Top 15 Things to See in Central Park, NYC

Over the years, I have visited Central Park in all kinds of weather and in good times and bad.  I’ve tried to catch concerts in the pouring rain, watched kids sledding on thick blankets of snow, sought shelter under the foliage of tall trees on humid, scorching summer days and sauntered around in a sweater and backpack on bright, sunny fall days.  

On my first visit to the park a friend took me for a walk around the Reservoir on a brisk, gray day in late October.  We had light jackets on as it wasn’t too cold, and it wasn’t too crowded either on the path that winds around the water.  As I walked, here and there I kicked aside acorns that had fallen to the ground.  That day seeing more than the Reservoir had felt overwhelming to me, but I have discovered the park bit by bit over the years since then. 

However, I know there are visitors to the park who rent a bike and zoom around the whole thing in a couple of hours.  There are people determined to see certain sites, or even all of them, in a single afternoon.  For visitors of all kinds, I have listed below 15 top things to see in Central Park. 

This list is not in order of importance, as I think all the sites are amazing and change with the seasons anyway.  I have listed them simply by looking at a map and going from the southeast corner of the park up to the Reservoir then back down to the west side of the park.  The north part of the park is very scenic and peaceful to visit as well, but I have kept to the top sites that are located in the lower half of the park. 

I recommend getting a paper map to take with you, not just to keep track of where you are but also to find food and restroom locations.  There are kiosks located throughout the park that hand out free maps, or you can visit the main information center located at The Dairy (enter at East 67th street).  You can also go to the Central Park Conservatory’s website and download a map here.  Of course, you could always follow along on your phone, but it’s a little harder to read and there also aren’t any charging stations in the park to charge your phone if needed.

Here is a list of the top 15 things to see in Central Park.

  • Gapstow Bridge
Gapstow Bridge

As you enter the southeast corner of the park along 5th Avenue and 59th street, you enter a lovely area around a body of water called simply “The Pond”.  In spring and summer there are beautiful plants and flowers all along the walkway, and benches to relax on.  At the top of The Pond you will see Gapstow Bridge.  A rustic stone bridge built in 1896 over the narrow neck of the Pond, it is covered in ivy and is a popular bridge to photograph.

North of Gapstone Bridge is the Zoo on the right, the Dairy and Information Center straight ahead, and Wollman’s Rink on the left.

Food options: there are snack trucks around, but you might want to plan either breakfast or lunch before you enter the park.  Nearby Carnegie Diner is a good choice with reasonable prices (reservations recommended).

  • Wollman’s Rink

In winter this is where everyone goes ice-skating.  The lines here are long even in the evening, as people love to skate around while looking up at the lit NYC skyline in the background.  In summer they operate small carnival rides at this location.  For events, times, how to get tickets and other information see their website Wollmanrinknyc.

If you are visiting with children, you may be interested in going left towards the Carousel and the Chess & Checkers house.  Otherwise, go straight on ahead to The Mall.

  • The Mall
The Mall

In pictures of Central Park from the 1900s you will see people dressed up in their finest and walking along this wide promenade designed to be a common social space for all.  Lined with towering American Elms, the Mall is inspiring to walk along or sit on one of the park benches, thinking perhaps on one of the notable literary figures represented by statues lining the north end of the promenade. 

Statue on the Literary Walk

Often you will find artists or singers performing here for tips.  This pleasant walk leads straight to Bethesda Terrace. 

  • Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

If you are a runner, you will be familiar with the Naumburg Bandshell on the right where many of the races held in Central Park throughout the year are set up.  After crossing the path in front (watch out for the horses and carriages usually lined up here) you will reach Bethesda Terrace.  Stairs leading underneath the terrace showcase a beautifully tiled ceiling. 

Tiles Ceiling at Bethesda Terrace

Stairs leading above to the terrace offer great vantage points over the entire area for a great view and photo taking of the most famous statue in the park, “The Angel of the Waters”. 

Angel of the Waters

She watches over all who rest at the foot of her circular fountain.  From the fountain or terrace you can look out over The Lake at those gliding by on rowboats, with the Loeb Boathouse in the distance on the right.

The Lake with Loeb Boathouse
  • Loeb Boathouse

Ella Fitzgerald used to sing she “loved the rowing on Central Park Lake” in The Lady is a Tramp, and this is where you go to rent those rowboats and go on a ride yourself.  There is both a restaurant at the Loeb Boathouse, an iconic place to get brunch or lunch (reservations are a must), as well as a more affordable café with an outdoor seating area, the perfect place to get a bite to eat or a hot or cold beverage. For more see Loeb Boathouse.

  • Alice in Wonderland

To the right of the Loeb Boathouse is a small lake called “Conservatory Water” better known for its model sailboats that can be rented and sailed on its water via remote control.  See the Kerbs Boathouse for more information. 

Model Sailboats on the Conservatory Water

At the north of the lake is an 11 foot bronze statue of Alice in Wonderland, surrounded by the Mad Hatter and her other friends. 

Alice in Wonderland

Children are invited to climb it, and it’s a favorite for picture taking.

If refreshments are in order, a Le Pain Quotidien, a favorite place of mine to get a hot chocolate, is located by the Kerbs Boathouse.  They have pastries and small bites here along with all types of coffee drinks and other beverages.

  • The Obelisk

Farther north you will pass by Cedar Hill on the right, a popular sunbathing spot for Upper Eastsiders, on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Certainly, if you have time stop by for a visit at the museum, although you could easily spend several hours walking just at the museum itself (fair warning).  If you don’t have time, spot an Egyptian artifact in the park across from the museum, the Obelisk. 

The Obelisk

This is an actual Egyptian obelisk that was shipped from Egypt and hauled from the ship through the streets of New York City to be hoisted at its current location.  It was quite the event in its day.  Read more about it here.

  • The Great Lawn

To the left of the Obelisk find the Great Lawn.  As the name might suggest, it is a broad oval shaped expanse of green, with little shade cover.  Dotted with baseball diamonds, it is a popular spot for games and large concerts, such as the NY Philharmonic in the summer months.

  • The Reservoir
The Reservoir

Above the Great Lawn is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, or simply called “The Reservoir”.  It is encircled by a 1.58 mile track popular for runners of all kinds, including celebrities.  If you don’t plan to run around the track, it is also great for a nice walk and picture taking with its amazing views of the New York skyline surrounding it, offering a great juxtaposition of the man-made and the natural.  It is also well known for its cherry-blossom trees that bloom in late April.

Cherry Blossoms
  • Shakespeare’s Garden
Entrance to Shakespeare’s Garden

Speaking of blossoming natural wonders, walk back south along a west side path towards Shakespeare’s Garden.  It is just below the Delacorte Theatre, where in summer a much-loved event is the Shakespeare plays that are put on most evenings in this outdoor theatre.  Tickets are free but not so easy to get, find out more information here.

Roses in Shakespeare’s Garden

Shakespeare’s Garden is a four-acre space devoted to flowers, plants and shrubs all which are mentioned somewhere in one of Shakespeare’s plays.  You can find bronze plaques with garden quotes from Shakespeare, or just wander through the garden and take in a spot of true natural beauty.

  • The Ramble
View of NYC from the Ramble

If you have overdosed on steel skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks, and traffic, the one true getaway is an escape into The Ramble.  Its 36 acres were specifically designed to resemble a forest, with winding rocky paths, dense planting, rustic bridges and winding streams.  Skirmish along the edges or go in deep – it’s up to you.  A favorite spot for bird watchers, other notable spots to look out for are Azalea Pond and the Ramble Stone Arch.

  • Bow Bridge

At the bottom of The Ramble you will find Bow Bridge, which will lead you back to Bethesda Terrace and Fountain.  Bow Bridge is probably the most iconic bridge in the park, easily recognizable in many movie scenes that have been shot there. 

Bow Bridge in the Fall

Its graceful white arches over the rowboats sailing by makes for some of the best photo opportunities in the park, in any season.

  • Cherry Hill

Heading south on the more western path that winds along The Lake you will shortly reach Cherry Hill.  This tree studded hill is a favorite spot for sitting down on a blanket and taking in the view. 

View from Cherry Hill

In Spring, this is one of the top spots in the park for viewing amazing cherry blossoms bursting into bloom.

  • Strawberry Fields
Strawberry Fields

Below Cherry Hill and a bit to the west you will come across Strawberry Fields, one of the most visited spots in the park most notably for the floor mosaic “Imagine”, commemorating the life of Beatles member John Lennon, who lived in and was shot in front of a nearby apartment building on Central Park West.  Visitors often leave flowers here and stop for a few moments of reflection.

  • Sheep’s Meadow

Walking farther south you will come to Sheep’s Meadow, a large fenced off area of green which on any sunny day will be dotted with New Yorkers stretched out on blankets enjoying the good weather.  

Sheep’s Meadow

The area is called Sheep’s Meadow because in the old days when this area of New York City had yet to be developed, it actually was a grazing pasture for sheep. The sheep were kept in the nearby building which is now the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant.

Other food options –  For a nearby food option that doesn’t require advance reservations like Tavern on the Green, there is another Le Pain Quotidien at the top of Sheep’s Meadow. You can exit out of the park and explore many dining options located throughout the Upper West Side.  If you have not had enough of the park, exit out through the southwest corner which will take you directly into Columbus Circle.  Among its many shops, there is a Whole Foods Market in the basement.  A thing locals like to do is get something from the Whole Foods salad bar or hot bar and take it back into the park for an impromptu picnic.  If dining with tables is what you are in the mood for, go up a few blocks to Lincoln Center for some great restaurant options like The Smith or Cafe Fiorello.

A visit to Central Park provides a stark contrast to the concrete jungle of the rest of the city, and for centuries has been an oasis for locals and visitors alike. This list should give you plenty of enjoyment and photo opportunities on your visit to Central Park. Any one of these spots promise to give you a pleasant morning or afternoon and are sure to make your visit to New York City a memorable one.

For information on tours, concerts, bike rentals and other activities, visit the park’s website at

If you have any questions or comments, please enter them in comments section below. Thank you!

In summary:

Top 15 Things to See in Central Park

  1. Gapstow Bridge
  2. Wollman’s Rink
  3. The Mall
  4. Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
  5. Loeb Boathouse
  6. Alice in Wonderland
  7. The Obelisk
  8. The Great Lawn
  9. The Reservoir
  10. Shakespeare’s Garden
  11. The Ramble
  12. Bow Bridge
  13. Cherry Hill
  14. Strawberry Fields
  15. Sheep’s Meadow

Published by Irena Springer

I am a travel blogger who loves to make the most out of each and every trip.

2 thoughts on “Top 15 Things to See in Central Park, NYC

  1. Fantastic! 🙂 I distinctly remember this one from the 1982 Simon and Garfunkel live concert, an album my Dad personally swears to.

    Oh, Strawberry Fields will definitely have a lot of visitors come December — in time for John Lennon’s 42nd death anniversary.

    Liked by 1 person

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