The best things to do in Central Park with kids

Behold! Our lineup of the best things to do in Central Park with kids, including some you've never heard of...
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Christopher Penler
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Central Park is NYC's backyard, and we wouldn't have it any other way. The luscious greens and bucolic scenes are irresistible for natives and visitors alike. Plus, the venue packs a busy calendar—the list of things to do in Central Park are just as lengthy as the actual grounds. 

Bringing the whole family for a visit? You're in luck. Between the zoo, one of the many playgrounds, a Marionette theater and so much more, youngsters will never want to leave...and you might not, either. 

What are you waiting for? The best activities in Central Park kids love make for the perfect outing. Meet us at the Great Lawn for a picnic! 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to outdoor activities for kids in NYC

Looking for more ways to enjoy New York with your crew? Take a trip to a few family attractions, grab a bite at the best outdoor restaurants NYC has to offer and top off the day with dessert at one of the most delicious ice cream shops for kids.  

Best activities in Central Park kids love

Attractions, Zoo and aquariums

Central Park Zoo

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Looking for quality time with some 130 species? Flock over to this 6.5–acre corner of Central Park, where tots can visit the frigid penguin house, observe jungle frogs, poison-dart frogs, Surinam toads and tons of other little critters at the Amphibian Crisis Center and so much more. Your fam will also want to make a pitstop at the outdoor Tisch Children's Zoo: It houses more than 30 species, including goats and cows that are waiting for visitors to pet them.

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Attractions, Arcades and amusements

Friedsam Memorial Carousel

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As you walk along Playmates Arch in the Children’s Zone section of Central Park, you’ll hear the organ music before you see the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, which features 57 nearly life-size steeds. Expect a long line for the ride, though the balloon, hot dog and popcorn vendors may distract your little ones from the wait.

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Photograph: Gary Gershoff
Attractions, Arcades and amusements

Victorian Gardens

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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.

Theater

Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre

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This Sweedish transplant arrived in NYC in 1877 and has become a Central Park staple. Its Marionette Theater—home to fun performances and the site of exciting, unique birthday parties—attracts many visitors. However, it wasn't always about puppet shows. The Swedish Cottage once served as the park's entomological laboratory and even the headquarters for the Civil Defense during World War II.

 

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Things to do, Playgrounds

Heckscher Playground

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.

Things to do, Playgrounds

Ancient Playground

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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 post-museum destination. The grounds feature 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.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Conservatory Water

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Drawing inspiration from Paris parks, this "model boat pond" in Central Park hosts miniature radio and wind-powered vessels from April–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. It's one of the best things to do in Central Park once the nice weather strikes. 

Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Songquan Deng

Boating

While watching small boats float by is certainly enjoyable, Conservatory Water is no substitute for the real thing. From April–October, you take the kiddies on an actual boat ride and catch the most gorgeous scenes of the park—and NYC—all in one. 

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Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Belvedere Castle

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Climb the spiral staircase to the top of this miniature castle and you’ll be treated with beautiful views of the Great Lawn, the Ramble, Turtle Pond and the city skyline surrounding Central Park. In fact, Belvedere translates to “beautiful view” in Italian. Built on the highest point in the park, the castle’s tower has provided the National Weather Service with its info on NYC weather since 1919. Note that the beloved attraction is closed for the remainder of 2018 for restorations. 

Photograph: Central Park Conservancy
Attractions, Monuments and memorials

Alice in Wonderland statue

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Jump down the rabbit hole with Alice and her whimsical crew. Don't fret if the kiddies climb all over this bronze statue of the beloved characters—that's what it's there for. Commissioned by George Delacorte after the passing of his wife, who enjoyed reading Alice to their children, the larger-than-life figures have been available for photo ops in the park since 1959.

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