Surrounded by Greek Revival townhouses and New York University buildings, this popular park draws students, residents, tourists, chess players and performers to its shaded benches and central fountain. Nearly ten acres, the park holds bocce courts, chess tables and playgrounds, as well as several monuments. At its north side, where Fifth Avenue starts, is the marble Washington Arch, designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White and dedicated in 1895. In 1916 and 1918 statues of George Washington as Commander-in-Chief and as President were installed on the north side of the arch.

The park is an informal gathering place for buskers and entertainers and many festivals and events take place here throughout the year.

The park's civic history dates back to 1797, when it was used as a common burial ground and  occasionally for executions.