A visit to Central Park can be quite overwhelming for those who want to wander its pathways. There are 843 acres of nonstop nature to explore spanning 50 New York City blocks.
Since there is so much to see and do within the park, it can get confusing on how to put together the best self-guided walking tour of Central Park.
As someone who has walked all corners of the park over the course of 10+ years, I have a pretty solid understanding of how to put together the best possible Central Park itinerary for first time visitors.
This post will give you step by step directions on what a one day self-guided tour of Central Park will look like and what to expect during your walk. Hope you enjoy it out there!
1) What is the Best Way to Tour Central Park
Before getting into this self-guided walking tour of Central Park, I did want to mention some of the other main ways to go about a visit.
1) Join a Guided Tour
While I am one for the self-guided options, many people want to have a tour guide join them for their day in the park. This way you will not need to worry about getting lost or heading in the wrong direction. A tour guide will walk you around the park, give you some history lessons, and answer your questions along the way.
These walking tours usually do not head to all parts of the park, but rather just some of the main areas. Some of the top guided tours include:
2) Take a Pedicab
At the entrance of the park, you will find many pedicab drivers asking to take you around. This is a fast and convenient way to see a lot of the park in a shorter period of time. However, it also takes away the chance to go to the inner pathways of the park, which in my opinion are some of the best spots. The pedicabs need to stick to the main streets of the park but can drop you off in different areas along the way for you to explore a bit more.
» You can also choose to join a private Central Park Pedicab tour ahead of time
3) Horse & Carriage
A more romantic way to go about your Central Park tour is to take a horse and carriage ride. These rides will just focus on the more southern end of the park as you get to see your surroundings in style. These types of tours usually last around 45 minutes to an hour altogether.
» To avoid the hassle, feel free to book a Central Park Horse and Carriage tour online
4) Bike the Park
If you are not into walking and want to see the park on your own, you could rent a bicycle from some of the bike rental spots located right outside some of the main entrances. Riding a bike gives you the chance to see more of the park in a shorter period of time.
However, you will not be able to take a bicycle into certain areas of the inner park or alongside some of the main highlights. While you can get off the main outer loop, and onto some of the inner walking paths, you will be a bit more limited.
» If you don’t want to explore the park by bike alone, you can also join a Central Park Bicycle tour
At the end of the day though, a self-guided walking tour of Central Park will give you the most flexibility compared to all the options above. You can see everything you want to see at your own pace, and best of all it’s all completely free!
The rest of this article will dive into one of the most wholistic routes of Central Park and what I would recommend for those wanting to see the highlights.
2) Central Park Self-Guided Walking Tour Map
We will first start out with a map of this self guided walking tour. You will find each of the highlights pinned on the map below, along with the actual walking route to follow along the way.
Feel free to reference this map as you go through this guide to understand the various directions and turns you will need to make along the way.
Note: there will be instances where you will be able to walk along parallel paths to those shown on the map. You do not need to follow the route to the tee.
3) Where to Stay in Manhattan
There are so many different neighborhoods to choose from when visiting Manhattan. Below are some of my top choices for a few of my recommended locations in the city:
Chelsea: If you are looking to be well situated between uptown, midtown, and downtown, then Chelsea can be a great option for you. You have highlights such as the High Line, Little Island, the Vessel, and the Hudson River right nearby.
And if you are looking to head to Central Park uptown or the World Trade Center area further downtown, then you are just a quick subway ride away. Recommended Chelsea hotels:
Midtown: Right in the middle of the action is the midtown area, where you have the one and only Times Square, and all Broadway shows right at your doorstep.
You are also within walking distance to the southern end of Central Park. Almost all subway lines connect at Times Square so getting around should not be an issue. Recommended Midtown hotels:
Tribeca: If you are trying to stay in downtown Manhattan, then I would recommend looking into the Tribeca area. Staying here and you will be just a stone’s throw away from the World Trade Center area, 9/11 Memorial Pools & Museum, and the hop on point for the Statue of Liberty. You will also be able to be walking distance from the start of the Brooklyn Bridge walkway.
While Central Park is a bit further away, you should still be able to reach it in about 30 minutes by subway. Recommended Tribeca Hotels:
» Check out this helpful guide that talks all about the best places to stay in New York during a visit
4) Self-Guided Walking Tour Central Park
Now that you have a visual view of the self-guided walking tour, let’s get into a step by step guide of the walk itself. Below I will give a detailed overview of how to go about your walk. Remember to reference the map above to give you a better idea of where you will be going directionally.
Walking Tour Starting Point
There are so many different entrances on all sides of Central Park. For the sake of this walking tour though, I will be starting it off at the southeast corner of the park on 59th Street and 5th Avenue. On Google Maps you will see this named Grand Army Plaza.
Here is where the beginning of East Drive is, which then runs up the entire East side of the park. You may see some pedicabs and horse & carriages waiting around the starting point as well since it is one of the more popular park entrances.
Stop 1: The Pond Viewpoint
From the entrance of East Drive, continue on the street for just a minute or so. Be on the lookout to your left, where you should see a pathway up a large rock face. On Google Maps it is called “Patinaje Central Park”.
Note: on the map above, Google Maps did not allow me show a route that goes onto the rock itself (rather around it). But trust me, there is a pathway to get up to the top and back down to the Pond.
Head up the rock to the top of it. From the top of this rock you will find one of the best elevated views of Central Park. Right out in front of you will be the Pond and Gapstow Bridge, to your left will be the “Billionaire’s Row” skyline, and you will have the rest of the park’s greenery surrounding you in other directions.
From the top of the rock you can now head down to the pathway closer to the Pond. This will give you a chance to walk the pathway immediately surrounding this body of water. Head down left to the southern end of the Pond, where you will find a great view of the water and bridge out in the distance (pinned on the map).
Stop 2: Hallett Nature Sanctuary
After taking in the viewpoints, continue on the pathway looping the Pond. The path will head northbound, and you will soon reach an intersection. Turn right here, where you will immediately see the entrance to the Hallett Nature Sanctuary on the right hand side.
Take your time to explore one of the three woodland areas of the park -> nature, viewpoints, and wildlife will be all around you as you take a walk around.
Once all done, head back to the entrance (there is only one way in and out), and head back onto the pathway.
» Learn more in the Hallett Nature Sanctuary guide up on the site
Stop 3: Wollman Rink
After exiting the Sanctuary, head straight along the pathway as you walk parallel to the Wollman Rink (the rink should be on your right hand side here).
Head to the top of the Wollman Rink, where you will get some great views of the rink down below with the skyline sitting right behind it. The rink will only really be active in the winter time but it is still a nice view nonetheless.
Stop 4: The Dairy Visitor Center
Continue the path north of the Wollman Rink, where you should see the Dairy Visitor Center out in front of you.
Take a few minutes to head inside the visitor center, where you can buy some souvenirs or ask the employees any questions you may have.
Stop 5: The Manhattan Survey Bolt
After exiting the Dairy head back onto the pathway you were just on and continue northbound. You will very soon come across Center Drive, which makes up a section of the main loop of the park.
Around this area you will find one of the original Manhattan survey bolts that was put down over 200 years ago. It’s exact location is a bit of a secret but if you do enough research, you should be able to find it. These bolts were installed to help create the Manhattan grid that you see today. It is the only known one left in the city.
If you can’t find it, no worries, just head across Center Drive, where you will see the Mall and Literary Walk out in front of you.
Stop 6: The Mall & Literary Walk
One of the most magnificent parts of Central Park is the tree lined Mall that heads from Center Drive all the way to Bethesda Terrace. On either side you will find these beautiful American Elm trees as well as several statues of historical figures. During Central Park peak foliage, these trees turn a bright yellow color.
Take your time to walk the pathway until you arrive at the steps that will take you down to the terrace.
» Learn more in The Mall & Literary Walk guide up on the site
Stop 7: Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
You can choose to head under the arch here to Bethesda Terrace or you can head across the street, take the view in from above, and then walk down the stairs on either side of the arch.
At the Bethesda Terrace you will find the famous fountain right in the middle with fantastic views of the Lake and Loeb Boathouse.
Stop 8: Bow Bridge
As you wrap up your time at the terrace, head to the pathway to the left that is hugging the Lake. A couple minutes down the pathway and you will soon be welcomed to the famous Bow Bridge.
You can decide to head across the bridge and into The Ramble if you would like and explore the southern end of this woodland area (you will be heading into the Ramble a bit later on too).
If you do head across the bridge into the Ramble, you can enjoy some nice benches and viewpoints area of the Lake. Be careful not to venture off too far as it can get confusing in there. Try and stay to the immediate right and towards the Loeb Boathouse, which you may be able to see through the trees.
If you don’t want to go into the Ramble now, head back across the Bow Bridge and retrace your steps towards the Bethesda Terrace, where you can then follow the pathway towards the Loeb Boathouse.
» Learn more in the Bow Bridge Central Park guide up on the site
Stop 9: Conservatory Water
Across the main pathway from the Loeb Boathouse you will find the Conservatory Water and the Alice in Wonderland Statue. Here you may find model boats racing their way around this water feature with the Manhattan skyline out in the distance.
At the northern part of the water you will see the famous Alice in Wonderland statue, an iconic statue of the park.
Stop 10: The Obelisk
Get back onto the main loop of the park (East Drive here), and continue northbound. To your left will the Ramble, which you may have just visited (and can visit later on) and just past that you will come across the Obelisk.
This is one of the more unique features of the park. It was created over 3,500 years ago in Egypt and eventually made its way right into Central Park.
Directly across from the Obelisk you will also find the Metropolitan Museum of Art, another great place to visit during your time in the city.
Stop 11: The Reservoir
Just past the Met and Obelisk, you will come across the Reservoir. Head towards the water here and follow the path counter clockwise northbound alongside this massive water feature.
Here you should get some of the best views of NYC with hopefully some nice water reflections along the way. The tree lined pathway is beautiful to walk along as you get to enjoy this famous stroll, especially during NYC cherry blossom season.
» Learn more in the Central Park Reservoir guide up on the site
Stop 12: Conservatory Garden
Once you reach the northern end of the Reservoir, you will need to be a bit cautious here as you want to get back on East Drive. Be on the lookout for a pathway on your right that you can follow back to the main path (don’t forget to check out the map above!).
Continue northbound on East Drive as you then will come across the Conservatory Garden on your right. You will need to get off the main pathway here and into the garden area.
This is probably the most ornate garden in all of Central Park and is also one of the more unknown features as not too many people get up here.
Definitely have a walk around and enjoy the garden before making your way just north of it to the Harlem Meer.
Stop 13: Harlem Meer
As you exit through the north side of the Conservatory Garden you will get to see the Lasker Rink and the Harlem Meer right out in front of you.
There is currently a pretty big renovation going on here but if any of the paths near the Meer are open, you should take a quick walk around as it is one of the more underrated water features of the park.
Stop 14: The Loch & Ravine
Once wrapped up at the Meer, get back on East Drive, where you will want to be on the lookout for the Huddlestone Arch (right across from the rink).
At the beginning of the pathway near the arch, you will be welcomed to a great feature of the park as you arrive at the Central Park waterfall.
You will then continue to follow the pathway alongside the Loch, a serene stream that makes its way across the Ravine. During the walk you will come across various turnoff areas to get closer to the Loch. Be sure to take these short detours so you can enjoy some great up-close views.
» Learn more in the Central Park Trail guide up on the site
Stop 15: The Pool
Towards the end of the trail alongside the Loch, you will climb some stairs and be welcomed to the Pool.
The Pool is another great water feature of the park and you should get to enjoy some beautiful reflections of the surrounding trees.
Feel free to walk around it for a bit as you take in the Pool from some different angles. Once finished up there, head back to the east side of the Pool, where you will get onto the main loop (now West Drive).
Stop 16: The Bridle Path
This is more up to you, but you can continue southbound on the main West Drive, or you can head on what is called the Bridle Path. This is a softer dirt pathway that gets you off of the busy West Drive.
You should see the Bridle Path directly on the left hand side of West Drive as you walk southbound.
For now, you can continue walking along the Bridle Path southbound, which will still be parallel to West Drive. The path heads by the baseball fields of the North Meadow, the tennis courts, the Reservoir (feel free to get back on the Reservoir path for a bit here too), and Great Lawn.
Continue southbound as you walk the path, head under some arches, and soon approach the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre on your left hand side. Be on the lookout here as you don’t want to miss the turnoff up towards the Shakespeare Garden.
» Learn more in the Central Park Bridle Path guide up on the site
Stop 17: Shakespeare Garden
Just behind the Swedish Cottage you will find another great garden to enjoy on your self guided walking tour of Central Park.
From the cottage, follow the signs up to the Shakespeare Garden. Here you will an immaculate garden area that is made up of several levels.
Stop 18: Belvedere Castle
As you exit the Shakespeare Garden up top, you will be welcomed to the highest structure in Central Park – Belvedere Castle. The castle overlooks Turtle Pond, the Delacorte Theater, and the Great Lawn.
There is a great viewing are to enjoy outside of the castle but you can also head up into the castle too, and enjoy the views from a bit higher up.
Stop 19: The Ramble
Once all done at the castle, you will find a path that heads southbound into the Ramble.
As mentioned earlier, this is a confusing part of the park (I always still get lost in there) but feel free to walk around the paths for a bit and explore.
However, you will then want to get yourself back to the north end of the Ramble, where one of the pathways heads through the Ramble Arch and across the Oak Bridge.
From the bridge, you will get some additional great views of the Lake and NYC skyline.
» Learn more in The Ramble Central Park guide up on the site
Stop 20: Hernshead Rocks
Just south of the Oak Bridge you will see some pathways on the left hand side. Follow this pathway that will take you closer to the Lake to the Hernshead Rocks.
As you walk along this secondary pathway you will soon be welcomed to the Hernshead Rocks. There is a pathway that circles the rocks and gets you safely to the other side. Here you will find one of the best skyline views of Manhattan.
The reflection of the Lake is something to enjoy as you can sit back and enjoy what Central Park has to offer.
Stop 21: Walk Along the Lake
It is now time to walk all along the western side of the Lake as you get some great views all around. Retrace your steps off of the rocks and get yourself back towards West Drive.
You will want to stay on the pathway closest to the Lake so you can get some nice views all the way through. Along the way you will get views of the Bow Bridge from a distance, pass by the Western Shore Boat Landing, and get to see some row boaters out in the water (during season).
During spring bloom, you may see some of the best Central Park cherry blossoms on nearby Cherry Hill as you walk the Lake.
→ Learn more in the Central Park Lake guide up on the site
Stop 22: Sheep Meadow
Once all done walking along the Lake, you will soon approach one of the most happening parts of the park – Sheep Meadow. Here you will find the main congregation area of the park with hundreds laying out their towels to enjoy the park in a relaxing fashion.
This is a great way to end your time in the park as you can find a spot to sit down and relax at to finish up your day.
Feel free to then exit the park, and head back to your hotel after a long and exciting day exploring Central Park on your self guided walking tour.
5) How Long Does it Take to Walk Around Central Park
For this self guided walking tour of Central Park, you should expect it to take 4-5 hours. This of course all depends on how fast you walk, how much time you spend taking photos, and if you happen to get lost along the way at any point.
The walking tour will take you along 6+ miles of pathways that wind their way in all directions. For the most part, this route does cover the majority of the main park highlights. There is certainly more to see and do throughout the park, which can add time onto your day.
If you do find additional attractions to visit, you should have no trouble adding them onto the route at one point or another.
6) Can You See All of Central Park in One Day
The short answer is yes, you can see Central Park in one day. But be prepared for this to be the one and only highlight of this day in New York.
This is not something you want to rush through during a visit. Plan to spend the majority of a day following this walking route, taking time to relax, and just enjoying your time in the park.
As mentioned earlier, the route should take 4-5 hours to complete, but I imagine you will want to take breaks and find some relaxing spots to sit down at along the tour.
And while you can see a good amount of Central Park in one day, there is little chance that you can see ALL of Central Park. There are so many various pathways that wind their way around the park. It would be impossible to say how long seeing every last corner of the park will take.
I will say though, that the above self guided walking tour of Central Park does take you to many of the top highlights. I have a hard time believing you will leave the park unsatisfied after going through a day like this.
That about does it for a self guided walking tour of New York’s Central Park. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below. Also don’t forget to check out the remaining New York itineraries and guides up on the site like a Central Park in Winter guide.
Have fun out there and safe travels!