The 55-acre area hosts a great range of recreational activities and is a popular destination for picnicking, sunbathing, relaxing, playing and watching softball, and enjoying the scenery. The main oval lawn area is 13 acres and includes six fields for softball. (Heckscher Ballfields and the North Meadow are home to the Park’s other sports fields). All require a permit to play organized games. To the north of the main lawn are two additional fields for volleyball and basketball.
The Great Lawn is well-known as a place for concerts and performances, hosting the annual New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks performance and annual Global Citizen Festival. The Great Lawn landscape also includes important scenic destinations such as the Arthur Ross Pinetum and Turtle Pond.
Although it may resemble some of Central Park’s other famous lawns such as Sheep Meadow, the Great Lawn is a relatively recent addition to the Park. It was built in the 1930s to replace a large reservoir that pre-dated Central Park, once a key piece of the City’s water distribution system. Completed in 1842, the receiving reservoir was a huge stone tank for holding water from upstate New York before it was piped further downtown. When planning for the Park began, a new reservoir was created just to the north, now known as the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, in order to expand the system. Both reservoirs posed an obstacle to Park designers.
When the original reservoir was deemed obsolete in 1917, ideas for new features to replace it flooded in from New Yorkers—including a World War I memorial, a sports arena, and an opera house. After the reservoir was drained and filled, plans materialized to create a large oval-shaped lawn for sports along with playgrounds on the northern edge and a small pond (now Turtle Pond) on the south. This was completed in 1937.
Like many areas of the Park, by the 1970s the combination of intensive use and inadequate maintenance led to the Great Lawn’s severe deterioration. Large concerts from the 1960s to the 1980s degraded the lawn and contributed to the area becoming known as “The Great Dust Bowl.”
In 1997, the Central Park Conservancy completed the restoration of the Great Lawn, a two-year, multi-million-dollar project that rebuilt infrastructure and restored the lawn to balance both active sports use and quiet relaxation.
Things you can do here
A Central Park favorite for young visitors, Turtle Pond is home to five species of turtles who live there year-round.
Tags: Families / Best for Kids / Nature Lovers / Woodlands
Central Park is home to lawns, benches, and picnic tables across its 843 acres, providing countless great picnic spots.
Tags: Families / Tips for Visiting / All Ages / Nature Lovers
Best known as a spot for picnics and people-watching, the Great Lawn is also home to scores of trees.
Tags: Tree Walks
If you’re the outdoorsy type who loves to explore Central Park through all weather, there are plenty of ways to get active and enjoy the Park on a cold, snowy day.
Explore the middle of Central Park with stops at the Park’s miniature castle, a popular turtle hangout, and the oldest outdoor monument in New York City.
Health & Fitness
Enjoy the sweeping vistas of Central Park from the newly restored Belvedere Castle!
Tags: History / Highlights / Architecture / Landscape Design
Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal shares his fondest memories of the Park, his idea of a perfect picnic there, and what he’ll do when the coronavirus pandemic is all over.
Tags: History / Park Experts
Here are 10 ways to combine a desire for a new you in 2020 with the joy of spending time in Central Park.
Tags: Conservancy Staff / Monuments
About the Conservancy
As we experience one of the busiest years in Central Park history, let’s work together to tend to the Park we need, and that in turn, needs us. Read this checklist before your next visit and help us keep the Park healthy this summer and for seasons to come.
Tags: Families / Summer / Conservancy Staff / Flowers / Tips for Visiting / Trees / Nature Lovers / Park Experts / First-Time Visitors