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Know Before You Go: Visiting Central Park in New York City

Visiting Central Park is a New York City rite of passage—here’s how to make the most of the experience.

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Hi, I'm Claire!

Claire Bullen is an award-winning food, drinks, and travel writer and editor who has lived and worked in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Paris, and London. She is the author of The Beer Lover's Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, and the editor at GoodBeerHunting.com. Her writing has also appeared in Time Out New York, The Daily Meal, Pellicle Magazine, and beyond.

No visit to New York City would be complete without a visit to its most famous green space. Central Park—which was the first major landscaped public park built in the United States—has drawn New Yorkers in search of a breath of fresh air for more than 160 years and is also a favorite with visitors who enjoy its attractions and only-in-the-Big-Apple views. Today, the park is still one of Manhattan’s most-visited landmarks, and in addition to providing lots of green space, it also offers a variety of attractions ranging from its eponymous zoo and carousel to memorials like Strawberry Fields and photo-friendly spots like the Belvedere Castle. To make the most of this sprawling destination, read up on our Central Park tips.

What are the main Central Park attractions?

people sitting around a fountain in central park, new york city
There's far more in Central Park than trees and lawns.Foto: Amanda Voisard / Viator

Highlights include the Central Park Zoo, Wollman Rink, and so much more.

A park may not sound like the most riveting tourist destination—once you’ve gone for a jog and a picnic, what else is there? But there are plenty of things to do in Central Park. The space is full of historical landmarks like the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, Belvedere Castle, and Strawberry Fields; has a plethora of natural beauty spots like the Conservatory Garden, the Lake, and the Model Boat Pond; and offers always-popular family-friendly favorites like the Central Park Zoo, Wollman Rink, and the Central Park Carousel.

Moreover, the above list doesn’t even include the dozens of major museums and landmarks that overlook or border the park, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History to Columbus Circle. Think of Central Park as a natural, cultural, architectural, and historical destination, all wrapped up in one lovely, verdant package.

Insider tip: If you choose to picnic in Central Park—a must-do in good weather—but want to skip the crowds at the Great Lawn and Sheep Meadow, there are plenty of more-secluded spots like Cherry Hill and the East Meadow.

How big is Central Park, and how much time should I plan for my visit?

bikes in central park, new york city
You can spend an entire day in Central Park and still not see all of it.Foto: Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock

The park is big enough that you can spend hours getting (joyfully) lost in it.

Central Park is often described as the largest and most important public park in New York City. At a whopping 840 acres (340 hectares), it stretches from 59th Street to 110th Street (around 2.5 miles, or 4 kilometers), and from Fifth Avenue, on the easter side, to Eighth Avenue, on the western side (a width of around 0.5 miles, or 0.8 kilometers). Visiting all of Central Park’s attractions in one day would challenge anyone’s stamina; if you want to see a lot of the park all in one visit, set aside a few hours to do so, and consider exploring by pedicab, bike, or e-scooter. You can also dip in and out of the park over multiple days while visiting adjacent neighborhoods (like locals do).

Are there places to eat and public restrooms available in Central Park?

building in central park, new york city
You can sit down at a restaurant or pick up a hot dog from a street vendor in Central Park.Foto: Tavern on the Green / Tripadvisor

Yes, the park offers a wide range of amenities.

Planning to spend most of the day in Central Park? You can do so without worry—essential amenities are scattered all across the park’s vast expanse. The numerous dining options range from hot dog vendors and casual kiosks to iconic fine-dining institutions like the Tavern on the Green, which has stood overlooking Sheep Meadow since 1934. (To extend the culinary experience, book a food crawl that visits the eclectic restaurants of neighboring Hell’s Kitchen.) Additionally, the park makes 20 public restrooms available to visitors, and all are free to use, though the restroom in the zoo can only be accessed by those who have paid that attraction’s entrance fee.

Is there an entrance fee to Central Park?

runners along the reservoir, central park
Central Park is one of the best free attractions in New York City.Foto: Amanda Voisard / Viator

Entrance to the park is always free—but access to its attractions varies.

New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but Central Park enjoys a short rest—it’s closed to visitors from 1am–6am every day. Other than that small window of time, the park is always free and open to all. No tickets or pre-bookings are required to stroll the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, indulge in people-watching at the Central Park Mall, spot the famous Alice in Wonderland sculpture, or go bird-watching in the Ramble. That said, some of the park’s most in-demand attractions, such as the always-popular Central Park Zoo and the in-season Wollman Rink, require paid admission

Insider tip: If you’re visiting on a weekend or during school holidays, it’s worth grabbing advance tickets to the zoo and/or Wollman Rink, as both attractions get very busy.

What’s the best way to get to Central Park?

subway station outside central park
Public transportation brings you right to Central Park.Foto: Konstantin L / Shutterstock

Take public transit to any of its many entrances.

Public transit can seamlessly connect you with Central Park from pretty much anywhere in the city. Because of the park’s scale (and its prime position right in the heart of Manhattan), you’ve got a wide range of options: On the west side, the A, C, B, and D Subway lines run along the edge of the park, and the 2 and 3 trains stop on its northern edge. On the east side, the 4, 5, 6, and Q lines run parallel to the park but a few avenues east (so prepare for a short walk or ride on a cross-town bus), and the M, N, R, and W lines stop near Central Park South. Numerous bus lines also run along the park’s margins, and Grand Central Station is just 20 minutes away by foot. If you’re still somehow stuck (or you don’t want to wait for a bus in the rain), you can always call on the city’s ubiquitous taxis and rideshare services.

What is the best time to visit Central Park?

ice rink in central park, new york city
There are activities in Central Park all year round.Foto: Victoria Lipov / Shutterstock

Summer is primetime, but there’s no bad time to visit.

Central Park is truly an all-year-round destination. Summer is undoubtedly the park’s high season, when the Central Park Zoo is at its busiest and the park’s myriad running and walking trails are packed. Shakespeare in the Park, the Central Park Film Festival, and the SummerStage Festival also draw crowds. But the park is also worth exploring in spring, to take in the park’s cherry blossoms, in autumn, to admire the colorful foliage (and attend events like the New York City Marathon and the Thanksgiving Day parade; the routes go right past the park), and in winter, to go ice skating, sledding on Cedar Hill, and Christmas-light viewing.

Insider tip: If you’re visiting Central Park between March and November, head to the Model Boat Pond on Saturday mornings to see Central Park Model Yacht Club members take their model boats out for a spin.

Are there guided tours available in Central Park?

tour guide in central park, new york city
Take a guided tour to see all of the park's highlights without getting lost.Foto: Amanda Voisard / Viator

Absolutely—feel free to choose your own adventure.

There are as many ways to go exploring in Central Park as there are things to see. To really soak in the park’s idyllic beauty (and learn stories about its history you wouldn’t encounter otherwise), book an in-depth walking tour. And a filming locations tour is an ideal way for cinephiles to take in this star of the silver screen. The Central Park Conservancy also hosts its own range of specialist tours all throughout the year, from birding walks to jogging tours.

Insider tip: Looking for an independent way to explore the park? You can rent Citi Bikes from stands located along the park’s perimeter, or at dedicated rental facilities, many of which are found around Central Park South. In-season rowboat rentals are offered at the Central Park Lake.

Is Central Park accessible?

people walking dog in central park, new york city
Much of Central Park is accessible—you can find an accessibility map online.Foto: Amanda Voisard / Viator

Yes, much of the park is accessible to wheelchair users.

Central Park was first envisioned as a “public space” that would democratically welcome New Yorkers of all stripes. In practice, park access hasn’t always been so easy for wheelchair users, disabled visitors, and those with limited mobility—but amidst ongoing renovations led by the Central Park Conservancy, accessibility in the park is continually approving. Today, the bulk of its entrances and its paths are accessible to wheelchair users, and there are also accessible restrooms. The Conservancy also publishes a detailed accessibility map on its website.

Frequently asked questions

ornate bridge in central park, new york city
It took nearly two decades to complete Central Park.Foto: Amanda Voisard / Viator

Everything you need to know about visiting Central Park in New York City.

  • Who designed Central Park? Central Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and their plan for the park was submitted during a contest in 1858. It is still considered one of the best examples of urban landscape architecture in the world.

  • How old is Central Park? Central Park was founded in 1858, but it took almost two decades to complete its landscaping, build its roads, and add its architectural features. Since then, it has gone through many periods of restoration, rehabilitation, and change, with additional features—like its zoo, entertainment venues, baseball fields and more—added over time.

  • Why is Central Park so famous? Central Park is famous for being one of the most-visited attractions in New York City, and for being the city’s largest green space. Home to Big Apple institutions like Shakespeare in the Park and the Central Park Zoo, it has also appeared in numerous films and TV shows.

  • Which movies were filmed in Central Park? Central Park is officially the world’s most popular filming destination, and it has served as a set for a wide range of movies and TV shows over the years. Some popular examples include Kramer vs. Kramer, Elf, Home Alone, Gossip Girl, Spider-Man 3, and many, many more.

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