The 585-acre green oasis tucked away in the urban jungle. With tons of amazing things to do in Prospect Park, the most famous of all the parks in Brooklyn you can see why it’s a local favorite.
Less crowded than Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park offers the same gorgeous, giant green space for hanging out, sports, exercise, picnics, casual strolls plus some of the other Prospect Park activities there are to offer from the zoo to historic museums.
Designed by the same creators of Central Park in Manhattan, that’s why many compare the two, Prospect Park is the outdoor space for your recreational activities as well as home to many of the best things to do in Brooklyn.
Enjoy our entire guide to all the best things to do in Prospect Park to help you plan your visit year-round!
Getting to Prospect ParkGetting to Prospect Park is pretty easy as its surrounded by the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, and Windsor Terrace meaning there are many different entrance points and public transportation options to easily get to the best things to do in Prospect Park.
The main subway stations are:
- Grand Army Plaza (2 & 3 lines)
- Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum (2 & 3 lines)
- Prospect Park (B, Q, & S *Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains)
- Parkside Avenue (Q line)
- 15th Street-Prospect Park (F & G lines)
- Fort Hamilton Parkway (F & G lines)
History of Prospect Park
The history of Prospect Park is much like the history of the borough of Brooklyn itself. Brooklyn was not always as populous as it is today, the most populated borough in all of NYC at 2.6 million people and the second-largest borough by size behind Queens at 69.5 square miles.
The borough of Brooklyn very rural and used as farmland, including Prospect Park. But come the mid-19th-century the borough saw a huge change with a huge increase in population. With more people, there was a need for an urban green space.
The same designers of Central Park in 1857, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux built Prospect Park exactly a decade later after Brooklyn residents were using the Green-wood Cemetery as their ‘green space’ in place of a park that didn’t exist yet.
The small forest and rocky farmland with glacial grooves evolved into Prospect Park as we know it today. It wasn’t until later under the City Beautiful movement did the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza was constructed as the ‘grand entrance’ to Prospect Park but other iconic structures like the Beaux-Arts Boathouse wasn’t added until 1905 – both under different architects.
The park continued to evolve adding in the Prospect Park Zoo by 1935 until it saw serious deterioration and in need for restoration in the 1970s.
By the mid-1980s the Prospect Park Alliance was formed to help the restoration and upkeep of the park with a whopping success helping reconstruct or fix damage to any of the park’s structures as well as introduce more plants and expanding the woodlands according to the original park plans.
Important Tips for Prospect Park Activities
Planning on running or biking in Prospect Park? There are a few things you should know so you don’t risk injury to yourself or others in the park.
The lanes used for recreation have a specific rules you need to follow! Pedestrians and runners are only supposed to use the designated pedestrian lane along the interior of the park and they can run or walk in either direction.
Cyclists and skaters must stick to their designated lanes in the center in a counterclockwise direction, you’re not allowed to go clockwise and must stay under the speed limit of 25 mph at all times.
If you’re on a bicycle or on skates and you wish to pass, you need to use the right lane to pass others.
If you’re new to biking in Prospect Park note that there are many hills and you will need to pay attention to the signs warning you about them if you wish to avoid the hills.
Believe it or not, it’s quite a challenging track inside Prospect Park, especially if you’re on a CitiBike rental from around the city. If you’re not looking to sweat, be sure to follow the alternative routes to avoid the major hills.
Get your tickets here for attractions like the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden with the New York Pass which gets you access to 100+ attractions, including this one, for up to 10 days or up to 45% off savings on normal admission prices all with this mobile pass!
Things to do in Prospect Park
Prospect Park Zoo
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One of the best things to do in Prospect Park is visit the animals in the Prospect Park Zoo! Nestled on the northeastern side of the park you can find the zoo that is home to just under 900 animals and almost 200 different species. The zoo houses different exhibits both indoors and outdoors, so be sure to dress for the weather during your visit.
Spot red pandas up close along the Discovery Trail, watch the playful sea lions at the Sea Lion Court, and see a baboon up close at the Animal Lifestyles exhibits to name a few. Also, don’t miss the free-roaming colorful peacocks that call the zoo their home.
Operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo’s primary mission is the restoration and conservation of endangered species.
Admission is $9.95 for adults and $6.95 for children, children 2 and under are free. Open 7 days a week.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Another one of the most popular things to do in Prospect Park is visit the gorgeous Botanic Garden. Located on the Eastern Parkway from Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Prospect Park covers 52-acres of different gardens and collections of plants you could easily wander around in all day.
There are over 18,000 plants housed here as well as attractions like the three different plant pavilions at different climates housing different types of plants, and the C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum.
The garden has both indoor and outdoor areas to explore. Outside there is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, Cranford Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden, Water Garden, and more. In the spring, between late April and early May, you don’t want to miss the 200 cherry trees when they blossom.
Technically, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is not a part of Prospect Park, but since it’s so close we included it anyway!
Admission free on Tuesdays, other days it’s $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with IDs, free for children under 12. Closed Mondays.
Get the New York Pass which gets you access to 100+ attractions, including this one, for up to 10 days or up to 45% off savings on normal admission prices all with this mobile pass!
The Brooklyn Museum
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Technically The Brooklyn Museum is not one of the Prospect Park activities as it’s located just on the edge of the park on Eastern Parkway from Grand Army Plaza right next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but still worth mentioning as one of the best things to do in Prospect Park for art lovers!
The Brooklyn Museum houses 1.5 million pieces of work and is the third-largest museum in New York City. With a notable permanent collection from all over the world, each collection is organized by culture, geographic locations, or time period.
A few of the popular collections include the Egyptian, American Art, Arts of Africa, Arts of the Pacific Islands, Arts of the Islamic World, and European art sections of the museum.
Famous artists on display include Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Edgar Degas, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mark Rothko to name a few.
Technically, the Brooklyn Museum is not a part of Prospect Park, but since it’s so close we included it anyway!
Admission is suggested but not mandatory, a $10 admission is suggested for adults. Closed Mondays & Tuesdays.
The first Saturday of every month there is free admission from 5-7 pm and special exhibitions.
Get tickets here or get the New York Pass which gets you access to 100+ attractions, including this one, for up to 10 days or up to 45% off savings on normal admission prices all with this mobile pass!
Prospect Park Boathouse
One of the most beautiful buildings and best things to do in Prospect Park is visit the Art-Beaux Prospect Park Boathouse.
Built in 1905, Brooklynites almost lost their boathouse due to severe deterioration and disrepair that took its toll over years of no upkeep. It wasn’t until the community stepped in to save the Prospect Park Boathouse from getting demolished and eventually repaired with a protective landmark status as well as added to the National Register of Historic Places to now to protect it going forward.
Inside the Prospect Park Boathouse is the Audubon Center, which holds learning and immersive programs about nature for the community as well as an event space that can be rented out for corporate parties and a stunning backdrop for weddings.
Some popular Prospect Park activities here include sitting by the Lullwater and enjoying the view or just relaxing with a picnic, or reading a book. You feel like you’re living in a Seurat painting.
Be sure to walk over the Lullwater Bridge where you can get the best view and photo of the Prospect Park Boathouse. Lullwater was modeled after the Serpentine in Hyde Park in London, maybe that’s why it’s such a picturesque spot!
For more photography locations in Brooklyn, be sure to check out the best Brooklyn Instagram spots picked by Your Brooklyn Guide.
The Prospect Park Boathouse might also look familiar as it was used as a filming location in Martin Scorsese’s 1993 movie The Age of Innocence.
Camperdown Elm Tree
One of the most interesting and bizarre things to do in Prospect Park is visit the famous Camperdown Elm Tree near the Prospect Park Boathouse.
This Elm tree has made a name for itself over the years as the way this tree grew. Camperdown Elm’s branches grow parallel to the ground instead of upwards creating gnarled looking branches that seem alien compared to all the other trees in the park.
If the tree seems like it doesn’t belong, that’s because there are no other trees in Prospect Park like it. This particular tree was gifted to Prospect Park in 1872 by the Earl of Camperdown in Dundee, Scotland from his private estate which share these uniquely strange trees.
Due to several years of neglect and damage like repairing a hole in a tree with concrete, Camperdown Elm almost lost its existence in the park until poet Marianne Moore was able to form an alliance to help conservation efforts in the park, which included the famous Camperdown Elm tree in the 196os.
She even wrote a poem to this famed tree and this is definitely one of the more bizarre Prospect Park activities you don’t want to miss, especially knowing that this tree survived a trip from Scotland in the 1800s to years of neglect and is still standing today in its unique form different from every other tree in the park.
Lefferts Historic House
Another one of the best Prospect Park activities is visiting the historic landmark and museum at Lefferts Historic House.
Lefferts Historic House was built by a Dutch immigrant family in 1783. The area of Flatbush was mainly for farming and the house survived 4 generations in the Leffert’s family before the family offered the home to the City of New York to keep it as a protected historic site.
The house was donated due to the rapid growth and urbanization of Brooklyn, because the house was donated to the city, in order to keep it preserved it was moved 6 blocks from its original location on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Maple Avenue to Prospect Park where it still remains today.
The Lefferts Historic House now is a museum with exhibits and artifacts showcasing family life in Brooklyn in the 19th century.
Grand Army Plaza
One of the most iconic things to do in Prospect Park is visit the grand entrance of Grand Army Plaza. This epic monument is located at the northern corner of Prospect Park and is considered the main entrance to Prospect Park.
The plaza is home to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, statues dedicated to Civil War generals and other notable figures like John F Kennedy, and at the Bailey Fountain.
Constructed in 1867, Grand Army Plaza is built on the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution, soon after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Battle of Long Island.
The arch is dedicated to the soldiers and sailors who fought in the Union Army of the Civil War.
Today, this is a spot is a giant traffic hub as it connects many neighborhoods in Brooklyn, serves as the entrance to Prospect Park, and is where you can find the outdoor greenmarkets weekly.
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Another one of the best Prospect Park activities to enjoy if you love seeking out historic buildings is visit Litchfield Villa located on Prospect Park West on the outer edge of the park facing the gorgeous historic brownstone homes of the beautiful Park Slope neighborhood.
This Italianate mansion dates back to the 1850s and was designed by the famous architect Alexander Jackson Davis. At the time of its construction, it was a private estate and today it serves as the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters.
There’s a pretty lawn right here perfect for a picnic or a game of frisbee as well as access to some of the walking trails and other Prospect Park activities.
This is one of our favorite spots to view some of the most beautiful homes in the Park Slope Historic District too, made up of over 1800 historic homes built between 1862 and 1920. You can find beautiful brownstones and row houses facing the park, some of the most expensive and prized real estate for families in NYC.
Be sure to read more about the best things to do in Park Slope if you need a fun break from all the other Prospect Park activities.
Prospect Park Peristyle
Another iconic building and thing to do in Prospect Park is seek out the Peristyle, also known as the Grecian Shelter. This Renaissance Revival colonnade is held up by Corinthian columns made of limestone and is located at the southern end of the park.
Designed and built by famous architect Standford White, who also built Penn Station, just a year before he was murdered at Madison Square Garden! White was murdered by millionaire Henry Kendall Thaw because of his wife, Evelyn Nesbit – starlet of her time told her husband that White had sexually assaulted her years earlier when she was unconscious and only 15 years old which later turned into a romantic relationship between the two. Thaw had been carrying a vendetta for White since. Yikes, it’s quite a story and worth reading.
These style of decorative buildings and shelters were made for parks and green spaces to seek protection from either hot weather before the age of air conditioning or when it’s raining.
The Peristyle is a popular picnic hangout spot on the weekends and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
The Well House
Another great thing to do in Prospect Park if you’re curious about the historical landmarks and buildings is the Well House. This was one of the original structures designed by the park’s architects Olmsted and Vaux, which is rare in itself that it still exists and survived the time when the park was deteriorating.
The Well House is a small brick building at the base of a hill initially used as a boiler house and a well to feed water to the park.
The Well House sat empty for years, as the city provides water to the park and has now been converted into a bathroom. This is the first composting bathroom in all of the New York City parks!
So time your Prospect Park activities around your bathroom break being at The Well House where you can witness one of the original structures in the park repurposed for a great sustainable bathroom.
Enjoy a Concert or Movie in the Summer
One of Brooklynites’ favorite things to do in Prospect Park in the summer is enjoy the free concerts and performances at the Prospect Park Bandshell!
This open-air entertainment center opens up in the summer months for all types of musical performances and movie screenings. The best part is that almost all of the entertainment options here are free to the public.
This is also the location of the popular Celebrate Brooklyn festival that takes place here every year focused around food, artists, and performances typically with a few big headliners.
Hiking Trails of Prospect Park
One of the best ways to explore and get around from each of the best things to do in Prospect Park is by walking through the nature and hiking trails of the park.
Within all the different Prospect Park activities are the weaving and connecting hiking trails to some of the most beautiful scenery inside the park suitable for all ages.
There several different routes you can take throughout Prospect Park but there are four main hiking trails from .5 to 1 mile long starting from the Audubon Center (The Boathouse):
Lullwater Hiking Trail – This is the longest of the trails at a mile long in length. This starts at the Audubon Center, or Prospect Park Boathouse and is great for bird watching!
Midwood Hiking Trail – which passes through the oldest trees and forest in Brooklyn where if you’re lucky you’ll spot some of Prospect Park’s wildlife and takes around 30 minutes to complete.
Peninsula Hiking Trail – This .5 mile hike takes you through some of the best scenic views of Prospect Park as well as fishing spots!
Waterfall Hiking Trail – Believe it or not there are waterfalls in Prospect Park! Yes, more than one! This route takes you on a .5 mile trail through six different waterfalls.
Another popular trail is the Ravine located between the two meadows of Long Meadow and Nethermead. Along the narrow pathway under the trees you’ll be entering the ravine deep in the center of Prospect Park that was designed by Olmsted and Vaux from Adirondack landscape inspiration.
Along the pathway, you’ll find waterfalls, a small gorge, and little bridges! If you’re lucky you’ll spot some of the park’s wildlife here too. This picturesque walk is one of the most peaceful in the park.
Run or Bike
Join thousands of locals who use Prospect Park to exercise daily on their incredible pedestrian and running lanes as well as their cycling and skating lanes in the park.
As mentioned before in our Prospect Park tips section, if you plan on doing any of these leisure activities you need to know which lane and direction you are going!
The running and pedestrian lane is 3.36 miles long and runs along the interior of the park. Luckily, this Prospect Park activity is less tricky because you can run/walk in either direction.
The bicycle and skating lane is a 3.35 mile loop around Prospect Park. You need to make sure that when you’re joining or leaving that you are following the counterclockwise direction of this lane.
You’re not allowed to go clockwise and the max speed allowed is 25 mph.
If you need to pass anyone on the cycling or skating lanes you must use the right lane to pass others. There are cycling clubs and other serious athletes who train and use this pathway, if you are not paying attention you could put yourself or others in danger of getting injured.
Also, biking is one of the best things to do in Prospect Park if you want to visit the park quickly. If you’re visiting there are CitiBike stations all around the exterior of the park so you can easily rent and re-dock around this popular green space.
Keep in mind that there are actual hills in Prospect Park and when you’re biking there will be signs warning you when the hills are coming and give you an alternative route to avoid them if you’re not an avid cyclist looking to get a thigh-burning workout.
We find that being in a CitiBike, the hills are especially challenging.
Also, keep in mind of the time limit on your CitiBike rental before needing to re-dock. There are sections of Prospect Park where the nearest docking station isn’t always convenient.
Picnic in Prospect Park Long Meadow
One of the most popular Prospect Park activities is packing a picnic and just chill out for a few hours on a beautiful day. One of the best and most popular places to do that is the famous Long Meadow.
This mile-long meadow is home to one of the longest uninterrupted stretches of land in any public park in the entire United States!
That means, even on a hot summer weekend when everyone’s out and enjoying all the best things to do in Prospect Park that you’ll likely still be able to find a space even on the most crowded of days.
The best area on the Long Meadow to find some shade and protection from the sunn from trees is at the southern end of the park!
BBQ in Prospect Park
Take your picnic to the next level by enjoying the different areas where you can BBQ during your fun day of Prospect Park activities!
There are several different areas for BBQing in Prospect Park with picnic tables, however, if you do want to enjoy this we recommend coming early as this is one of the most popular things to do in Prospect Park and the BBQ areas fill up quickly as they are in hot demand!
There are several designated BBQ pits in Prospect Park where you can bring your own coals and favorite BBQ treats to grill up a tasty meal in Brooklyn’s green haven!
Note: If you have more than 20 people you will need a permit, you will also need to follow the BBQ rules to make sure you also dispose of your leftovers and coals correctly.
Horseback Riding at Kensington Stables
This is easily one of the most unique and surprising Prospect Park activities to enjoy! You can actually go horseback riding through the trails of the park right here in the middle of the city!
Kensington Stables offers Horseback Riding and lessons along their 3.5-mile path and trails throughout the park’s most scenic attractions.
You can find the stables at Parade Ground.
Ride Prospect Park Carousel
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Another one of the best things to do in Prospect Park is ride the historic Prospect Park Carousel. Located in the children’s area of the park near Leffert’s Historic House and the Prospect Park Zoo.
The Prospect Park Carousel is one of the coolest historic landmarks in the Borough. The carousel is over 100 years old and was built in 1912 but didn’t make it to Prospect Park until 1952.
This carousel was first used at Coney Island before making its way to becoming one of children’s favorite Prospect Park activities!
But, this was not the first carousel in the park, the original was placed here in 1874 and was actually powered by live horses. The original was moved in 1885 and was burned, then a new one replaced it in 1935 which also burned down.
In 1952, this carousel was brought over from Coney Island.
You can ride on one of the 53 horses, deer, lion, giraffe, or dragons! The ride contains real animal products from real horse hair on the horses and real deer antlers.
Even though this is a historic carousel, it is wheelchair accessible and is available to rent out for private parties.
Open March through November only.
Mount Prospect Park
Can you believe that there’s a mountain in Brooklyn? Mount Prospect is the second-highest point in Brooklyn and used to be a part of Prospect Park but now is considered its own park itself near Eastern Parkway by Grand Army Plaza – very close to Prospect Park.
So even though it’s its own park, we are going to count it as one of the best things to do in Prospect Park since it’s so close and offers some of the best views you can naturally find in the borough – being generous of course.
Don’t get too excited though, this mount is only 200 feet above sea level.
It was actually Olmsted and Vaux who wanted Mount Prospect to be separated from Prospect Park because Flatbush Avenue cut through the area.
This lookout point was used in the 1700s by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War since it gave strategic views of not only Brooklyn but also Manhattan, the New York Harbor, and as far as Long Island, New Jersey, and Staten Island.
Mount Prospect also shares the bit of land that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Brooklyn Museum are on – which both are technically not a part of Prospect Park but since they are so close, we included them as they are easy to access from the park.
Boat on Prospect Park Lake
One of the most fun things to do in Prospect Park in the summer is renting a boat on Prospect Park Lake! Pick between double or single pedal boats or kayaks for some fun on the water.
Prospect Park Lake is 55 acres large meaning there’s plenty of space for you or you and your friends to boat around.
Rent your boats from the LeFrak Center at Lakeside.
LeFrak Center at Lakeside
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Another one of the best things to do in Prospect Park, already mentioned above quickly, are all the Prospect Park activities available at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside. If the name doesn’t give it away, the LeFrak Center is located on Prospect Park Lake, which is where you rent your pedal boats or kayaks as mentioned above.
But boating isn’t the only Prospect Park activity this center has to offer!
LeFrak Center at Lakeside is also where you can enjoy your Prospect Park ice skating in the winter and the Splash Pad in the summer months where you and the kiddos can cool off on those hot summer days!
If you’re needing a pick me up while you’re enjoying all the different fun things to do in Prospect Park there is a Bluestone Lane cafe here at the LeFrak Center as well!
Visit the Old Arches & Bridges in Prospect Park
Another interesting Prospect Park activity is walking and trying to find all the old arches and bridges throughout the park. There are various different arches under walkways and bridges that connect the different trails throughout the park.
Some of the arches are as old as the park’s first days dating back to the late 1800s.
The Cleft Ridge Arch is a gorgeous archway dating back to 1872 near the Prospect Park Boathouse, my personal favorite.
The Endale Arch dates back to the mid 19th century and has a great view of the Long Meadow.
The Meadowport Arch dates back to 1870 and has a gorgeous double entrance!
The Nethermead Arch dates back to around 1870 and is located in the center of the park along the Ravine walk near Long Meadow.
The East Wood Arch is a charming arch dating back to 1868 on the path under East Drive east of Binnen Falls.
Smorgasburg in Prospect Park
Another one of the best things to do in Prospect Park in the summers is visit the most talked about summer foodie experience in New York City, Smorgasburg!
Smorgasuburg has a few locations in the summer months around the city, one being in Prospect Park! There are over 100 food vendors selling their best bites with cuisines represented from all over the world.
Smorgasburg typically takes place on Sundays from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm from early April through the end of October.
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