New York’s Central Park is open 365 days a year and welcomes visitors from all around the world. But during the winter, this green space transforms into a magical white snowy wonderland. It’s common to see people ice skating on Wollman Rink, building snowmen, visiting the zoo and exploring popular nearby museums.
In this guide, we’re going to show you how to make the most of a snow day in Central Park including where to find the best photography spots on an interactive map.
Our NYC Experience
Kristen is a New York State native and we lived in NYC for a few months in 2021. We chose to move to the city so we could create the best possible content because you can’t just visit New York City for a weekend and claim to be an expert. Read more about us.
While we no longer live here, we still travel to the city every year because it’s one of the best places to visit in the USA. We’ve visited Central Park numerous times in different seasons. Even after traveling to 40+ countries, walking through Central Park in the snow is one of our favorite travel memories.
Why Visit Central Park In The Winter?
Manhattan’s back yard is a 4 season showpiece and it’s visited by tens of millions of tourists each year. Along with walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, strolling through Central Park is up there with the best free things to do in New York City.
If you’ve ever seen Home Alone 2 around Christmas, you’ll know there are some nostalgic filming locations not to be missed in Central Park. Let’s quickly break down the seasons:
- Spring blooms with an incredibly photogenic and vibrant cherry blossom season. We love visiting NYC in April.
- Autumn is arguably the most beautiful time of year with stunning fall foliage showcasing deep hues of reds, oranges and yellows.
- Summer in Central Park means luscious deep emerald green colors perfect for viewing from the best observations decks in NYC.
- Winter is generally dull, stark, barren and cold. But on those handful of snowy days, Central Park morphs into an unimaginably spectacular whitewashed adventure playground for kids and adults alike.
Central Park is huge. We’re talking 843 aces huge. You could easily spend 2 full days walking around every nook and cranny, under every arch and through every beautiful garden.
However, we’re only going to show you the most famous and easily accessible highlights on a typical touristy NYC itinerary. This way you can easily accomplish seeing the best sites. Here are the best things to see in Central Park on a snowy day in winter:
1. The Mall
The Mall is one of the most popular places to visit in Central Park because it’s a pedestrian promenade lined with trees, benches and commemorative statues. On a normal day, expect to find the Mall over flowing with dog walkers, coffee drinkers, tourists and locals.
It runs in a straight line through the park from 66th Street to 72nd Street ending at a staircase leading down to Bethesda Terrace. We think the Mall is one of the best NYC photo locations.
In the winter, it’s common to see dozens of photographers crouching over snow covered benches and setting up tripods right in the center of the path. You might even be able to find some fun snow statues like an enormous Octopus gliding it way onto the path.
2. Bethesda Terrace
Our personal favorite and top recommendation for the best place to visit in Central Park in winter is Bethesda Terrace. We can never get enough of the kaleidoscopic tiled ceiling and perfect symmetry.
Light bounces off the Arcade floor and walls to illuminate Bethesda Terrace’s intricately designed Milton tile ceiling with a gorgeous orange glow. And that’s just the inside facing the stairs to the Mall. Turn around 180 degrees and you’ll find 3 arches with Bethesda Fountain framed precisely in the center arch.
The perfect Central Park selfie spot is the center arch with the foundation in the background. You can expect to see dozens of wedding or engagement shoots throughout the day.
Be sure to arrive early so you have the best chance of getting your tripod set up and snapping a few shots off before the masses arrive. We couldn’t resist adding an extra photograph in this section to show off the beautiful symmetry.
Travel Tip: Bethesda Terrace is likely to be one of the busiest places in all of Central Park on a winter snow day. Arrive early or come with patience to if you plan to take some photos here.
3. Bow Bridge
Bow Bridge is arguably the most photogenic bridge inside Central Park, especially when the water is still and you can see a reflection. However, winter offers a different take on Bow Bridge.
When the lake is frozen solid, Manhattan’s Upper West Side and famous El Dorado apartment buildings are often shrouded in grey snow clouds and the surrounding tree branches are drowning in icicles.
Photography Tip: Snap some photos on the bridge, but also remember to step away and look for perspective shots from the side of the bridge.
4. The Ramble
The Ramble is a unique maze of incoherent and narrow winding paths seemingly leading to nowhere. It’s the perfect palace to walk around in winter with no real purpose and simply enjoy nature.
Stone arches, short but steep climbs, gardens, an old abandoned cave and ponds await you here. Our favorite places to visit in this winding labyrinth are the Ramble Stone Arch and Azalea Pond.
Travel Tip: It can be extremely icy during the winter so be extra careful when walking around the Ramble.
5. Strawberry Fields (John Lennon Memorial)
On 72nd Street, just inside Central Park opposite the Dakota Building, you’ll find a memorial to the famous Beatle, John Lennon. After his shocking murder on December 8th 1980, the Strawberry Fields Memorial was created just yards away from his apartment where he way shot.
A circular black and white tiled mosaic reading Imagine is surrounded by curving rows of benches leading to three paths. We like visiting this memorial in winter because when the snow is removed from the mosaic, it creates a beautiful natural frame.
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6. Wagner Cove
One of the lesser known things to do in Central Park is Wagner Cove. A rustic and understated wooden shelter sits on the edge of the lake near Strawberry fields, which hosts a number of low key but extremely desirable weddings every year.
This hidden gem is tucked away, but it’s a great Central Park photography spot. Vibrant leaves burst out of carving tree trunks during summer and fall, but in the winter with snow and ice, the landscape turns into a postcard perfect scene.
Photography Tip: Walk around the shelter to admire the intricate details, but the best photographs can be taken from a viewing platform opposite the Falconer Sculpture.
7. Wollman Ice Rink
Pulling on a pair of skates and taking to the ice in front of the world famous New York City skyline is one of the most memorable reasons to visit Central Park in winter.
The Wollman Ice Rink has been a staple of New York City Christmas tourism since 1986. Harry and Marv chasing young Kevin on the ice from Home Alone is brought to our screens every year which makes a visit to this rink unmissable for first time visitors to the city.
Further Reading: Visiting New York City in winter
8. The Plaza Hotel
Although technically not inside Central Park, but another Home Alone 2 reference, the Plaza Hotel is possibly one of the best things you can see inside Central Park during the winter. You’ll feel excitement as you begin to approach the park.
New York’s most exciting hotel experience is located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street. Walk to Gapstow Bridge and grab a photo with Central Park’s pond in the foreground for the best view of the Plaza and skyline.
9. Belvedere Castle
Back inside Central Park, Belvedere Castle is the next place you will discover on your winter walk. This is more of a decorative structure than a typical castle and it sits on top of Vista Rock, the second highest point in Central Park.
The unique building stands out in the park thanks to its Gothic architecture and it overlooks Turtle Pond which is likely to be frozen in the winter. Since 1919, the building has been home to a weather station. Inside visitors will find a collection of natural history artifacts. It’s open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday to Sunday.
10. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
Heading further into north Central Park, you’ll find the enormous 106 acre Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir. It holds over 1 billion gallons of water and it’s around 40 ft deep.
At just over 1.5 miles, a loop run around the reservoir is a popular thing to do in Central Park during the winter as local New Yorkers look to blow off the cobwebs. However, don’t expect to see too many runners after a large snowfall.
One of the best Central Park photography locations can be found here offering reflection shots of the Upper East or Upper West Side, but you’ll need favorable conditions with still water. We took this photo right after the fresh snow had thawed and a brilliant blue colored returned to the sky.
11. Glen Span Arch (The Loch)
Continue further to the northwest of Central Park and you’ll reach The Ravine. This is where you can find a secluded woodland area with picturesque steams, ponds and waterfalls.
The Loch is a stream flowing from The Pool to Harlem Meer. Look for the Glen Span Arch and the Huddlestone Arch at the end of each stream. If you’re short on time, prioritize Glen Span Arch because it’s one of the most attractive places in Central Park.
Birdwatchers will enjoy this quieter side of Central Park because few tourists make it up this far. Our photo is from a March visit on a beautiful sunny day right after the snow had melted. We think this entire region would be great to explore on a snow day.
12. Central Park Museums
If you’ve visiting Central Park in the snow, it can become too cold to handle. So we think the perfect solution is to pick one of the popular museums dotted along the boundaries of the park. Here are three recommendations:
If we had to choose one museum, it would be the MET. You should plan to spend at least 2 to 3 hours inside. New York State residents as well as NY, NJ, and CT students can visit for free. Many of these museums are also included on most of the New York City passes.
Further Reading: Best museums in NYC
13. Central Park Zoo
While most people are sledding or building snowmen on a Central Park snow day, visitors can also visit the Central Park Zoo. It’s open from 10:00am to 4:30pm daily in the winter months.
The snow leopard and snow monkeys are extremely popular exhibits in the winter time. When it snows, you can see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately, this zoo was closed due to covid when we lived in the city during 2021 so we have not yet visited. But we have added this to our New York bucket list.
Central Park In Winter Map
Click or touch our Central Park in winter map to activate it. You can scroll around and zoom in or out to familiarize yourself with Central Park before visiting. Or you can access our map via this link here.
If you’re having trouble coming up with what to see in central park during a winter trip, this is our suggested itinerary:
- Find the perfect hotel near Central park (use our tips below) or walk up 5th Avenue (take the yellow line subway to 5th Avenue station).
- Enter Central Park from the southeast near the Plaza Hotel.
- Walk to Gapstow Bridge and Wollman Ice Rink.
- Head up the Mall to Bethesda Terrace and Bow Bridge, but don’t cross to the Ramble just yet. Instead turn around and walk to Wagner Cove and Strawberry Fields.
- Loop around to the west of the Lake and enter the Ramble near Ramble Stone Arch. Get lost in the Ramble maze for awhile before making tracks to Belvedere Castle.
- If you need a break from the cold and snow, walk to the MET and explore for a few hours.
- If you want to continue in Central Park, continue around the east side of the Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir and walk through the north Meadow to reach the Ravine.
- Finish with the Loch and Glen Span Arch before walking to the 103 Street subway to take the blue or orange lines.
Where To Stay In NYC
Most visitors to New York tend to stay around Times Square and Midtown Manhattan for central location and better value rooms. But Central Park is also a popular place to stay in NYC, especially around the holidays.
1 Hotel Central Park is our top recommendation for a hotel room very close to the park. The room we had is pictured above. It’s on the higher end of the budget spectrum but it’s absolutely wonderful.
Our popular where to stay in New York City guide covers the six major neighborhoods visitors should consider including Central Park and lists the top rated hotels within each area. Or you can head over to the 12 best hotels near Central Park on our sister site.
But if you’re looking for best value for your stay in NYC, here are the hotels we see most visitors to our site booking:
- The Archer – One of our personal top picks located near Bryant Park with views over Empire State Building.
- CitizenM – Centrally located at Times Square, close to Broadway and Rockefeller Center.
- MOXY NYC – Rooftop bar and good value between Penn Station and Times Square.
- Cambria Hotel – Affordable highly rated hotel with rooftop terrace located between Midtown and Chelsea.
Need Help Planning Your Trip?
NYC is a vacation planning beast and it can be overwhelming trying to get every aspect right. Trust us, we know!
After living in New York City, we created a comprehensive NYC Guidebook that will answer every question you have about where to stay, what to do, where to eat and how to get around the city.
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Want more New York content? Head over to our New York Travel Guides to explore the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and the best of NYC.
We hope this guide about what to do in Central Park in the winter helps you plan your own magical NYC snow day!
Please let us know if you have any questions about where to go in Central Park or New York City in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Where Are Those Morgans has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications. Read more about us.