Central Park is one of the world’s most famous parks, and an absolutely essential destination for any and all visitors to New York City. Occupying nearly 850 acres at the heart of Manhattan, Central Park contains an assortment of wonders suitable for all sorts of interests. Highlights here include the Central Park Zoo, Conservatory Garden, The Ramble, Wollman Rink, and Bethesda Terrace, just to name a few.
Central Park History
It’s difficult to imagine New York City without Central Park, but once upon a time the idea of constructing a “Central Park” was just a dream held by some of the city’s political leaders and business elites. This was the 1840s, when it was first suggested that the growing metropolis could use a large, public green space where ordinary citizens could go to relax and escape from the grind of urban life. By the mid-1850s, the land for Central Park had been procured and plans were being made for the actual design of the space.
In 1858, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux were chosen to design Central Park. Thus began an approximately 20-year odyssey during which the pair resigned in frustration multiple times, only to later rejoin the project. When all was said and done, though, they had created what is considered today one of the masterpieces of landscape architecture. For over 150 years now, Central Park has delighted untold numbers of visitors, and it remains one of the great treasures of New York City.
What’s at Central Park
There’s so much to see and do in Central Park that it’s difficult to summarize its many attractions. Still, a few places in particular stand out. The Central Park Zoo is a seven-acre oasis near the southeastern corner of the park where you’ll encounter grizzly bears, sea lions, snow leopards, a children’s zoo, and a 4-D Theater. Not far from the Central Park Zoo is Wollman Rink, where during the winter months you can go ice skating in an unforgettable setting. If you’re in New York City and the season is right, this is not to be missed. And not far from Wollman Rink is the Central Park Carousel, a perennial favorite with kids.
Central Park is full of remarkable experiences. High atop Vista Rock is Belvedere Castle, where you’ll find an observation deck, visitors center, and gift shop. Bethesda Terrace, with its elegant fountain and grand staircases, is the striking culmination of The Mall (one of Central Park’s lovely pedestrian paths) and a photo opportunity waiting to happen. If you’re looking to stretch the legs, catch some fresh air, and bask in the natural beauty of Central Park, consider making time to stroll The Ramble, a 40-acre expanse of varied terrain known for hiking and birdwatching. It’s here that you’ll find the famous Bow Bridge, too.
Farther afield, at the very northeast edge of the park, is Conservatory Garden. Considered by some to be one of Central Park’s hidden gems, Conservatory Garden has been pleasing plant lovers since 1937. The Conservatory Garden actually consists of three sections: a French-inspired North Garden, an Italian-inspired Center Garden, and the English-inspired South Garden. A serene water-lily pool is nearby, too.
Central Park’s significant size and prominent location ensure that, in addition to all it has to offer guests firsthand, it’s right in the midst of many other major New York City attractions. You’ll find such acclaimed destinations as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum just steps away from Central Park. Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Art, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and even Rockefeller Center are only a few blocks to the south of this amazing park.
Tips for Visiting Central Park
- Don’t be overwhelmed by how much there is to experience in Central Park. It may sound simple, but take the time to enjoy yourself. You can’t go wrong no matter how you decide to spend your visit here, as there are memorials, monuments, and memorable sights practically every direction you turn in Central Park.
- A great way to maximize the amount of ground you cover in Central Park is by renting a bike. There are bike rental facilities located throughout the park, and a number of guided tours run here, too.
- For a truly one-of-a-kind Central Park experience, consider renting a rowboat or gondola. This service is available between the months of April and October, starting mid-morning each day. Head to The Lake, which can be found between Bethesda Terrace and The Ramble on the park’s western side.
- There’s always something special taking place at Central Park. Whether it’s a nature talk, discovery walk, or live performance of a Shakespeare play, you’ll want to be aware of what’s scheduled to be going down while you’re here. Check the Central Park Conservancy in advance of your visit for the latest information.