Brooklyn residents are fiercely passionate about Prospect Park, and with good reason. Gently curved paths beg for long walks and bike rides, while free summer concerts, winter sledding hills, a new ice-skating rink as of winter 2013, and vivid autumn leaves make the park a year-round destination. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park was completed in the late 1880s. Olmsted once said that he was prouder of it than of any of his other works—including Manhattan's Central Park.
A good way to experience the park is to walk along its 3.5-mi circular drive and make detours off it as you wish. The drive is closed to cars at all times except weekday rush hours. Families with children should head straight for the eastern side, where most kids' attractions are clustered.
The park's north entrance is at Grand Army Plaza, where the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch honors Civil War veterans. (Look familiar? It's patterned after the Arc de Triomphe in
Paris.) Three heroic sculptural groupings adorn the arch: atop, a dynamic four-horse chariot; to either side, the victorious Union Army and Navy of the Civil War. The inner arch has bas-reliefs of presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, sculpted by Thomas Eakins and William O'Donovan, respectively. To the northwest of the arch, Neptune and a passel of debauched Tritons leer over the edges of the Bailey Fountain. On Saturdays year-round a greenmarket at the plaza sells produce, flowers and plants, cheese, and baked goods to throngs of locals. Other days, you can find a few vendors selling snacks here and at the 9th Street entrance.
Lefferts Historic House. This Dutch Colonial farmhouse was built in 1783 and moved to Prospect Park in 1918. Rooms of the historic house-museum are furnished with antiques and reproductions from the 1820s, when the house was last redecorated. The museum hosts all kinds of activities for kids; call for information. Prospect Park, 452 Flatbush. 718/789–2822. $3 suggested donation. Apr. and May, Sat. and Sun. noon–5; June and Sept., Thurs.–Sun. noon–5; July and Aug., Thurs.–Sun. noon–6; Oct., Thurs.–Sun. noon–4; Nov.–Dec. and Feb.–Mar., Sat. and Sun. noon–4.
Litchfield Villa. If you walk down the park's west drive from Grand Army Plaza, you'll first encounter Litchfield Villa, an Italianate hilltop mansion built in 1857 for a prominent railroad magnate. It has housed the park's headquarters since 1883; visitors are welcome to step inside and view the domed octagonal rotunda. Prospect Park, near 5th Street. 718/965–8951. Free. Mon.–Fri. 9–5.
Prospect Park Audubon Center and Visitor Center at the Boathouse. Styled after Sansovino's 16th-century Library at St. Mark's in Venice, the Prospect Park Audubon Center and Visitor Center at the Boathouse, built in 1904, sits opposite the Lullwater Bridge, creating an idyllic spot for watching pedal boats and wildlife, or just taking a break at the café. Interactive exhibits, park tours, and educational programs for kids make this a fun place to learn about nature. On a nice day, take a ride on the electric boat to tour the Lullwater and Prospect Lake. You can also sign up for a bird-watching tour to see some of the 200 species spotted here. Prospect Park, just inside the Lincoln Road/Ocean Ave. entrance, 11215. 718/287–3400. www.prospectpark.org/audubon. Audubon Center free; electric-boat tours $10. Audubon Center: Apr.–June, Thurs.–Sun. noon–5; July-Aug., Thurs.-Sun. noon-6; Sept., weekends noon–5; Oct.–Mar., weekends noon–4; closed in Jan.–Feb. except school holidays; call for program and tour times. Electric-boat tours: May–Aug., Thurs.–Sun. noon–4:30; Sept.–mid-Oct., weekends 12:30–4, every 30 mins.
Prospect Park Band Shell. The Prospect Park Band Shell is the home of the annual Celebrate Brooklyn Festival, which from early June through mid-August sponsors free films and concerts that have included Afro-Caribbean jazz, flamenco dance troupes from Spain, David Byrne and other big name musicians, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Films are shown on a 50-foot-wide outdoor screen, one of the world's largest. Prospect Park. 718/855–7882 for the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival. www.bricartsmedia.org.
Prospect Park Carousel. Climb aboard a giraffe or sit inside a dragon-pulled chariot at the immaculately restored Prospect Park Carousel, handcrafted in 1912 by master carver Charles Carmel. Prospect Park. 718/282–7789. $2 per ride. Apr.–June, Sept., and Oct., Thurs.–Sun. noon–5; July–Labor Day, Thurs.–Sun. noon–6.
Prospect Park Zoo. Of the 400 inhabitants and 125 species at the small, friendly, Prospect Park Zoo, kids seem especially fond of the sea lions and the red pandas. An outdoor discovery trail has a simulated prairie-dog burrow, a duck pond, and kangaroos and wallabies in habitat. Be aware that there are no cafés, only vending machines. Prospect Park, 450 Flatbush Ave., 11225. 718/399–7339. www.prospectparkzoo.com. $8. Apr.–Oct., weekdays 10–5, weekends 10–5:30; Nov.–Mar., daily 10–4:30; last ticket 30 mins before closing. Subway: 2, 3 to Eastern Pkwy.; B, Q to Prospect Park.