CENTRAL PARK GUIDE: PART 1
A class all its own NYC's Central Park is an urban green space not to be missed. As synonymous with the city as the Statue of Liberty herself it's the perfect escape from an urban center that never sleeps.
When you think of the world's greatest parks unsurprisingly Manhattan's crown jewel consistently comes out on top. Central Park is where 37.5 million hippies, yoga freaks, drunk picnickers, bloggers (undoubtedly shooting their next post) and vagrants come together every year with one thing in common - their deep appreciation for the outdoors and fresh air. The beautifully landscaped 3.5 square miles is not only rich in its history but the perfect juxtaposition of culture, relaxation and boundless activity.
As the blossoms begin to make their debut now is the perfect time to head into this exquisite city retreat of paths, gardens, sculptures, statues and meadows. True to form the range of activities and sights are seemingly endless as you're guaranteed to discover something new almost daily - which is where this handy-dandy guide comes into play.
ENTERING THE PARK
With more than 50 entry points along the perimeter, no matter which direction you come from entering the park is easy.
Columbus Circle (along Central Park South/59th Street)
Seventh Avenue and 59th Street
Sixth Avenue and 59th Street
Grand Army Plaza (two entrances just west of 5th Avenue and north of 59th Street)
Upper East Side entrances (along 5th Avenue)
More than 20 entrances spaced between 60th and 110th Streets
Upper West Side entrances (along Central Park West)
23 entrances between 63rd and 110th Street
North End (along 110th Street)
4 entry points between Morningside Heights/Harlem to East Harlem
WHAT TO SEE
A behemoth that can seem almost overwhelming to even the most experienced park goer Central Park will consistently surprise you. As you step into the park on a warm Spring day stop, take a deep breath and listen to the wind as it whistles through the multitude of trees around you. Today is a day where you throw planning and schedule out the window and just wander. It's beckoning you, come in and lose track of time.
Many would wonder who goes up to 105th Street on the East Side of Manhattan. It is rare an NYC resident who doesn't live up there would venture so far north, let alone a tourist. I'm telling you to break this mold! Catch either the 6 train or the M1/2/3/4 buses up Madison Avenue to 105th Street, walk one block West and you'll be greeted with a commanding wrought iron gate (which also happened to be the entryway to the Vanderbilt Mansion, back when it was located at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street).
As you walk under this stately archway the stunning display that awaits you penetrates all five of your senses. Originally created as a greenhouse it's divided into three sections mimicking classic French, English and Italian styles. This trifecta is the ideal spot for a peaceful afternoon as the garden is an official quiet zone. Winding through the paths pansies, tulips, perennial trees, and pink & white crab apple trees peek out around the fountains and benches. The Three Dancing Maidens fountain in the North garden, surrounded by a circle of hedges, immediately transports you to France, and a walk under the wisteria pergola in the center garden will have you dreaming of Italy.
If you want to further enrich your experience come back on Saturday mornings for a guided tour of the garden.
Jackie O Reservoir
A short 15 minute walk south of the Conservatory Garden puts you at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Loved by runners from a multitude of neighborhoods and famed for its 1.58-mile track around the 106-acre body of water the reservoir gives you some of the best views of the city's skyline. Ornithologists and novices alike will shiver in delight as more than 20 species of herons, egrets, coots, wood ducks and loons can be spotted. While the reservoir still distributes water to other Central Park locations the underlying function is an ecological sanctuary.
Whether you go to admire the wildlife or take an afternoon stroll as your feet hit the pavement know you're following in the famous footsteps of Madonna, Bill Clinton and of course Jackie O.
Popping out of the south end of the reservoir positions you less than 10 minutes from Delacorte Theater. Located at the south end of the Great Lawn, Delacorte Theater is home to the Public Theater's most anticipated Summer programming.
As you sit down in the open-air amphitheater you're transported to theaters past. With a backdrop of Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle this renowned theater gives every seat a picturesque view of the house.
Best known for its beloved Shakespeare in the Park series Delacorte never disappoints. Anyone from Meryl Streep, to Denzel Washington, to Natalie Portman to Al Pacino could make an appearance in one of the two plays produced each Summer (usually late May through August). Tickets for the productions are free and offered on a first come, first-served basis.
I had the pleasure of experiencing an unforgettable rendition of "The Taming of the Shrew" with an all female cast last summer, which included Cush Jumbo from "The Good Wife", Donna Lynne Champlin from "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and Janet McTeer & Adrienne C. Moore from "Orange is The New Black". With cast potentials like these bring a blanket and a picnic and get your place in line for one of NY's hottest Summer tickets.
Turtle Pond & Belvedere Castle
When traveling to Europe it's almost a sin to not see a castle or too. This same theory is true of Central Park. Rising right out of the middle of the park is one of the city's most stylish lookout points, Belvedere Castle. Sitting across from Delacorte Theater atop Vista Rock (one of the highest natural elevations in the park) the tower of the castle provides an unequaled perspective of the Great Lawn and the Ramble. At the base of the castle lies Turtle Pond - aptly named for a large amount of turtles that call the water their home.
The castle is a charming addition to the park and also serves as an official data recording point for the National Weather Service. Open daily for the climate enthusiast, budding naturalist or for those simply wanting to take in the scenery, when you get to the top forget the sea of people around you and let the cool Spring breeze and sounds of birds and frogs carry you into the storybooks of your childhood.
Swedish Cottage & Shakespeare Garden
Built in the Venice of the North (Sweden) and lying unassumingly behind Delacorte Theater and next to Belvedere Castle, the Swedish Cottage has seen a variety of uses over the years. A schoolhouse at heart and the now the home of a marionette theater, the cottage proudly displays its cultural history as both the Swedish and American flags flit in the wind.
300 years after The Bard's death a fairytale garden sprung up across from the cottage. Filled with flora mentioned in the tales of this infamous playwright's body of work this 4-acre seasonal garden lies waiting to be discovered. Following more established Shakespeare gardens in the US and Britain, New York's less frequented jewel is a treasure hunt of sorts as bronze plaques wind throughout the path aiding visitors in their quest to identify the species of plants alluded to in Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. It's even said that the white mulberry tree said to have grown from a tree planted by Shakespeare himself is also located in the garden.
Strawberry Fields & Lennon Memorial
Located at 72nd Street is a powerful little pocket of the park memorialized to legendary musician John Lennon. Co-created by Yoko Ono the space was named after the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever."
An even more poignant tribute, the teardrop shaped memorial is situated adjacent from the Dakota building where Lennon lived from 1973 until his heart-shattering death on the front steps complete with a mosaic which simply reads "Imagine".
The hordes of people do take away from the experience of this designated quiet zone, so visit in the morning to reflect and leave your own floral tribute to this great peace activist and musician whose passionate words still ring true today.
Friedsam Memorial Carousel
What defines an attraction as one meant for children or adults? If it solely relates to the sheer joy you can experience while doing said activity then it's time to let out your inner child.
Near 64th Street on the west side of the park is an over 100-year-old carousel that any history buff will enjoy as 58 delightfully hand-carved horses and chariots glide majestically around the center of the nation's largest merry-go-round. Originally powered by a blind mule and horse (from the late 1800s to the early 1900s) the carousel went through three iterations before being updated with an abandoned replacement found in a Brooklyn trolley terminal n 1950.
As just one slice of history in the larger Central Park pie, a ride on this classic carousel is a must-do experience for any age.
Are you tired? Don't give up yet! There's much more to see and do in the park, so come back tomorrow for part two of the guide!