5 Free & Fun Things to Do in Central Park, New York City

free things to do in central park

Central Park is an urban public park spanning around 800 acres (315 ha) in the middle of New York City’s bustling island of Manhattan. The park is beloved by residents and visitors alike because of its many manicured trails and hidden gems located in its premises. Here, we drill down 5 free things to do in Central Park that you should look out for when you visit.

1. Find a castle within the manicured grounds

Belvedere Castle

Would you believe that within Central Park, there is a castle that is free for everyone to go inside and explore? Built in 1869, Belvedere Castle houses one of the park’s visitor centers, and it does get busy! At the very top, you’ll get a great view of the reservoir, some bits of the park, and the surrounding Midtown cityscape. There is also a pond nearby where you may see some turtles from your high vantage point. It’s a great spot for photos, if you can find some space not occupied by other tourists, that is!

2. Strawberry Fields Forever


There is a 2.5 acre (1 ha) memorial dedicated to one of the most iconic musicians in history, John Lennon. Here you can see a big mosaic with the word ‘Imagine’, representing a song that encourages peace, along with multiple park benches to just sit and reflect on Lennon’s life. The name Strawberry Fields comes from the Beatles Song “Strawberry Fields Forever”, composed and written by Lennon and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney. The memorial is set across the Dakota apartment complex building, and is very easy to get to from the street. The Dakota is known as the place where Lennon lived until his death in 1980. There’s often gifts being left by fans within the memorial, such as flowers and candles. This area can get quite crowded at almost any hour!

3. Climb up a Bedrock

The author on the bedrock

A big rock face in the middle of an urban public park may not be what you’re expecting, but in Central Park, you can actually climb it! Bedrocks are ancient and date back hundreds of millions of years. Having one in the middle of Central Park, which is accessible to everyone, is a great way to tick off a bucket list item. There are no railings along the bedrock, so getting up (and down) is at your own risk, as some surfaces are already a bit smooth due to the volume of people who have climbed up it. It’s also a great spot for a photo opportunity!

4. Walk down the Mall

The Mall - Central Park

Lined by beautiful elm trees and park benches, the Mall is actually a 0.25 mile (0.40 km) pedestrian walkway leading you to the Bethesda Terrace. The Mall and Bethesda Terrace is actually featured in several films, such as The Avengers, Home Alone 2, Sex and the City, and many others! The Bethesda Terrace has a great view of a fountain and the lake. However, don’t just leave once you get on the terrace. Try to go underneath the terrace, the arcade, to see the beautiful tile ceiling and murals on the wall. Would you believe these were built when the park was first conceptualized in 1860?

5. An iconic New Year’s celebration

The bandstand in Central Park

And finally, did you know that some of the best New Year’s celebrations in New York happen not in Times Square, but in Central Park? In Times Square, you don’t have fireworks to commemorate the New Year, only a very crowded ball drop with confetti. At Central Park, you can have fun dancing and watching live bands along with DJs perform at the bandstand before midnight, and when the clock strikes 12, you can expect at least a 15 minute show of fireworks from the sky. Midnight is also when the midnight runners start their 5K run, offering toasts at the halfway point, and dancing to music. It’s free to run along with the crowd, but registration is extra. Say goodbye to the crowds of Times Square and hello to something completely different.

Beautiful & grand park, central to all that is in Manhattan

Central Park is free, but has its own paid shares of attractions as well. With its vastness, you’ll definitely need a guide to help you pinpoint exactly where to go, and what to do within it if you’re pressed for time. However, if you have a full day or more, there are plenty more things to see and do in this park: all it takes is a lot of wandering around and maybe getting a bit lost to find these gems and create a memory that you will definitely cherish.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Ruby is an avid traveler and adventurer, having lived in three different countries in three different continents. In her spare time, she explores near and far destinations, or reading about far...Read more

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