8 Unforgettable Central Park Activities

8 Unforgettable Central Park Activities

Each year, over 42 million people visit Central Park in New York City. If you plan to check out this iconic park, be sure to take advantage of the great attractions it has to offer.

Central Park, located in Upper Manhattan, is the largest urban park in the country. Each year over 42 million people visit the park, and it's no wonder, with all of the attractions featured on these 843 acres.

The park opened in 1857 and was built to fulfill the needs of a growing population. As the city continued to grow, residents went in search of open spaces where they could get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Central Park is still an island of tranquility in the busiest city in the country, and if you're visiting NYC, here are some of the fun activities Central Park has to offer.

1. Belvedere Castle

Designed in 1865, Belvedere Castle had no real purpose other than to be a beautiful piece of architecture to dress up the park. The Italian meaning is "beautiful views" and that is exactly what you'll find. From its grand turret and two balconies, you can see panoramic views of the park. Some of the park's landmarks that you can see are the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, the Ramble and Delacorte Theater.

The National Weather Station began using the castle in 1919. They measured wind speed and annual rainfall from the turret, and the castle is still used for this purpose now. In 1983, it was renovated and reopened and now holds the Henry Luce Nature Observatory. Visitors will find many natural artifacts, like bird skeletons. You can explore the park from a scientific perspective with one of the field packs available that include binoculars, maps, notepads and other reference material. Belvedere Castle is a great place to visit if you like bird watching.

Mid-park at 79th Street

(212) 772-0210

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday - Sunday 10 am - 5 pm

2. The Carousel

The Carousel is still one of the most loved attractions in Central Park. The first carousel was built in 1871 and was powered by a mule and horse. The next two carousels were powered by steam but both of them were destroyed by fire. The carousel that stands today was built in 1908 and is the largest, and the oldest, carousel in the country.

The carousel has 57 horses and two chariots all carved by hand. Over the years the carousel has undergone many repairs and renovations. Including an upgrade to both the merry-go-round and surrounding plaza in 1950. About 250,000 visitors ride the carousel every year. The cost to ride is $3.

Mid-Park at 64th Street
(212) 439-6900 Ext. 12

Hours of Operation:
April - October, 10am - 6 pm, November - March (when weather permits)

3. Central Park Zoo

A visit to the Central Park Zoo is a must. Covering over 5 acres and housing more than 130 different species of animals. Visitors will see everything from snow leopards to sea lions. Stop by the newly renovated Polar Circle, which houses four species of penguins. See the Rain Forest full of tropical birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, lemurs and Tamarins. Inside the Temperate Territory are the sea lion tank, red pandas and swan geese.

Inside the main zoo is the Tisch Children's Zoo. Children will love being able to pet and feed the many furry creatures found here like goats, cows, sheep and pigs. Located next to each pen is a bronze sculpture that children can touch to learn the sound that each animal makes. The cost of admission to the children's zoo is included in the price of Central Park Zoo admission.

Ticket Prices:
Adults: $12
Senior Citizens: $9
Children 3 - 12: $7
Children under 3: free

East Side (between 63rd and 66th Streets)

Phone number:
(212) 439-6500

4. Conservatory Garden

The Conservatory Garden is a great place to go for peace and quiet in the bustling park. This formal garden, built in 1937, covers six acres and is divided into three European-styled gardens. Entrance to the garden is through Vanderbilt Gate, which was originally the entrance to the Vanderbilt mansion which no longer stands.

Enjoy a peaceful stroll through the magnolia and lilac trees found in the English style garden. Visitors will also find a statue of well- known author Frances Hodgson Burnett. Just north of the English garden is the Italian one. Here you will find crabapple and yew trees along with a large fountain. In the French garden, visitors can admire Three Dancing Maiden's sculpture by Walter Schott. In the springtime, the garden is blooming with hundreds of tulips.

5th Avenue & 105th Street

Hours of Operation:
Daily 8am - Sundown

5. Skate or Swim

Lasker Recreational Area serves a dual purpose. Depending on the time of year, visitors can either use the area for ice skating or swimming. From the end of June through Labor Day, visitors are free to use the Olympic-size swimming pool. A wading pool is also provided for younger children. The pool area includes a deck, lockers and concession stand. During the summer months, children 18 and under can get a free breakfast and lunch courtesy of the Department of Education. The pool also offers free swimming lessons.

From the end of October through the end of March, the pool becomes an ice rink. Visitors can rent ice skates if they do not have their own. The ice rink offers hockey classes for all ages and ice skating lessons. The ice rink is one of the local favorites in Central Park and overlooks the Harlem Meer. The cost to skate is $7.50 per adult, children 11 and under $4, senior citizens $2.25 and skate rentals are $6.50.

Between 106th and 108th Streets

See hours at: www.centralpark.com

6. Loeb Boathouse

A boathouse on the lake has been a part of Central Park since 1873. The original wooden Victorian-styled building was torn down in 1954 and today stands a modern boathouse built of brick and limestone. The Loeb Boathouse also features the Boathouse Restaurant. Diners can choose to sit indoors or outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery while dining on fresh fish entrees.

You can rent a boat or go for a gondola ride from the boathouse. Loeb Boathouse has over 100 row boats that rent for $15 per hour. Each boat seats up to four people, and life jackets are provided. While rowing around the lake, you are likely to see many of the waterfowl that are not visible from shore like herons, loons and egrets. For $30 for half an hour, you can experience the lake in a new way on one of the guided gondola rides. The gondola's seat up to six people and are a popular date activity at the park.

Off 5th Avenue

Make Reservations:
(212) 517-2233

Hours of Operation:
April - November, Daily 10am - 6pm

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7. Explore the Ramble

Explore the maze of trails in the wild garden of Central Park known as the Ramble. The wooded area covers 38 acres between 73rd and 78th streets. In contrast to the formal gardens found in the park, the Ramble is a natural woodland consisting of an abundance of plant and wildlife.

While wandering the many twisted trails, visitors are likely to encounter raccoon's, squirrels or one of the 230 species of birds that make the area its home. Running through the Ramble is the Gill, a man-made stream. The plant life here is runs from native to the exotic and includes Black Cherry, Kentucky coffee trees and the Cucumber Magnolia.

Between 73rd & 78th Streets

Hours of Operation:

8. Central Park Tours

A number of options are available for touring Central Park. You can choose to walk along the many trails and bridges yourself, or go for one of the guided tours of the park. The most popular tour is by horse and carriage. Horses are iconic to the Manhattan area dating back to the days before cars. Prices start at $50 for up to 20 minutes, and your carriage ride can be customized to meet your needs.

Tour the park on a pedicab. You will see many of the park's attractions while your expert guide tells you tales of the park. Tours are available in hour increments starting at one hour and lasting up to four hours. You may choose to take one of the bike tours offered. One and two-hour tours are available covering different parts of the park. Choose between the Arts and Architecture or the Movie and TV Sites tour. One hour tours start at $49 for adults and $39 for children. All guest are provided with a helmet, basket, map and lock at no additional cost.

208 W. 80th Street, New York, NY 10024

For reservations:
(917) 993-3141

Central Park, New York City, was the first public park to open in the country, and it's one of the largest and most visited parks in the world. With over 80 attractions and activities sprawling over 800 acres, the park has something for everyone. You can choose to relax, and people watch along the Mall or on the Great Lawn. Or active visitors can go rock climbing and hike through the many trails provided. Whether you want to take one of the guided tours or explore on your own, there is something new to see or do every time you visit.

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