Central Park is, in our humble opinion, the greatest inner-city park in the world. Opened in 1876 the park gets around 42 million visitors per year. It is located between the Upper West side and Upper East side of Manhattan. And in the south, it starts at 59th Street and ends in the north at 110th street and the start of Harlem. It is hard to fathom how big the park really is, at 843 acres (1.317 sq miles or 3.41 km2) it is simply huge (bigger than the nation of Monaco)! It contains lakes, skating rinks, carousels, galleries, cafes, restaurants, museums, large fields for sports like baseball and it has its own zoo! In the middle of the park is a great big water reservoir named after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. You could probably use a lifetime and never really get to know every nook and cranny of the park, and we have only seen some of the park’s many different attractions on our visits. We would recommend checking out National Geographics excellent guide to Central Park for more in-depth information. Central Park is also the most filmed location in the world, around 250 movies have used the park as a location, some of our all-time favourites like The Fisher King, When Harry met Sally and The Avengers.
Suggested first time walk
If you are a first-time visitor, and want to experience Central Park, stick to the southern end. Start at the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street at the subway station, the lines N R W run via this station. Walk on the right-hand side of The Pond via the picturesque Gapstow bridge and the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park and then straight on to the Mall and Literary Walk that ends up at Bethesda Terrace and fountain. This site has been used for many movies and tv shows. It has great views over The Lake and the Loeb Boathouse to your right. If you can get a reservation here for lunch it is a spectacular location. And if you feel like rowing The Lake in a small boat, this is where you can rent one for a romantic cruise in Central Park.
From the Bethesda Terrace we would recommend going to your left (north west) to the beautiful Bow Bridge, arching over The Lake it gives a very cool photo opportunity with the apartment blocks of Central Park West in the background, including The Dakota, home of many celebrities including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Yoko still lives there.
Cross over Bow Bridge and enter The Ramble. A naturally wooded and rocky area that has kept some of the wilderness of the woods before it was turned into a park.
Beyond The Ramble lies Belvedere Castle – a faux medieval looking stone castle in Gothic and Romanesque design. It looks cool and the top tower gives a great view of the park. Next to the castle lies Shakespeare Garden, an area landscaped to look like the English countryside.
The last stop in the northern direction is the Great Lawn. Some say this is the most famous lawn in the world, and who are we to argue? 55 acres of lush green well kept lawn flanked by big trees with the New York skyline in the background is very cool indeed. This is the site for any major concerts in the park, and if you visit on Saturdays or Sundays you will see baseball teams play friendly matches, the police VS the fire brigade or some other high stake game for bragging rights. Americans favourite pastime is played by everybody in all shapes and sizes. Make sure to sit down on a bench and watch an inning or two, it is great fun to hear the on-pitch banter and swearing.
Walk straight west until you meet the street Central Park West and walk southwards until you stand at the stairs of the American Museum of Natural History. A great museum used for the movie franchise “Night at the Museum”.
Back into the park again, there is a great photo spot by The Lake called Hernshead just behind the Ladies Pavilion. Continue south and you will soon find Strawberry Fields, a living memorial to Beatles legend and peace activist John Lennon. This small park within a park was dedicated on what should have been John Lennon’s 45th birthday on October 9th, 1985. It is a designated quiet zone within Central Park and is endorsed as a garden of peace by 121 countries. Just across the road lies the Dakota building where John Lennon was murdered on the 8th of December 1980.
If you by now feel like having a snack, coffee or just fill up with some food, you should try and get a table at the Tavern on the Green, the iconic Central Park restaurant.
Should you feel like burning off some of those lunch calories, Umpire Rock is just up the road to the south. A great vantage point made up of bedrock 450 million years old, Umpire Rock (or more correctly Rat Rock due to the number of rats swarming around the rock some years ago) gives commanding views of nearby Heckscher Ballfields.
End your Central Park walk at Columbus Circle and the Maine monument commemorating 260 lost American sailors from the USS Maine who sank in Havana, Cuba, in 1898.
Columbus Circle subway station has lines A C B and D running through it, easy for getting back downtown in a hurry. Or you could just walk 10 blocks south on Broadway, and suddenly you are at the busiest place in Manhattan, Times Square.
I want to ride my bicycle!
Another option if you feel a bit more adventurous and have the urge to explore more in less time is renting a bicycle. We have done this one time and it was great. Central Park has plenty of scenic roads that used to be occupied by cars and taxis. Now most of those roads are closed for traffic and opened to pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists. Just the traverse roads are still open but there are only 4 or those open to cars. When you walk or cycle please beware of other pedestrians or bikers, follow the directions and markings on the roads. We biked all the way from 59th street and up to Harlem and back again, and we got to see some cool sights, and the number of tourists diminish the closer you get to Harlem. Central Park is not entirely flat like you might think, we got some good exercise with the small hills around Harlem Meer and the North Woods. We rented bikes at Bike Rent NYC. You could also consider having one of their excellent bike tours with a guide.
Central Park is like a small nation within a city. There is so much to see and so much to do in all seasons of the year. We have not even mentioned the many museums and galleries on 5th Avenue or all the wildlife that exists in the park. Good luck when you explore, and do not be afraid to get lost, it is a safe park, and the worst thing that can happen is that you find a secret location and get some great Instagram photos. If you need a map of the park, this is a great one from Applied Way Finding.