Last updated on April 29, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in New York

Central Park walking tour [self-guided in 11 stops]

This Central Park walking tour goes through 11 stops in the park and a great affordable cafe to have lunch in the Upper East Side.

I have shared a Goole Map below that you can easily follow for a self-guided experience.

The walk itself can take the entire day as well as half day. It all depends on your pace and stops for photos.

You will find below also a description of all the attractions mentioned in this walk, with a few interesting hidden gems, like the waterfall in the forest.

But let’s have a start

You can read also

Central Park Walking Tour
Central Park Walking Tour – Check and download my shared Google Map

The walk begins at the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, in the south-east corner of Central Park.

Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Start your walking tour on a natural note at the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. It has been until recently not accessible to the public.

The park was closed and turned into a bird sanctuary back in 1834 and was previously known as the Promontory.

Come early to the wooden gate entrance because there is always a line of eager visitors waiting.

Follow the wood chip path and learn about the waterfall, the beautiful flowers and the large tree stumps still on site.

Head to the overlook that gives you spectacular views of Central Park buildings.

Gapstow Bridge

North from the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, you will find the Gapstow Bridge.

This is a rustic stone bridge that was built in 1896 and replaced the original bridge.

Come and take some beautiful photos while enjoying views of the pond and overall scenery.

This is one of the 27 bridges and arches that you can find around Central Park, but the Gapstow Bridge is a step above all..

Gapstow Bridge at the Pond in Central Park
Gapstow Bridge at the Pond in Central Park

Central Park Zoo

The Central Park Zoo has been a staple location in movies and TV shows for a long time. Today, you get to see it for yourself.

It is one of the oldest parks in the US and had once been closed to the public for 5 years to transform parts of it.

It was reopened in 1988 and has since been serving thousands of visitors daily.

The zoo sits on 7 acres of Central Park real estate.

Here, you will find 3 major zones – the Tropic Zone, Temperate Territory, and the Polar Circle.

Yes, you can check out penguins in New York at this Zoo!

If you have your kids with you, the Tisch Children’s Zoo will excite them.

It has different types of animals like goats and the only cow in Manhattan. They can experience, if lucky, animal feeding times while playing and learning.

There is also a 4-D theatre that makes your viewing experience a wild one!

Lemur at the Central Park Zoo
Lemur at the Central Park Zoo

Adventure Playground

This is one of the best playgrounds in the park and New York.

The Adventure Playground is a must if you are travelling with kids.

You will find climbing equipment, steep slides, hanging structures, sand pits and I could keep going

The children will love running around and for the parents there are benches to have a rest.

In summer you will find also water features, which are great for those hot days.

Most of the park is in the shade.

Strawberry Fields Memorial (John Lennon Memorial)

John Lennon is the embodiment of a timeless legend.

The fallen Beatles member has a 2.5 acre memorial at Central Park that you must visit.

Strawberry Fields Memorial is right opposite the Dakota Building, where he and wife Yoko Ono lived back in the day.

Here, you can recollect your thoughts and walk the paths that Lennon took each day before his tragic passing.

You must check out the Imagine Mosaic, named after one of his most iconic songs.

There is a bronze plaque listing over 120 countries that donated to the park’s maintenance.

Are you interested in exploring more of the Big Apple? Here are 5 unique self-guided walks of New York, including maps and little gems like the Strawberry Fields Memorial.

Strawberry Fields Memorial to John Lennon
Strawberry Fields Memorial to John Lennon

Bethesda Terrace

If you have not had enough of Central Park quiet zones, then head over to Bethesda Terrace which is the heart of the park.

Overlooking the Ramble and the Lake, it is at the end of a long promenade known as the Mall.

The park was a favourite meeting spot for park visitors and you could check out the art and architecture on display. 

You must check out the Terrace where you can access upper and lower levels using a staircase.

Look up at the interior of the Terrace and see the epic tiled ceiling.

Walk over to the Bethesda Fountain that overlooks the Lake shore.

You can take pictures of the basin that holds the Angel of the Waters statue and the large circular pool that holds beautiful aquatic plants. 

The Obelisk (Cleopatra’s Needle)

The Egyptians will never be forgotten for their out of this world nature.

You can thank them for this iconic spot in Central Park that was erected as a gift to the US for their warm relations.

Cleopatra’s Needle was built as part of a pair, with its partner erected in London.

It is a sixty-eight feet red granite structure that has survived a move to Alexandria in Egypt and back to NYC.

Aside from marvelling at the towering obelisk, look at the bottom where you will see sculptures of crabs that look like they are peering at visitors as they pass by.

Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.
Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.

Ancient Playground

If travelling with kids, the Ancient Playground may be another nice stop for the children to exhaust some energy.

There is a pyramid to climb, a few swings and even a sand pit.

There is not much of a shade, except for the benches area, so it can get hot in summer.

The park is fenced and there is only one entrance/exit, pretty secure.

A clean bathroom is also available, which is so welcome, especially when travelling with kids.

Dig Cafe Restaurant

Unfortunately, there is not much choice of cafes and restaurants inside the park.

However, just walk 3 blocks from the playground and you will find Dig, a healthy eatery making food with locally sourced ingredients.

It is more of DIY/buffet place, where you go through all the possible dishes and combination at the bar.

This means you will eat in no time, with a delicious coffee on the side

Tip: go on their website and sign up for the reward card for a $5 discount on your first meal

Conservatory Garden

In the heart of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden, one of the most visited public garden ever.

It was opened back in 1937 and originally had a greenhouse to grow flowers and other plants for display in the park.

It has 3 areas – the French-style North Garden, the English-style South Garden and the Italianate Centre Garden, each with unique displays for you to appreciate as you stroll along the park.

Come and experience 6 acres of flowers like tulips, chrysanthemums and crabapple trees.

Central Park in autumn and Manhattan skyscrapers
Central Park in autumn and Manhattan skyscrapers

Huddlestone Arch

Head to the Eastern entrance of the Ravine to check out the Huddlestone Arch.

It is a mesmerising stone arch which was put together by only ‘huddling stones’.

All the boulders used to create the arch were found in the surrounding areas and weighed over 100 tonnes.

It supported both human and vehicle traffic so it is definitely a sight to behold.

Take a walk under the arch and be amazed by its design.

The Pool

Follow the Lock Walking path up the hill, for one of the most serene parts of New York.

In fact, you won’t even feel like in a city but right in the middle of a forest with a series of small waterfalls on your side.

The path ends in one of the most scenic place in Central Park, The Pool.

This is also one of the best spot in Autumn, with red maples and American sweet gum trees around the small lake dressed in full red.

It’s a great quiet spot used by many locals for picnic.

Central Park during autumn in New York City.
Central Park during autumn in New York City.

Organised tour with local guide

You can also join an organised tour to get more of an inside from a local guide.

This Central Park 2-Hour Guided Walking Tour, running at a very affordable price, will allow you to discover so much more of the history of the park.

Moreover, you will be visiting a few famous movie locations that surely you will remember from films and TV series.

Central Park Guided Tour

Aerial view of Central Park
Aerial view of Central Park
Fall at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
Fall at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
The Reservoir in autumn season.
The Reservoir in autumn season.
Walking through the Gapstow Bridge at the Pond
Walking through the Gapstow Bridge at the Pond
The Pond, in the southern part of Central Park
The Pond, in the southern part of Central Park
The Mall with American Elms in Central Park
The Mall with American Elms in Central Park
Bow Bridge at The Lake
Bow Bridge at The Lake
Approaching the Bow Bridge
Approaching the Bow Bridge
Minton Tiles at Bethesda Arcade
Minton Tiles at Bethesda Arcade
Walking through the Minton Tiles at Bethesda Arcade
Walking through the Minton Tiles at Bethesda Arcade
Central Park in winter at the rink close to the Zoo
Central Park in winter at the rink close to the Zoo
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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