“You can get the true essence of New Yorkers by just hanging out in Central Park.”

ANDY RODDICK

Central Park is one of my favorite places in New York City. 

Scratch that—it’s one of my favorite places in the world.

I’ve easily spent 100+ hours there when I lived in New York. My favorite thing to do during summer is to head to the park with some takeaway and a bottle of wine. 

I’m smiling just thinking about it.

No matter what the season, there’s always plenty to do and see within this historic city park. Follow my lead and you’ll be enjoying Central Park like a local in no time.


1. Strawberry Fields

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Let’s be honest, if you haven’t heard “Strawberry Fields Forever”, what have you been doing with your life?

I’m kidding, but seriously, go check it out.

Every Beatles fan makes Strawberry Fields one of their first stops in Central Park. This 2.5-acre area of the park pays tribute to the late John Lennon.

If you stop by the centrepiece peace sign mosaic,  you’re likely to hear buskers playing Beatles tunes (Imagine is a popular go-to, for obvious reasons).

It’s a beautiful spot where fans leave flowers daily in Lennon’s memory. 

Local’s Tip: The Dakota, the building where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono beginning in 1971 until his death is nearby.

It’s at 1 West 72nd (on the corner of Central Park West). He was murdered in the building’s archway in 1980.


2. Sheep Meadow

Sheep Meadow Central Park

Sheep Meadow is prime for a picnic and people watching.

I spent a lot of my lunch breaks eating here.

It has a beautiful view that contrasts nature with the skyline of buildings along 59th street. 

Fun Fact: A flock of sheep lived on the meadow from 1864 until 1934. They kept the grass trimmed and fertilized the lawn.  


3. Shakespeare in the Park

SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK

Shakespeare in the Park is my all-time favorite summertime activity.

Yes, I’m a total theatre nerd, but to me, there’s nothing better than watching a well-acted play or musical while the sun is setting and the night sky is taking over. 

You’ll usually always catch at least one to two notable actors taking part each season. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Al Pacino, and Anne Hathaway have all performed here.

The Public Theater has been offering free theater for over 60 years.

Local’s Tip: Arrive a few hours before the show and have a picnic on the lawn.


4. Ride a Bike

CITIBIKE NYC

There are two types of cyclists in New York City: 

  • The easy does it, ‘enjoying this beautiful day’ cyclists (read: most of us).  
  • The ‘serious’ cyclists who act like they’re training for the next Tour de France

As long as you avoid a crash collision with a ‘serious’ cyclist, the park is beautiful to ride in most of the year.

I love renting a CityBike and taking it for a spin during springtime when all the flowers are in bloom. 

Local’s Tip: Look both ways when crossing the main roads in the park, the Lance Armstrongs of the world come out of nowhere fast.

This generally applies anywhere in the city you plan on crossing the street. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost been hit by a bike.


There are also several fun bike tours available!


5. Loeb Boat House


Sex and the City fans will recognize this location.

It’s where Carrie fell into the pond while fighting with Big (I can’t imagine having to get in that water). 

On warmer days, there’s nothing better than scoring a little table next to the lake.

Then enjoying a glass of wine and snacks as you watch tourists struggle to paddle boats around the pond.



6. Wollman Rink


Have you ever daydreamed of ice skating in New York City over the holidays?

It was an exciting thing to cross off my list until I remembered how hard ice skating is.

After making it around the rink a few times the experience felt less charming compared to how I imagined it.

Nowadays, I prefer to sit and watch with a hot chocolate in hand. 

That’s right, this girl’s ice skating career is over.

Wollman Rink opens in late October and runs until the beginning of April. 

Local’s Tip: Bring cash, the rink doesn’t take plastic.



7. The Great Lawn

TheGreatLawnCentralPark

What makes the “Great Lawn” so great? 

Well, it’s got baseball fields, and lots of space to picnic or sit and read under the shade of trees. It also hosts the Global Citizen’s Festival each year.

With a view of Belvedere Castle on a hill above Turtle Pond, it’s definitely Insta-worthy. 

Fun Fact: The Great Lawn wasn’t part of the plan for Central Park. It began as a rectangular reservoir from 1842 to 1931.

It also served as a home for displaced residents and surplus supplies.


8. Take a Carriage Ride

HorseCarriageCentralPark

Over the years, the Central Park carriage ride has become a somewhat cliche New York movie moment. 

Cliches aside there’s something very ‘old New York’ about riding in a carriage through the park.

Plus, after a day of sightseeing, a seated tour is a very welcome rest for your feet.

You’ll thank me!


9. Bethesda Terrace


I love the angel fountain in the center called Angel of the Waters. You’ll recognize it from films like Angels in America, Enchanted, and One Fine Day

This is one of my favorite places to people watch. Most days you’ll be treated to talented musicians and singers performing.


10. Belvedere Castle

BELVEDERE CASTLERESIZE

The Italian translation of belvedere is ‘a beautiful view’.

And that is one thing climbing to the top of the highest tower of the Belvedere Castle will give you. 

I climb up every time I pass by to enjoy the view of The Great Lawn and pond below.

This petite castle also houses one of Central Park’s few gift shops.


11. Delacorte Clock


This clock is something you’d expect in an old fairy tale. It plays old nursery rhymes while the characters dance.

Plan accordingly if you want to hear it play. I made the mistake of going in the evening and finding out that the clock only operates from 8 am until 6 pm.




12. Jackie O. Reservoir

JackieOnassisRes CentralPark

Why run if you aren’t going to do it somewhere with a good view?

I love running here in the late evenings just before sunset.

The Reservoir is featured in many TV shows including Friends and Sex and the City.

Fun Fact: This famous running path is where Jackie Onassis used to jog (in fact it’s named after her).


13. The Ramble

The Ramble CentralPark NYC

The Ramble was designed to be like an untamed garden. 

The Ramble is a heavily wooded area with lots of paths to choose from.

I love spending afternoons getting lost on these winding paths. It’s a wonderfully quiet place to read or revel in nature.


14. Central Park Carousel


If you’re visiting with children (Okay, even if you aren’t) the carousel in Central Park is a fun way to cool off on a hot summer day.

It’s the carousel that’s referenced in Catcher in the Rye.



15. See a Concert

GLOBAL CITIZENedited

Outdoor concerts are a signature of a New York summer.

I went to Global Citizen a few years ago and saw tons of legendary performers for free.

Central Park offers free concerts throughout the summer including:


16. Shakespeare’s Garden


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

ROMEO AND JULIET Act II Scene ii Lines 45-47

Visit Shakespeare’s Garden in Central Park and you’ll be surrounded only by flowers that Shakespeare mentioned in his writings.

It’s one of my favorite spots to relax and read a book.



17. Tavern on the Green

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It’s not the historic Tavern on the Green that your parents knew.

The entire place has been remodeled by new owners. It feels more modern and less whimsical compared to the original.  

Historically, it housed the sheep from Sheep Meadow. It became a restaurant in 1934.

It looks nice and the drinks are good but honestly, I’ve yet to eat there.


18. Fishing at Harlem Meer


When I first heard someone say they were going fishing in Central Park, I thought it was a joke.

Turns out it wasn’t a joke, the park offers free catch and release fishing at Harlem Meer.

They provide complementary poles, bait, and instructions on fishing.

If you catch a fish, have fun touching it to release it (gross).



19. The Bow Bridge

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The Bow Bridge is Central Park’s most romantic spot, especially at sunset.

There are always proposals and engagement photos happening here. Not to mention it’s the star of some classic New York films, including Manhattan. 


20. Alice in Wonderland Statue


Fall down the rabbit hole while climbing on this iconic statue.

Okay, it’s mainly children but trust me you’ll want to climb it. 

The statue features all your favorite characters, including Dinah the cat.

Go ahead, take an IG photo climbing it, you know you want to.



21. Boats on the Pond

CentralParkBoatsatSunset

Most people don’t realize how hard these boats are to row until they’re already stuck in the middle of the pond.

I’d ride the gondola instead. A man rows. You relax.

Either way, they’re both cash only.


22. Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre


Honestly, I just remember this from Friends (when Joey is being made fun of for playing Pinocchio).

The theater has free puppet performances. Though I doubt they will be as entertaining as Joey’s Pinocchio likely was.



23. TV and Movie Location Tour


Central Park is featured in tons of films and TV shows. If you haven’t noticed then you must have awful taste in entertainment (joking).

OnLocation Tours start everyday at noon. You’ll see over 30 film locations in Central Park.



24. Conservatory Water

Central Park BOATS

Be the captain of your own ship (okay, model boat) at Conservatory Water.

You’ll recognize this spot from a scene in Stuart Little where he races one of these boats. 

Go ahead, pretend you are still a kid and rent one of these boats for an hour.


25. Literary Walk

LiteraryWalkCentralPark

Stroll down the only path in Central Park that’s intentionally a straight line.

You’ll wander past busts of literary legends including Shakespeare and Robert Burns. 

The Literary Walk is a glorious spot for enjoying coffee and a good book.

It’s also a great place to see artists selling custom artwork.


26. Hallett Nature Preserve


I had no idea this existed until about a year ago.

The Hallet Nature Preserve recently opened after being off-limits for years.  

It’s well known for bird-watching (if you have the patience for that kind of thing).



27. Free Movies in Central Park


One of my favorite things about the city is the amount of free outdoor films available during the summer.

Central Park puts on free movies every August.

Pack a picnic and enjoy a night out in the park.



28. The Central Park Zoo


Did you hear about the zoo where the only exhibit was a dog? 

It was a Shih Tzu. 

Okay, corny jokes aside (thanks jokes4us.com), this zoo doesn’t have any dogs.

It has penguins, monkeys, sea lions, and a petting zoo. They have 1487 animals representing 163 different species.

Fun Fact: It began in the mid-1800s when the circus would also store their animals in the park.

Central Park Zoo stays open year-round.



29. PediCab Tour


Do you really want to walk when you could be riding?

Pedicabs are an easier way to see all the sights in Central Park.

Be warned, they get expensive fast as they charge $2 per minute (plus tip).



30. Chess and Checkers House


Craving a little friendly competition?

Head to the Chess and Checkers House.

They have chess and checkers, plus dominos and backgammon.

It’s a cool place to make friends if you’re traveling solo.



31. Conservatory Garden


This has become my own personal secret garden for an afternoon read in the park.

Located near 105th Street, this is a fairly quiet and less touristy part of the park.

Conservatory Garden is also a great spot for those looking to steal a romantic moment with their travel buddy.


Conclusion

“I just want to go through Central Park and watch folks passing by. Spend the whole day watching people. I miss that.”

– BARACK OBAMA

Central Park is a place I really miss when I’m not in the city. If you’re visiting for the first time, allocate at least an hour (or longer) to truly make the most of your time in the park. 

Like Obama pointed out above, it really is the best for people watching. It’ll be one of my first stops the next time I return (after the theater, obviously).


Check out some of these popular tours and things to do during your time in New York City!

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