10 Must-See Sights of Central Park

Central Park Pond
Central Park’s Pond & Gapstow Bridge, a classic NYC view. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Central Park is the great, green heart of New York City.  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. In fact, the area is so vast and the delights so plentiful, it can be difficult to select the park’s highlights. So for those with limited time (or stamina), we’ve compiled a list of Central Park’s essential attractions.

Here are our picks for 10 Must-See Sights of Central Park.

Note: these sites are listed from the park’s south and progressing northward. They can be visited in any order.

The Mall, Central Park
Strolling under the leafy canopy of The Mall. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

The Pond – This serene body of water at the park’s southeast corner offers an immediate retreat from the bustling city streets. The forested hill above the pond is the Hallet Nature Sanctuary, which is occasionally open to visitors (check the park’s website). 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.

Central Park Zoo – this popular attraction allows visitors to view animals from three global zones – tropical, temperate and polar. Feeding times (11:30am, 2:00pm and 4:00pm) offer an opportunity to see the sea lions perform tricks for their meals. In the nearby Children’s Zoo, kids can interact with goats, sheep, a cow and other domestic animals. Open 10:00am – 5:00pm (5:30pm weekends) April through October. November to March the zoo closes at 4:30pm. Tickets are required to enter.

The Mall – this celebrated promenade is lined by towering elm trees, creating a green canopy. The walkway is flanked by statues of renowned authors and benches for taking in the scene. The Mall is a preferred spot for street performers and vendors and there are often roller skaters and skateboarders whizzing through the plaza near the band shell.

Bethesda Terrace & Fountain, Central Park
Bethesda Terrace & Fountain. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Sheep Meadow – this vast green expanse 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, this great meadow is one of the most astounding vistas in the city.

Bethesda Terrace – the park’s only formal architectural setting, this remarkable gathering place is certainly a park highlight. Its centerpiece is the grand Bethesda Fountain (aka “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 it’s wonderful acoustics draws many of the city’s finest street musicians.

Central Park Lake
Rowing on Central Park’s Lake. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Conservatory Water (aka Boat Pond) – this famous cement pond is favorite spot for kids (of all ages) to operate miniature remote-controlled sailboats. It has been featured in photos, films and books (Stuart Little memorably sailed on the pond). Nearby are the Hans Christian Anderson and Alice In Wonderland statues, which are beloved spots for city kids.

Belvedere Castle, Central Park
Conquer the castle of Central Park: Belvedere Castle. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

The Lake – this large, man-made lake is a centerpiece of 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. The lake is spanned by the celebrated cast-iron Bow Bridge (you’ll likely recognize the iconic structure) before opening up to an expanse of water and skyline.

Strawberry Fields – the peaceful retreat that was created in memory of John Lennon, who lived (and was murdered) 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.

The Ramble – northeast of the lake is this hilly woodland. 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.

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

Belvedere Castle – 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 vistas.

If you’re seeking 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 offers a free mobile app that includes interactive maps, audio commentary and up-to-date listings of events.

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

Central Park Sheep Meadow
The sweeping vistas of Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Have you explored Central Park? What’s your favorite sight or experience in the park? Tell us in the comments below.

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