New York City is chock-full of magical places to stage a marriage proposal. While the Empire State Building is probably number one on the list of locations, Central Park will no doubt rank a close second. No matter how public or private you want it to be when you pop the question, Central Park has a variety of backgrounds to fit your personal proposal. So, to help you find the perfect spot to get down on one knee, today’s blog post is a list of the best places to propose in Central Park. I hope you’re wearing your running shoes, because we have lots of ground to cover.
The Best Places to Propose in Central Park
Without further ado, here is my definitive list of the best places to propose in Central Park, complete with the pros and cons of each location.
In a boat on Central Park Lake. Please note that as of May 2023, the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park is currently closed. As has been recorded in the news, the Boathouse has been bought out by Legends Hospitality. There are reports that boat rentals may be up and running by June of 2023. But I personally think it will take much longer for the Boathouse to resume normal operations.
The Boathouse eventually will return in all its glory, and when it does, know that rowing up with ring in hand is a romantic, and quite unique, way to propose. It will also be a complete surprise unless your beloved is scanning the lake shore looking for a photographer hiding on the dock. THIS is the ultimate way to propose in Central Park. As I have discussed in many articles, the best place to propose while rowing on Central Park Lake is the Wood Chip Vantage Point.
Wood Chip Vantage Point. So with the boats currently out of the water, what are you to do? Well, you can still use the same little dock alongside Central Park Lake for your proposal as Philip did for his proposal to Naomi. This is a great spot with a beautiful view of Bow Bridge. Just bear in mind that the dock is often very crowded. For Naomi and Philip’s proposal, the couple timed it perfectly so that the crowds had vanished by the time Philip got down on one knee. But right before he arrived, I had the pleasure of meeting Rich, a local fisherman, who happened to be searching for large-mouth bass in the lake. It was an interesting afternoon, to be sure.
Behind Gapstow Bridge. If you want the perfect view of the New York City skyline from the edge of Central Park in your proposal, then this is the spot for you. I recently photographed the proposal of Andrea and Juan Carlos. This spot located directly behind the Gapstow Bridge offers privacy plus a stunning view. This is also a good starting point to work your way back towards the center of Central Park for photos.
Bow Bridge beach. This is one of my favorite private spots in Central Park for both wedding ceremonies and proposals. It is normally not that crowded, but I have seen many tourists camp out on the benches and refuse to leave under any circumstances. As with all Central Park proposal locations, if you really want privacy, then schedule your proposal for a weekday morning. The afternoon tourists tend not to care about what is happening directly in front of them.
Shakespeare Garden, near the sundial. The Shakespeare Garden is a beautiful spot in Central Park, and there is nearly always something in bloom here. When you go through the little garden, head up to the top near the sundial. Here you have a lovely view over the entire garden. This location can get very crowded, and the pathways through the garden are very narrow. Again, scheduling your proposal for a weekday morning is advised.
Belvedere Castle. At the very bottom of the castle is a platform that has a sweeping view over Turtle Pond and the Great Lawn. This is a great spot to get down on one knee. Note, however, that this location is crazy crowded. The other problem with this location is that there is rather ugly fencing at the bottom of the terrace to keep people from jumping into the pond.
The Pool at 100th Street. This is one of my favorite places in Central Park for any sort of photo shoot. Once you go above 72nd Street, the park traffic magically dissolves. At this point in the park, it’s mainly locals, and that makes things so much easier for photo shoots. Here you have a beautiful pond, lovely weeping willow trees, and a secret pathway that leads to a magical stone arch.
Glen Span Arch. What ‘magical stone arch’ you ask? Well, that would be Glen Span Arch. This spot has always struck me as something straight out of Lord of the Rings. This huge archway has a precious little creek running through it. It is a great spot for any type of portrait, and perfect for a proposal. Note, this pathway is frequently traveled, so time your proposal to avoid the traffic.
Huddlestone Arch. If you want complete privacy, then this is the spot for you. I had the pleasure of photographing a wedding here, and it was an absolute paradise. This location is right next to the Ravine. If you have never been to this part of Central Park, you absolutely should make the hike through the woods to the northeastern side of the park. When you’re here, you feel like New York City has absolutely melted away.
On the shore of Harlem Meer. If you live in Harlem, this is a great waterfront view of the neighborhood. I recommend choosing a spot close to the edge of the lake nearest the Conservatory Garden. If you are scouting this location, however, then make sure that the lake has enough water in it. When the lake is at its lowest, it turns into a bit of a swamp near the edges.
Cop Cot. This is a whimsical wooden kiosk near 59th Street and Sixth Avenue. It is located high on a hill, and if you schedule your proposal during the summer months, you will find it covered in purple wisteria blooms. Bear in mind that this is a popular spot for weddings (check out one of my recent weddings here). But if the Cop Cot is free, then it is an excellent proposal spot. Again, this location is very busy with tourists, so plan accordingly.
Places NOT to Propose in Central Park
The Conservatory Garden. This might seem like the perfect location, but unless you have a photo permit, you will get chased out of the garden by the guards. A 30-minute photo permit costs $100 and is required for any photos taken in the Conservatory Garden. Sure, your photographer might be able to swing a few photos on the down low, but this is the one place in New York City where you absolutely must have a photo permit. The guards are always present and you will get kicked out. (Ah, the memories of my first trip to the garden as an inexperienced NYC photographer.)
Bow Bridge. There is way too much street traffic here. People are crossing over Bow Bridge night and day, and photo shoots start here around 6:00 a.m. You would have to time it perfectly to have the bridge all to yourself, and that’s on a weekday. Spare yourself the headache and choose either the Wood Chip Vantage Point or Bow Bridge Beach.
The rock overlooking Wollman Rink. Again, on paper this looks like a marvelous spot for a proposal. This location has an epic view of the New York City skyline and the park below. However, it has become Instagram selfie central. Being an Instagram hotspot means there are some rather stubborn tourists who come up here for a picnic and refuse to budge. Unless you have scheduled your proposal for first thing in the morning, then I recommend you go somewhere else.
Anywhere in Bethesda Terrace. This is the Mecca for all tourists who come to Central Park. Proposing here means you are guaranteed a crowd of onlookers. Unless you want a very public proposal, I would choose another spot in the park. Seriously, this is like proposing on the Jumbotron.
Central Park Proposal Tips
I have lots of tips on my blog for staging the perfect surprise proposal. But after photographing Philip’s Central Park surprise proposal to Naomi, I have yet a few more tips to add.
Live location is the way to go. Use technology to your advantage and tell your photographer exactly where you are at any given moment through the live location feature on Google maps or WhatsApp. During Philip’s proposal, he sent me his location via WhatsApp, and I knew exactly when he would be crossing Bow Bridge. In the midst of a very crowded Central Park, I was still able to exactly pinpoint his location and get the perfect shot of him as he approached over the bridge.
Send me a mirror selfie before you leave. I want to know exactly who I should be photographing, so help me out by sending a selfie of you two before you step out the door in the morning. This way, I’ll know exactly what you’re wearing.
Note that there is no way to save a spot without assistance. You can’t control when the public is going to intercede in your private plans. If you have an elaborate vision for your proposal, and it doesn’t include a large family from Wichita sitting on the bench where you plan to propose, then you need to have some friends help to reserve your spot. I am only one person, and since I am supposed to be hiding for your proposal, I am not the best person for the job. Setting up a full spread and fighting off the hordes of tourists needs to involve a team of friends or family.
Comfortable shoes! I’ve had two engagement sessions this year end early because either party was wearing uncomfortable shoes. It’s New York, so plan for a lot of walking. Guys, when you prep your girlfriend for the proposal and tell her to dress nice, make sure you also tell her to wear (or at least bring) comfortable shoes. It’s hard to smile through pain.
Warm clothing! The smiling through pain advice also goes for wearing warm enough clothing. I had another engagement session last year that ended early because both parties were incredibly cold. If your proposal will be during winter, then advise your beloved to dress warmly. Photo shoots along the water will be very windy, and my photo shoots last an hour and a half. Plan to be out among the elements and dress accordingly.
Meet Naomi and Philip
Accompanying this article are photos from Philip’s proposal to Naomi at the Wood Chip Vantage Point. These two met five years ago at work, and are planning to tie the knot in their hometown of Manchester, England.
The original plan for the proposal was to have Philip row up to the dock in a boat. The changes at the Loeb Boathouse, however, called for a revised plan. And so the Wood Chip Vantage Point was selected.
Philip wanted to make the moment special, so he designed a card and had it sent over from England to New York ahead of the proposal. Luckily, the card arrived one day before the proposal. Philip then emailed me some special words for Naomi to read. I printed these and pasted them into the card and had it waiting for her on a bench at the Wood Chip Vantage Point.
It was an amazing day despite the tremendously overwhelming crowds, and everything worked out perfectly. Of course, Naomi said ‘yes.’ I wish Naomi and Philip the best of luck on their new adventures together as a couple.
Enjoy the images, and I’ll have more photo adventures for you next week!
Are you planning to ask someone to marry you in Central Park? If so, then drop me a line and let’s chat about your photography needs.
To see more images from my surprise proposal portfolio, please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com