Looking for the best things to do in Central Park? This guide has got you covered! Plus all the best things to do near Central Park too!
Maybe it’s your first time visiting the city. Maybe you make a yearly pilgrimage. Maybe you’re a lifelong New Yorker. If you conducted a survey of all three of these groups about what makes New York New York, I’d wager most of them would answer: Central Park.
An incredible feat of landscape design by Frederick Law Olmstead, the city’s backyard and an oasis of pastoral calm among the concrete sidewalks and sky-high buildings, Central Park is the center of many of New York’s best cultural events (Shakespeare in the Park, Summerstage) nature preserves (the Ramble, the Ravine, the zoo), and leisure activities (skating, tennis, cycling).
You could veritably spend an entire visit to New York wandering around the park and never run out of things to do. So where should you start?! We’ll break down all of the best things to do in Central Park by season (or year-round!) so that you can make the most of Manhattan’s favorite lawn.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Central Park?
While the city’s most popular green space does close overnight, it’s gloriously open year-round, and there’s always something new and seasonal to try in Central Park, New York. Our best advice, in addition to scrounging tips from the best time of year to visit New York City, is to dress for the day’s weather – though there are areas of respite, Central Park is 840 acres, and you don’t want to be caught in the middle of it all during a snowstorm, rainshower, or whipping winds!
Central Park in Summer
Hot town, summer in the city! Some of the best things to do in Central Park happen between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when New York is at its fullest for free, outdoor events.
If you prefer green pastures to stadium seating, we’ve got the concert series for you — Central Park’s yearly Summerstage series, a wide-ranging, season-long lineup of free (and a few paid) concerts at Rumsey Playfield (E71st Street and East Drive) with artists like Lake Street Dive, the Indigo Girls, Trombone Shorty, and Lil Yachty.
Pro-tip: head there on the early side to enjoy the gated-in venue’s full offering of wine, beer, and al fresco snacks.
Shakespeare in the Park
If you’re wondering what to see in Central Park this summer, do not miss out on the Public Theater’s decades-long tradition of free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater (mid-park, near 81st Street).
The highly-popular performances usually feature star-studded casts and innovative, inventive concepts only made more entertaining by the occasional appearance of a rogue Central Park, New York squirrel or raccoon.
This is an activity that while well worth it, you will have to plan ahead to attend – due to the Public’s popularity, there are long lines for ticket distribution and we recommend lining up as soon as the park opens at 6 am ahead of the 12 pm distribution time to guarantee a seat (hey, it’s still easier than getting Taylor Swift tickets!). And if you’re willing to chance it a bit, there’s also an in-person lottery and a digital lottery through TodayTix!
Ever watch the US Open and think “I could do that!!”? And then you sit back down on your couch and do nothing?? Just me?? Anyway. If you’re looking for things to do in Central Park, you can try to become Serena Williams playing tennis in the park at one of the over 20 walk-on courts in the green space (most are near 96th Street, mid-park). If you’re a local, snag a permit for the season, or if you’re visiting, grab a single play permit and practice that serve!
Try Pickleball in Wollman Rink
If you’re wondering what to in Central Park when you’ve hit all the usual options, why not try Wollman Rink (mid-park near 62nd Street), which features seasonally rotating activities like roller skating and pickleball in the summer!
Central Park in Fall
Autumn in New York…Put on a sweater, grab a coffee, put your Nora Ephron-hat on and head to Central Park, New York for one of the city’s most romantic places once temperatures dip.
Check out the Gorgeous Fall Foliage
If you’re tasked with figuring out what to see in Central Park, let’s make this easy: go stare at the trees! The park is well-known for its breathtaking fall foliage that you can enjoy without needing to haul up a ride to the Hudson Valley. While peak foliage seasons vary each year, October is generally the best time of year to stroll through Central Park’s paths and capture prime autumn leaves, after all this is one of the best places to see fall foliage in NYC!
The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla
Halloween in New York is its own full-multi day event — and if you’re wondering what to see in Central Park during the spooky season, we recommend attending the yearly Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla where you can see dozens of jack-o-lanterns floating on the Harlem Meer (mid park, near 108th Street)!
Check out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade along Central Park West
If you’re brainstorming what to do in Central Park during the fall holiday season, you can’t go wrong with checking out the time-honored tradition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which begins along Central Park West at W77th Street.
For more tips for viewing the parade (did you know that there’s a pre-parade balloon-inflation event the evening before Thanksgiving?) check out our piece on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade History and Facts. Not to mention we give some great tips for how to see the parade in person!
Central Park in Winter
Yes, it’s cold – but there are still plenty of things to do in Central Park to warm your body and your heart. Bundle up and read on for our picks!
Wollman Rink returns! One of the best things to do in Central Park when temperatures drop is to take a spin at the rink’s seasonal skating space, where you can enjoy jaw-dropping, cinematic views of the city’s skyline. This would also be a solid place to propose, btw!!!
There are plenty of cool ice skating in New York City options too! But this one is a classic, and you might even recognize it from one of the best holiday classics of all time as it was a filming locaiton for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York!
Go Sledding on Cedar & Pilgrim Hill
If you’re wondering what to do in Central Park with kids (or kids at heart), we recommend trying some old-fashioned sledding at two of the park’s highest points of elevation, Pilgrim Hill and Cedar Hill! You can get to Pilgrim Hill by entering the park at 72nd Street and 5th Ave and to Cedar Hill between 76th and 79th Street at 5th Ave.
Celebrate the holidays at Tavern on the Green
One of the best things to do in Central Park during the winter holiday season is to visit the legendary Tavern on the Green, a New York institution since 1934 (near W67th Street).
Tavern on the Green not only features one of the most spectacular Christmas trees in New York City (and tree lighting ceremony!) but also holiday dinner specials and a celebratory New Year’s Eve prix-fixe menu that’s perfect for celebrating in style.
Central Park in Spring
Take that Zyrtec and venture into Central Park, New York’s verdant, vibrant spring scene, where you can spot both beautiful flowers and joyful New Yorkers coming out of their winter hibernation.
See the Spring Blooms at the Conservatory Garden
If you’re researching what to see in Central Park in the spring, be sure to add a stop at the gorgeous Conservatory Garden to your list. This uptown gem, located at East 104th Street looks like it could have been lifted from Versailles, and features English, Italian, and French formal landscaping that makes for a truly spectacular spring stroll.
Check out the Central Park Carousel
Spend a spring afternoon on the iconic, historic Central Park Carousel (near E65th Street), originally opened in 1871 and one of the park’s most well-loved attractions. Featuring 57 hand-carved horses, two chariots, and an organ, a leisurely ride on the carousel is one of the most joyful things to do in Central Park.
Hike the Central Park Ravine, the Ramble, or Both!
If you’re wondering what to do in Central Park that will get your heart racing, we’ve got the answer: a hearty hike without ever leaving Manhattan.
Check out The Ramble – located between 73rd Street and 79th Street (mid-park) or the Ravine (103rd Street, mid-park) for robust walking trails (and waterfalls!) that will leave you feeling like you’ve traveled far outside the Big Apple.
Picnic on the Great Lawn or Sheep Meadow
Looking for low-key things to do in Central Park that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Pop over to 79th Street for a picnic on The Great Lawn or Sheep Meadow (near the West Side between 66th and 69th), which, by the way, is also great for people-watching. Budget-friendly and fun!!
Winged creatures are one of our favorite things on the list of what to see in Central Park – with over 215 known species of birds spotted within the park’s realm, it’s the place for budding bird watchers!
What to See in Central Park Year-Round
Bethesda Terrace & Bethesda Fountain
You’ve seen it in a multitude of movies (hi there, Enchanted, Elf, and One Fine Day!) — the instantly recognizable Bethesda Fountain and its accompanying terrace (mid-park near 72nd Street).
If you’re wondering what to see in Central Park, this is perhaps the most iconic stop. Take some photos, enjoy the live musicians who often play the terrace, and maybe you’ll be an extra in the next great New York movie!
Bike Around The Park
One of the fastest ways to get around town is to cycle –– thanks, CitiBike! — and if you want to see the sights, express-style, we recommend biking around Central Park’s many cycling lanes. It’s one of the best things to do in Central Park when you’re short on time or want to get a workout in while you take it all in!
No, you’re not in Europe – but there is a castle in the middle of Manhattan and it’s one of our favorite hidden gems in Central Park! Be sure to stop by 79th Street (mid-park) to see the Romanesque and Gothic style structure, originally completed in 1867 and named after the phrase “beautiful view” in Italian.
While you’re at it, if you’re wondering what to see in Central Park, we recommend checking out some of the green space’s lesser-known landmarks, like Seneca Village, the Obelisk, and Summit Rock.
Stroll Along the Mall and Literary Walk
Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead really knew what he was doing, eh? The park’s most famous promenade, the Literary Walk (mid-park at 66th Street) – named for the many statues of writers that line the path –– is a fantastic place to read, stroll, get your portrait painted or just take in the scenery when you’re wondering what to see in Central Park.
Visit the Central Park Zoo
If you’re researching what to do in Central Park with kids, may we suggest an afternoon at the Central Park Zoo (near E64th Street), where you can visit dozens of wildlife exhibits and participate in immersive, hands-on educational programming through the park’s animal experts. After all, there’s more variety here than Pizza Rat!
See the Delacorte Clock’s Menagerie of Musical Animals
While you’re near the zoo, be sure to take stock of the Delacorte Clock (near E65th Street), which features bronze sculptures of a penguin, kangaroo, bear, elephant, goat and hippo, all of whom play musical chimes every hour from 8 am to 8 pm and is without a doubt one of the most whimsical things to do in Central Park.
See Strawberry Fields
Take in New York’s tribute to the late John Lennon at Strawberry Fields, located near 72nd Street and featuring a mosaic homage to Lennon’s Imagine.
In a bit of added poignance, there’s usually a musician playing one of the Beatles’ many hits, as well as mourners that leave roses by the memorial to this day.
Dine at Tavern on the Green
In addition to being an excellent holiday dinner spot, booking a dinner at Tavern on the Green is one of the best things to do in Central Park, year-round. With classic American dishes and a robust cocktail and wine program and a distinctly Old New York vibe, any day of the week can feel like a holiday at the famed restaurant.
Check out The Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop
The Dairy Center was built in 1871 in the style of a Victorian country cottage by Calvert Vaux and was originally a refreshment center for New York children to receive fresh milk. Today, while there’s no milk to be found, it’s a Central Park visitor’s center and gift shop — and of course, an excellent photo op.
Stop for Photos at the Bow Bridge
Budding bridegrooms, this is your place! The Bow Bridge, located at 74th Street (mid-park) is the go-to spot for your ‘Special Day Photos’. And even if you’re not ready to commit, the bridge is a beautiful, Victorian-era feat of architectural might that you’ll fall in love with instantly.
Stand on the Gapstow Bridge
Speaking of bridges, over on 62nd Street (east side of the park) lies the rustic Gapstow Bridge, a beautiful stone structure encased in vines and situated perfectly for a skyline photo.
Dine at the Loeb Boathouse
Recently saved from closure, the historic Loeb Boathouse is a must-try on your list of things to do in Central Park. While we don’t yet know the menus at this latest revival of the legendary restaurant and snack bar, your order will still come with a side of views of the park’s lake.
Take in the Treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of New York’s most famous and well-appointed museums, the Met technically sits within the boundaries of Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Browse thousands of years’ worth of fine art across genre and origin, and if it’s warm out, finish your adventure with a happy hour on the museum’s rooftop, which provides breathtaking views of the park itself.
Things to do Near Central Park
Hit Up Museum Mile
Speaking of museums — after the Met, make sure to stop by at least few of its neighboring institutions along upper Fifth Avenue, known as “Museum Mile” where you’ll find a collection of some of the best museums in NYC!
Heavy hitters like the Solomon R. Guggenheim, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and City Museum of New York pair well with other gems like El Museo del Barrio, the Goethe-Institut New York, National Academy Museum and School, Neue Galerie New York, and the International Center Of Photography.
Visit the Natural History Museum and New York Historical Society
On the West Side of Central Park are two additional cultural institutions, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH, 200 Central Park West) and the New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West). Stop by AMNH for a comprehensive collection of dinosaur fossils and an excellent planetarium before walking through one of the New York Historical Society’s many rotating exhibits (recent hits include one on the Salem Witch Trials and the history of Jewish deli in New York! )
Browse Albertine Bookstore Under the Stars
Exit the East Side of the park at 79th Street to find the French Embassy and the otherworldly Albertine Bookstore, one of the best things to do near Central Park and known for carrying over 14,000 classic and contemporary French and English titles.
In addition to browsing their pedigreed inventory, do not miss out on their beautiful astrological hand-painted mural of constellations on the ceiling on the second level! This is without a doubt, one of the prettiest bookstores in New York City.
Need a quick shopping break? There’s a veritable mall at Columbus Circle – except instead of Hot Topic and Cheesecake Factory, there’s Williams Sonoma and Momofuku Noodle Bar (take my money!). And if you’re in the area around the holidays, be sure to check out their annual light show for one of the best things to do near Central Park!
Just West of the park is Lincoln Square (near W65th Street), home to the venerable Lincoln Center Arts complex (where you can find the New York City Ballet, Met Opera, Lincoln Center Theater, New York Public Library for Performing Arts, and Julliard,) as well as several classic New York eateries like PJ Clarke’s, Cafe Fiorello and Bar Boulud.
So grab your sneakers, get ready to get some steps in, and enjoy the beautiful bounty of Central Park!
Best Things to do in Central Park (& Around) Post Summary:
- Shakespeare in the Park
- Play Tennis
- Pickleball at Wollman Rink
- Fall Foliage
- Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Ice Skating
- Sledding on Pilgrim Hill
- Conservatory Garden
- Central Park Carousel
- Hike the Ravine and Ramble
- Picnic on Great Lawn or Sheep Meadow
- Go Birding
- Bethesda Terrace & Bethesda Fountain
- Bike Around the Park
- Belvedere Castle
- The Mall and Literary Walk
- Central Park Zoo
- Delacorte Clock’s Menagerie of Musical Animals
- Strawberry Fields
- Tavern on the Green
- The Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop
- Bow Bridge
- Gapstow Bridge
- Loeb Boathouse
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Museum Mile
- Natural History Museum of New York
- Albertine Bookstore
- Columbus Circle
- Lincoln Square
About Guest Author
Sarah Beling is a playwright, New Yorker, and passionate food enthusiast who is always looking for her next meal. You can find her in an NYC park, enjoying a chopped cheese sandwich and reading about NYC’s best new places to eat.