In the mid 19th century New York’s relentless march northwards up Manhattan Island began to create concerns that it was turning in to a concrete jungle lacking the green spaces of great cities like London and Paris. From 59th Street the terrain between 5th and 8th Avenues was a mixture of swamp and rock outcrops and hence difficult to develop. The land was occupied by poor people living off the land who could be moved on with little fuss, so in 1857 a competition was held to design a park. The winning design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux first opened in 1859, creating a green lung that stretches up to 110th Street and divides the Upper East and West Sides of the City.
Snow Monkeys, Central Park Zoo
There has been a zoo in Central Park since the 1860s and following almost complete reconstruction in the 1980s, Central Park Zoo remains a major attraction. It is a small zoo, so you won’t find elephants, giraffes or lions here. The Snow Monkeys do a great job of looking cute, but the stars of Central Park Zoo are undoubtedly the Penguins and Polar Bears. Click Tab 2 to see a Polar Bear during a brief waking break from doing what Polar Bears do best - sleeping.
Ducks on Harlem Meer, Central Park
Central Park is at its very best when it has a thick covering of snow. The park is nearly split in two by a large reservoir in the middle, separating the more popular southern half from the quieter northern half. Harlem Meer is in the extreme north western corner of the park, well away from the crowds. It is the part of the park that feels most rural as the surrounding buildings are lower and hence less visible. It is a long walk here from the south of the park, but well worth it particularly in the snow. In this picture, ducks have found refuge on the only piece of unfrozen water in the locality.
Strawberry Fields, Central Park
The murder of John Lennon at the Dakota Building by Mark Chapman on December 8, 1980 created one of those moments where everybody remembers where they were when they heard the news. In Central Park just opposite the Dakota Building an international peace garden has been created in memory of Lennon. Named after the Beatles song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, its centrepiece is a Italian mosaic with the word ‘Imagine’ in the middle recalling Lennon’s most famous song from his post-Beatles era. More than 25 years after John Lennon’s death there is still a constant flow of flowers left in his memory. The garden is a major tourist attraction in this once quiet part of Central Park, and at times it can be difficult to see it through the crowds.
Procession of horse-drawn carriages, Central Park
Back to the popular south of the park. Central Park South opposite the Plaza Hotel is the starting point for carriage rides that draw in the tourists. We have never taken the carriage ride because we consider it to be an incredibly expensive way of seeing only a very limited area of the park. During his election campaign Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to severely restrict horse-drawn carriages, but his attempts to do this have failed. Nowadays the pedicabs do provide an alternative to the carriages, but their charges are also sky high. Our advice is to avoid the carriages and pedicabs because Central Park is best explored on foot. Click Tab 2 to see a pedicab and carriage in Central Park.
Skaters in Central Park
The many lakes and ponds in Central Park were once havens for ice skaters in winter. Nowadays ice skating takes place on rather safer purpose built rinks. Shown here is the Wollman Rink, between 62nd and 63rd Streets, which was built in 1949. There is a second rink at the northern end between 106th and 108th Streets. Ice skating is just one of a huge range of sports that take place in the park. The picture shows another aspect of Central Park. The park is huge, 341 hectares (843 acres) size, yet here in the southern section of the park the surrounding buildings still loom over you. The figures on the ice in this picture are very reminiscent of the winter scenes by Flemish painters Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Younger.
Click on Minimap to navigate
Central Park may be big, but it is surrounded by skyscrapers. Sheep Meadow is deep inside the park, but the looming skyscrapers make it impossible to imagine that you are in the countryside. Yes, sheep really did once graze here, but in 1934 they were exiled to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Now it is New York office workers who graze their lunch in the meadow.
To move forwards or backwards through the Manhattan trail click the arrows above, or select your next destination on the Minimap.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
In 1876 Sweden exhibited a pre-fabricated schoolhouse at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. In 1877 Frederick Law Olmsted, co-designer of Central Park, decided that the building would be a worthy addition to the park. The building has had a number of uses over the years, including a nature study centre for children, an entomological laboratory and, during World War II it was the Civil Defence Headquarters. Since 1947 it has been the home of the the Marionette Theatre, known for its whimsical productions of children’s classics like Peter Pan and Cinderella.
Alice in Wonderland Statue
Another children’s classic is represented here, the 1875 novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland written by by English author The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carrol. In 1959 philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned sculptor Josť de Creeft to produce a bronze sculpture featuring characters from the story. The figures in the statue are true to the original illustrations by John Tennie in the first edition of the book, although the face of Alice was based on Creeft’s daughter Donna and the face of the Mad Hatter was actually a caricature of George Delacorte. Children are encouraged to climb on the statue, which keeps much of the statue well polished! The statue can be found just north of Conservatory Water on the east side of the park.
In 1869 Calvert Vaux added a folly to the design for Central Park in the form of a miniature castle. Belvedere Castle sits on top of Vista Rock, the second highest point in the park. This whimsical folly originally provided sweeping views of Central Park, but nowadays the trees around it have grown so tall that the view is restricted. The tower of Belvedere Castle houses the weather station used to take measurements of New York's weather and the building also houses one of Central Park's five visitor centres. When we visited in May 2018 Belvedere Castle was closed for renovation, but it is scheduled to reopen in 2019.