Central Park is a big, big space. YUGE, in fact. It is the most-visited urban park in the United States as well as one of the most-filmed locations in the world. Established in 1857 on 778 acres of city-owned land, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux won in 1858 a design competition to improve and expand the park. Construction began that same year, and the park was initially opened to the public in the winter of 1858. During the Civil War, the park was expanded northward, and in 1873 was enlarged to its current size of 843 acres.
We’re partial to the entire 843 acres, but if you’re short on time and need guidance about what to see, we’ve broken it down to some must-see spots.
Bethesda Terrace & Fountain is a magnificent gathering place that is the only formal architectural setting on Central Park. The walls and pillars of the terrace are adorned with intricate sculptures depicting the seasons and the times of a day. The terrace’s arcade features a ceiling made of beautiful tiles. Many street musicians have found a venue here and play for passing resident explorers and tourists alike. The Bethesda Fountain is often referred to as the “Angel of the Waters.”
The Model Boat Pond is a favorite spot for folks of all ages to have fun in the sun operating miniature remote-controlled sailboats, a New York City tradition for almost 140 years.
Shakespeare’s Garden is a four-acre landscaped oasis located between 79th and 80th Streets on the Westside featuring flowers and plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. This underrated gem has stone walkways, old-fashioned herbs, colorful flowers, and even apples, all dedicated to William Shakespeare. The garden was created in 1913, renamed for the playwright and, in 1916, dedicated to his memory.
The Central Park Carousel is a gorgeous vintage carousel located at the southern end of the park, near East 65th Street. A ride on the carousel will cost you three bucks a pop.
The Gothic-style Belvedere Castle looks as though it’s rising out of the mist, or sun, as the case may be. This majestic structure is a favorite of locals and tourists alike and houses the Henry Luce Nature Observatory featuring nature exhibits inside the castle and offering bird-watching kits, usable through the entire park.
The Lake is a large man-made body of water that acts as a centerpiece and anchor of Central Park. At its eastern tip is the Boathouse Restaurant and the kiosk where you can rent rowboats to take a ride on the water. The lake is spanned by the celebrated cast-iron Bow Bridge, beyond which you can view the iconic New York City skyline.
Every tourist seems to want to pay a visit to Strawberry Fields, created in memory of John Lennon, who lived (and was killed) just across the street at The Dakota. The Imagine Mosaic, the centerpiece of this urban retreat, is an iconic symbol now adorning posters and T-shirts. It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot often crowded with visitors. The site is worth a visit nonetheless
A lesser-known attraction is the Harlem Meer, located in the northeast corner of the Park near 110th Street in a section added to the original site, which had originally ended at 106th Street. Some of the activities you can find at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, adjacent to the lake that is the Harlem Meer, are the Haarlem Meer Performance Festival, The Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla, and the Winter Holiday Lighting Ceremony.
Delacorte Theater, located just off of 80th street on the southwest corner of the Great Lawn, is in the dead center of the Park. This 1800-seat open-air theater is home to the Public Theater’s two annual summers free Shakespeare in the Park productions.
The Central Park Zoo is a family friendly spot. It’s small for a zoo, just 6.5-acres, and comprised of naturalistic environments instead of cages. The zoo is not free, however, like most of Central Park. Tickets for adults cost $18; $13 for children; and $15 for seniors.
The Central Park Conservancy website has the scoop on the whole park.