The Top Things to See and Do in Central Park

The Reservoir is one of many places to explore in Central Park, the green heart of New York City
The Reservoir is one of many places to explore in Central Park, the green heart of New York City | © Francois Roux / Alamy Stock Photo
Brian Bagdonas

Central Park, that bastion of woodlands located in the center of Manhattan, abounds with various points of interest within its boundaries. Check out some of the best things to do in the park while in New York City.
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Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain, Bethesda Terrace, Central Park, New York City, United States of America.

Probably one of the most well-known sites in the park, Bethesda Fountain sits squarely south of the Lake. The angel of the waters at the top of the statue is a reference to the Gospel of John and the healing powers that were bestowed upon the Pool of Bethesda. It is the only statue that was commissioned for the park and is a direct reference to the Croton water system that brought fresh water to NYC in the 1800s. An approach from Bethesda Terrace down the stairs to the fountain provides a memorable introduction – this is just one of many sights included in the Creative Visualization in Central Park experience recommended as part of our wellness-themed tour of NYC.

The Mall

Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park, New York City, New York, USA

Standing, appropriately, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Obelisk, which is also known as Cleopatra’s Needle. This obelisk is one of a pair that originated in Egypt in 1450 BCE. This one was given to the USA by the Egyptian Khedive in 1880 in exchange for funds to help modernize his country, and the other stands in London. It is compelling to see a monument so rich with history standing outside, exposed to the elements in a public park.

Central Park Zoo

This is the only point of interest on this list where you will need to pay a fee for entry, but it’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you are visiting the park with children. As immortalized by the Simon & Garfunkel tune, the Central Park Zoo has various animals on exhibit, including snow leopards, sea lions, tropical birds and polar bears, and all in the middle of NYC. Take note, however, that the zoo is only open to visitors from April to November.

Conservatory Garden

Burnett fountain in the conservatory garden, Central Park, NYC, USA

Nestled along the Upper East Side, close to the northeast corner of Central Park, is the Conservatory Garden, which itself consists of three separate gardens landscaped in different styles: French, Italian and English. It’s a peaceful getaway enclosed by gates. There are a number of sculptures, including the Burnett Fountain in honor of children’s book author Frances Hodgson Burnett and a fountain titled Three Dancing Maidens created by German sculptor Walter Schott in the French garden. There is also a covered terrace accessible near the Italianate Garden, which provides both shade from the sun, or cover from the rain, and a great view overlooking the grounds.

The Reservoir

As the name suggests, this surprisingly large body of water within Central Park was once a temporary water supply for NYC while the Croton system was shut down two weeks a year, though it is no longer in use. There are excellent views of downtown from the north side of the Reservoir, but from all around it offers a great sense of space and openness that is not easily found in NYC. The pathway surrounding the Reservoir is a very popular jogging destination.

Harlem Meer

Harlem Meer in Central Park, NYC

At the northern end of Central Park, the Harlem Meer is a great spot for walks, as there is an asphalt path around its perimeter. It is home to ducks, fish and turtles as well as a wide variety of plants and trees growing around its banks. In the summer, a boat sails through the water, and horn players perform classical music. On the north side of the Meer is the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, which is a visitor center run by the Central Park Conservancy.

The Pool

Located off of 100th Street on the west side of the park, the Pool is one of the most idyllic locations in the park. There are weeping willows perched on its shore and sloping green hills leading to this small body of water. The water empties into a manmade waterfall, which continues on to the Harlem Meer through the North Woods. On nice days, benches available throughout the area are typically utilized by people conversing or quietly enjoying the serene ambience.

Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond, Central Park, New York City.

This is a great place to see in the park simply because it’s a miniature castle. Belvedere Castle was created in 1869 by Calvert Vaux, co-designer of the park. It offers great views of the Reservoir and the Great Lawn, since it is the highest point in the park. It is also where the National Weather Service measures NYC’s weather. There is a visitor center and gift shop located within the castle.

Sheep Meadow

People enjoying free time on Sheep Meadow in Central Park, New York City.

Sheep Meadow is where an expansive lawn, New Yorkers and views of the city’s skyline converge. It is, perhaps, the heart of Central Park. If throngs of people laying out sunbathing, picnicking or playing frisbee sounds appealing, then Sheep Meadow would be the place to go. Sheep Meadow, like the Mall, may appear familiar upon first sight, as it has also appeared in several films.

Feeling hungry? Don’t miss one of the best brunch and breakfast spots around Central Park on your visit.

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