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Central Park’s Mall and Literary Walk.
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Central Park: secrets of New York’s most famous park

Explore the lesser-known corners of one of NYC’s greatest treasures

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Central Park’s Mall and Literary Walk.
| EarthScape ImageGraphy/Shutterstock

Central Park is, without a doubt, one of New York City’s greatest treasures. Designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the 840-acre park—“the grandaddy of America’s naturally landscaped parks,” according to the AIA Guide to New York City—is the heart of Manhattan, and as beloved by locals as it is by visitors to the city.

It also happens to be one of the city’s most-visited attractions, with more than 40 million people expected to wander through this year. Often, this means that the park’s better-known landmarks—things like Bethesda Fountain, or Strawberry Fields, or the Great Lawn—can feel overwhelmingly crowded. But there are plenty more spots, from gardens to sculptures to architectural gems, that are a bit more off the beaten path, and very much worth the visit.

From scenic trails to secret historical relics, here are more than a dozen hidden gems found throughout Central Park. Have another spot that’s not on this list? Share it in the comments!

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1. Blockhouse No. 1

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The oldest known building in Central Park is this modest fortress, built as a fortification against the British during the War of 1812. Though it’s currently unoccupied—and while you can look at the outside, venturing inside isn’t allowed—the structure has stood for more than two centuries.

Wikimedia Commons

2. Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

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Central Park
New York, NY 10029
(212) 860-1370
Visit Website

Located on the northern shore of the Harlem Meer, this building, which opened in 1993, is the Park’s newest structure. Named after the journalist and onetime editor of the now-defunct New York Tribune, this charming boathouse now serves as a visitor center and runs the Park’s catch-and-release fishing program.

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3. Duke Ellington Statue

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Duke Ellington is buried in the Bronx, but a statue dedicated to the legendary jazz musician sits at the northeast entrance to Central Park, known as Duke Ellington Circle. The enormous bronze monument was designed by Robert Graham and dedicated in 1997.

4. Harlem Meer

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Harlem Meer
New York, NY 10029

Central Park has a few large bodies of water, but unlike the Jackie Kennedy reservoir or the lake, the Harlem Meer—located at the northern end of the park—is generally less crowded than those spaces. But it wasn’t part of the landscape initially; it’s one of the many parts of the park that were engineered by Olmsted and Vaux as part of their larger design. It’s also one of the few spaces where fishing (of the catch-and-release variety) is allowed.

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5. Huddlestone Arch

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(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

One of the park’s most impressive structures is also one of its most humble-seeming. The Huddlestone Arch was built in 1866 and designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the park’s main architects. What’s awe-inspiring about it is the fact that it’s held together by little more than gravity’s pull; the stones, which weigh many tons, exert pressure and keep the structure in place. Engineering!

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6. The Pool

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The Pool
New York, NY 10025

Located within the park’s scenic North Woods, the pool is an especially serene spot to take a breather. It has natural features you might not expect to find within the park—including a waterfall!—and verdant plants, including weeping willow trees, along its banks.

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7. Conservatory Garden

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402 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

In contrast to the otherwise untamed nature of the park, as envisioned by master landscape architect Olmsted, the Conservatory Garden is a formal garden, with three sections planted in varying styles (Italian, French, and English). It’s also one of the park’s quiet zones, so if you’re looking for a respite from the noise in places like Sheep Meadow, this might be the place.

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8. Vanderbilt Gate

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(757) 917-8714
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The wrought-iron gate that stands at the eastern entrance to the Conservatory Garden is worth a special trip of its own. It was once part of an enormous mansion built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, which was located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. The grand estate—at the time the largest private home in New York City—didn’t last long, though; it was torn down to make way for Bergdorf Goodman. The gate, however, remains—it’s a relic of New York’s Gilded Age that’s hidden in plain sight

9. Engineers’ Gate

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2 E 90th St
New York, NY 10128

There are 20 named gates at various entrances to Central Park, all of them dedicated to, according to the Central Park Conservancy, “the vocations and groups who made New York City the great metropolis that it had become.” Many of these are simple entrances, dedicated to groups like Pioneers, Women, Artisans, and Scholars. But one of the more ornate ones is found adjacent to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir: Enter at East 90th Street and you’ll find the Engineers’ Gate, adorned with a bust of former NYC mayor John Purroy Mitchel. His claim to fame, aside from his mayoral tenure, is opening Water Tunnel 1 a century ago.

10. Seneca Village Site

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Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

Before there was Central Park, there was Seneca Village. Established in 1825, the settlement was the first and largest community of free African Americans in New York City. It stretched from what’s now 81st to 89th Street, and at its peak, approximately 250 people called the area home. But it was razed in the 1860s to make way for the construction of the park—New York state used eminent domain to take the land from its owners. Today, a plaque commemorating the community stands near the Mariners’ Playground.

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11. Diana Ross Playground

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Central Park West & W 81st St
New York, NY 10024
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

Yep, there’s a playground named for the legendary R&B singer-songwriter. Back in 1983, Ross was due to perform on the Great Lawn, but her concert ended up being cut short by a summer storm; she returned the next night, and later pledged to donate the proceeds from the show(s) to creating a space for children within Central Park. After some bureaucratic back-and-forth, she and then-mayor Ed Koch held a groundbreaking for the playground in 1986; now, it’s a charming respite on the park’s west side near the American Museum of Natural History.

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12. Charles B. Stover Bench

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76-98 79th St Transverse
New York, NY 10024
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

Grand Central Terminal has its Whispering Gallery; Central Park has its Whispering Bench. The semicircular design of the granite bench is especially conducive to conducting sound, so two people can sit at opposite ends of the bench and whisper secrets to one another. It’s located within the Shakespeare Garden at the middle of the park, itself a lovely little respite.

13. Belvedere Castle

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Belvedere Castle itself isn’t exactly a secret, but its connection to the National Weather Service may be. Since 1919, the NWS has recorded temperatures and “other weather data” (rainfall, wind speeds, and the like) from the castle, with only minor interruptions in the nearly 100 years since. (Another fun fact: the castle has been used as Count Von Count’s home base on Sesame Street before.) It’s a perennially popular spot with incredible views of the surrounding parkland—though fair warning, it will close this fall for a huge renovation project.

14. The Ramble

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79th St Transverse
New York, NY 10024
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

The Ramble isn’t exactly an unknown part of Central Park, but it’s still one of your best bets if you’re seeking a respite from the crowds that gather around Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn. Olmsted envisioned this space as a lush, wild counterpart to the more formally-designed parts of Central Park, and it’s filled with vegetation and meandering paths. It’s also, the Central Park Conservancy notes, “the center of birding activity in the Park.”

15. Eagles and Prey

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The Mall
New York, NY 10022
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

Many of Central Park’s famed sculptures can be found along the Literary Walk, but one that is a bit lesser-known is Eagles and Prey, created by French sculptor Christophe Fratin. The piece has the distinction of being one of, if not the oldest sculptures within a city park. It was installed in 1863, a decade before the park was officially finished. Today, you can find the statue near the Mall at 69th Street.

Wikimedia Commons

16. Richard Morris Hunt Memorial

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5th Ave
New York, NY 10021

Across from the Frick Collection sits this memorial dedicated to one of the most famous Beaux Arts architects of the 19th century, known for designing homes for New York’s überelite (the Astors and Vanderbilts among them), along with public works like the facade of the Met Museum and the base of the Statue of Liberty. The sculpture was itself designed by another famed artist: Daniel Chester French, famous for working on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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17. John Randel Jr.’s surveyor’s bolt

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Center Drive
New York, NY

We’re being intentionally vague with the true location of this one (let’s just say this map point does not correspond to an exact spot). When John Randel Jr. was laying out Manhattan’s grid, he left bolts throughout the city to denote the locations of intersections and other important points. Very few of these are left in Manhattan, and the ones that remain are rather well-hidden—and New York history nerds prefer to keep it that way. So here’s a clue: The bolt is located somewhere in the park’s southeastern corner; look for a bit of iron rammed into a piece of rock.

Wikimedia Commons

18. Billy Johnson Playground

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E 67th St
New York, NY 10022

Two words: Huge. Slide. That’s just one of the features that makes this playground on the park’s east side a family favorite. Landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg designed the space, and its various attractions—an amphitheater made of stones, a simple wooden pergola, etc.—are meant to echo the park’s other naturalistic attractions. But yeah, the 45-foot slide is pretty cool, too.

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19. The Arsenal

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830 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10029 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029

This 166-year-old building predates the park itself and was built as an arms supply depot for New York State’s National Guard. It was subsumed by the park upon its opening and has served as the home of the first Museum of Natural History, a zoo, and a police precinct over the years. At present, it serves as the headquarters for the city’s Parks Department and the Central Park Zoo. On the third floor, the original plan for the park—known as “the Greensward Plan”—can be viewed by appointment.

20. Hallett Nature Sanctuary

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6th Ave & W 59th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 310-6600
Visit Website

This four-acre enclave wraps around the Pond at the southeast corner of the park, but was largely overlooked and overrun by weeds starting in the 1930s. But thanks to a recent restoration, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary is now open to the public again. The Central Park Conservancy added new pathways and a rustic gate as part of the restoration.  

1. Blockhouse No. 1

New York, NY 10026
Wikimedia Commons

The oldest known building in Central Park is this modest fortress, built as a fortification against the British during the War of 1812. Though it’s currently unoccupied—and while you can look at the outside, venturing inside isn’t allowed—the structure has stood for more than two centuries.

2. Charles A. Dana Discovery Center

Central Park, New York, NY 10029
Shutterstock

Located on the northern shore of the Harlem Meer, this building, which opened in 1993, is the Park’s newest structure. Named after the journalist and onetime editor of the now-defunct New York Tribune, this charming boathouse now serves as a visitor center and runs the Park’s catch-and-release fishing program.

Central Park
New York, NY 10029

3. Duke Ellington Statue

New York, NY 10029

Duke Ellington is buried in the Bronx, but a statue dedicated to the legendary jazz musician sits at the northeast entrance to Central Park, known as Duke Ellington Circle. The enormous bronze monument was designed by Robert Graham and dedicated in 1997.

4. Harlem Meer

Harlem Meer, New York, NY 10029
Shutterstock

Central Park has a few large bodies of water, but unlike the Jackie Kennedy reservoir or the lake, the Harlem Meer—located at the northern end of the park—is generally less crowded than those spaces. But it wasn’t part of the landscape initially; it’s one of the many parts of the park that were engineered by Olmsted and Vaux as part of their larger design. It’s also one of the few spaces where fishing (of the catch-and-release variety) is allowed.

Harlem Meer
New York, NY 10029

5. Huddlestone Arch

New York, NY 10026

One of the park’s most impressive structures is also one of its most humble-seeming. The Huddlestone Arch was built in 1866 and designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the park’s main architects. What’s awe-inspiring about it is the fact that it’s held together by little more than gravity’s pull; the stones, which weigh many tons, exert pressure and keep the structure in place. Engineering!

6. The Pool

The Pool, New York, NY 10025

Located within the park’s scenic North Woods, the pool is an especially serene spot to take a breather. It has natural features you might not expect to find within the park—including a waterfall!—and verdant plants, including weeping willow trees, along its banks.

The Pool
New York, NY 10025

7. Conservatory Garden

402 5th Ave, New York, NY 10029
Shutterstock

In contrast to the otherwise untamed nature of the park, as envisioned by master landscape architect Olmsted, the Conservatory Garden is a formal garden, with three sections planted in varying styles (Italian, French, and English). It’s also one of the park’s quiet zones, so if you’re looking for a respite from the noise in places like Sheep Meadow, this might be the place.

402 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029

8. Vanderbilt Gate

New York, NY 10029

The wrought-iron gate that stands at the eastern entrance to the Conservatory Garden is worth a special trip of its own. It was once part of an enormous mansion built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, which was located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. The grand estate—at the time the largest private home in New York City—didn’t last long, though; it was torn down to make way for Bergdorf Goodman. The gate, however, remains—it’s a relic of New York’s Gilded Age that’s hidden in plain sight

9. Engineers’ Gate

2 E 90th St, New York, NY 10128

There are 20 named gates at various entrances to Central Park, all of them dedicated to, according to the Central Park Conservancy, “the vocations and groups who made New York City the great metropolis that it had become.” Many of these are simple entrances, dedicated to groups like Pioneers, Women, Artisans, and Scholars. But one of the more ornate ones is found adjacent to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir: Enter at East 90th Street and you’ll find the Engineers’ Gate, adorned with a bust of former NYC mayor John Purroy Mitchel. His claim to fame, aside from his mayoral tenure, is opening Water Tunnel 1 a century ago.

2 E 90th St
New York, NY 10128

10. Seneca Village Site

Central Park West, New York, NY 10024

Before there was Central Park, there was Seneca Village. Established in 1825, the settlement was the first and largest community of free African Americans in New York City. It stretched from what’s now 81st to 89th Street, and at its peak, approximately 250 people called the area home. But it was razed in the 1860s to make way for the construction of the park—New York state used eminent domain to take the land from its owners. Today, a plaque commemorating the community stands near the Mariners’ Playground.

Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

11. Diana Ross Playground

Central Park West & W 81st St, New York, NY 10024

Yep, there’s a playground named for the legendary R&B singer-songwriter. Back in 1983, Ross was due to perform on the Great Lawn, but her concert ended up being cut short by a summer storm; she returned the next night, and later pledged to donate the proceeds from the show(s) to creating a space for children within Central Park. After some bureaucratic back-and-forth, she and then-mayor Ed Koch held a groundbreaking for the playground in 1986; now, it’s a charming respite on the park’s west side near the American Museum of Natural History.

Central Park West & W 81st St
New York, NY 10024

12. Charles B. Stover Bench

76-98 79th St Transverse, New York, NY 10024

Grand Central Terminal has its Whispering Gallery; Central Park has its Whispering Bench. The semicircular design of the granite bench is especially conducive to conducting sound, so two people can sit at opposite ends of the bench and whisper secrets to one another. It’s located within the Shakespeare Garden at the middle of the park, itself a lovely little respite.

76-98 79th St Transverse
New York, NY 10024

13. Belvedere Castle

New York, NY 10024

Belvedere Castle itself isn’t exactly a secret, but its connection to the National Weather Service may be. Since 1919, the NWS has recorded temperatures and “other weather data” (rainfall, wind speeds, and the like) from the castle, with only minor interruptions in the nearly 100 years since. (Another fun fact: the castle has been used as Count Von Count’s home base on Sesame Street before.) It’s a perennially popular spot with incredible views of the surrounding parkland—though fair warning, it will close this fall for a huge renovation project.

14. The Ramble

79th St Transverse, New York, NY 10024

The Ramble isn’t exactly an unknown part of Central Park, but it’s still one of your best bets if you’re seeking a respite from the crowds that gather around Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn. Olmsted envisioned this space as a lush, wild counterpart to the more formally-designed parts of Central Park, and it’s filled with vegetation and meandering paths. It’s also, the Central Park Conservancy notes, “the center of birding activity in the Park.”

79th St Transverse
New York, NY 10024

15. Eagles and Prey

The Mall, New York, NY 10022
Wikimedia Commons

Many of Central Park’s famed sculptures can be found along the Literary Walk, but one that is a bit lesser-known is Eagles and Prey, created by French sculptor Christophe Fratin. The piece has the distinction of being one of, if not the oldest sculptures within a city park. It was installed in 1863, a decade before the park was officially finished. Today, you can find the statue near the Mall at 69th Street.

The Mall
New York, NY 10022

16. Richard Morris Hunt Memorial

5th Ave, New York, NY 10021

Across from the Frick Collection sits this memorial dedicated to one of the most famous Beaux Arts architects of the 19th century, known for designing homes for New York’s überelite (the Astors and Vanderbilts among them), along with public works like the facade of the Met Museum and the base of the Statue of Liberty. The sculpture was itself designed by another famed artist: Daniel Chester French, famous for working on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

5th Ave
New York, NY 10021

17. John Randel Jr.’s surveyor’s bolt

Center Drive, New York, NY
Wikimedia Commons

We’re being intentionally vague with the true location of this one (let’s just say this map point does not correspond to an exact spot). When John Randel Jr. was laying out Manhattan’s grid, he left bolts throughout the city to denote the locations of intersections and other important points. Very few of these are left in Manhattan, and the ones that remain are rather well-hidden—and New York history nerds prefer to keep it that way. So here’s a clue: The bolt is located somewhere in the park’s southeastern corner; look for a bit of iron rammed into a piece of rock.

Center Drive
New York, NY

18. Billy Johnson Playground

E 67th St, New York, NY 10022

Two words: Huge. Slide. That’s just one of the features that makes this playground on the park’s east side a family favorite. Landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg designed the space, and its various attractions—an amphitheater made of stones, a simple wooden pergola, etc.—are meant to echo the park’s other naturalistic attractions. But yeah, the 45-foot slide is pretty cool, too.

E 67th St
New York, NY 10022

19. The Arsenal

830 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10029 5th Ave, New York, NY 10029

This 166-year-old building predates the park itself and was built as an arms supply depot for New York State’s National Guard. It was subsumed by the park upon its opening and has served as the home of the first Museum of Natural History, a zoo, and a police precinct over the years. At present, it serves as the headquarters for the city’s Parks Department and the Central Park Zoo. On the third floor, the original plan for the park—known as “the Greensward Plan”—can be viewed by appointment.

830 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10029 5th Ave
New York, NY 10029

20. Hallett Nature Sanctuary

6th Ave & W 59th St, New York, NY 10019

This four-acre enclave wraps around the Pond at the southeast corner of the park, but was largely overlooked and overrun by weeds starting in the 1930s. But thanks to a recent restoration, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary is now open to the public again. The Central Park Conservancy added new pathways and a rustic gate as part of the restoration.  

6th Ave & W 59th St
New York, NY 10019