Nicknamed the “green lung” of New York, Central Park is the largest park in the city. It is New Yorkers’ favorite place to relax, their haven of peace in the midst of the hubbub of the city.
Central Park is above all an emblematic place of the “Big Apple”! It is therefore impossible to stay there without going for a walk. It’s a must! But before you go there, here is what you must see about 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 on any trip to New York!
History of Central Park
At the beginning of the 19th century, New York was the largest city in the country. The inhabitants, who then had very few green spaces, wanted the creation of a large park where they could get some fresh air.
The state of New York therefore took the decision to build this park on wasteland, covered with swamps and rocks. A commission was created to oversee its development: the Central Park Commission.
A competition was organized in 1857 and it was the project of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, two American landscape architects, which was finally selected. They both wanted to create a veritable green oasis in the middle of New York’s skyscrapers.
The development of Central Park required thirteen years of work (from 1860 to 1873). The rocks were cleared with explosives, residents were evicted and their homes destroyed. They also brought earth en masse. In short, it was a very, very big project 😅
At first, the park was very busy, especially with the installation of the zoo (in 1864) and the “Metropolitan Museum of Art” right next door. However, after only a while, it ceased to be 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 crisis of 1929), the homeless even came to settle there.
The election of a new mayor in 1934 ( Fiorello LaGuardia ), with his new policy of rebuilding New York, breathed new life into the city and the park. But the person entrusted with the task of bringing the park back to life, urban planner Robert Moses – who also managed to rehabilitate the park – left his post. The park was then again abandoned to vandals and gangs.
It was not until the mid-1970s that various associations (especially with the help of private donations) put pressure on the mayor ( Edward Koch ) and rehabilitated the park. Over the years, the restoration work did not stop and the park finally regained its brilliance and its primary mission: to become the “green lung” of New York.
Today, more than 25 million people visit it every year.
A Few Figures To Remember
The park has an area of 341 hectares, or 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. 200,000 people took part.
The park has:
- 500,000 trees/shrubs,
- 9,000 benches,
- 1,600 streetlights,
- 21 playgrounds for children,
- 51 carvings,
- 40 fountains,
- 7 artificial lakes,
- 36 bridges/archs,
- 2 skating rinks,
- 30 tennis courts.
There are also 9.7 kilometers of tracks (pedestrians, cycling, rollerblading) and 7 kilometers of paths reserved for riders. For the little extra info, more than 250 films have been shot there.
There are also 9.7 kilometers of tracks (pedestrians, cycling, rollerblading) and 7 kilometers of paths reserved for riders.
For the little extra info, more than 250 films have been shot there.
15 Things to Discover in Central Park
Located in the heart of Manhattan, Central Park forms a large rectangle of greenery 4 km long and 800 meters wide. Its total area is 3.41 km² (341 hectares).
It is delimited by:
- 110th Street to the north, nicknamed “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 Mall”, the promenade of Central Park. It is maintained by the City of New York.
The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. and admission is free (beware, some of the indoor activities are chargeable).
“The Mall” is the pedestrian avenue of Central Park. With its trees and benches, this promenade is truly emblematic of the park! When New Yorkers talk about the “promenade”, they mean The Mall.
You can’t miss it – it’s one of the great “arteries” in Central Park 🙂
The Great Lawn
Located in the heart of the park, this formerly submerged lawn (the largest in the park) was used to supply the city with water (it was then called the Lower Reservoir ). Today, you can picnic there, but above all do some sports like basketball or baseball on the various fields that have been laid out there. It is located between 79th and 86th Streets.
This pretty flower garden, which is home to plant species appearing in the works of Shakespeare, is next to the “Delacorte Theater”, an open-air theater located very close to the “Great Lawn”.
This is where ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ takes place every year (May-August): Shakespeare’s plays are performed there (tickets are free, but you have to wait in line!).
It’s the perfect place if you want to rest a bit or enjoy the sun. Many New Yorkers come here to relax, picnic and sunbathe on this lawn which, until 1934, was a meadow for sheep.
In summer, there are even open-air cinema sessions (which are free too! 😄).
The place is very popular because it offers a nice view of the skyscrapers that surround the park.
“The Ramble” is a wooded area bordering on the wild, which lies between “Bethesda Fountain” and “Belvedere Castle”.
This is my favorite part of Central Park, it literally feels like being in the middle of the forest since there are small drops, greenery, the path is not “straight”. Depending on the season, there are a lot of leaves on the ground, and it’s just a great place to get some fresh air 😊
It is the wildest place in the park and it is very pleasant to walk there knowing that you are only a few kilometers from the heart of Manhattan and the hubbub of the financial district.
Buildings and Monuments
There are also many buildings and monuments to discover in Central Park
In this small wooded place, you will find a memorial in honor of John Lennon (who was assassinated 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 where the word “Imagine” is written (in homage to the song he wrote) as well as the flowers or candles that his fans come to drop off regularly 🕯️
This reproduction of a real Scottish-style castle was built in 1869 on “Vista Rock”, the highest point in the park (this rock is over 450 million years old). The advantage of this site is that you can enjoy a very nice 360° panorama of the park and its surroundings.
Note that the view is more beautiful in the afternoon, because the sun will be behind you and you will be able to take very beautiful photos.
Until the 1960s, the “New York Weather Observatory” had facilities there. Today, the “Henry Luce Nature Observatory” exhibits a sample of the fauna and flora that can be found in the park.
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
Laid out from 1859 to 1864, the “Bethesda esplanade” is always bustling with activity. Tourists and New Yorkers come to sit on the steps and can then enjoy a nice view of “The Lake”, on which they also like to sail in boats.
They also like to meet at the edge of its pretty and monumental fountain, located in the heart of the park. Known throughout the world, the “Bethesda Fountain”, nicknamed “Angel of The Waters” was inaugurated in 1973. The scene it represents is taken from a passage in the Gospel (Chapter 5).
The Bow Bridge
The “Bow Bridge”, which you will find very close to the Bethesda Fountain, is the most famous bridge in Central Park.
It is above all one of the most romantic places in the park so if you come as a couple, don’t forget to visit it 😉 It was built in 1862 and is 26.5 meters long.
Alice in Wonderland Statue
Inaugurated in 1959, the “Alice in Wonderland Statue” is one of the favorite statues of children. It is also one of the most amazing in the park! It stands just opposite the body of water reserved for model ships, the “Conservatory Water”.
Most sculptures in Central Park come from private collections. They represent writers, poets or fictional characters.
This shell-shaped kiosk was built in 1923 by Elkan Naumburg, a philanthropic banker. Acoustic concerts are often played here.
“Cleopatra’s Needle” is an Egyptian obelisk that was installed in the park in 1881.
Central Park Zoo
Located in the heart of the park, this zoo is not very big (2.6 hectares). It opens every day from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (November to March); and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and until 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (April to October). You can buy a ticket up to 30 minutes before closing.
If you are staying in New York with children, take them to the zoo, they will love to spend some time there! They will be able to see, in three climatic zones, 150 animal species such as red pandas, seals, penguins, California sea lions and snow leopards. Some rare or endangered animals are also visible there, such as the tamarin.
There is also a space dedicated to children under 6 years old, the “Tisch Children’s Zoo”. It’s actually a small discovery farm where children can pet and feed pigs, cows, goats or chickens 🐔
The zoo also offers a “4-D theater” with daily shows.
Here are the prices for the Central Park Zoo:
|Category||Entrance to the Zoo||Entrance to the 2 Zoos + 4D theater|
|Seniors (+ 65 years old)||$10.95||$15.25|
|Children (3 to 12 years old)||$8.95||$13.45|
Admission is free for children under 3 years old.
If you just want to go to the 4D theater, admission is $7 (for anyone over 3).
Note that Central Park is also a “sanctuary” for many animals such as migratory birds, squirrels, raccoons, marmots and rabbits 🐇
The Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir
Central Park has 7 lakes, but the “Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir” is the largest of them all. It is 43 hectares. It was nicknamed so because first lady Jacky Kennedy liked to run there. Moreover, many runners love to go around it (2.5 km).
Other Bodies of Water
- The Conservatory Water
It is a very small lake where the inhabitants come to play with their model boats.
- The Lake
Located next to the “Fountain of Bethesda”, this 7.3 hectare body of water is used to supply two lakes in the park: “The Pool” and the “Harlem Meer” (4.5 hectares). You can go boating or pedaloing there. It offers a very different point of view on the park!
- The Pond
Covering an area of 1.4 hectares, this large pond is located at the southeast corner of the park. It is one of the quietest places in Central Park.
- A well-kept secret: the Central Park waterfalls
Most tourists are unaware that there are waterfalls in Central Park. However, there are five of them and they are magnificent places! You’ll find them on the west side of the park.
What Activities Can You Do in Central Park?
No time to get bored in this park! You can enjoy a multitude of activities there, regardless of the season.
First of all, of course, you can walk, run or rollerblade along the 9.5 km long road that circles the park. Beware, however, of cyclists using the same route. Instead, prefer the other, smaller tracks. This road is also closed to traffic after 7 p.m. on weekdays and weekends.
You can also ride a bike. This is also the best way to see the most things in Central Park. You can bring your own or rent one (remember to book it!). You will pick up the bike nearby or directly in the park and you can go directly to discover it 😄
In half a day, you will have time to see a large majority of the park and that, without pedaling hard! Rather practical, especially since depending on the rental period you have chosen, you can also leave the park and circulate in the surroundings.
By renting bikes, you will only save time to see more things while having fun (nothing better than taking a bike ride in Central Park! 😉) and limiting your fatigue.
25 pitches are also available for playing football or baseball. You can also play tennis on one of the park’s 30 courts (clay or hard).
These fields are open daily from 6:30 am until evening, and they are located in the western part of the park. Given their popularity, it is necessary to reserve them! ($15 per hour or $200 for the season)
You can even fish (April to October) on “Harlem Meer” (you will need to register at the “Charles A. Dana Discovery Center” first, then release the fish)
In winter, it will be possible to ice skate in New York ⛸️ (by the way, if you don’t know when to go to New York, I wrote a full article on the subject 😊):
- on the “Wollman Rink” ice rink located north of the park entrance from the end of October to March – this ice rink becomes an amusement park from June to September, with many rides and games;
- on the “Lasker Rink” located in the middle of the park (for ice hockey and sports skating) – this body of water turns into a swimming pool in the summer (from mid-June to September).
It is also possible to sail on “The Lake” – you can rent a boat or a pedal boat at the “Loeb Boathouse”.
Finally, you can go around the park in a carriage and even on horseback. These are quite interesting guided tours to do!
You can relax while strolling through the park to the rhythm of the horse’s hoofbeats. The horse-drawn carriage being a symbol of pre-modern life and the old mode of travel of New Yorkers, you will have the opportunity to go back in time and experience the same feeling, while enjoying the stories of your guide 😉
Activities For Children In Central Park
Children like to meet animals in the zoo and the discovery farm. But they especially love to enjoy the 21 playgrounds and the carousel in the park, which have been open since 1870.
The puppet theater in the “Swedish Cottage” is also one of their favorite activities, and they like to celebrate their birthday there 🥳
The Park Hosts Various Cultural Events
Central Park is also a place where many events take place. We can thus assist:
- at music concerts, notably those organized in June and August, during the “Summer Festival”;
- at the open-air concert that the “New York Philharmonic Orchestra” gives every summer;
- free performances at the “Théâtre Public” (mainly plays by William Shakespeare);
- to the two works that the “Metropolitan Opera” presents each 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 most famous museums in the city, but also the American Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum. Visits not to be missed!
- Although the park had a high crime rate in the past, it is now a safe place. The safety of visitors is ensured by a special police department, attached to the New York police. Surveillance is done until 9 p.m. every evening by police and volunteers.
- In winter, Central Park turns into a ski resort: it is then possible to go cross-country skiing or sledding.
- Where to eat in Central Park? You can go to the “Loeb Boathouse”, or the “Petrie Court” which is next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, the most famous restaurant in Central Park remains the “Tavern on the Green”, west of the park. You can have lunch or dinner there while enjoying a superb view of the park. It is a very romantic place! 😊
- You can opt for a guided tour of Central Park on foot or by bike.
Discover Central Park by bike
Do you want to visit Central Park and discover the vast majority of places in this fabulous park? Be aware that it will be complicated and that you may take a long time if you do it on foot! The best way, in my opinion, is to rent a bike to get around the park and its surroundings. Even traveling at a rather slow pace, you will discover most of the park in half a day. Depending on the rental period chosen, you can even go to the surrounding streets/districts once your discovery of the park is over.
Renting a bike is an opportunity to see more things in less time.
And then, a bike ride in Central Park, it’s still more than memorable, isn’t it? 😉
Admire Central Park from the Air
Taking a walk in Central Park is already a unique experience, but if you want to immortalize your trip even more, you can admire the immensity of the park from the air 🤩
It is an experience that I had the opportunity to realize, and I keep a memory and an emotion engraved forever in my memory! It was sensational to have your feet in the void and the most beautiful photos of my stay are obviously those taken from the air.
Admittedly, this activity has a rather expensive cost, but the memory it provides is really worth it 😄 You won’t be disappointed! Especially since you will see the other emblems & monuments of the city at the same time ( Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty,…).
A word of advice : remember to book your flight as soon as possible in order to be sure of having availability during your dates of stay. If possible, plan your flight at the beginning of your stay (this way, if the weather is bad on D-Day, you can move your flight to the following days).
We have come to the end of this article! I hope you enjoyed it, and that you now have a better idea of what you want to do once you arrive in this absolutely incredible park. And if you’ve been there, what was your favorite activity?
If it’s not on this list, feel free to share it with me in the comments! I don’t think I’ve been around the park yet, and I really wouldn’t want to miss anything 😄
As for the others, I wish you a very good stay on site!