CENTRAL PARK

Central Park is full of delightful surprises throughout its 840 acres - some of the best playgrounds, interesting structures and gorgeous greenery. Visit the Central Park Conservancy website for maps, a guide to fall foliage historical info and lots of great tips.

Also see our guides to other urban oases Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx plus escapes beyond NYC.

EVENTS

Discovery Walks for Families: The North Woods

Dec 27

Learn about the design of the largest of the Park’s woodlands, a 40-acre forest retreat in the middle of New York City, and how the plants and trees contribute to the health of an urban woodland community. Includes hands-on exploration and guided activities in a complementary Discovery Journal.

PLAYGROUNDS

Diana Ross Playground

Summit Rock, the highest natural point in Central Park, provides a shady (climbable) backdrop to this pretty playground. A large wooden climbing structure with multiple levels of platforms and decks links to ladders, slides, and tire swings, all set in a naturalistic sand area. Also enjoy toddler swings and spray showers in the summer.

Named after the  famous singer, who funded the construction of the playground following her concert in 1983 on the Great Lawn. No bathrooms, but across the street from the Natural History Museum (where all city kids should be member, not just for the bathroom usage).

Heckscher Playground

Central Park’s largest playground features a shaded area with swings and slides, a large, maze-like climbers, seasonal water features, sloped turf, a large sandbox area, low monkey bars, tunnels, ramps and (our favorite) giant rocks to climb. Plus a spacious bathroom.

Face painters, musicians and giant bubble makers often congregate at the entrance.

Ancient Playground

This big playground invokes Egyptian themes with climbable pyramids, a large sand lot and a spray shower that represents Egypt’s Nile River in reference to the ancient Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next door.  Lots of slides, tunnels and concrete bridges plus bucket, tire and strap swings are perfect for adventurous fun and imaginative play.

Billy Johnson Playground

This rustic playground hosts an amazing 45-foot granite slide nestled into a rocky hill, bucket and tire swings, and an amphitheater and miniature stone bridge made of natural materials like plants, stone, and wood at a child’s scale.

ATTRACTIONS

Conservatory Gardens

Enter the magnificent 1894 Vanderbilt Gate to Central Park’s only formal garden, a six-acre oasis within an oasis with European charm.

Climb onto the wisteria pergola in the Italianate Center Garden overlooking a yew hedges-bordered large lawn and 12-foot jet fountain. To the north, the French-style garden offers spectacular seasonal displays of tulips and Korean chrysanthemums and a fountain featuring the Three Dancing Maidens sculpture.

In intimate English-style South Garden, Mary and Dickon from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved children’s book The Secret Garden stand at the end of a small waterlily pool, bordered by trees, shrubs, and perennial and annual flower beds.

Friendly gardeners are often planting and happy to chat with young nature lovers.

Swedish Cottage & Shakespeare Garden

The only building in Central Park that was not originally created for the Park, the Swedish Cottage was built in Sweden and came to the United States in 1876 as part of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first World’s Fair in the U.S. An example of traditional Swedish architecture and wood craftsmanship, it now houses delightful marionette shows for kids.

In a nearby steep hillside with pretty wooden fences, Shakespeare Garden, a four-acre landscape named for the famed English poet and playwright, features shrubs, flowers, and herbs mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Look for bronze plaques with quotes from Shakespeare that reference plants throughout the Garden.

A little north, find the Delacorte Theater, the venue for the Public Theater’s summer productions of Shakespeare in the Park, with a striking Romeo & Juliet statue.

Belvedere Castle

One of the most iconic features in Central Park, this miniature castle is located atop the huge rock outcrop known as Vista Rock, the second highest natural point in Central Park.

The whimsical structure, designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in 1869, provides the highest and best views of the Park and the adjacent cityscape – plus has bathrooms, water fountains, some informational displays plus medieval-esque staircases and doorways for playing princess/knight.

Download the Belvedere Castle Audio Guide  (available in English, Spanish and American Sign Language for info about the architecture and history of the castle.

Horse-Drawn Carriages

See Central Park via carriage in a 170+ years tradition. Sit in colorful velvet seats as friendly drives lead informative guided tours. Be sure to meed and pet your horse in colorful feathered tack.

Feel free to bring snacks and beverages. Warm blankets and covers available for iffy weather.

Scheduled online in advance or approach a driver at the southeast entrance of Central Park. Reputable operators include NYC Horse Carriage Rides and NYC Fancy Rides.  Tours also available through 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center.

Maximum riders is 4 adults, 3 adults & 2 children per carriage, 2 adults & 4 children or 1 adult & 6 children (good luck on that arrangement). Multiple carriages can travel together and stop for photo-ops.

* There has been some controversy over the treatment of the horses, but protections include not being allowed to work when it’s above 89 degrees or below 19 degrees and other care standards.

Central Park Zoo

Visit sea lions, snow monkeys, red pandas, turtles, bears and other animals at the cozy Central Park Zoo.

* Watch crowds of penguins and puffins swim and waddle in the  indoor Polar circle.

* Warm up with colorful birds and playful monkeys in an indoor rain forest.

* Look for snow leopards, cute red pandas, turtles and more creatures in small outdoor exhibits.

* Watch loud sea lions sunning and swimming framed by the Manhattan skyline (can be see from outside the zoo gates if you’re just passing by).

* Climb, play, pretend to be animals and pet at the interactive children’s zoo across the path, home to sheep, goats, zebu and the only cow in Manhattan.

* Entertaining penguin and sea lion feedings happen throughout the day, or feed the animals at the children’s zoo (10 am-2 pm).

* See an Ice Age themed short film the 4D Theater, an immersive experience featuring the visual drama of a 3-D film with a variety of built-in sensory effects ($7).

* Some food and shopping available but only accepting credit card/apple pay.

* Don’t miss the Delacorte Clock outside the zoo. The animals statues move and twirl at each quarter hour.

* Advance online ticket purchase and masks required. Consider an annual zoo membership that includes admission to the Bronx and other NYC Zoos.

Ancestor

Artist Bharti Kher connects New Delhi and New York City with this nearly eighteen-foot-tall bronze universal mother figure, an enlargement of a miniature assembled by recomposing broken clay figurines. This colossal sculpture reflects Kher’s cross-cultural identity and her appreciation for India’s rich material culture. Every meaning-laden detail and distressed surface of the original hand-crafted object has been meticulously magnified to reflect the journey of this matriarch’s creation.

Wake Up, Daisy!

The historic, cozy Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is back in action with modern take on Sleeping Beauty. Marionettes and music tells the story of Daisy, a lively little girl living in the heart of New York City in an apartment overlooking Central Park. At Daisy’s much-anticipated birthday party, she encounters three special guests, known as her “Squad-parents”, from Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx who grant her the gifts of courage, knowledge, and a second chance. When an unwelcome guest shows up and casts a curse on her, Daisy’s life is forever changed, but through the support of her friends and an adventure throughout the city, Daisy’s strong self-determination and vivid imagination may be all she needs to break the curse.

Capacity is limited for social distancing. Unassigned seating on benches in a small theater (grown-ups are encouraged to sit in the back). Stroller parking available in the lobby. Near the lovely Shakespeare Garden.

Thursday-Sunday 11 am & 1 pm

NEARBY

Museum of the City of New York

Explore the greatest city in the world at this small museum with a big collection of theater artifacts, furniture, toys, paintings, sculpture and photos arranged into exhibits that entertain and educate all ages. Favorite spots include an extravagant Gilded Age dollhouse, a dangling light installation above the stunning spiral staircase and the fascinating multimedia

The Met

Explore a vast collection that spans millennia and continents. You might get lost searching for iconic favorites in the grand halls, and you’ll definitely discover fascinating art that appeals all ages.

From the less-crowded education center entrance at 81st Street, go through the lovely Greek and Roman Galleries. The must-see Van Goghs, Monets and Degas ballerinas…

Cooper Hewitt

Explore innovative design through the centuries, play designer on high resolution touchscreen tables with very cool electronic ‘pens,’ and rock around in the Spun chairs in the basement in a stunning 19th-century mansion turned into a high-tech, interactive dream for all ages.

Go inside your design in the kid-favorite Immersion Room. Create digital wallpaper …

The Jewish Museum

Explore the global Jewish experience through works of fine art, Judaica, antiquities, folk art, ceremonial objects, and broadcast media intelligently organized in gorgeous galleries.

The ongoing Scenes From the Collection features nearly 600 works from antiquities to contemporary art, a unique mix of artworks and ceremonial objects, including hundreds of stunning menorahs, presented in…

Guggenheim

See exciting, well-designed exhibits in the striking Frank Lloyd Wright–designed landmark modern museum.

꩜ Meet New Yorker poets, artists, critics, dancers, and filmmakers in paintings, oil sketches, collages, drawings, prints, and freestanding “cutout” works in Alex Katz: Gathering around the iconic spiral.

🧵 Nick Cave: Forothermore features the internationally acclaimed artists’ elaborate installations…

American Museum of Natural History

Lovers of dinosaurs, sea creatures, outer space and more can get their animal & nature fix at this giant (45 fascinating halls) treasure trove of wonders. It can get very crowded on weekends and holidays, but there is always a quiet nook to explore.

* Learn about moon rocks and meteorites in the stunning Rose…

New-York Historical Society

Learn about the layered, diverse history of NYC at this fascinating museum.  In the Children’s History Museum on the bottom floor, explore 350 years of history through interactive exhibits, digital games and a charming library. Try cross-stitch, see historic baseball gear, ride an Orphan Train, play a newsies video game and much more. Join weekly…