Central Park: It’s arguably the most famous public green space in the world. Nestled in the heart of New York City, the lush 843 acres of Central Park are packed with things to do, no matter the season. From top notch playgrounds, its very own zoo, castles, ponds and an iconic marionette theater, it’s a must-visit for kids. Looking for ice skating in New York City? Central Park ice skating is bucket list material, for both children and adults. And that’s just the beginning. Read our guide to visiting Central Park with kids, for what to do, top happenings and even some lesser-known gems!
Central Park’s Greatest Hits
Central Park Zoo
One of the most incredible things about Central Park is that it houses its very own zoo. Yes, there’s an entire zoo located right in the middle of the park that showcases animals from topical, temperate and polar zones from around the world. The newest addition is the Tisch Children’s Zoo, located just across the way from the Central Park Zoo. Here children can get up close and personal with the goats, sheep, cow and pot-bellied pig. For visiting information, click here.
From large to small to animal-themed and modern, the park boasts 21 playgrounds that are sure to delight and stimulate the kids. (You'll like them, too.) One of the most distinctive is the Billy Johnson Playground, located near the south end, which was just renovated and has a signature granite slide. (The improvements included the addition of net climbers and a small rock slide for little kids not ready for the big one.)
These 57-brightly hued horses are ready to go round and round as this outdoor carousel offers a merry ride. It’s located near the south end of the park. For hours, admission fees, and additional in formation call 212-439-6900, ext. 12. (Crazy for carousels? These are our favorites all around the city! )
Lacing up and taking a spin on the ice in Central Park's Wollman Rink is a must-do for natives and visitors alike. During the winter season, this ice skating rink offers public skating, a skating school, and hockey. The rink can even serve as a birthday party setting. This is located near the south end. For more information, click here
When winter subsides and the ice melts, the pavement makes way for Victorian Gardens, an outdoor amusement park. Various rides for all ages are offered for a pay-one-price wristband or by purchasing four tickets per ride. Indoor and outdoor dining is offered on premise. Click here for more information about the season and admission prices.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre located mid-park is one of the last public marionette companies in the entire country, and stages several productions throughout the year, many of which are seasonally-themed. Click here for show titles, dates and tickets.
This area is popular for families because of the climbing sculptures, storytelling programs and model boats. There is a café nearby. Fun fact: this area was the boat scene mentioned in E.B. White’s children’s novel, Stuart Little. This is located mid-park and is also where you'll find an appropriately oversized Alice in Wonderland statue that's fun for little ones to climb on, and under.
A peaceful and quiet spot mid-park, Strawberry Fields is a mosaic tribute to musician and peace activist John Lennon. (Lennon and Yoko Ono lived nearby at the storied Dakota building, where Lennon was fatally shot.) Ono helped design the memorial, which features the title of one of Lennon's most famous songs. The closest subway station at 72nd Street and Central Park West, was recently renovated and features mosaics of blue skies, clouds, and inspirational words by Ono.
Off the Beaten Path
Central Park has tons of "secrets" hidden within its walls. For instance, did you know that there are five waterfalls within the park, and that the Great Lawn was once the reservoir. Here are a few more:
Storytelling at the Hans Christian Andersen statue: Gather 'round at this landmark every Saturday at 11 a.m. from June to September for free tales from professional storytellers. Click here for more info.
Catch-and-release fishing is permitted near the north end of the park at Harlem Meer. Free equipment and bait are even available for interested parties.
Chess & Checkers House
If you have a board game aficionado in your brood, check out this round house where visitors can bring their own games or borrow pieces from the staff. This is located near the south end of the park.
Throughout the park, the Central Park Conservancy offers backpacks filled with kid-friendly binoculars, field guides, a hand lens and sketch paper—all the tools you need to set out on your adventure in the park.
Lost? Check the lamp posts for directions
If you ever get lost in Central Park, which is quite easy to do, find the nearest light post for a clue. There will be four numbers on the light and the first two will tell you which street you are closest to, the last two will tell you if you are on the east or west side—even means east, odd is west.
Even if you’re a local, knowing every nook and cranny in Central Park is almost impossible. If you want to up your knowledge, you can schedule a tour, either by horse and carriage, bike or on foot. Find the full list of options here.
Central Park's Best Events
As New York City's backyard, there is always something happening in Central Park, but a few traditional events throughout the year are worth checking out.
Fall: The park really shines in autumn, with spectacular foliage shows throughout. One of our favorite events at this time which combines natural beauty, cheering New Yorkers, and true grit is the New York City Marathon (above), which concludes in the park. Head there any time during the race to cheer on runners in the final stretch. It'll restore your faith in humanity a bit.
Another popular autumn tradition is the pumpkin flotilla and Halloween celebration at the Harlem Meer's Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.
Winter: The Discovery Center also holds a winter celebration with cookies, Santa, and Christmas trees set adrift in the pond, and Wollman Rink is the site of Chanukah on Ice.
Spring: Along with all the flowers, Japan Day is a popular festival every May.
Summer: The park is hopping in summertime, most notably with free Summerstage Concerts featuring acts mega and up-and-coming, and works of the bard thanks to The Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park.
Where to Eat
There are plenty of places to eat in Central Park including Le Pain Quotdien for light bites and snacks, as well as Maoz for vegetarian options, and of course, the many vendors selling hot dogs and ice cream scattered through out. There is also the famed Tavern on the Green which is a great option if you are celebrating something special. Of course, you can always bring your own food and set up for a picnic in the park, something you can see many people doing during the warmer months. Here's a full list of all the places you to eat in Central Park.
There are over 20 bathrooms in Central Park, which means you are never too far from one should your kid need one. But, since the Park is huge and not so easy to navigate, it's best to know which ones are closest to where you will be in the park, beforehand. Check out this list of the park's bathrooms to help plan your next trip.