Without a doubt, Central Park is my favorite place in NYC. It is such a special place and hard to convey that to someone who hasn’t been. It the center of the madness that we call New York City, Central Park is an oasis where in some places you feel worlds away from the Big Apple.
If you’ve never been, you also might not realize the size of Central Park. It may be overwhelming, especially on your first visit to NYC, and you may wonder what parts you should see.
I suggest you start with some of my favorite places in Central Park. Oh and did I mention admission to Central Park is free!
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The Best of Central Park
For over 150 years, Central Park has been the soul of New York City. Central Park runs from 59th Street to 110 street and from Central Park West to Fifth Avenue. It covers 843 acres and features a boating lake, ponds, a zoo, fountains, statues, gardens, paths, and a skating rink. With all there is to see in Central Park, you may be wondering where to go first. I suggest you start with these five spots.
#1 Sheep Meadow
This is my favorite area in Central Park. It gets its name from the sheep that lived here up until 1934. Spending a summer afternoon at Sheep Meadow makes me feel like I am at the beach – my happy place. Girls are out sunbathing in their bikinis, there are guys without shirts playing frisbee and tossing footballs.
The people watching here is great; I have seen some very strange things. One time, there was a couple that brought a snake, which was a little scary! I have also enjoyed watching people do aerial yoga. You never know what you will see here.
Sheep Meadow is one of the best places to picnic in Central Park. I love spending a day picnicking with my friends. Everybody brings something and we grab an area in the shade. There are usually guys that walk around and sell beverages. I usually bring a Frisbee, but you do have to be careful. On a nice day, it can get very packed! I have hit many people with the frisbee.
#2 Great Lawn
The Great Lawn is made up of six softball fields located pretty much in the center of the park. This area makes my list because this is where they have Philharmonic in the Park. I admit I am not much of a classical music fan, but Philharmonic in the Park is my favorite annual event in the city.
Usually, sometime in June or July, around 50,000 people gather to picnic and listen to the Philharmonic. The atmosphere is incredible, there is nothing like it. And then when the musical performance is over, there are fireworks with the Midtown skyline in the background. There are other events held on the Great Lawn as well, I also saw Bon Jovi perform.
#3 The Lake
The Lake is one of the most instagramable places in NYC, but it makes this list because it is where you can rent a rowboat in Central Park. Not only is rowing good exercise, but it is a lot of fun. It’s definitely one of the most romantic things to do in NYC.
For some reason, I find it easier to paddle backwards. You might not see other boats, but it’s not a big deal if you bump into other boats. I recommend going early if you want to try the rowboats as the line can get long.
The boats are available to rent from 10am-6pm weather permitting April through November. The rowboat rental charge is $15 per hour plus a $20 refundable deposit and up to 4 people can go in each boat. Unfortunately, they only accept cash.
From the lake, you can also see Bethesda Fountain, which you have probably seen before in a movie. Also next to the lake is the Loeb Boathouse, an iconic restaurant that is definitely worth a visit.
The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
This is the largest body of water in the Park and it has a 1.5 mile running/walking track, which was recently renovated, around the edge. From the northern part of the track, you have a stunning view of Midtown Manhattan.
This is definitely my favorite place to run in the city not only because of the scenic views but it is nice and flat (unlike the rest of the paths in Central Park). The track does get a little crowded so be sure to only go counter-clockwise around it and stay to the right if you are walking or running slowly.
If you want a little more of a challenge there is a longer path just outside the Reservoir that is slightly longer (1.8 miles) and does have some ups and downs. More serious runners may prefer the 6-mile loop that goes around the whole park. (Note: The 6-mile loop is also popular with those that want to go biking in Central Park.)
This Central Park area is best known for the model sailboats and was the site of the sailboat race from the movie, Stuart Little. There are actually weekly model sailboat races at 10 am each Saturday. It is nice to sit and watch the radio and wind-powered boats.
Weather permitting, from April through October you can rent the model boats from the Kerb Memorial Boathouse for $11 plus tax for 30 minutes. I also love seeing the buildings on Fifth Avenue reflect in the water. And there is a great statue of Hans Christian Andersen on the west side of the pond, where they have a children’s storytelling series in the summer.
How Long Should You Spend Visiting Central Park?
As long as you can! If you are tight on time, you can take a tour to see the key spots in a couple hours. You won’t be able to fully appreciate the beauty of the Park, if you are just rushing from one place to the next. It’s a place to relax.
If you have the luxury of spending a whole day in Central Park, you won’t regret it. Remember this list is only an introduction, there is so much to explore you won’t be bored.
What is the Best Time to Visit Central Park?
You can (and should) visit Central Park all year. The summer is probably the busiest season because it is the warmest weather. In the fall, the colors of the leaves are just stunning. During the New York winter, the snow turns the park into a winter wonderland. Then, in spring, there are so many pretty flowers.
Is Central Park Safe?
In general, Central Park like the rest of New York City has become safer since the dark days of the 1980s, but crime does happen. Don’t let your guard down. Most issues happen at night, so it’s best to leave Central Park when it starts getting dark.
How Do You Get Around in Central Park?
The best options for getting around Central Park are walking or biking. There are several places where you can rent bikes nearby. Cars are not allowed in most parts of Central Park so don’t plan on getting a taxi.
Don’t fall for the horsedrawn carriage rides. Over the years, there have been many questions about how the horses are treated. It’s also overpriced and generally only takes you to a very small section of the park. A pedicab tour would be a better choice.
If you are on the western side of the park, there are a few subway lines you can take to travel from 59th st to 110th street. The A and D trains run express along Central Park West, while the B and C trains will make interim stops.
Touring Central Park
You can see on the map above where these Central Park areas are in relation to each other. Of course, this is only a sample of all that Central Park has to offer. I encourage you to visit and explore for yourself. There are also guided tours of Central Park where you can learn more about the history of each area. Check out these tour options from Viator.
You can easily spend a whole day just seeing these places. I had a hard time narrowing down my list of what to visit in Central Park to just five.
What are your favorite spots in Central Park?
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Last Updated on March 5, 2021