Around the US,  New York

Visiting Central Park in New York City

If you’ve ever been to Central Park, you know – it’s a big place. Eight hundred forty-three acres big! My daughter Kimberlee and I decided to walk from the north end to the south end last time we were there. It took awhile! Of course we stopped along the way for some photos…..

Central Park was the first major landscaped public park not only in New York City, but the whole United States. In the 1840’s, New York’s elite began clamoring for a green space similar to those of London and Paris. Battery Park, a mere 10 acres, was the largest green space at the time, and with New York’s population growing so quickly, a larger space was needed.

In 1853 the State Legislature passed the Central Park Act, authorizing the acquisition of most of the present day park. The north portion from 106th Street to 110th Street wasn’t acquired until a few years later, and because of tight funding, was left as relatively “rugged”.

Central Park runs 2 1/2 miles north to south, from 110th Street to 59th Street. It is only a half mile wide, sitting between 5th and 8th Avenues. We walked the length of the park from the north end on the 5th Avenue side, starting at Harlem Meer.

Harlem Meer is a man-made lake (Meer is the Dutch word for “lake”) where you can find several popular activities, such as two children’s playgrounds, catch and release fishing, and the nearby Lasker Rink, where you can ice skate in the winter and swim in the summer. Also in the summer, from mid June until late August, you can attend the free Harlem Meer Performance Festival each Sunday from 2:00 to 4:00. The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center (the brick and green building above) is one of Central Parks five Visitor’s Centers, which features educational information about wildlife. The Catch and Release fishing program is also found there, where children can learn to fish with complimentary poles, bait, and instruction. Poles are available from 10:00 to 3:00 Mon-Sat, and 10:00 to 1:00 on Sunday.

Hint: Lasker Rink is scheduled to undergo significant renovation starting in spring of 2021. This will affect the entire north end of the park, making a more seamless connection to the rest of the park upon completion.

The Conservatory Garden is a 6 acre portion of the park designed in the style of three European Gardens. It is found on the east side near 105th Street and the Vanderbilt Gate. Pictured is the French style Garden, with the Untermyer Fountain featuring the Three Dancing Maidens sculpture. This German sculpture was designed in 1903 by Walter Schott and donated to the park in 1947 by the Untermyer estate.

The Conservatory Garden also includes the Italianate style Garden, with rows of crabapple trees. We happened to visit in the spring when they were in full bloom. To the south you can find an English style Garden, featuring a sculpture of Mary and Dickon from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Across Fifth Avenue from the English style Garden is The Museum of the City of New York. It is only one of many great museums along Fifth Avenue. We enjoyed the display of historic clothing, especially since Kimberlee was studying costume design at college.

Another museum we visited on that trip is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located inside Central Park boundaries at 5th Avenue and 82nd Street. We actually came back via the Subway on a different day, so we would have plenty of time at the museum. The Met is open from 10:00 AM until 5:30 PM Sunday through Thursday, and from 10:00 AM until 9:00 PM on Friday and Saturday.

The Met is more than just paintings hung on walls, although there are many beautiful paintings. It also includes different art forms such as sculpture, pottery, armor, sacred objects, textiles, jewelry, and about a thousand more. These art forms come from all over the world. Kimberlee and I both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Hint: Admission is $25 for adults, but we bought the New York Sightseeing Pass, which made everything we did cheaper!

More than 300 movies have scenes that were filmed in Central Park over the years. The first one was in 1908, when Vitagraph studios shot the first American version of Romeo and Juliet. One of my favorites was the Walt Disney movie, Enchanted. Here, Kimberlee reminisces about the poison apple featured in that movie.

Photo courtesy of FlitsArt

Central Park Zoo on 5th Avenue at 64th street was a fun place to visit. It is a small Zoo, but has many interesting animals like these Red Pandas. Admission is $13.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors age 65 and older, and $8.95 for kids age 3-12. The Zoo is also included on the New York Sightseeing Pass.

If you want to take a Carriage Ride, you can find them waiting at the southern end of Central Park on 59th Street. There are many different companies that offer the Carriage Ride, and I’m not sure what the differences are. The least expensive ride I could find was through Free Tours by Foot, at $54.08 per carriage for a twenty minute ride.

The Carriages drive around Central Park, just like they used to do back in the 1860’s. For many years, the upper class would parade their carriages up and down the Park’s roads each afternoon, showing off their wealth.

While the Carriage drivers may let you stop for photos, this is not a hop-on hop-off tour. Don’t expect to go rent a boat or visit a museum during your Carriage Ride. It is, however, an interesting and informative overview of Central Park.

On some other trips to New York I have walked up the center of the Park, visiting different areas. This photo is taken from the Bow Bridge, which spans a body of water known simply as The Lake. The Loeb Boathouse on The Lake features a fleet of 100 4-person boats for rent. They run $15 per hour (cash only), and are open from 10:00 AM until sundown.

The Loeb Boathouse also features a full-service restaurant called the Boathouse Restaurant. This is one of only two full-service restaurants in Central Park (not counting the ones inside the Met.) The other is Tavern on the Green, located in a historic sheepfold at Central Park West (8th Ave) and 67th Street.

Belvedere Castle is home to a Visitor’s Center, and also has provided the National Weather Service with readings of wind speed and direction since 1919. It was originally designed in 1865 as merely a fun and interesting castle to catch the imagination of those who visited, with no real purpose. I wish I had taken a photo of the back side of the Castle, because it is much bigger than this photo suggests.

The Castle was built on Vista Rock, the highest point in Central Park. From the top, you have amazing views of the Park. This view is to the northeast, with the Great Lawn in the background.

This photo represents just a tiny portion of Shakespeare Garden’s four acres. In it, you can find plants that William Shakespeare mentions in his works. Shakespeare Garden was, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the park. It is near the Delacorte Theatre, which hosts the Shakespeare in the Park series of plays each summer. The two plays run for about a month each, and tickets are free. The box office opens at noon on the day of the performance, and tickets are first-come first-served.

Last, but not least, we visited the American Museum of Natural History. It is located outside the park on 8th Avenue at 78th Street. This is a pay-what-you-wish Museum, so you can technically get in free, but only if you go to the ticket counters inside the museum. There is sometimes a long line for this option. If you choose not to wait, admission is $23 for adults and $18 for students with ID and seniors 60+.

This list of things to see in Central Park doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that is available. I hope to go back soon and experience even more of this fabulous park!

Also, be sure to visit Times Square and Rockefeller Center while you are in NYC!

Have you been to Central Park? What were some of your favorite attractions?