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The best things to do in Central Park

No matter what season we're in, experience the best things to do in Central Park from walking tours to boat rides

Central Park
Photograph: Hector Argüello Canals/Unsplash
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Manhattan’s major green space (and one of the top New York attractions) has a lot of entertainment to offer, regardless of which season we're experiencing. In fact, you may be surprised to know that some of the best things to do in Central Park occur in fall and winter! While tourists and locals love to frequent one of the city’s best parks for its various lawns, fountains, walking paths, trees and picnic spots, Central Park also hosts major events from epic summer concerts and theater performances to the annual Winter Jam festival. There’s always an excuse to visit, but here are a few of our favorite happenings to get you started.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Central Park in New York

Best things to do in Central Park

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Restaurants, American

Rock the boat

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Take a romantic paddle around the Lake (one-hour $15, each additional 15 minutes $4, plus a $20 deposit)—or let someone else do the work during a Venetian gondola ride (half hour $45, up to six people) at Loeb Boathouse (available April through November). While you're there, absorb the picturesque view of the Lake at the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant, for fine—if pricey—fare like fish, crab cakes, salads and an assortment of wines.

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Snow leopard
Attractions, Zoo and aquariums

Monkey around at the Central Park Zoo

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Animal lovers will dig the cute critters at the Tisch Children's Zoo, adjacent to the main zoo, where you can also get up close and personal with pot-bellied pigs and goats. In the Central Park Zoo itself, coo over the daily feeding of the sea lions and penguins, and watch snow monkeys leap playfully between rocks.

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A couple walks along a path through the Ramble.
Brendon Stuart 2012, Photograph: Brendon Stuart
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Get ready to Ramble

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Thirty-six acres of winding trails, rocks and streams remain here, seemingly waiting to be discovered. It's also the city's primo bird-watching spot, where you can view many of the park's 230 species. Fun fact: Everything you see is man-made, dating back to 1859—even the waterfalls can be turned on and off.

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Photograph: Courtesy Central Park
Things to do, Walks and tours

Learn about the cherry blossoms

Budding cherry blossoms are one of the prettiest seasonal signifiers that spring in NYC is in full swing. If you think the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is the only place you can see those beautiful, pink-petal trees, guess again! There are a handful of spots in the city where you can see cherry blossoms, and one of our favorites is Central Park. Hundreds of cherry trees bloom along the Reservoir starting in April. To honor this, Central Park has launched a new Cherry Blossom Tour for folks who want to learn the history of this area as well as where the trees came from. 

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Central Park
Photograph: Edward Yourdon
Attractions, Parks and gardens

People watch in Sheep Meadow

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On warm days, we're hard pressed to think of a better spot in Manhattan to ogle hotties than Sheep Meadow, the bucolic 15-acre field located along the southwestern edge of the park. Expect thousands of scantily-clad locals to take over the area on weekends, alongside frisbee-throwing bros, guitar sing-alongs and many handstand attempts. To secure a shaded spot, we suggest arriving at 11am, when the field opens.

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The Alice in Wonderland statue located near the model boat house on the east side.
Brendon Stuart 2012, Photograph: Brendon Stuart
Attractions, Monuments and memorials

Check out the Alice in Wonderland statue

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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 the story to their children, the larger-than-life figures have been explored by kiddies since 1959. Make sure to meander over to the nearby Conservatory Water, where you can grab a bench and watch motorized miniature sailboats whiz by as you contemplate life’s meaning.

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holidays08skating
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice skate or hit the carousel at Wollman Rink

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One of the perks of living in NYC is that you don’t ever have to wait for the carnival to come to town. When the weather is warm, head to the Victorian Gardens for an all-American day of cart rides, funnel cake and performances by magicians, jugglers and more. (Daily 10am–3pm, weekends 10am–8pm. $8–$9.) Once winter descends, you can hit the ice for some romantic skating and even catch a hockey game.

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This is one of the numerous statues alongside the main walkway of Central Park Mall.
Brendon Stuart 2012, Photograph: Brendon Stuart
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Enjoy the views at Central Park Mall

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Under the shade of one of the largest stands of American Elm trees in North America, without a skyscraper in sight, you can truly feel like you’ve left the city behind for a minute. Once a place to stroll in your Sunday best, it’s now an area where many artists and performers set up shop—but not in an obnoxious way. It’s a great spot to grab a bench and watch the fabulous eccentricities of the strangers around you unfold over an afternoon.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Stroll through the Conservatory Garden

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Experience the charms of a European garden without having to, y’know, fly to Europe. This six-acre garden offers three styles (French, Italian and English) and a plethora of flowers, fountains, neatly trimmed hedges and walkways. Just be prepared for the throng of wedding photo shoots—and, by that, we mean be prepared for photo-bombing.

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The Central Park Carousel
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Taver
Attractions, Arcades and amusements

Ride the fake ponies

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Experience the retro charm of bobbing along to organ music atop one of the Friedsam Memorial Carousel's 52 saddles. The carousel is in its third incarnation since 1871 (the original was horse-powered, and the next two were supposedly destroyed by fires), and the current version dates back to 1950, when it was discovered in a Coney Island trolley terminal. Expect long waits, popcorn, hot dogs and a few crabby kids.

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Shakespeare in the Park
Photograph: Courtesy Tammy Shell
Theater

Go to Shakespeare in the Park

Every summer, the Public Theater produces a beloved NYC democratic tradition and one of the best free things to do in NYC: Shakespeare in the Park, presented at the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. There’s nothing quite like hearing the Bard’s immortal words performed outside in New York, with a backdrop of natural splendor and the Belvedere Castle looming in the background like the world’s most impressive set decoration.

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Belvedere Castle, yang center
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Climb up Belvedere Castle

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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. 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 and a guide for bird-watching in the Ramble's woods.

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SummerStage
Photograph: Courtesy Nick Childers
Music

Rock out at a live concert

For New York music fans, SummerStage is always one of the highlights of the summer-concerts calendar. The City Parks Foundation series is a juggernaut among warm-weather concert presenters, booking everything from classic New York hip-hop artists in outerborough NYC parks to big-name indie-rock bands on the Central Park mainstage. 

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Photograph: Filip Wolak
Things to do

Attend a traditional Pumpkin Flotilla

Celebrate the Halloween season at one of the best park’s in the city for fall foliage: Central Park. Listen to ghost stories, check out a costume parade and get creative by carving a pumpkin. After the festivities, the Central Park Conservancy will partake in a traditional Pumpkin Flotilla, where 50 gourds (possibly your creation) will take a sail across the Harlem Meer at twilight. 

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Photograph: Courtesy Picasa/Central Par
Things to do

Enjoy some holiday cheer

It just wouldn’t be the holidays if the city weren’t using up enough electricity in a month to power a small country for a decade. For more than 20 years, the Central Park Conservancy has been draping the Charles A. Dana Center in holiday lights and ringing in the season alongside a hot-cocoa-bearing Santa. Families can listen or open a songbook to join in with the Mistletones for some holiday carols. Ice carvers from Okamoto Studios will be carving a nutcracker and a polar bear on site and everyone can watch while they much on some cookies and cocoa.

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Winter Jam
Photograph: Courtesy Daniel Avila/NYC Parks and Recreation
Things to do

Participate in some winter sports

We don’t know about you, but our inner child always appreciates a snow day. Since you can't always rely on mother nature, that’s where Central Park Winter Jam comes in. The NYC Parks and Recreation event includes ice-skating, sledding, snowboarding (yes, they bring in a snow machine), grub and more, so get ready to join New Yorkers of all ages for one of the best things to do in winter. 

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nyc marathon 2016 route
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/MTA NYC
Things to do

Cheer on the NYC Marathon runners

The TCS New York City Marathon is a 26.2-mile block party for runners and bystanders. It's also one of the biggest and largest NYC events in November. The finish line is in Central Park, just outside of Tavern on the Green. To see the final yards of the race, you must purchase Grandstand Seating tickets. 

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