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The best things to do in Central Park

The very best things to do in Central park as a family, including check out the Conservatory Water, carousel, Central Park Zoo and more


Central Park is by far the most iconic of New York City's green spaces—it's home to scenes from iconic films like Stuart Little and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York...plus it's totally massive. To make navigating a bit easier, we've rounded up the best things to do in Central Park, from visits to the Victorian Gardens to watching mini boats zip around in the Conservatory Water. Don't forget to visit our other favorite NYC parks and public gardens as well!



Things to do in Central Park

Central Park Zoo

Central Park Zoo Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher

Central Park Zoo

  • Price band: 1/4
  • Critics choice

More than a million visitors a year flock here for quality time with some 130 species that inhabit this 6.5-acre corner of Central Park. Don't miss the Allison Maher Stern snow leopard exhibit, where tots can look for the critically endangered cats in a rocky evergreen landscape meant to replicate the mountainous regions of Central Asia. Visit the frigid penguin house to see the gentoo and chinstrap penguins waddle, and try to spot king penguins. At the Amphibian Crisis Center, children can observe jungle frogs, poison-dart frogs, Surinam toads and tons of other little critters. Your fam can also gape at a giant indoor ant farm complete with interactive "I Spy…" challenges or explore the outdoor Tisch Children's Zoo: It houses more than 30 species, including goats and cows that enjoy being petted.

  1. Southeast corner of Central Park, (enter at Fifth Ave and 64th St)
More info
Central Park: Conservatory Garden

Central Park: Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden

  • Critics choice
  • Free

This serene garden is a quiet zone, so if you bring your kids, be sure they abstain from biking, running, playing sports and making noise. Generally that’s pretty hard, but give it your best shot or prepare to get a few dirty looks. At the center of the garden, you’ll find Frances Hodgeson Burnett Memorial Fountain, a tribute to the author of The Secret Garden, with two figures said to depict Mary and Dickon at one end of a small lily pool. Visitors flock to the garden in the spring to see gorgeous tulip displays, and in autumn to see chrysanthemums—believe us, it’s worth the trip.

  1. Fifth Ave at 105th St
More info

Conservatory Water

Also known as the "model boat pond," this contained body of water hosts miniature radio and wind-powered vessels from April through October. Originally, the ornamental pond was created as a reflecting pool for a glass conservatory, but that particular project was abandoned. E.B. White also famously set the boat scene in Stuart Little here! Visitors can rent a boat or purchase snacks at the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse, just east of the pond. Nearby, you’ll find the Hans Christian Anderson statue, so be sure to check it out.

  1. enter from Fifth Ave, (at 74th St)
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Central Park, Hans Christian Anderson Statue

Central Park, Hans Christian Anderson Statue

Hans Christian Andersen Statue at Conservatory Water

  • Free

Don't fret if the kiddies climb all over this bronze statue of Alice and company—that's what it's there for. Dedicated to the children of NYC and commissioned by George Delacorte after the passing of his wife, who enjoyed reading Alice to their children, the larger-than-life figures have been explored by children since 1959. Relive your youth and join them on the mushroom, or if you can't let go, read the engraved verses of the poem "Jabberwocky," by Alice scribe Lewis Carroll, portions of which line the sculpture. 

  1. 74th St, (at Fifth Ave)
More info
Photograph: Central Park Conservancy

Photograph: Central Park Conservancy

Belvedere Castle

  • Free

Take in a sweeping view of the Great Lawn, the Ramble and Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, a folly built on one of the highest points in the park. Inside they'll find the Henry Luce Nature Observatory, where they can peer into microscopes and telescopes, look at skeletons and papier mâché birds, or borrow a free discovery kit (requires two forms of ID, one of which is kept as a deposit) from inside the castle, which includes binoculars, a map, sketch paper and a field guide for exploring the Ramble's woods. 

  1. Midpark, enter at 79th St
More info
Hecksher Park

Hecksher Park Photograph: Lindsay Maclean Taylor

Heckscher Playground

  • Free

Central Park’s oldest and largest playground is also one of its best, thanks a top-to-bottom renovation (it reopened in 2006) that cleverly connected it to Umpire Rock, the Manhattan schist outcropping behind it: Kids not only get to a scale stone pyramid but, after crossing a small bridge, an actual cliff, too. (Consider packing a lunch for a picnic on top). Colorful, rubber-topped humps change up the usual flat landscape and divide the area for smaller kids, complete with a dedicated tot water area and an enormous sandbox with a climbing net, from the main complex of tunnels, moats and bridges, and the bigger kids’ spray fountains. An old-school spot with a single metal slide and two popular tire swings on the far western edge is a sweet nod to the Central Park playgrounds of yore.

  1. Seventh Ave, (at Central Park South)
More info

Ancient Playground

Inspired by the Egyptian Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this lavishly redone playground just north of the great institution is also the perfect postmuseum destination. Originally designed as a European-style “adventure playground” (think pretend play over athletic feats), it reopened in 2009 sporting an all-new network of stone pyramids and tunnels and treehouse-like wooden forts—ideal for somewhat older kids—plus two user-activated water features, a sandbox with a mini obelisk in the center and nine slides. Be sure to tote along sunglasses and sunscreen, as trees are in Sahara-like short supply.

  1. Central Park, East Side, (at 85th St)
More info

Harlem Meer

  • Free

Grab rods for catch-and-release fishing fun at Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, then head to the Meer (Dutch for “lake”) to gently reel in some finned critters. The Meer is home to many species of turtles, fish and birds and an interesting array of trees like oak, beech and gingko. You’ll also find the Halloween Pumpkin Sail and winter Holiday Lighting on the Meer as well, depending when you visit. 

  1. enter at 110th St, (at Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd)
More info

Trump Wollman Rink

  • Price band: 1/4

If you decide to check out this famed rink, be prepared for slow-moving skaters (it’s perfect for newbies and there’s even a skating program for first timers). There won’t be room for speed skating or fancy tricks, but braving the crowds is worth it for the priceless Central Park scenery. The rink also hosts birthday parties, youth and adult figure skating programs, hockey games and more.

  1. Central Park, (enter at W 59th St at Sixth Ave), 10065
More info

Photograph: Gary Gershoff

Victorian Gardens

  • Price band: 1/4

Come summer, the ice of Trump Wollman Rink disappears and the space magically transforms into Victorian Gardens, an old-fashioned amusement park with a fun slide, mini roller coaster and Whac-a-Mole, making it a kiddie paradise for all seasons. You’ll also find a teeny coaster called the Mini Mouse, an oscillating free-flight ride called Kite Flyer, vintage-looking flying swings called the Family Swinger and a small group of roasters that your kiddos can “drive” around in circles.

  1. Wollman Rink, Central Park, (enter from 59th St at Sixth Ave)
More info
Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

  • Price band: 1/4

Home to one of the last public marionette companies in the US, the Swedish Cottage was once used as a nature study center and as an entomological lab, among other things. Since 1939, it’s been used for classic productions like Peter Pan, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and more. The Theatre also offers birthday party options and group rates.

  1. west side, (at 79th St)
More info


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