5 Free Walking Tours of Central Park You'll Want to Take

by  Cailin Barrett-Bressack | Aug 29, 2013
NYC aerial view
NYC aerial view / Mak3t/iStock

Seeing all of Central Park in one trip is impossible – it is six percent of Manhattan’s total acreage, after all. That’s why the Central Park Conservatory offers 13 themed tours of the park to focus your visit. We’ve narrowed down their offerings to the most interesting options that are still free of charge (a rare find in NYC). Visit their online calendar to see tour schedules, and don’t forget to donate what you can to the conservatory afterwards – the organization cares for all 250 acres of lawns, 150 acres of lakes, 9,000 benches, and 36 bridges in the park.

1. Cross-Park Promenade 

This tour is perfect for covering many popular sites at once. In just over an hour, you’ll see the miniature sailboats so familiar from movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the famous Bethesda Fountain, the Loeb Boathouse, and Strawberry Fields. Keep in mind you’ll start on the east side but end the tour on the west side of the park. Starts at 72nd Street and 5th Avenue, Length: 75 mins.

2. History of Sports in Central Park 

If you’re a sports fan, this is the tour for you. Guides explain how and why tastes in recreational activities such as baseball and horseback riding have changed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and reveal how Central Park has managed to continuously accommodate these evolving interests. Starts at the Dairy Visitor Center, Length: 75 mins.

3. Belvedere's Kingdom 

Belvedere Castle is located on Vista Rock, one of the highest points in this part of town. The tour starts here and ends at the north end of the Great Lawn, covering the history of this central area of the park. Be sure to come a few minutes early to climb to the top of the castle – and don’t forget your camera for some of the best views of the park. Starts at Belvedere Castle, Length: 60 mins

4. Northern Forts 

It’s hard to imagine, but the fields now filled with picnickers were once key lands in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. History buffs will get their fill on this tour, learning about military fortifications once used by George Washington himself. Keep in mind that there will be a lot of hills and stairs to climb, so choose footwear accordingly. Starts at Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Length: 60 mins.

5. Conservatory Garden 

The hardest part of being in the Conservatory Garden is believing that you’re still in Manhattan. The head gardener will walk you through the three garden areas based on Italian, French, and English styles. The tour covers the history, styling, and specific plant information about the only formal garden in Central Park. Starts inside the 5th Avenue garden entrance, Length: 90 mins.

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