A green lung in the concrete jungle of New York City, Central Park is an amazing place to visit for both locals and tourists. Even if you’re a firsttimer or an experienced parkgoer – here are my favorite essentials of the park that you simply can’t miss!
A Few Advice
First of all, let me tell you that Central Park is huge. Did you know it’s almost half the size of Sweden? Okay that was a lie, but it IS huge, I promise. If you really want to experience the best Central Park has to offer I have some advice for you:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. Like I said, Central Park is huge. And doing a walking tour will take a toll on your feet and legs at some point. This is not the park for fancy heels, guys.
- Rent a bike: If you’re not that into walking or if you want to see more of the park in a shorter amount of time, renting a bike might be a great option for you. With this company you can pick up and drop off your bike at three locations, including the start and finish points of my Central Park guide below.
- Respect the wildlife: Please please please respect the wildlife. Do not bother the animals in any way.
- What to bring: Bringing cash is a good idea, as street vendors and foodtrucks usually only take cash. I also recommend bringing a bottle of water or a reusable one. I’m usually a big fan of reusable bottles in the city as the tap water is safe and tasty, but I’ve seen people let their dogs lick all over the water fountain spout..
- Check out a concert in the park: As the Park is often used as a venue for concerts, plays, outdoor movies and other events, I recommend you check the official Central Park calendar prior to your visit to make sure you don’t miss out!
Central Park Highlights You Can’t Miss
Even though I’ve been to Central Park more than 30 times over the last 12 years, I still discover something new each time I go. But I have also found myself a few favorite spots that I keep going back to, which I would love to share with you guys in this self-guided walking tour of the parks highlights. You can do the tour in a few hours or in a full day, depending on how much time you spend on each location. Click the map below to download a free printable pdf version of the guide.
Starting Point: The Plaza Hotel
Although technically not in Central Park, The Plaza is a great place to start your Central Park trip (East 59th Street & 5th Avenue). I’m sure you recognize this hotel from movies and tv shows like Home Alone II, The Way We Were, SATC and Gossip Girl. Enter the park at the southeast corner across the street and you’ll see my first favorite spot right away..
1. The Pond & Gapstow Bridge
The Pond is nothing else than, well, a pond. But despite it’s extremely unoriginal name it is actually a very lovely spot in the park. It’s where concrete jungle meets quiet (ish) nature, and while crossing the famous Gapstow Bridge you get one of the greatest views of the New York City skyline. I’m sure you recognize this spot from Home Alone II and Gossip Girl as well.
2. Wollman Rink
Skating rink in fall and winter, amusement park in the summer – the perfect combo. Now’s the time to test those skating skills! Even if you don’t skate, Wollman rink is worth a visit, as it’s got it’s own vibe that you can’t help but catch. The rink is popular amongst both tourists and newyorkers so beware of crowds.
3. The Mall
Follow a random path north from the rink and you’ll somehow end up strolling The Mall – a beautiful walkway leading to Bethesda Terrace. This place is gorgeous in all seasons, but my favorite is fall when the orange leaves are spread all over the walkway. The Mall is a natural gathering place and along the path you’ll see loads of active locals doing their morning run, parents and nannies walking with strollers, talented street performers and people selling art and souvenirs. Follow the mall north.
4. Bethesda Terrace & Fountain
The Mall leads you straight to Bethesda Terrace & Bethesda Fountain, my absolute favorite among my Central Park essentials. The architecture, the view of the Central Park Lake, the people.. Simply an amazing place I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do. Inside the lower terrace there is an amazing acoustic which makes it popular amongst talented street performers, so before you know it you’ve found yourself a new favorite singer. This is also the perfect place to rent a boat for the ultimate Central Park experience.
5. Bow Bridge
If you follow one of the paths to your left once you leave the Bethesda Fountain, you’ll soon reach the iconic Bow Bridge. This spot has got the perfect backdrop for your Central Park photo and is known for being very romantic. Last time I visited this bridge in the winter season, there was a man playing «Moon River» on his violin, which was so beautiful that it made me forget I was freezing my butt of. I mean THAT’S talent. Take a classy photo like the ones I took of Lisa ooor a silly one like the one of me..
6. The Boathouse
Take a right turn once you cross the Bow Bridge and you’re on your way to The Loeb Boathouse. This is my favorite place to eat in Central Park in addition to random food trucks (my guilty pleasure thankyouverymuch), and it is the perfect place for lunch or dinner on the weekdays or a delicious weekend brunch. This place holds a special place in my heart and is def worthy of a visit. I recommend getting reservations.
7. Belvedere Castle & Turtle Pond
Pick a path from The Boathouse and head north, say hi to a few squirrels on your way and suddenly you’ll arrive at Belvedere Castle. This is a place I keep bringing firsttimers, as it has the most beautiful view, and it never disappoints. I took my cousin there last summer and I was SO sad once I discovered it was closed due to renovations. It still is, but make sure you pay it a visit once it opens! North of the castle you’ll find Delacorte Theater and Turtle Pond – a lovely pond where you can catch a glimpse of, you guessed it, turtles!
8. Hearnshead & Ladies Pavilion
Keep walking southwest from the castle, cross the Oak Bridge and follow the lake further south until you reach Hernshead – a rock structure that resembles the shape of a heron. Next to it you’ll see the Ladies Pavilion, a restored pavilion by the lake so picturesque that people get married here. Hearnshead is a quiet little spot by the like where I like to sit and enjoy the view while cute little turtles swim around next to me.
9. Strawberry Fields & The Dakota
Continue walking for a few minutes and you’ll soon stumble upon Strawberry Fields – a beautiful teardrop shaped area dedicated to the late John Lennon. In the center of the area you’ll find the «Imagine» mosaic, a lovely memorial that fans often decorate with flowers. John Lennon was shot dead walking into his home in The Dakota Building on December 8th 1980, and this building is adjacent to Strawberry Fields if you want to have a look.
10. Sheep Meadow
Walking south from Strawberry Fields you’ll soon see Sheep Meadow on your left – a great lawn that is perfect for sunbathing and picnics. Don’t worry, there aren’t any sheep there.. In winter, or if you don’t want to prep and carry your own food, you could give Tavern on the Green a try if your walk has made you hungry.
11. Umpire Rock
A few minutes southwest of Sheep Meadow you can find Umpire Rock. This instaworthy spot is one of those places in the park I just happen to stumble upon each visit. I didn’t even know it had it’s own name until last year! (probably should have figured though, because of all the signs and all.. whoops). It is a perfect example of where the lush green colors of the park meets the grey skyscrapers, so make sure you pay it a visit.
Finish: Columbus Circle
Follow a path further down the park and you’ll soon end up by the southwest entrance of Central Park by Columbus Circle (West 59th St & 8th Avenue). From here it should be easy to navigate to wherever you want to go next in the city.
Free Printable Guide & Map
I know there is a lot more to Central Park than what I’ve mentioned, but after many visits these remain my favorite ones and I love to revisit them whenever I’m in the city. That being said, I’d love some suggestions for new places to visit, so what are your favorites Central Park essentials? Tell me in the comments below!
Do you want to download a free printable map with detailed description of my recommended spots in Central Park? CLICK TO DOWNLOAD. I hope it’s useful.