Central Park is the living and beating heart of Manhattan, but this is never truer than on a gloriously sunny day at around 30 °C. We set off to explore, stopping first to get a free map from the helpful kiosks dotted around, entering from the central southern entrance.
I remembered some parts vaguely from a trip with my family a few years ago, such as the Alice in Wonderland statue in the Children’s garden, which I happened to be studying at the time. However, much of the rest had begun to blur together in my memory. The guide informed us that a full lap of the park was 10K, which greatly surprised us both, so we quickly planned a couple of snack stops (see below).
The southern entrances to the park are often overwhelmingly busy. Cyclists, horses and their carriages, runners, tourists like us, artists, performers, businessman and photographers all swim in whirling motions, trying to find their way through.
Forging onwards, you can find some very tranquil spots, with squirrels and birds completely unaffected by humans, and plenty of quiet corners to ‘get away from it all’. However, my favourite thing about Central Park is that no matter which corner you’re in, if you raise your eyes just a fraction higher than your natural sightline, then you’re reminded of where you are – at the peaceful centre of it all. Where else boasts a peaceful centre? In London, the Thames is a bustling river with bridges sprouting every which way, whilst Dublin’s O’Connell Street is bustling with buses and crossings.
The true benefit of having a peaceful centre is a city where everyone can escape for just a little while. The relief of the outside, the birds and the trees, is all possible within your lunch break. So while New York is constantly bubbling, brimming almost over the top, 5 minutes in the centre restores the calm.
While Manhattan is full of interesting characters, famously called the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’, so too is the Park. Below are our must-see areas:
1. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
106 acres worth of lake is no mean feat anywhere in the world, but in the middle of a city, and the middle of an island, it’s an impressive sight. Go on a sunny day to enjoy the skyline and join the others walking around its edge.
2. The Boating Lake and Alice in Wonderland Statue
The boating lake is an iconic part of many movies set in New York, the most memorable for me being Stuart Little (see clip below). The Alice in Wonderland Statue is beautiful – watch the children play as they climb from the mushrooms onto Alice’s shoulders.
3. Conservatory Garden
The Conservatory Garden, named after a now non-existent conservatory, is the only formal garden in Central Park and has the feel of Versailles, plus the beautiful arches of Italy. In the summer you can see beautiful waterlilies and fountains – the perfect place to bring a book!
4. The Loeb Boathouse
A beautiful place to rent a boat and try your hand at rowing. This is also a spot which has featured in many films such as 27 Dresses and When Harry Met Sally. Whilst being famous for its more upmarket restaurant, the fast-food café serves a great burger and chips, as well as a variety of sweet snacks which you can eat outside overlooking the water!
5. Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle is maybe the most visited attraction in Central Park. If you can battle through the people, make your way to the terraces to look out over the water and onto the skyscrapers in the distance. Built in 1867 as a folly, you may recognise this fairy-tale castle from Sesame Street, Enchanted and The Smurfs.
Now, while you’re exploring these, it may be helpful to have a snack or too to help you along the way. On our way north along the West Side, we ventured out to the Levain Bakery (as reviewed in this post) at the exit for the Natural History Museum. At the top of the park, we visited Absolute Bagel, for the BEST cream cheese bagel in New York (this is an absolute must). The Loeb Boathouse is a great place to stop for a burger if you’re hungry, or there are hot dog stands, bagels and snow cones throughout the park.