Central Park is one of my very favorite places in New York City, and visiting Central Park with kids has become one of my favorite things to do on our family trips to New York City. There’s something about a small haven of green nestled among the towering skyscrapers, where the noise and chaos of the city is muted, that makes my heart happy. We spend time in Central Park every single trip we take to New York City, and every time I fall in love with it a little bit more. The park is actually huge, covering 843 acres, and not surprisingly, this oasis was not naturally found in the middle of a big city; the park is entirely landscaped, the result of a design competition in 1858 to develop the small park area that was there before. It is the most filmed public park in the world, and whenever we’re there, especially in winter, I always think of Home Alone 2 where Kevin gives the second turtle dove to the homeless lady (does this scene make anyone else cry? No? Ok then…) If you’re visiting New York City with kids, then Central Park is a must-do. It’s a place where kids can run around and burn off some steam, and there is so much for them to do, see, and explore. I’ve compiled a list of things that we love to do when visiting Central Park with kids.
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Central Park has 21 playgrounds in all, making it a haven for parents who want to let their kids run around and entertain themselves for a while (perhaps while they sit on a bench with a coffee!) We’ve explored a few of these 21, but the one we return back to on every single NYC trip is Heckscher Playground in the southwest corner of the park. It is the city’s oldest and largest playground (which actually means you probably won’t be sitting on a bench with a coffee!) with all manner of swings, slides, and play structures, as well as a really cool water play area and a huge sand box. There are bathrooms located within the fenced in area of the park, meaning they’re close by for when your little one gives you very little notice that they have to go (we’ve all been there!) and plenty of hot dog, pretzel, and ice cream vendors at the entrance. There are softball fields nearby where it’s fun to stop and watch a game for a while, and it’s a short walk over to the carousel. This is hands down our favorite place in the park, and somewhere we constantly recommend to people traveling to New York City with kids.
The Central Park carousel can be found at around 64th Street, and is open daily from April to October (weather permitting). It’s an undercover carousel that accommodates over 250,000 riders each year, and it is absolutely adorable. A ride on the carousel costs $3 (cash only – don’t make our mistake and arrive with a credit card, your child will not thank you!) and we never saw the line get too long. The carousel has been in the park since 1871 and every single person I saw riding it was having a fabulous time (including all of the adults!)
3. Chess and Checkers House
Not far from the carousel is the Chess and Checkers House. This is not only a Central Park Official Visitors Center, but a fantastic place to play chess or checkers with your little ones. There are 24 tables for you to play your game, and you can borrow a chess or checkers set to play with from the center. Harrison is only 4, so chess is a little beyond him, but he’s beginning to understand checkers. It was so much fun to sit and play a game with him under the shade of the trees, watching more seasoned players around us play a more competitive game. Once we were done playing, we watched two gentlemen play an amazing game of chess; they told us they come every single day to play the game together! This was one of the best memories we made on our last trip to New York City.
4. Alice in Wonderland statue
Found right around 74th Street, the Alice in Wonderland statue is somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. Constructed in 1959, the 11-foot bronze statue depicts Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, and the White Rabbit and, unlike most statues or sculptures, you won’t find a ‘no climbing’ sign here; children are welcome to touch and climb over the statue. I loved seeing the statue, and most kids are familiar enough with the story of Alice in Wonderland that they’ll get a kick out of it too.
5. Conservatory Water
Just to the south of the Alice in Wonderland statue, you’ll find the Conservatory Water, Central Park’s famous sailing pond. It is here than you can sail a model or remote control boat on the calm waters of the pond. If you don’t have your own boat, don’t worry; Sail the Park is a rental company who rent out small remote control boats at $11 for 30 minutes on a first come, first served basis, and they will teach you the basics of sailing. Since motor-powered boats are not allowed on the water, these boats run on wind power, with their direction being controlled by the rudder and the sails. This is such a fun activity for the kids, and I’m a sucker for old-fashioned kids past times like this!
6. The Great Lawn
Not surprisingly the Great Lawn is in fact, a great big lawn! Located in the middle of the park, it is a huge expanse of green that is open from mid-April to mid-November each year. When we visited Central Park in July of this year, the weather was beautiful and the lawn just begs kids to kick off their shoes and socks and run around! It is the perfect place for a picnic if the weather is nice; we picked up sandwiches, chips, and fruit from a nearby deli, and spent a very pleasant hour or two letting the kids run around while we ate. This was a beautiful area of the park in the summer, and I can imagine it is just as beautiful in the fall with the turning leaves, or blanketed in snow in the winter.
7. Climbing on the rocks
Just about every child I know, but in particular my boys, love to climb. They see a rock, they must climb on it. There are big rocks and boulders to climb and sit on literally all over the park, and nothing thrilled Harrison more than wearing himself out clambering up and down these things over and over again. This is definitely an area to supervise little kids; twice Harrison had to be rescued from the top of a big rock where he couldn’t figure out how to get back down (and twice I learned that flip flops are not made for climbing!) This was a great way to tire him out and let him have fun exploring.
8. Wollman Rink
If you’re going to be in Central Park in the winter, I cannot recommend this enough: skip the ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and head here instead. The Wollman Rink is open from the end of October to mid-April, and is open to everyone from expert skaters to those who can barely stay on their feet, including kids of all ages. Skates and lockers are available to rent, and you have the opportunity to skate under the stars as the skyscrapers of the city surround you. It really is an incredibly experience, and something we do on every Christmas trip to the city. Oh, and if you’re worried about your little ones skating, I discovered – the hard and painful way! – that kids are a lot more stable on their kids than adults are! Learn more about the Wollman Rink and this year’s skating hours at their official website. Ice skating here is one of the things I recommend most for visiting New York City at Christmas with kids.
A really fun extra!
On our most recent trip to Central Park, I discovered the most fantastic thing. Celebrities have recorded guided tours to some of the most iconic Central Park attractions, and you can dial a number to listen to them! This was amazing! I got to hear about Strawberry Fields from Yoko Ono, about the carousel from Kelly Ripa, and the Rumsey Playfield from Neil Patrick Harris. Above is a map of the park, with the number and extensions for each attraction – give this a try on your next trip, it was so much fun!
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What are your favorite things to do in Central Park with kids? Let me know in the comments!