Central Park is massive and can be overwhelming to the casual visitor. The beauty of Central Park is not something to be missed, no matter the season, and the magic of it is that it allows you to feel like you’ve really escaped from the hustle and bustle of the city. Frederick Olmsted, the landscape designer who created both Central Park and Prospect Park, wanted the park to live and grow on its own so that it would gradually change over the years and be somewhat self-sustaining. Here are the top spots that New Yorkers love, and while you may not be able to catch them all on one visit, it’s always good to keep something on the bucket list for next time.
If you want to visit the Central Park that is featured in most films and TV shows, this is the spot you want. The Mall is a long promenade lined with elm trees, creating a breathtaking green canopy. On any given day you’ll see locals and tourists alike going for a stroll along the Mall, sitting on a bench reading a book or checking out the many varieties of buskers trying to make a quick buck. The Mall is easily accessible from the East Side 69th street entrance. At the end of the Mall you won’t want to miss the Bethesda Fountain, a spectacular fountain with an angel statue that sits at the base of the Lake.
Sheep’s Meadow is every New Yorker’s favorite spot for a picnic. This massive expanse of greenery in the center of Central Park will be packed on a warm summer’s day with picnickers, people playing ultimate Frisbee and dogs relishing the chance to frolic on the grass. It is easily reached from west side entrance at 65th street.
The Central Park Zoo
While not the largest zoo you’ll ever visit, the charm of the Central Park Zoo is certainly something that will win over most hearts. It is home to animals from the tropics, polar regions and more temperate ones, so you get a nice range in a small span. You definitely won’t want to miss the famous Central Park penguins or the sea lions frolicking at feeding time. The Zoo is at the bottom of the park on the East Side, so it’s accessible through any downtown entrance.
The Conservatory Garden
Probably one of the least-known gems of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at 105th street. It is a full formal garden with an Italian flare that is truly spectacular. There are three small areas of the gardens, each with its own special style. Because it isn’t widely known about (even by New Yorkers) it’s also generally pretty quiet, so ideal for a casual afternoon stroll. And in the spring and summer when it’s in full bloom, it is especially breathtaking.
Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the summer, Shakespeare in the Park is a definite must. Every summer the public theater puts on free Shakespeare with to-die-for casts that will be sure to entertain even the casual fan. The only catch is that the tickets aren’t easy to come by — you have to get to the park early and wait in line for the chance to get a few seats. The earlier in the season the better, and definitely go before the shows open for the best chance at getting your tickets. It is a truly unforgettable experience.
While the Pond is more famous because of the boat rides and other tourist attractions, the Reservoir uptown is equally beautiful and quite a bit quieter. It also offers a spectacular view of the city in that area and has a full running or walking path that is ideal for a sunset stroll.
This quaint little castle situated on a hill just behind the Delacorte Theater provides some great views of the both the park and the city. It’s yet another odd little gem of Central Park that you’ll be surprised to find nestled amongst the greenery. To reach it you can enter at 81st Street on the West Side.
If you truly want to feel like you’re in nature, the Ramble is the perfect escape. Just northeast of the Lake, this intricate series of paths completely cuts out the city, and transports you to a woodland. It can be easy to feel lost among the hills and trees which have been allowed to grow largely untethered, which is why it’s also a haven for local birds. It provides a dense canopy, dotted with ponds and streams and is ideal for those looking for a bit of real nature. Just be careful not to lose your bearings!
Central Park is an absolute treasure trove of different sights and sounds. New Yorkers frequently remark that every time they go back, they discover something new, and that could be because its ever-changing. While it is massive park and can be intimidating to navigate, I hope this guide provides some helpful tips to plan your visit this remarkable slice of New York.