The Central Park is a backyard for NYC locals as well as a top destination for visitors. With over 800 acres, it’s impossible to explore all of it in one visit. So pick an area and explore by foot or rent a bike and the southern portion of the park offers the most to see and do. If you want to learn more about Central Park, arrange a tour. Find playscapes, lawn for picnicing, museums in or next to the park along with food carts and even a zoo. Here’s the top things to do in New York City’s Central Park.
Top Things to do in New York City’s Central Park
As the first landscaped public park in the U.S., the merchants and landowners wanted to develop an area like the ones of Paris and London for all to use. In 1853 money was designated to its developement and land in the center of Manhattan was acquired. With irregular terrain, the land was less desireable for development though home to farmers and their animals and crops.
In 1857, the park’s commission selected Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Many of the iconic details of the Central Park were part of their Greenward Plan. Thousands of workers reshaped the landscape and the park officially opened in 1859.
Alice in Wonderland Statue and Hans Christian Andersen Statue
Located near Conservatory Water on the east side of the park, kids can actually climb this bronze statue featuring Alice, the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit. The Hans Christian Andersen Statue is steps away.
Located near E 74th St.
American Museum of Natural History
A sprawling museum that could take all day so hit the highlights, like the Hall of Dinosaurs, “Lucy” the early human, the giant blue whale. And then explore the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda along with the Hall of North American Mammals.
Carve out a little time for the Hayden Planetarium to learn more about the world beyond our atmosphere. It’s located on-site and requires an additional timed ticket for a show.
The Natural History Museum offers a Museum Food Court on the lower level featuring family favorites.
Located at Central Park West at 79th St. and Open from Wednesday to Sunday 10 a.m. To 5:30 p.m. Admission based on age. Reservations recommended. Planetarium an additional ticket.
As the highest point in Central Park the views are the draw. Originally designed by Central Park’s architect, Frederick Law Olmstead who wanted a whimsical castle.
Located mid park at 79th St. Open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the rest of the year. Free
Bethesda Terrance and Fountain
If limited on time, then head to Bethesda first. One of the original elements in Central Park, it was built in 1859. And the grand fountain, is one of the top NYC pictures.
Located at 72nd Transverse Drive (one of the roads that bisects the park).
As one of the most romantic spots in NYC, Bow Bridge is a favorite with couples. Built in 1859, it’s located mid park at 74th Street Transverse, west of Bethesda Terrace.
Central Park Carousel
A must for families, the 1908 Carousel is covered and features 57 horses.
Located in south east corner of Central Park at 65th St. Open April though October from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 7 p.m. on Friday to Sunday. Admission is $3 per person, cash only.
A whole day or more can be dedicated to exploring Central Park. Arrange a professional tour or DIY one.
Central Park Zoo
This compact zoo can be explored in two hours, perfect for younger kids and babies. The highlights are the sea lions, penguins, snow monkeys and grizzly bears. Head to the adjacent facility, Tisch Children’s zoo for more exploring with the littles.
Located at 64th St. and 5th Avenue and open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) from first week of April through November and open until 4:30 p.m. for the rest of the year. Admission based on age.
Chess and Checker House
It is an official Central Park visitor center in the children’s district. Though you will still find people playing board games on the table ringing the building.
Located at mid park at 64th Street.
Head to a charming area dedicated to the young-at-heart. Rent a wind-powered sail boat or just enjoy the scenery.
Located on the east side in-between 72nd and 75th streets. Free
DiMenna Children’s History Museum
Geared towards older kids, learn about the 350 years of history on New York City along with the U.S. at large.
Located at 170 Central Park West. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. ( 8 p.m. on Friday). Admission based on age and 4 and younger enter for free. Timed entry reservation recommended.
Head to the top of the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and meander down through the collection. Focusing on modern and contemporary art, it can be explored quickly.
Located at 5th Avenue and 89th Street. Open Sunday through Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday until 8 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Admission based on age.
With Swedish story book architectural elements, the Dairy harkens back to the time with the park had grazing animals. In the late 1800s, it was used by children and served milk and refreshments. Now it is a visitor center for Central Park.
Located just south of the 65th Street Traverser as it bisects the park.
The Imagine Mosaic in Strawberry Fields
Stroll this quiet zone and official peace park to honor the work of John Lennon. Along with his work with The Beatles, John Lennon advocated for peace.
Located along Central Park West in-between 71st and 74th streets, in the shadow of his former home, The Dakota.
A formal promendade in the park, this wide and straight walk is lined with benches and American Elms. On the lower section of the walk, find statues to literary figures, like William Shakespeare. In addition, find the Women’s Rights Pioneer Statue. It’s lovely during all seasons.
Located from the 66th Street Traverse to the 74th Street Traverse.
It’s a restaurant, cafe and bar along with rental rowboats, just north of Bethesda Terrace. One of the most photographed spots in Central Park. From April through November, boats can be rented by the hour ($20 a hour), weather permitting. Cash only.
Hungry? Head to Loeb Boathouse Café Express, next to the fancier Loeb Boathouse Restaurant, for drinks or an ice cream cone. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Spring to Fall and open until 4:30 p.m. during the winter.
Located at Park Dr. N at 72nd St.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A sprawling museum that will test the will of a toddler so head for the highlights. The Temple of Dendur on the first floor. Or head to the European Paintings on the second floor. See Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol.
Cafes located in several locations for a break. Family guides available and special tours on select days.
Located at 1000 5th Avenue. Open Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p..m. and Friday and Saturday until 9 p.m. Admission based on age.
Playgrounds of Central Park
Kids live in NYC too. So sample some of the amazing playgrounds in Central Park that are sprinkled throughout the park.
A favorite among locals and visitors alike. Find water play, climbing structure and swings in areas based on age. Located midpark in-between 61st and 63rd streets.
This playground is better for museum goers. Take a few minutes so the kids can run and climb before or after exploring The Met. Located next The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Billy Johnson Playground
The draw at this playground is the granite slides. Go faster with a piece of cardboard. Find two slides, the original and faster one and a new shorter slide that accommodates kids of differing abilities. Located at 67th Street and 5th Avenue.
A playground close to the American Museum of Natural Science with lots of climbing structures. A great spot to run out some energy before-or-after a museum visit. Located on the west side of the park at 67th Street.
Where to Eat around Central Park
After doing the top things to do in New York City’s Central Park, you’ll need a snack, or a full sit-down meal. The park is littered with carts, mostly found along major walking paths and major destinations inside the park.
Picnicking in Central Park
With a little planning, grab some food and picnic in Central Park.
The Great Lawn in mid park at 79th to 85th streets
Sheep Meadow on the west side at 66th to 69th streets
Authur Ross Pinery offers picnic tables at 84th to 86th streets.
East Meadow at 97th to 100th streets
The Loeb Boathouse and Express Café
If your group is wandering through Central Park and hungry and need a break, head to The Loeb Boathouse, the restaurant with the rental boats. It offers a sit-down, white tablecloth restaurant and a casual eatery with patio seating out back along with a seasonal outdoor bar area.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner with brunch and dinner on the weekends. Its menus focus on seasonal flavors with upscale vibe and offers tables overlooking the pond or indoors. Reservations are a must.
The Express Café serves breakfast items, burgers, soups and salads along with my favorite soft-serve ice cream. I also found lots of outdoor seating with wandering pigeons.
Located at East 72nd and Park Drive North.
Tavern on the Green
For an iconic table overlooking the park, make a reservation at Tavern on the Green. It features an upscale menu with seasonal offerings, and there a children’s menu with pasta and sliders.
Locted at 67th and Central Park West. Lunch and dinner during the week with brunch and dinner on the weekends. Reservations are a must.
Le Pain Quotidien
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, grab a quick bite, like bakery items, sandwiches and salads along with drinks at Le Pain Quitidien.
E. 72nd Street at 5th Ave.
2 W. 69th Street Traverse
It’s a place to grab a burger, a shake and an order of fries. It even sells wine and beer in the can for parents who need a break. The burgers are fresh and made to order but I found lines at all hours. So check out its an app.
Closest location to Central Park: 366 Columbus Circle.
If deserts are your thing, then a trip to Serendipity 3 needs to be on your itinerary. Its frozen hot chocolate is what brings the families through the door. Order one for the table and share it. It’s sweet but decandent. The entrees are good with a kid-friendly menu with traditional American fare.
Located at 225 E. 60th St. (outside of the park) Reservations recommended.
A mainstay for brunch, Sarabeth’s offers a popular menu with savory and sweet items along with salads, burgers and more, including cocktails. The dinner must is more upscale with options like steak frites. Outdoor dining available overlooking the park.
Located at 40 Central Park South. Reservation accepted.
A popular grab-and-go option for coffee drinks, breakfast items, salads and sandwiches and more. You can grab something before heading into the park and have a picnic.
Located at 100 Central Park South.
The American Museum of Natural History
Find a Food Court on the lower level featuring family favorites. During our visit we enjoyed salads though pizza, burgers, sandwiches and a selection of desserts are available.
Located at Central Park West at 79th St.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
With several restaurants, The Eatery on the ground floor offers the best option for kids. We enjoyed a grab-and-go salads and soup during our visit.
Located at 1000 Fifth Avenue.
Known for its cupcakes and banana pudding–the banana pudding is a must for fans. Though I loved the individual cheesecakes too and the shops are girly-cute.
The closest locations to Central Park are 1794 Broadway at 58th St. and 200 Columbus Ave.
Find one especially Central Park. Grab a hotdogs, a drink and even a pretzels and ice cream.
Where to Stay