New York City skyline from Central Park
NYC skyline from inside Central Park – love this image as it looks like a painting

Build your own Central Park one-day itinerary

Looking for some fun and interesting experiences in New York City? Check out this perfect one-day itinerary of things to do in Central Park that you can customize based on your interests.

Without a plan or internal gps system, you can run around New York City’s Central Park all day long – like I did. Literally. I ran. Well, not the entire day, but definitely a huge portion of my morning.

Our hotel was within walking distance of Central Park so I went for a jog and came back several hours later because I kept telling myself I knew where I was going. And this was certainly a shortcut.

Nope. Just kept running in circles – and sometimes things that were on my left 15 minutes earlier somehow ended up on my right. Yep. I was lost.

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My friends and family laugh at me because I have no sense of direction. And I agree.

However, Central Park covers a lot of ground – 840 acres to be exact – so it’s a big place. In fact, the largest public park in Manhattan is about 2.5 miles long and a half-mile wide – from 59th to 110th streets and 5th to 8th avenues.

Arbor and path in Central Park New York City

So when my friend and I returned to Central Park later that day and a pedicab asked us if we wanted a ride, I immediately said, yes. That’s just one of the cool things to do in Central Park.

Here are some more of my favorites that you can pick and choose to create your own customized one-day itinerary for Central Park.

Where to eat on a budget in New York City: Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand

Nathan's hot dog stand outside Central Park

While Nathan’s Famous brand is well-known around the world, there’s something special about enjoying one of their iconic hot dogs in Central Park. Nathan’s started with humble beginnings more than 100 years ago in 1916 when a Polish immigrant, Nathan Handwerker, opened his nickel hot dog stand on Coney Island. You can find hot dog stands right in and outside Central Park as well as throughout New York City, including its original restaurant on Coney Island (also home to their annual hot dog eating contest on the 4th of July).

Girl, boy and man eating Nathan's famous hot dogs on a Central Park bench in New York City
Throwback of my niece’s and son’s first time to New York City sitting with my husband in Central Park with our Nathan’s Famous hot dogs

Grab a dog or two and enjoy your lunch while you do some people watching on one of the many benches located throughout Central Park.

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Things to do at Central Park: The Mall and Literary Walk

You’ll find a lot of musical talent in Central Park, especially near Literary Walk

The Mall at Central Park is not a shopping center (although you will find street artists typically lined up on the parks borders and some within). This mall is a wide pedestrian path running through Central Park and features beautiful American elm trees. The trees are so important to the park and New York City that each one is documented in the Central Park Conservancy database.

New York Yankees gear at

At the south end of the park, you’ll find the Literary Walk featuring several statues to honor several renown writers like William Shakespeare, and you’ll also find a statue of Christopher Columbus. He’s the odd man out. You’ll find other monuments and statues throughout Central Park including Alice in Wonderland, Balto, Hans Christian Andersen, Duke Ellington, and more.

It’s a good chance you’ll also discover talented street musicians near these statues.

Location: Mid-Park from 66th to 72nd streets

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Things to see at Central Park: Street performers

Enjoyed this rendition of “If I only had a brain”

Coming across an unexpected street performer or street musician is one of my most favorite experiences in Central Park. While you may see perennial performers routinely, the entertainment changes daily from acrobats to a string quartet to a violin soloist that transports you to a magical place. You just never know what to expect.

Location: Throughout Central Park

Free things to do in Central Park: Concerts and theatre performances

Central Park is also home to more formal events like free summer concerts and theatrical performances, such as Shakespeare in the Park and the Concerts in the Park series by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The Central Park Conservatory website is a good resource for calendar of events.

Note: Blankets only; no lawn chairs allowed.

Shakespeare in the Park location: Delacorte Theater, enter at 81st St & Central Park West or 79th Street & Fifth Avenue

Concerts in the Park location: The Great Lawn; mid-park between 79th and 86th streets 

Don’t miss Central Park’s Strawberry Fields – Garden of Peace tribute to John Lennon

Imagine mosaic in Central Park, New York City Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields is a very special place for my family as my husband and son are huge Beatles fans (in fact, my son’s first concert was Paul McCartney when he was 8…cool mom award right here). This designated Quiet Zone in Central Park is a tribute to John Lennon and features a beautiful mosaic inspired by one of his song’s, Imagine. Across the street from this memorial is the Dakota Apartments building where Lennon and Yoko Ono lived and where he was shot and killed in 1980.

Roses on Central Park's Imagine mosaic a tribute to John Lennon

Location: West Side between 71st and 74th Streets


Popular things to do New York City: Central Park Zoo

A popular destination for families is the Central Park Zoo, which features sea lions, monkeys, lions, wolves, and more. You’ll also find a children’s zoo where you can feed some of the animals (from the zoo food dispensers) such as goats.

Location: South End

Things to do in Central Park: Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

One of my favorite places within Central Park is the beautiful Bethesda Terrace, Arcade and Fountain. Take special note of the special and beautiful Minton tile ceiling in the arcade, carefully restored in 2007 to how it looked in the 1860s.

Statue of angel Bethesda Terrace, Arcade and Fountain

The centerpiece of this area in Central Park is the fountain, featuring the famous Angel of the Waters statue.

Location: Mid-Park at 72nd Street

Things to do in Central Park: Row a boat and ride in a gondola

Row boats on the Central Park lake in New York City

Another way to see Central Park from a different perspective is to rent one of the 100 rowboats from The Loeb Boathouse, weather-permitting. Each rowboat seats four people and life jackets are provided. They only accept cash and do not accept reservations. Check their website for the most recent rates as well as how to make a reservation for a Venetian gondola tour.

Location: East 72nd Street and Park Drive North

Best place to eat and drink in Central Park: The Loeb Boathouse

Man and woman drinking beers in Central Park

If you prefer to watch people row their boats, enjoy a cocktail and/or snack on The Loeb Boathouse’s outside bar and patio overlooking the lake. You can also reserve a romantic spot inside for brunch, lunch, or dinner. They offer a full menu (including a kid’s menu), and it is a popular venue for weddings and other formal celebrations.

Location: East 72nd Street and Park Drive North

Central Park tour

Best place to picnic in Central Park: Sheep Meadow

One of the more popular places and things to do in Central Park on a sunny day is Sheep Meadow. It’s a perfect field for picnics, reading or spreading out a blanket to nap. Its name comes from its original use – a pasture for grazing sheep. Sheep Meadow at Central Park opens at 11 a.m. and is closed during the winter for turf conditioning.

Location: South End

Making memories at Central Park

Woman and girl hula hooping in Central Park
What’s great about a big city – no one knows who you are and they really don’t care what you’re doing. Love that we captured this special moment of my niece and me more than a decade ago.

No visit to Central Park is ever the same. Above is a throwback to a few years ago when my niece and I came across a bunch of hula hoops just laying around near the Bethesda Terrace grand staircase. Of course, we participated without an official invite.

Boy wearing a Beatles tshirt in the rain in Central Park New York City
“Remember that time we got caught in the rain in Central Park?”

Here’s another throwback pic of our time in Central Park – this time of my son (who is now a recent college grad). Capture those random shots as the smallest moments make the best memories. And don’t worry if the weather isn’t cooperating in NYC’s Central Park as that’s what makes the best stories. See my travel blogging outtakes post on how to weather the weather on vacation.

Location: Everywhere

Sex and the City Tour

Best New York City museums near Central Park

You’ll find several museums near Central Park, including:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Ave.
  • American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th Street (This is the one Night at the Museum is based on.)
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue

Best playgrounds in New York City

Central Park in NYC is not just a tourist attraction. It’s a real park where real families visit so you will find 21 playgrounds in Central Park.

Another fun place to check out is the Chess & Checkers House where you can borrow board games for indoor or outdoor use. You’ll find two dozen gaming tables on their terrace.

Location: Check out this map for a list of all Central Park playgrounds.

Free things to do in Central Park: Wander and enjoy

Central Park bridge over pond
Bridge over The Pond in Central Park

Unless you’re jogging around Central Park aimlessly like me, they say the walking route is about 1.5 miles and takes about two hours. If you’re not on a specific mission and under a time crunch, I encourage you to take a leisurely walk and enjoy all there is to see and things to do in Central Park without an agenda.  

Location: Throughout Central Park

Central Park path with rock border

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have no sense of direction so don’t even trust myself when it comes to sharing where to find all these cool things to do in Central Park. Therefore, all locations I’ve provided in this post were provided by the Central Park Conservancy’s website.

Where to find more things to do in Central Park

View of trees in Central Park

I’ve only touched on a few things to do in Central Park that my family, friends, and I have experienced first-hand. For even more cool things to do in Central Park, please visit the official Central Park Conservancy website. The Central Park Conservancy is a non-profit organization responsible for maintaining and improving Central Park so it is enjoyed by NYC residents and visitors alike.

More things to do in New York City: If you’re looking for more recommendations on things to do in New York City, please check out this collaboration post on the Planningaway travel website. It’s loaded with recommendations from 16 travel bloggers (which includes an abbreviated version of this post – Top 10 Things to do in Central Park).

Pin it for later: Top things to do in New York City’s Central Park

Central Park Imagine Itinerary

Central Park  Itinerary

Collage of things to do in Central Park. Nathan's hot dog stand, Imagine mosaic, Bethesda fountain, rowboats

Row boats on Central Park lake with NYC skyline

Related post: Things to do in New York City

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Night view of the Empire State Building, New York City, New York
Is the New York City PASS worth it? Yes! Empire State Building, New York City


Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. I would love to spend a day exploring Central Park. I’ve been to NYC a few times, and each time I’ve gone to Central Park, but only for about an hour or so. But each time I’ve been there I’ve explored different areas of the park. There’s so much of it to explore.

  2. I didn’t realize how much there was to do in Central Park – and we totally would’ve grabbed the hula hoops too, so fun!!

  3. We love Central Park. I want to take the girls in a rowboat and also rent bikes. I’ve dragged the girls around enough and I want to give them a break as we go find all the statues. The Alice in Wonderland statue is very fun.

    1. Ha! My friend and I took a pedicab (after jogging around aimlessly for a couple of hours). I don’t think I’ve seen the Alice in Wonderland statue. Will need to check it out next time.

  4. I’ve been to NYC twice, but my family hasn’t been yet. We were hoping to go this summer, but now we don’t know when we’ll go. I haven’t spent time in Central Park yet, but I certainly hope to. You guys look like you had a great time!

  5. I’ve never been to NYC. I had no idea there was so much to see and do in Central Park. That’s amazing.

  6. I would love to spend a day in Central Park. I went to New York once when I was about 8 because my aunt lived somewhat nearby but I don’t recall going to Central Park at all. All I remember is going to the top of the Empire State Building, going to the Statue of Liberty, driving through Times Square, and eating at a restaurant called Mars 2112.

  7. I had no idea Central Park was so big and there was so much to see and do there! We were planning a trip this summer to NYC, but may need to push it back a bit. I will keep this in mind though because Central Park is on our list of things to see. Didn’t know I would need an itinerary, good to know!

  8. On my recent trip to NYC I went for a run on the southern end of Central Park with no goal in mind except hoping to see something pretty or something I recognized. I stumbled upon both in Bethesda Terrace. Such an iconic spot. Great list of other things to see and do!

  9. Central Park is the place I want to see the most in NY, a lot of cool activities to do, and to pause a little from the city’s rhythm! Would love to take a hot dog and ride a boat! Obviously seeing the John Lennon tribute! Thanks for the article! it was very interesting

  10. Wait whaaaaat!? I had no idea you are slightly directionally challenged! I always assumed you’d be a great map reader because you have written about so many hikes/waterfalls!

    At least you have shown us sooo many fab things in Central Park. It’ll be fun to get lost and attempt to find them all!

    1. Ha! You would think I’d have a better sense of direction. I’ve somehow managed to find my way around in the woods and waterfalls. Central Park in NYC is a perfect place to wander and get lost in.

  11. Thanks for this helpful info about Central Park. I’ve heard it can be pretty overwhelming due to the size!
    I’ll save this for my trip!
    Thanks again 🙂

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