How to Plan for a Perfect Day in Central Park

July 1, 2023
People in Sheep Meadow Central Park New York City

Spending a perfect day in Central Park is bucket list material thanks to countless movies, books and television shows. The last time I was there, I got to chatting with the middle-aged woman sitting on the bench next to me, only to discover that this was not just her first time in NYC, but her first time in the United States:

“It was always my dream to travel to New York and visit Central Park- today I am living my dream.” 

You and me both, sister. Whether it’s for a picnic, run, or aimless wander, I detour to the Park whenever I can and make it a goal to explore a new part of its 843 acres each visit! 

Here are my top tips on how to come prepared and make the most out of your visit:

Bring cash

You obviously have to eat a hot dog or pretzel in Central Park, and many street vendors only accept cash. Also, don’t forget to tip those lovely street performers you recorded and posted on Instagram while walking through the park- they deserve a hot dog or pretzel too!

If you want to rent a boat, get there early

Rowing a boat in Central Park on a sunny day is perhaps one of the most idyllic experiences in the park, and people come from all over to do so. Not only will you avoid long lines and midday heat by arriving early, your views and photos won’t be crowded by other tourists trying to figure out which way to turn their paddle (no judgment, I’ve been one of them).

Central Park fountain with flowers in bloom
Bethesda Terrace is one of the most beautiful (and popular) spots in Central Park

Loeb Boathouse has the best bathrooms

After an hour of paddling on the water, you’ll probably have to pee. Luckily, there are clean, public bathrooms at the Loeb Boathouse. Most stand in line outside, but the pro tip is to go inside to the bathrooms behind the bar.

Be aware of everything with wheels

Look left and right before crossing any street or bike path… every. single. time. The main paths throughout the park get awfully busy, and I have seen one too many tourists looking at their phones and causing almost-accidents. Trust me, you do not want to feel the wrath of an angry New Yorker on roller skates.

Plan to picnic in the park

A picnic lunch with a friend or a book in Central Park will forever be one of my favorite New York City pastimes. Yes, New Yorkers do it, and yes they bring alcohol. For many, this shared green space is the closest thing they have to a backyard, so be respectful of it and clean up your trash!. If you brought a blanket, I recommend the Great Lawn, Sheep Meadow or the Pond Nature Preserve. If you are searching for shade and a bench, I recommend staking out a spot by the Conservatory Water Pond or Wagner Cove.

View Central Park from above

You know those epic aerial shots of New York City with all the greenery of Central Park popping up in the middle? Discover that view for yourself by visiting the rooftop of the Met, which is free with entry to the museum. Plus, the Cantor Roof Garden Bar is open late on Fridays and Saturdays so you can enjoy this magnificent view at sunset over the park.

Make it past 79th street

Entering the park on the south end and visiting the bottom end of Central Park is undoubtedly the most common- and rightfully so. It is here that you can take the Literary Walk, find the Balto statue, ride the carousel, eat at Tavern on the Green, and pose in front of the iconic Bethesda Fountain.

This is just your friendly reminder that Central Park is MASSIVE, each section offers its own landmarks, and if you head further north you will have more green space to yourself. Venture above 79th street to picnic on the Great Lawn, explore the historic Belvedere Castle, climb Summit Rock. 

My personal favorite? Channel your inner Charlotte York and join the locals in a jog around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

Girl walking through Central Park in the fall
Fall is my absolute favorite time to visit Central Park

Know you may lose phone service

There are quite a few mobile dead spots throughout the park that you may experience depending on your carrier and the amount of people surrounding you. By all means, embrace the disconnect… and have your maps app pre-loaded before entering the park just in case.

Have an exit strategy

There are a few bus lines that run through the park, and plenty of subway stops a couple blocks east and west of the park. However, many of the walkways within the parks are not a straight shot and/or may not link to an exit. That is code for: you may end up walking/wandering much longer and further than originally intended and it may impact your overall Central Park experience! I recommend mapping out the parts you want to visit, marking the most convenient exit relative to those parts, and factoring in an extra 30 minutes for getting there.

Don’t stop there!

Central Park may be the most famous New York green space, but it’s really just the gateway to a whole system of urban and public parks filled with beautiful picnic spots and fantastic city views. Check out my list of lesser known NYC parks here.

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