Everything to know about Central Park, New York City (2024)

Fast facts

Location: New York City
Established: 1858
Size: 843 acres
Annual visitors: 42 million
Visitor centers: The Dairy, Belvedere Castle, Dana Discovery Center, Chess & Checkers House, Columbus Circle Kiosk
Entrance fees: None

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Why go and what to know

As much a part of the city’s image as the Statue of Liberty and Times Square, leafy Central Park is the green heart of the Big Apple. A template for hundreds of urban parks around the world, the huge green space stretches 51 blocks through the middle of helter-skelter Manhattan.

By the early 1800s, New York’s elite felt their city needed a large recreational parkland similar to those in London and Paris. The most obvious site was an area of villages and farms mostly inhabited by recent Irish immigrants and free African Americans. Wielding eminent domain, the city fathers evicted the residents and announced a design competition for the proposed park.

Prominent American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and British-American architect Calvert Vaux won. But in a stinging rebuke to the elites who envisioned the park as a highbrow playground, Olmstead announced their creation would be “a democratic development of the highest significance,” intended for all New Yorkers—not just the privileged.

From past to present, from south to north, here’s how to explore all Central Park has to offer.

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To the south

The park’s most spectacular entrance is Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, where a gold equestrian statue of General Sherman looms over the square. Across the street, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel is a masterpiece of 1920s urban architecture from its gargoyles and Gothic spire to the lobby’s meticulously restored neo-Renaissance ceiling.

Head into the park to enjoy the outdoor Wollman Rink (ice-skating in winter, roller skating the rest of the year) and explore the small but diverse exhibits at the family-friendly Central Park Zoo, which includes the Tisch Children’s Zoo. Just beyond, the Dairy Visitor Center provides Central Park information, maps, and souvenirs in a building that once dispensed fresh milk to urban families.

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Flanked by venerable American elm trees and statues of celebrated writers, the Mall leads north to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, one of the park’s earliest structures and a popular selfie spot. Loeb Boathouse—also a restaurant and bar—helps visitors explore the Lake by rowboat or a guided Venetian gondola tour. The Lake’s north shore is edged by a heavily wooded area with rock outcrops called the Ramble, Olmstead’s ode to raw nature.


Two world-class institutions—the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)—bracket the park’s midsection. The Met’s two million works span nearly every part of the globe and all historical eras, and visitors can enjoy commanding views of the park from the rooftop sculpture garden and the airy gallery housing the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur. The AMNH is one of the world’s largest museums of any kind. Dedicated to nature, science, and human culture, the collection embraces more than 33 million specimens and artifacts.

Stretching the breadth of the park between the two museums, the Great Lawn is a combination sports complex and concert venue which has hosted crowds of half a million people drawn to acts like Elton John, Plácido Domingo, and the New York Philharmonic. A former reservoir turned Depression-era Hooverville, the open space adopted its current form in the 1950s. The open-air Delacorte Theater presents free Shakespeare in the Park during the summer, and the adjacent Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre puts on popular family puppet shows.

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Just to the north, a reservoir renamed in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis offers a mile-and-a-half jogging track, equestrian trail, pink-blossomed cherry trees, and the chance to see the dozens of water bird species that frequent the park’s largest lake.

The north end

Nestled in Harlem, the park’s north end honors the neighborhood’s heritage with features like the Duke Ellington Memorial at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street—the first monument to an African-American artist in New York City (dedicated in 1997). Dana Discovery Center on Harlem Meer offers a year-round slate of exhibits, education programs, and holiday events.

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One of the few parts of Central Park that doesn’t adhere to Olmsted’s rustic vision, the six-acre Conservatory Garden includes manicured French, English, and Italian beds, plus a magnificent Gilded Age gateway that once fronted the Vanderbilt Mansion on Fifth Avenue.

The north end’s rich military history—it served as a British encampment during the Revolutionary War and an American base in the War of 1812—remains evident in the 1814 Blockhouse, the park’s oldest surviving structure, and the site of Fort Clinton, a 1776 British bastion.

In the neighborhood

Stroll Museum Mile, the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 110th Streets that includes the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Guggenheim Museum, the small but superb Frick Collection, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of New York City, and El Museo del Barrio. At the top corner of the park, the Africa Center is slowly evolving from a policy and special events center into a museum of African arts and culture.

Head to Central Park West to see the iconic 19th-century Dakota Apartments, once home to celebrities from football star Joe Namath and dancer Rudolph Nureyev to actress Lauren Bacall, composer Leonard Bernstein, and John Lennon. Across the street in Central Park, the Strawberry Fields memorial honors Lennon, who was murdered in front of the Dakota in 1980. A few blocks north, the New-York Historical Society museum and archives give fascinating glimpses of history from its 1804 founding through to the present day.

To truly see it all, check out Central Park Conservancy’s guided tours, which highlight everything from children’s sculptures and beginning birding to fall foliage and art in the park—even a Hounds Hike dog walk.

Where to eat

Loeb Boathouse: This two-in-one eatery—the casual Express Cafe and the more formal Lakeside Restaurant—also offers an outdoor bar.

Tavern on the Green: A New York eating institution since 1934, the gourmet tavern serves lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.

Cantor Roof Garden Bar: co*cktails and light snacks are the forte of this alfresco hangout on the roof of the Met. (The museum also offers six other bars and restaurants.)

Kerbs Boathouse Café: A snack bar is tucked into a restored copper-roofed structure overlooking the Conservatory Water.

Harlem Meer Snack Bar: Next to the Dana Discovery Center, this vegetarian outlet is the only place to grab a bite or drink in the north end. Try the falafels.

Related: See the U.S.’ best urban green spaces

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Charleston, South CarolinaAt the southern tip of the city's peninsula, White Point Gardens commands a view of Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. The historic park—a public space for nearly two centuries—offers visitors a number of monuments and military displays.

Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards, Redux

What to do

GMA Summer Concert Series: Between May and September, Good Morning America hosts weekly performances by the biggest acts in popular music on Rumsey Playfield.

Central Park Conservancy Film Festival: A full week of free open-air movies in the park at the end of August draws crowds with blankets, drinks, and picnic dinners.

Oktoberfest in Central Park: Raise a beer-filled glass, munch on a bratwurst, and chomp on a pretzel at this Bavarian-style celebration held every September in the park’s Rumsey Playfield.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: The iconic event always starts at 77th Street and Central Park West. The night before, watch the giant balloons being inflated behind the American Museum of Natural History.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market: More than a hundred vendors offer Yuletide foods, crafts, clothing, and decorations at this outdoor bazaar held from Thanksgiving weekend to Christmas Eve.

Nat Geo ExpeditionsBook your next trip with Peace of MindSearch Trips

This article was adapted from the National Geographic book 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas.

Everything to know about Central Park, New York City (2024)


Everything to know about Central Park, New York City? ›

Central Park, largest and most important public park in Manhattan, New York City. It occupies an area of 840 acres (340 hectares) and extends between 59th and 110th streets (about 2.5 miles [4 km]) and between Fifth and Eighth avenues (about 0.5 miles [0.8 km]).

What do you need to know about Central Park? ›

Central Park is made up of 843 acres in the center of Manhattan. It includes sprawling lawns, rural woodlands, babbling brooks, and several lakes. The park also features running paths, walking trails, baseball fields, a skating rink, a zoo, formal gardens, theaters, a concert venue, and lots of commemorative art.

What makes Central Park so popular? ›

Main attractions include landscapes such as the Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Sheep Meadow; amusem*nt attractions such as Wollman Rink, Central Park Carousel, and the Central Park Zoo; formal spaces such as the Central Park Mall and Bethesda Terrace; and the ...

What is the story behind Central Park? ›

The creation of Central Park

In 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that set aside 775 acres of land in Manhattan—from 59th to 106th Streets, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues—to create the country's first major landscaped public park.

Is it free to walk around Central Park? ›

Central Park is free, but has its own paid shares of attractions as well. With its vastness, you'll definitely need a guide to help you pinpoint exactly where to go, and what to do within it if you're pressed for time.

What to do in Central Park for free? ›

Free things to do in Central Park
  1. Central Park on Budget – six free things to do in the warm months. ...
  2. A walk down the Mall. ...
  3. Pay the Belvedere a visit. ...
  4. Strawberry Fields. ...
  5. Set sail with the Pumpkin Flotilla. ...
  6. Rock on! ...
  7. Shakespeare in the Park. ...
  8. Just enjoy the park!
Feb 19, 2021

Why do people love Central Park? ›

With recreational facilities abounding, the more energetic won't have a problem finding a spot to skate, pedal, row, dribble, or climb to his or her heart's delight. Although Central Park has 21 official playgrounds, we like to think of it as one gigantic jungle gym in its peak season.

Who owns Central Park? ›

Central Park is owned by the City of New York, via the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

Why is there a gold cube in Central Park? ›

Castello described the cube to Artnet News as “a conceptual work of art in all its facets,” and noted that his idea was to “create something that's beyond our world—that's intangible.” To wit, the cube seems to be driving anticipation for Castello's upcoming cryptocurrency, called the Castello Coin ($CAST), that he ...

How long does it take to walk around Central Park? ›

Enjoy this 6.4-mile loop trail near New York City, New York. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 2 h 2 min to complete.

How long did the gates stay up in Central Park? ›

For sixteen days in 2005 The Gates tempted millions of people to visit Central Park. The 7,500 structures in this epic public artwork – “gates” holding saffron-colored fabric – lined 23 winding miles through the iconic park. Four million visitors came to see the artwork in its brief run, from February 12 to 28.

Who famous lives in Central Park? ›

Lots of stars live and hang out in the Central Park area, including Antonio Banderas, Trey Anastasio, Al Sharpton, Tony Danza, Bobby Flay, Anne Hathaway, Regis Philbin, Yoko Ono, Gayle King, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Strahan, Madonna, and Jordan Peele.

What is the most famous hotel in Central Park? ›

Experience New York's Iconic Luxury Hotel on Central Park South. Since its debut on October 1, 1907, The Plaza Hotel has remained a New York icon hosting world leaders, dignitaries, captains of industry, Broadway legends, and Hollywood royalty.

What part of Central Park is worth visiting? ›

The serene Pond at Central Park (in the park's southeast corner) is a retreat from the bustling NYC city streets. The Pond's northern point is spanned by the famous Gapstow Bridge, which you'll likely recognize from photos and films.

Can you just walk around Central Park? ›

You can start walking from the park entrance directly across the street from the American Museum of Natural History at the intersection of Central Park West and 79th Street, and if you don't get sidetracked, you will end up at Bethesda Terrace, on the 72nd Street Traverse through Central Park.

How much time is needed to see Central Park? ›

How much time do you need to explore Central Park? Since Central Park is packed with several attractions, you need a whole day ( morning to evening) to explore the park.

How long would it take you to walk Central Park? ›

The extended route covers approximately 6.1 miles if you walk both the Upper and Lower Loops. You should expect this walk to take around 3 to 4 hours at a leisurely pace. Again, your time may vary depending on your speed, the number of stops, and the specific paths you choose.

What are the famous steps in Central Park? ›

A history of Bethesda Terrace

Located on the Southern shore of the Lake of Central Park, at 72nd Street Cross Drive, you'll know you're in the right place when you spy the dual staircase behind a fountain, designed by Jacob Wrey Mould, and crowned with a statue named Angel of the Waters.


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