10 Things You Must See When Visiting Central Park

Central Park is the great, green heart of New York City. It’s a classic sight in movies, series and in everyday life of any New Yorker. The 843-acre green space (two and a half miles in length and a half mile in width) includes meadows, forests, lakes, monuments, and spectacular architecture. 

The area is so vast it can be difficult to figure out how to see it and spend your time there. And for that reason, we’ve compiled a list of 10 must-see sights of Central Park.

Note: These sights are listed from the park’s south and progressing northward. If you’re booking our Official Grand Central Terminal Tour or our Must-See Manhattan Tour, start your Central Park explorations before or after—there’s no real wrong way to see the park!

Central Park, Boat Pond
Scenes from your favorite movies, old and new memories, Central Park has it all. Photo credit: Alex Simpson

Reflect upon the serene waters of The Pond

The serene Pond at Central Park (in the park’s southeast corner) is a retreat from the bustling NYC city streets.

  • The Pond’s northern point is spanned by the famous Gapstow Bridge, which you’ll likely recognize from photos and films. The bridge over the pond, with the Plaza Hotel and skyline as backdrop, is a classic NYC view.
  • The forested hill above The Pond is the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, which is occasionally open to visitors. Check the park’s website for more information.
Gapstow Bridge, Central Park
Central Park’s classic Gapstow Bridge is a must-visit. Photo credit: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

Enjoy wildlife at the Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo is great for a number of reasons:

  1. The zoo is committed to conservation efforts and educational programs.
  2. It also participates in breeding programs to help endangered animals.
  3. The zoo allows visitors to see animals and species from across the world: those from tropical, temperate, and polar zones.

Check the zoo’s website for up-to-date hours and ticketing prices (and like most things, your plans will be less hectic is you can buy tickets ahead of time).

Feeding times offer an opportunity to see the sea lions perform tricks for their meals (call ahead to confirm if you’re really keen on catching them). In the nearby Children’s Zoo, kids can interact with goats, sheep, a cow and other animals. 

Central Park Zoo's entrance
From a concrete jungle to a unique wildlife experience, the Central Park Zoo is a must-visit for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Photo credit: Alejandro Castro

Visit The Mall to feel like you’re in a NYC movie

No, not a shopping mall.

Check out this cool walkway with huge elm trees all along it, making a shady green tunnel. You’ll also find statues of famous authors and benches where you can just chill and enjoy the view.

The Mall is also a popular spot for street performers and vendors. You’ll probably spot rollerskaters and skateboarders whizzing through the plaza near the band shell, in addition to other whimsical happenings.

Central Park's The Mall with people
Once again, there’s no wrong season to get lost in Central Park’s amazing sights. As a matter of fact, you may want to visit each of them in all four seasons. Photo credit: Regan Vercruysse

Enjoy a picnic, or at least a hot-dog, on Sheep Meadow

This vast green grass is a favorite of New Yorkers who flock there to picnic, play frisbee, and soak up the sun. With the midtown skyline forming a dramatic backdrop, the meadow is one spot for some of the most beautiful views in the city.

People sunbathing in Sheep Meadow, Central Park
Can you think of a better summer plan to do in NYC than Central Park? Photo credit: Shihab Chowdhury

Walk through Bethesda Terrace and appreciate the details of the “Angel of the Waters” 

The park’s only formal architectural setting, this remarkable gathering place is certainly a park highlight. 

Its centerpiece is the grand Bethesda Fountain (also known as “Angel of the Waters’). The walls and pillars of the terrace are adorned with intricate sculptures by Jacob Wrey Mould, which depict the seasons and the times of day. 

The terrace’s arcade features a ceiling of Minton tiles and its wonderful acoustics draw many of the city’s finest street musicians.

Bethesda Fountain during the day, Central Park
Spy meetings, lovers quarrels, Bethesda Fountain is full of stories. Photo credit: Sam Jotham Sutharson

Enjoy miniature sailboats at Conservatory Water

Also known as Boat Pond, this famous cement pond is a favorite spot for kids (of all ages) to operate miniature remote-controlled sailboats. It’s been featured in photos, films and books (Stuart Little memorably sailed on the pond). Nearby, you will also find the Hans Christian Anderson and Alice In Wonderland statues.

Boat Pond in Central Park
From Stuart Little to the most amazing miniature sailboat thrills you can imagine, Conservatory Water will always be a pleasant spot to stop in Central Park. Photo credit: Megan Bucknall

Hop on a boat or take a romantic stroll at The Lake

This large, man-made lake is a centerpiece of the park. At its eastern point (just past Bethesda Terrace) are the Boathouse Restaurant and the kiosk to rent rowboats for a glide on the waters. 

You can’t miss the Bow Bridge stretching over The Lake—it’s that famous iron one you’ve probably seen in pictures. After that, the lake opens up, giving you a stunning view of the water and skyline.

Central Park's Lake with boats during autumn
Rowing on Central Park’s Lake. Photo Credit: Lumin Osity

Imagine all the people living life in peace…at the Strawberry Fields memorial

Strawberry Fields (in reference to the famous song by The Beatles, of course) is a peaceful retreat that was created in memory of John Lennon, who lived (and was killed) just across the street. 

Its centerpiece is the Imagine Mosaic, which is often decorated with flowers by devoted Lennon fans. Unfortunately, the small space is often swamped with tour groups, making it far less peaceful than intended. It’s still a must visit for any fan.

Imagine Mosaic, Central Park, NYC
A memorial to John Lennon in the center of NYC’s Central Park. Photo credit: Julie Ricard

Watch birds surrounded by nature in The Ramble

Northeast of the lake is this hilly woodland. At this point, you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re still in the heart of Manhattan and not kilometers away from any city, in nature. That’s the magic of Central Park.

Filled with winding paths, streams and ponds, rustic structures and a dense forest canopy, an amble through the Ramble feels like escaping to the Adirondacks.

It is also a favorite spot for birding, particularly during migration seasons. Make sure to pay attention to the birds you’ll find around there.

The Ramble in Central Park
The Ramble, a tranquil forest in the heart of the park. Photo: gigi_nyc

Conquer the Belvedere Castle and admire the views from there

Perched high on a hill, this stone castle offers magnificent views of the park and the cityscape. Inside the castle is a visitor’s center and the surrounding  terraces offer spectacular views.

Belvedere Castle in Central Park
Disconnect from the city’s rhythm in Central Park’s delightful sights. Photo credit: Captain-tucker

If you’re looking for information about the park, its events, or a free map, visit The Dairy, the park’s primary visitors center. The Dairy is located north of the Pond and south of the Mall. The Central Park Conservancy also offers a free mobile app. There, you can find interactive maps, audio commentary and up-to-date listings of events.

These are just some of the southern highlights of Central Park. If you would like to visit the park’s less-trafficked northern attractions, see Central Park’s Northern Highlights.

Central Park North
You’ll also find extraordinary sights in the northern area of Central Park. Photo credit: Harry Gillen

Update Notice: This post was updated on January 10, 2023.

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About the author

Originally from Rhode Island, Grace has spent the last 25 years living in the Big Apple. With her knowledge of the best local eateries, attractions and shopping destinations across the city's five boroughs, Grace is the go-to gal for all things NYC. Whether you're a local in need of a fresh perspective or you’re new to the city, Grace loves sharing her extensive knowledge of the city.

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