Take a stroll through Central Park, and you’ll be surprised how much more there is to it than you originally thought. There’s a ton to see, so here’s the basics.
In 1853, the government spent $14 million for undeveloped land to create a major public park in Manhattan. Before the construction could start, the area had to be cleared of the small villages and inhabitants, most of whom were poor African Americans, English and Irish. Around 1,600 residents occupying the area at the time, were evicted. To convert the swampy area into the park, several hundred thousand trees were planted, more than 3 million cubic yards of soil was moved, roads and bridges were constructed and a large reservoir was dug out. In order to create four roads which cut through the park, the construction team used gun powder to blast through 30 feet of solid bedrock. It is said that more gun powder was used in this blasting project than was used in all of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. It took more than 15 years and 20,000 workers before Central Park was finally completed.
Today, Central Park receives around thirty-five million visitors annually, and is the most visited urban park in the United States. It is 843 acres (6% of Manhattan’s total acreage), 2.5 miles/(4 km) long between 59th Street and 110th Street and is 0.5 miles/(0.8 km) wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West with a total perimeter of 6 miles. There are:
- 25,000 trees
- 36 Bridges and arches
- 235 species of birds
- Over 9,000 wooden benches
- Contains chipmunks, racoons, turtles, squirrels, opossum, 5 different species of bats, fish such as carp, goldfish, and large-mouth bass — and apparently feral cats and coyotes have also been spotted roaming the park
- zillions of insects which include dragonflies, butterflies, furry caterpillars like the ones you used to catch as a kid,moths, and my favourite –fireflies in summer evenings especially outside of the Delacorte Theater during Shakespeare in the Park.
There is so much to see in Central Park I’ve broken down the major things (excluding the Zoo as I haven’t been). If you can grab a free map it will help immensely. Also if you have a mobile, there are signs posted around that give you a phone number to call for a narrative of each sight.
Alice in Wonderland
Alice and her cast of storybook friends found their way to Central Park in 1959, when philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned this bronze statue. Inspired by the characters of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland, it was a gift to the children of New York City. Engraved around the statue are lines from his poem “The Jabberwocky”. Trying to get a photo next to this is one of the most difficult things to do in Central Park as there are tons of kids and tourists climbing all over it. Good luck getting a pic without someone photo bombing it.
The iconic Loeb Boathouse was financed by philanthropist Carl M. Loeb and opened at the Lake’s northeastern tip in 1954. From beneath the green patina of the boathouse’s copper roof, visitors can rent rowboats (a bargain $15/hour) and bikes, hire an authentic Venetian gondola ($30/half hour), or dine overlooking views of the Lake at the Loeb Central Park Boathouse Restaurant. Famous for the Sex and the City scene where Big and Carrie fall into the water, I wouldn’t attempt it as I’m not sure how clean that water is.
Strawberry Fields was created in honour of John Lennon, who was killed in front of the Dakota Apartments nearby. The tear-shaped garden was dedicated in 1985 as a garden of peace with the mosaic with the word “Imagine”. The memorial garden is situated near the entrance to Central Park at West 72nd Street. Just listen for the sounds of hippies, guitars and singing.
The Mall, a wide boulevard lined with American elm trees, brings you from the Dairy to the Bethesda Terrace, one of Central Park’s highlights. The Terrace has a central covered arcade flanked by two staircases that lead to a plaza. The focal point of the plaza is the Bethesda Fountain, installed here in 1873. The fountain’s statue, Angel of the Waters, was created in 1842 by Emma Stebbins to commemorate the opening of the Croton water system, which for the first time provided New York with clean water.
Shakespeare Garden is a 4 acre landscape that was dedicated to the famous playwright. The garden contains plants and flowers that were mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and you’ll find rustic wooden benches and bronze plaques with quotations from Shakespeare’s works throughout. Stairs connect the garden with the Swedish Cottage, a replica of a Swedish school from the 19th century. It is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the United States. Puppeteers have worked their magic from the cottage since 1947, pulling the strings on their hand-carved marionettes to bring life to all the fairy tale classics.
Belvedere Castle was created in 1869 as a lookout tower and observatory and is situated at the highest point in the park on Vista Rock. Since 1919, the National Weather Service has taken measurements from the castle’s tower with the aid of scientific instruments that measure wind speed and direction. The tower also overlooks Turtle Pond, which you can spot the little guys sunning themselves on rocks.
There are many bridges in Central Park, each with a unique design and the 60 foot, cast iron Bow Bridge was named for its shape. It’s considered one of the most romantic settings in New York and has appeared in a ton of movies (Spiderman 3, Night at the Museum) and TV shows (Glee).
The Ramble is my favourite places in Central Park. Here Central Park is at its most natural, with narrow paths winding through thickets of trees in a a 15 hectare/(38 acre) large woodland. This is a popular place for bird watching as it’s on a trans-Atlantic migration route where more than 250 different bird species have been spotted here. You’ll also find small mammals and reptiles.
Of the five man made water bodies in Central Park,The Lake is the second largest at 20 acres. Orginally created from a swamp, it was built for boating in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. Walk around the entire Lake and you’ll get the best views of Central Park and of Manhattan.
Apparently the most famous patch of grass in the world (according to the Central Park narration), this 55 acres of open space became a huge debate of what it would be used for. Some suggestions were as an opera house, a helicopter landing pad or It has hosted music legends like Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, the Metropolitan Opera and Bon Jovi.
Arthur Ross Pinetum
In the 1970s, native New Yorker and philanthropist Arthur Ross developed a passion for evergreens and decided to return pine trees to Central Park. Ross created a Pinetum and added about 35 trees a year with species from Macedonia, Japan, and the Himalayas. The Pinetum features 17 different species of pine trees in a 4 acre area and has become a great spot for bird watching and if you’re lucky you might spot and owl.
Jackie Onassis Reservoir
The reservoir was built in the 1860s as a temporary water supply for New York City, while the Croton Water system was shut down for repairs two weeks each year. At the time, it was unthinkable that a billion gallons of water would last less than two weeks. Today, some speculate that the City would go through that supply in just four hours.The reservoir was decommissioned in 1993 and it was officially dedicated to Jackie O in 1994. Today, its become a track around its perimeter for running enthusiasts where you may spot a celeb like Madonna every so often.
The famed Carousel, with its 57 horses, is the fourth to stand in Central Park since 1871. A live mule or horse, hidden beneath the Carousel platform, powered the original amusement ride from 1873 until 1924. The animals were taught to start and stop when the operator tapped his foot on the floor. The next two Carousels were destroyed by fire, and searching for a replacement, the Parks Department discovered the current vintage Carousel abandoned in an old trolley terminal on Coney Island. Today almost 25,000 riders visit each year and it remains one of the largest carousels in the United States and one of finest examples of American folk art.
The original plan for Central Park called for a conservatory for tropical plants. An ornamental pond was constructed as a reflecting pool for the conservatory, but the plan was abandoned. The water body became the popular model boat pond, inspired by those in Parisian parks. From April through October, children and boat enthusiasts can rent these boats and navigate radio and wind-powered vessels across the waters.