the middle of an urban oasis
The Ramble is a 38-acre forested area in the middle of Central Park. It has a bunch of light hiking trails running through it. Park-goers can walk along the paths for free.
These trails might not be the most well-known of all the hiking trails in New York. However, The Ramble is a lovely little escape into nature if you’re getting suffocated by the metropolis of New York.
Sit back and watch the model boat races
The Conservatory Water, commonly called the Model Boat Pond, is a manufactured body of water with a particular purpose. Model boats.
You can rent a model boat at Kerbs Boathouse and get in on the race yourself. Or, you can just hang out on one of the benches around the pond and watch.
Walk through a nature preserve with waterfalls modeled after the Adirondacks
The Ravine in Central Park is a 90-acre nature preserve built in the image of the Adirondacks. It has a few different paths that bring you into a surprisingly secluded spot natural area.
As you walk, keep an eye out for wildlife because it’s a popular birdwatching spot. You’ll also be able to spot the Ravine’s long stream called the Loch and multiple waterfalls. You might not have expected to stumble upon waterfalls in New York City. But, you’ll find them in Central Park!
Catch a free ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ show, a New York summer tradition
Delacorte Theater is a grand outdoor playhouse in the heart of Central Park. Delacorte is most well-known for its free performances of Shakespeare in the summertime. Every year, two plays are produced. If you’re willing to wait in line on the day of the performance, you can see a show firsthand.
Even if you’re not in New York City during the winter, it’s still cool to see the theater. You can even see Belvedere Castle in the backdrop.
FAQs About Things to Do in Central Park
Can you explore Central Park in a day?
Exploring Central Park in a day is possible, although the park is huge. Travelers who are tight on time can also join a tour to be more efficient with their schedule.
How do you travel around Central Park?
There are several different ways to get around Central Park. Visitors can simply walk around the entire 840-acre park to reach its many attractions. It takes about an hour to walk from the north end to the south without any stops.
Alternatively, travelers can get around Central Park by renting a bike, hiring a pedicab, getting a horse carriage, or taking a tour.
How much does it cost to go to Central Park?
It’s completely free to enter Central Park. Walking around the park won’t cost any money. However, other activities within the park may come at an additional charge such as ice skating, renting a rowboat, or reserving a bike.
Well, you’re officially an expert on things to do in Central Park! First time visiting New York? Have no fear! Just go through my New York travel tips before you arrive.
Have fun in Central Park!
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