My Self-Guided Central Park Walking Tour
I love walking in Central Park.
As you know, New York is one of my favorite cities, and Central Park is a big reason why I adore this famous city as much as I do. It’s seriously the most beautiful green space ever, in my humble opinion.
And funnily enough, I always feel a sense of peace whenever I visit Central Park. Why’s that? Well I immediately shut off my brain, select a path, and allow myself to “get lost,” and leave behind my daily stressors in the dust. Peace in the middle of New York. Who would’ve thought it possible?
Unsurprisingly, one of my best tips for visiting New York is to go to Central Park on a sunny afternoon. I know, Central Park is big tourist attraction and its size might feel overwhelming to newcomers, but at the same time, this oasis neatly tucked inside one of the world’s biggest cities lives up to all the hype surrounding it. You need to explore Central Park for yourself to understand its awesomeness.
Why Take a Central Park Self-Guided Walking Tour
Central Park is big. How big? 840 acres to be exact. That’s a lot of space for walkers to cover especially if they have limited time to spare in New York. So it’s understandable a Central Park self-guided walking tour comes off as a challenging endeavor for visitors here.
But, regardless of challenges, taking your own Central Park walking tour is totally worth the time and effort! Sure, if you have limited time in New York City, then a fully guided tour might be a better idea, but Central Park isn’t a place you want to “rush through” and check off a list. Central Park’s magic comes with patience and dedication.
Furthermore a Central Park walking tour is also a great idea for solo travelers in New York. The park is extremely safe during the day. Your odds of running into violent crime are insanely low, even non-existent.
Finally doing a self-guided tour of Central Park is free. New York isn’t a cheap city. Budget travelers need to be extra careful here. I speak from experience. I always spend too much money whenever I don’t plan ahead of time. Which is … a lot.
Practical Tips for Your Central Park Walk
1. Respect All Wildlife
Central Park is a green space that draws a variety of critters such as squirrels and ducks. Don’t antagonize the animals and do not feed them scraps of junk food. Treat these animals with love and space. Additionally, if you want to take a carriage ride through Central Park, please research the company ahead of time to ensure the horses are well cared for and cherished by their owners. Animal welfare is important.
2. Start From “Top to Bottom”
You don’t want to “backtrack” throughout Central Park and effectively waste time. Come armed with a solid plan. Begin at the “top” of Central Park (or vice versa) and wander your way down the length of the rectangular park.
However, even using this “top-to-bottom” strategy, keep in mind you still might not see all of Central Park. I still haven’t seen the park in its entirety, and I live close to New York. Leading to my next point…
3. Prioritize Your Attractions
Central Park has many wonderful attractions. Too many of them, actually. It’s probably impossible to see each one on your Central Park self-guided walking tour. Like I said, I still haven’t seen everything.
So you need to pick and choose which sites are most important to you. Do you like lakes and city views? How about boat rides? Do you want to ride the carousal? See some cool art work? Make a list. Highlight your guidebook.
When you prioritize ahead of time, you’ll avoid wasting precious minutes studying your map and guidebook in the middle of the park.
4. Bring Some Cash with You
Credit cards are king in New York City. I only use credit.
With that said, it’s not a bad idea to bring small cash with you to Central Park. You might want to buy a bottle of water or take a ride on the famous Central Park carousel. Keep in mind some freelancers and vendors might not take credit either.
5. Respect the Freelancers at the Mall and Elsewhere
Everyone’s trying to “make it” in New York City. On your walk of Central Park, you’ll encounter artists and performers trying to make a living. Tip them if you want. Additionally, respect their desire not to have themselves or their merchandise photographed. Basic common curtesy goes a long way in New York.
What to Bring on Your Central Park Walking Tour
As I’ve said, this wonderful urban green space is pretty damn big so you want to pack an appropriate day pack for your Central Park walking tour. Always have the following items with you.
1. Comfortable Walking Shoes
Recently, I walked over six miles in Central Park. Yup. Six bloody miles. It’s important to take care of your feet and wear comfortable walking shoes. Sure, it’s New York City and adorable heels are all the rage, but a girl’s gotta be practical.
In particular, Dansko makes an adorable women’s fashion sneaker that I love because the design is easily paired with any outfit.
In the winter months, Central Park is muddy and snowy, so invest in a quality pair of waterproof boots – like these Merrell ones! You won’t regret the purchase when your toes stay dry and warm!
On the flip side, are you planning on walking in Central Park in the summer? Durable lattice sandals are the way to go!
Comfortable walking shoes are essential for your visit.
2. A Durable Day Pack
Carrying a good day pack is important for your Central Park self-guided walking tour.
My favorite day pack of all time is Tumi Women’s Voyageur Carson – Calais Backpack, and I bring my own gold version of this backpack everywhere in New York City. However, I understand the price point may be a deal breaker for a lot of people.
Venture Pal’s lightweight daypack is another reasonable option for your Central Park walk. It’s durable and comes in a variety of cool colors! I personally love the pink, haha.
3. A Quality Camera like a Canon Rebel
On your Central Park walking tour, you’ll see many gorgeous views that juuuust might warrant more than your phone’s camera.
I bring my Canon Rebel with me for my visit to Central Park. It’s a wonderful beginner SLR that won’t break your bank account into a million little pieces.
Of course, selecting a camera is a very personal decision. More advanced photographers might want to go with a specific camera. The choice is yours!
4. A Reusable Water Bottle
Stay hydrated on your Central Park walking tour! While plenty of vendors sell bottled water, it’s cheap and more environmentally friendly for you to buy a reusable water bottle. Central Park has plenty of water fountains and, yes, the water’s safe for you to drink. I actually think New York City’s tap water tastes delicious, haha. Check out these water bottles by Simple Modern. They are made of stainless steel, which keeps water cold, and come in over thirty different colors.
5. A New York City Guidebook
On a self-guided tour, it’s up to you to learn all about the attractions and their histories. Lonely Planet’s New York City guidebook will stuff your brain with tons of cool knowledge. You can purchase a physical copy of this book or download it to your device. Furthermore, many of New York City’s most famous museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum are on Central Park’s perimeter. A guidebook will tell you everything you need to know about prices and hours.
6. Weather Appropriate Clothing
Finally you’ll spend a lot of time outside in Central Park. Think a minimum of two hours. You want to wear the right clothing for the time of the year.
My Favorite Central Park Attractions
Central Park has so many attractions that makes it both magnificent and overwhelming. “Where should I even begin?” you might be asking yourself right now. Never fear! I put all of these attractions in a logical order so you can created a Central Park self-guided walking tour using this list.
1. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir has some of the greatest views of Central Park (in my humble opinion) and is a great place to begin your Central Park self-guided walking tour. If you have plenty of time, then take the 1.58 mile walk around the entire reservoir. Bill Clinton, Madonna, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis herself have all completed the run around the reservoir.
2. Alexander Hamilton Monument
Next on the list is the Alexander Hamilton Monument. Fans of the musical will definitely want to take a picture with this statue depicting the “Ten Dollar Founding Father!” This larger than life statue was dedicated in 1880 and is worth a quick photo opportunity. And remember “do not throw away your shot.”
3. The Great Lawn
This 55 acre green space is smack dab in the middle of Central Park. It’s a wonderful place for a picnic on a warm afternoon. This space is utilized to host annual concerts such as the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera! Pretty cool, huh? Keep in mind the Great Lawn is seasonal and closed in the winter months, although you absolutely are still able to see it from Central Park’s walking paths.
4. Turtle Pond and the Views
You’ll find Turtle Pond not too far from the Great Lawn. Personally, I was a big fan of adorable Turtle Pond on my most recent visit to Central Park. It’s not as crowded as other areas of the park and you still enjoy great views which include Central Park’s famous Belvedere Castle!
5. Bow Bridge Vantage Point
Aww, Bow Bridge is one of the most romantic spots in all of Central Park! It’s a stunning cast iron bridge that serves as a pedestrian walkway over the lake. Bow Bridge is also one of the most photographed places in all of Central Park. You’ve probably seen it a million times on Instagram, haha. Make sure to enjoy the stunning buildings peaking over the trees of Fifth Avenue.
6. Alice in Wonderland in Central Park
Without a doubt, Alice in Wonderland is my favorite statue in all of Central Park. This large bronze statute depicts the title character (Alice) accompanying the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit. I think Alice in Wonderland is the most popular statue in Central Park and for a good reason too! In 1959, philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned this bronze statue as a gift for New York City’s children. To which I say “awwwww, how sweet!”
7. Central Park Motor Boat Sailing
Need a break from your Central Park walking tour? Then why not rent a motor boat and enjoy some sailing! The motor boats have been a staple of Central Park for 140 years! Still go check them out even with no plans of renting one. They are super fun to watch bobbing around on the water.
8. Bethesda Fountain and Terrace
Bethesda Terrace overlooks Central Park’s lake. You’ll see all the rowboats and trees, and feel like you’re in the pages of a romantic early 20th century storybook. Although it opened in the 1960s, it wasn’t until Bethesda became a centerpiece of a plan to renovate Central Park that this area was utilized to its full potential. Come see! However, just a word of warning which is don’t always expect the fountain to be filled with water. On my last Central Park visit, Bethesda Fountain was turned off for cleanings and looked a bit unattractive. Just be prepared for anything.
9. Central Park Mall and Literary Walk
Eeeee, all you literary travelers who’re reading my blog are in for a treat in Central Park Mall! Four statues of poets line the shady walkways. They include William Shakespeare (my fave duh), Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and the only American Fitz Greene-Halleck. I recommend bring your own notebook to write some poetry sitting on one of the benches. Let those creative juices flow. Finally if you stroll to the southeastern corner of Central Park, you’ll encounter the Strand Bookstore’s kiosk. As you know, the Strand is my favorite New York City bookstore, and they are worth your investment if you choose to purchase a new book.
Have you ever been to Central Park? Did you like it? Share your favorite city parks in the comments.
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