Summer in New York City can be brutal – and one of the best ways to escape its sweltering clutches is by heading to Central Park. Once all areas of the park below 72nd St become car-free on June 27, the Big Apple’s greenest space will be more appealing than ever.

Here’s what to do while you’re there.

A glimpse of the Upper West Side of NYC from the far side of Central Park Lake, with trees framing the buildings and a blue sky. © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
With more than 840 acres of green space, Central Park offers a shady summer escape © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

1. Go fishing

That’s right, you can indulge in a leisurely day of fishing in the middle of one of the world’s busiest metropolises. Head to Harlem Meer at 110th Street and, if you don’t have your own,  pick up a pole and some bait (corn kernels) at the Charles A Dana Discovery Center. Poles are available until 3pm Monday to Saturday and 1pm on Sunday. While fishing is strictly catch-and-release, you’ll have a good chance of snagging something on your line – largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish, carp and chain pickerel all inhabit the meer.

2. Camp out overnight

What could be more exciting for kids than a campout in the middle of New York City? The NYC Parks Department’s Urban Park Rangers host free family camping events in the park throughout the summer – they supply the tents, so all you’ll need to do is bring your sleeping bag. The adventure includes a night hike through the park as well as storytelling and s’mores. Space is allocated via a lottery, so be sure to register well in advance.

4. Brush up on your Shakespeare

From June until mid-August, you can catch some of the Bard’s best work being performed at the Shakespeare in the Park, often with a famous face or two in the lead roles (Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Denzel Washington have all performed over the years). Even though tickets are free, be warned that you’ll need to be patient or very fortunate in order to snag them – either by waiting in line at Delacorte Theater in the park, or winning the ticket lottery via the TodayTix app.

3. Catch a free concert

Since the early days of the Naumburg Bandshell, one of the park’s original features, live music has been a requisite summer attraction. Back then, only classical music concerts were permitted, but these days you’re likely to catch music of all genres in the park as part of its SummerStage series, which hosts free concerts by some of the world’s top acts, as well as the Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series.

A gray stone tower topped by an American flag extends into the blue sky, framed by a green, leafy tree, in Central Park © Brian Bumby / Getty Images
The area around Belvdere Castle is great for a wander © Brian Bumby / Getty Images

5. Pretend you’re royalty

Right behind the Delacorte Theater, Belvedere Castle provides a fitting backdrop for Shakespeare in the Park. Though the interior will be closed for renovations until 2019, it’s worth stopping by for a royal selfie in front of the castle’s imposing silhouette. Aside from offering one of the best views in Central Park, the miniature castle (which was built in 1869) also serves as a functioning weather station for Manhattan. 

The Italian-inspired arches at Bethseda Terrace are film fodder © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
The Italian-inspired arches at Bethseda Terrace are film fodder © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

6. Relive your favorite movie

Chances are, you’ve seen a film or TV show that features a scene in Central Park. From Breakfast At Tiffany’s to When Harry Met Sally and, more recently, The Avengers, the park is one of NYC’s most iconic and recognizable film locations. Head to the Conservatory Water, Bethesda Terrace or The Mall to relive some of your favorites.

Two people row a small boat beneath Bow Bridge in Central Park in summer, as others cross the bridge on foot © Amanda Hall / robertharding / Getty Images
You can row, row, row your boat under Bow Bridge (and around the lake) © Amanda Hall / robertharding / Getty Images

7. Take a boat ride

The Lake in Central Park is perhaps its prettiest body of water and offers a unique means of seeing the park – via rowboat. Head to the Loeb Boathouse to rent one of its fleet of 100 boats, which seat up to four people. Of course, rowing in summer can be pretty hard work, so if you feel like a more leisurely option, you can sign up for a Venetian gondola tour with gondolier Andres Garcia – each boat holds up to six people. And if you’d rather sail a boat from the comfort of land, you can also launch a model boat on Conservatory Water (as seen in the film Stuart Little).

Paved path through Central Park, lined with green trees and bushes and a lamppost © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet
The lampposts in Central Park hold a key to finding your way © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

8. Go for a hike

If you walked all the paths in Central Park, you’d cover 58 miles, so you’ll have plenty of strolls to choose from. Wander through woodland and manicured flower gardens, along open fields, expansive lakes and reservoirs, and you even might encounter the odd waterfall in your travels.

It’s easy to start to feel like you’re lost in Central Park, but if that’s the case, look to the nearest lamppost (there are around 1,600 of them). Each one has a numbered plaque, the first two or three digits of which indicate the nearest cross-street, while the last digit lets you know whether you’re closer to the east (even number) or west (odd number) side of the city. The secret wayfinding code has been used ever since the lampposts were designed by Henry Bacon in 1907.

9. Find a quiet space

For those seeking respite after being out and about in the frenetic city all day, Central Park has several designated quiet zones, where speakers, instruments and any other disruptive noise is strictly prohibited. Head to Bethesda Terrace (mid-park at 72nd St),  Conservatory Garden (east side from 104th–106th Sts), Conservatory Water (east side from 72nd to 75th Sts), East Green (east side from 69th Street to 72nd St), Shakespeare Garden (west side between 79th and 80th Sts), Sheep Meadow (west side from 66th to 69th Sts), Strawberry Fields (west side between 71st and 74th Sts) and Turtle Pond (mid-park between 79th and 80th Sts).

A small racoon looks up at the camera from a pond of water in Central Park © Mikki Brammer
Yes, there is wildlife in Central Park – spot animals like this racoon © Mikki Brammer / Lonely Planet

10. Spot some wildlife

The Central Park Zoo is home to a menagerie of exotic creatures, and Sheep Meadow did, at one stage, actually have sheep, but if you keep your eyes peeled and your footsteps quiet, you’re likely to spot several animals and birds in the wild. Raccoons, bats, owls and turtles are all residents of the park’s sylvan stretches, as well as more than 200 species of birds including red-tailed hawks, hooded warblers and northern flickers. Get there early in the morning for your best chance of spotting one.

5 Central Park facts

  • Covering 843 acres, it’s bigger than Monaco.
  • You’ll find more than 9000 benches to sit on throughout the park
  • There are more than 26,000 trees, some 1700 of which are American Elms.
  • The park is home to seven bodies of water and 36 bridges.
  • 57 horses comprise the famous Central Park carousel.
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