Central Park is a unique icon of New York City, a haven of nature and a sprawling outdoor playground amid the skyscrapers. Whether it’s your first visit or one of many return trips, the National Historic Landmark is one of NYC’s must-see attractions, packed with enticing destinations from lakes and flower gardens to seasonal ice rinks and amusement parks. In summer there’s a host of outdoor concerts and plays to consider, and at any time of year you can enjoy a leisurely stroll, take an informative guided tour or admire the scenery by horse-drawn carriage. Here are four of the best ways to explore Central Park, all a certain highlight of any New York City sojourn.
Take a Walking Tour
At 843 acres and crisscrossed by pathways, Central Park presents countless routes for walking tours long and short, planned or spontaneous, guided or independently planned. There’s a lot to see in the huge park, so you might want to read up on some of its highlights and plan out a walking route. Landmarks include Cleopatra’s Needle, a genuine ancient Egyptian monument moved to Central Park in 1881; the circa-1869 Belvedere Castle, now one of the park’s visitor centers; the peaceful, flower-filled Conservatory Garden; and Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon. You’ll also see many interesting sculptures, fountains and bridges that provide beautiful backdrops for photographs. If you’d like to learn about the park’s landmarks from a local expert, book one of the Official Central Park Tours. A variety of tour options are available, including those designed especially for nature-lovers and families.
Find Family-Friendly Fun
If you’re exploring NYC with kids in tow, Central Park is an ideal place to spend a few hours or even a whole day. One of the park’s most-famous attractions is Central Park Zoo, which features a children’s petting zoo, an enchanted forest with an aviary and theater, a musical clock and all manner of animal inhabitants from lemurs to snow leopards. Another top attraction for children is the Central Park Carousel, a nostalgic merry-go-round crafted in 1908 and open from April to October. Central Park also offers 21 playgrounds, so there are plenty of places for the kids to run around.
Row, Row, Row a Boat
The Loeb Boathouse, which sits aside one of Central Park’s seven lakes, houses a landmark restaurant and also – true to its name – offers rowboat rentals when the weather allows it. Rentals are available by the hour, and rowboats allow up to four people to take to the lake for a leisurely paddle in the park. The surrounding area is a rich woodland bird habitat, making a boat ride a peaceful, memorable excursion that’s especially delightful on a sunny day. You can also opt for a Venetian-inspired gondola ride.
Take In a Summertime Show
World-class performances of live music, theater and other arts are presented on stages in Central Park every summer. Past performers to host shows in the park include such names as Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross and Andrea Bocelli. A number of New York City’s top arts companies, including the New York Classical Theater, the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic present concerts in Central Park every summer, along with vibrant multi-day festivals celebrating Shakespeare, jazz and more. Check the up-to-date park programs schedule in advance of your New York City trip to see what great shows you might catch while you’re there.