Just before the US Civil War, a plan was devised to set aside an area for open spaces, trees, and a refuge from the city. Many looked to similar parks in London and Paris for inspiration. Over the years Central Park has become one of the most filmed locations in the world and there are many different ways to enjoy this beauty.
Things To Do in Central Park
If you’re up for an urban hike, you can walk and see many of the famous locations in a single day. Be aware, that this is quite the hike especially for younger children. Our favorite way to see the entire park is to ride bikes. We rent bikes at a local shop and walk them (because of the kids and traffic) to the park. We’ve spent hours randomly exploring the park. There are maps available but I prefer to use Google Maps to place stars on landmarks I’d like to see. We just meander around until we find the starred landmarks. If you’re short on time pedicabs can be hired for an hour tour of the park’s most famous features. We’ve done this several times but the Central Park pedicabs are quite expensive and not feasible for groups larger than three.
Inside the park there are restaurants, museums like The MET, there’s a zoo, many bridges fountains and play areas. We enjoy taking photos near the famous statues or shopping for art from the various vendors. Once, we rented small remote-controlled sailboats out on a small pond. You’ve seen this spot in Holywood movies. The RC boat rentals aren’t expensive. You can rent paddle boats and rowboats on other lakes but, in our opinion, they are quite pricey. Remember, most of the foot-paddle boats seem like fun until you get them out into the water. They can be a workout and difficult for shorter legs.
We’ve never visited the zoo nor have we been ice skating on the lake but they are both on our bucket list!
Half-Day Itinerary in Central Park
Start on the southern side of the park and work your way to Gapstow Bridge. Then head towards The Mall, walk the Mall and see Bethesda Fountain. You’ll want to spend twenty to thirty minutes at the Mall and Bethesda Fountain. From here you can walk to Bow bridge and then back to the Cherry Hill Fountain. If you’re a Beatles’ fan the Strawberry Fields is close by.
Central Park Full-Day Itinerary
I wouldn’t skip our suggestions from the half-day itinerary. If you have more time, rent RC boats at the Conservatory Water pond and see the Hans Christian Anderson & Alice in Wonderland statues. Then, spend days in the Met (The Metropolitan Museum of art). It is truly one of our most-favorite museums in the world. We love it. There’s little to compare it to. FYI, no videoing and no selfie sticks inside. If you’re biking, there are places to lock up your bike in the southern underground parking garage at the Met. If you’re already at the Met, it’s a short walk to see the Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir (the large lake in Central Park) and the Guggenheim Museum across the street. Even if you don’t go in, enjoy the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture from across the street.
Belvedere Castle is great to visit as are the bridges near the Southwestern portion of the park. We also liked the butterfly gardens, the conservatory gardens, and a strange area called The Loch.
The Met vs American Museum of Natural History
Well, if you’ve seen the Night at the Museum movie, the American Museum of Natural History looks nothing like it did in the movie. The kids were disappointed greatly. We did find the capuchin monkey and the Easter Island head. The kids were over-the-top excited to visit the Met. In our opinion, it’s head-and-shoulders better than the American Museum of Natural History. If you have time, you might want to visit both. Just give yourself more time at the Met.
Best Time to Visit Central Park
Anytime is great in Central Park (except at night). Our favorite time of the year to visit is in late spring. It’s not too hot and the trees and flowers are budding. However, this is the time most locals are starting to come out of their winter slump and the park can get quite full. We suggest visiting early in the morning. Summer can be crowded. Our first visit to the park was around Halloween and the leaves were gorgeous. Unfortunately, the park isn’t very safe at night unless you are in a medium-to-large sized group.
If you get hungry just walk to any street crossing on the edge of the park. The best food can be found near the Southern edge of the park or on the Eastern side near the Met museum. Just grab a quick bite from any of the many many street vendors. If you have time and plan ahead, bring a picnic and find a lonely piece of grass to enjoy lunch.
Well, there’s no easy way to say this, but we love Central Park and think it’s best enjoyed by just wandering around. Walking is a must. If you invest in a hop-on-hop-off bus pass, most busses have stops around the outer edge of the park. This can help you get from one side to another (i.e. the North to the South sides). There are pedicabs if you’ve had too much but they are usually about $80 per hour (give or take $20). You can usually talk the pedicabs down. If you find a pedicab driver away from the crowds then you might get a better price. Try checking across the street near the Plaza hotel or closer to 5th avenue.
Don’t forget about Uber and Lyft. If you’re planning to take an Uber or Lyft, I’d recommend walking a half-block or block away from Central Park before ordering one. This will make the pick-up much easier and less confusing.
Be aware, that you’ll be expected to ride your bike on the regular road. Sidewalks aren’t for bikes and you’ll make pedestrians angry if you ride your bikes on the sidewalks. This meant we’d ride to an area where there was a statue or something we’d want to see. Then we would walk our bikes to that statue. Riding bikes didn’t eliminate walking at all. It just helped us get around much faster especially with kids and short legs. In fact, Parker, the youngest, hated riding bikes in Central Park the first time we did it several years ago. This time he was ready and loved it. When the adults and younger kids would walk our bikes on the sidewalks we let him ride so he could keep up. Since he was still a child we didn’t get any disapproving stares. Looking back, it was a fantastic decision.
Other NYC Posts
Check out our other New York posts and videos where we visit the city’s public library, Grand Central Terminal, Central Park, Federal Hall, Empire State Building, help you choose a sightseeing bus, and our top family-friendly activities in New York City.