As the most-visited attraction in the most-visited city in the western hemisphere, it’s easy to forget that Central Park was originally created as a place of serenity, tranquility, and relaxation. The vast majority of New York’s 65 million annual visitors come during the warmer months, when the park overflows with excitement and activity. For that reason, the winter is when it truly lives up to its full potential as a natural oasis, 843 acres of majestic, pastoral earth, living in direct contrast to its surroundings: the around-the-clock whirlwind of steel, glass, and humanity known as Manhattan.
This is not at all to say winters in Central Park are dull. Still at the core of the Big Apple, the city’s signature buzz doesn’t end at the park’s borders. The winters are simply when the landscape’s peaceful beauty fuse best with the inspirational hustle and bustle New York is so famous for. Many have seen the tranquil images of a fresh snowfall over cobblestone bridges, hills, and frozen ponds. But not everyone knows about how much fun the park can be during the colder months. Below is a list of our favorite things to do this winter in Central Park:
- Visit the Central Park Zoo. The winter sees reduced fares, and is the liveliest time for the sea lions, seals, and snow leopards. You can feed a penguin or head to the children’s zoo to see the only cow in Manhattan. The nearby Delacorte Clock plays holiday carols and features bronze statues of animals playing instruments
- Go rock climbing. While scaling the boulders in the North Woods or Rat Rock near the park’s southern entrance, you’ll forget you’re in the middle of a big city and feel like you’re in an arctic tundra
- Visit the Arthur Ross Pinetum, a four-acre arboretum with 17 varieties of winter trees, designed for New Yorkers of the 1800s to feel like they entered the center of an evergreen forest
- Go cross-country skiing with skyline views. The most popular areas are the bridal path, Great Lawn, and Sheep Meadow. Skiis can be rented nearby at sporting goods stores such as REI and Paragon
- Sign up for an Amazing Race-style Scavenger Hunt Adventure. With two route options and smartphone assistance, the park can transform into a giant, fun-filled, educational board game
- Recreate scenes from classic Central Park wintertime movies: Elf’s snowball fight at Pinebank Arch, Home Alone’s Pigeon Lady scenes at Gapstow Bridge, Sheep Meadow or Tavern on the Green for Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and for the skating scenes in Serendipity or Love Story, you can go…
- Ice skating: Choose Lasker Rink in the north for a more relaxing experience with views of the Harlem Meer and North Woods, or Wollman Rink in the south for more convenient access to midtown and dramatic views of the city skyline
- Enjoy the music of Central Park without the big crowds. Whether it’s choral performances below Bethesda Terrace, Beatles sing-a-longs at Strawberry Fields, or one of the many buskers stationed throughout the park (the saxophonist near the Balto statue is exceptional), there is no shortage of sweet sounds.
- Go birdwatching. The ramble is home to 275 varieties of migratory birds and winter is the perfect time for spotting Downy Woodpeckers, Song Sparrows, American Robins, and the incredibly rare Eastern Screech Owl. December 15th is New York’s annual Christmas bird count, while birdwatching tours happen throughout the week
- Build a snowman. Build a whole snow family. Make snow angels. New Yorkers, especially on Sheep Meadow and the Great Lawn tend to get creative with their snow creations
- Go shopping. Columbus Circle Holiday Village, The Dairy Visitor Center, and the vendors along 59thstreet are all popular options. For $10,000, you can buy a small piece of NYC real estate in the form of a park bench with a personalized plaque inscription
- Go to the Winter Jam Festival in January, a free annual sports festival featuring snowboarding lessons, curling, ice bowling, dodgeball, a Doggie Snow Zone, and a heated reading room. Equipment is provided at no cost
- Check out the brand new Landforms exhibit at the Charles A. Dana discovery center to learn about the park’s geological foundations, archaeological history, and how its rocky terrain shaped the outcomes of The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812
- Attend the 23rd annual Holiday Lighting Festival on December 5th. This joyous event combines cookies, cocoa, Christmas carols, a cameo from Santa Claus, and a flotilla of trees on the Harlem Meer
- See the city from the highest point of the park, Belvedere Castle. The winter months offer the clearest, unobstructed views of the West Side’s iconic Art Deco and Renaissance Revival apartments, the East Side’s stunning museum mile, the uptown and midtown skylines, along with the official weathervane for the city of New York
- Enjoy a plethora of options for chowing down. The winter months offer a significantly more relaxed dining experience at Central Park institutions The Boathouse, Tavern on the Green, and The Met’s Dining Room. Inside the park, you’ll find a multitude of food carts offering everything from Belgian Waffles to Colombian Coffee. There are also countless restaurants alongside the park with breathtaking views
- Beat the cold by staying active. The tennis courts, basketball courts, and bike lanes are open year round. Winter is the perfect time for discovering one of the many spectacular jogging loops in the park. There’s a reason the largest marathon in the world happens to end here. The New Years Eve 4k run through the park is legendary
Like any public park during any season of the year, fun and relaxation are the main priorities for its visitors. Central Park is no different. What makes it different is that it’s in the middle of a city with over 800 languages spoken on any given day, a world capital for culture, media, commerce, entertainment, research, art, and technology, the home of the United Nations, the birthplace of Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Remy Ma, and the rollercoaster. The city so nice, they named it twice.
The point is that something as simple as sitting on a park bench and watching people pass by has a high likelihood of becoming magical. Some would call it the most beautiful park in the world. Few would disagree that it’s the most different from its surrounding environments. This is especially true in the winter, when the large crowds are replaced by snow-covered countryside, and it becomes again what its designers intended on creating: A patch of nature for New Yorkers to escape to, for serenity, tranquility, and relaxation. Plus, it’s fun!