Central Park in New York City is ideal for taking a break from the rush of the city. At every opportunity to visit NYC, I retrace well-worn trails from prior visits, then explore some new areas of the city. Today’s visit is all about Central Park and a day in the city.
October is my favorite month to visit the Big Apple! I usually stay in Midtown and take a walk for several blocks to enjoy the city before entering the park.
A Walking Tour to Central Park in New York City
My walking tour to the north of Midtown is ideal for tracking some steps on my Apple Watch. Of my well-worn trails, this walk through Central Park is a favorite.
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
The starting point is the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
In June of 2009, I stayed at the hotel during some business meetings that changed my business career trajectory in so many ways. The weekend before the meeting, a head cold started, and was in full combat by the time I arrived in New York. A sinus infection transformed the common head cold into all shades of miserable. At some point, I slipped away from the business meetings long enough to go to a Duane Reade doctor’s facility and start on antibiotics for the remainder of the week.
It was June, but rainy and cold. To this day, I say, “If you are miserably sick in NYC, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is an excellent choice for a sick bed!” The hotel comforts were the only bright spot in that week of aches, pains, and hard work.
This beautiful landmark hotel opened in 1931, as the second hotel to bear this name. Think about that. It was certainly a different era and much unlike the current day when chains of hotels have hundreds of buildings that bear the same name and branding.
Shops and displays are abundant as we head north. Even office buildings have interesting interiors as we watch the business people rush in and out, conducting their business and chatting with vigor on cellphones and Bluetooth devices. I’ve always enjoyed a stop at the opulent Trump Tower and taking a few minutes in the tree-lined atrium for a soft drink, coffee, or water. On one occasion, I had a brief encounter with business advisor George Ross in the building’s main lobby.
We arrived at Central Park’s southeast entrance but then walked the southern perimeter, past the carriage horses, and entered from the southwest, near the Merchants’ Gate entrance. This imposing monument, with layers upon layers of history and art, is the USS Maine National Monument. Dedicated in 1913, this monument is a tribute to the 261 sailors and ship personnel who gave their lives aboard the USS Maine when the ship exploded in Havana Harbor in 1898.
While I often enjoy Central Park as a leisurely stroll, there is so much history to absorb and guided tours are ideal for learning adventures. Consider these options for seeing this 840-acre nature area.
Central Park Horse Carriage Ride (Long Loop – 45 Minutes)
Guided Central Park Pedicab Tour
New York City Central Park Bicycle Rental
Central Park Walking Tour with a Guide
New York’s Iconic Central Park: A Self-Guided Audio Tour
The Pond and Wollman Rink
The water features and green space in Central Park are so appealing. Within a few steps from the entry, tranquility takes hold. Trees rustle with light breezes and shimmering red and gold leaves flutter to the ground at our feet. It’s autumn, after all.
The Pond (as it’s indicated on the map) is a man-made small lake with an arching bridge. It is so picturesque and provides a stunning view of the park and the city. The stone bridge and classic styling (surrounded by large trees and flowering shrubs) make the ideal romantic setting. It’s no wonder that the bridge is a popular wedding proposal location.
Our next stop is a quaint cottage, known as The Dairy. The Gothic architecture reminds me of a countryside chapel, however, this is the gateway to an area that was originally a working dairy. The dairy offered fresh milk and ice cream and was an entertainment area for children. This building now serves as the park’s visitor center and has gifts and souvenirs available for purchase.
The dairy overlooks the Wollman Rink, giving visitors a view of ice skating activity against a backdrop of urban skyscrapers towering above the treetops. There are two ice skating rinks in Central Park, which are active for several months each year.
The Sheep Meadow
Our next stop is Sheep Meadow. This massive green space is indeed a grassy meadow that was used for grazing sheep until 1934. This spacious meadow is popular for sunning, picnics, and relaxing with friends.
Tavern on the Green Restaurant
The Tavern on the Green restaurant is only a few steps away. Here you can find a selection of lunch items or just a quick snack if you are ready for a break from the walking. Originally designed by Calvert Vaux and built in 1870 to house the sheep that grazed in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, this restaurant is an iconic element of any visit to Central Park. Look for the carved sheep heads in the architecture.
The Mall is one of my favorite areas. I love the draping trees and the many literary and film references. While most paths in the park are meandering trails with twists and turns, the mall is a broad and long path that leads to the Bethesda Terrace at its north end.
The American Elm trees create a shade of cover and give a sense of privacy, even when surrounded by hundreds of other visitors.
You’ve seen it in movies; it’s just as lovely in real life.
The Literary Walk
The statues on the perimeter of the mall are those of famous writers and other literary figures. This pathway is known as the Literary Walk, and it is along the mall path that the many statues in the park begin to display prominently.
While poets and novelists like Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott are well-recognized in America, there are also statues of less-known artists and even a statue of Christopher Columbus on the iconic mall pathway.
There is a statue of Balto, the leader of the sled dogs that rescued Nome, Alaska, from the threats and tragedy associated with a diphtheria epidemic in 1925. It’s worth the effort for a small detour and then back onto the main walkway. Scavenger hunt apps include a walking tour and clues to find these unexpected surprises while enjoying a leisurely walk in New York City’s Central Park.
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain
The grand mall leads visitors directly to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. These wide spaces and beautiful natural backdrop are often considered to be the central feature of the park.
The Bethesda Fountain dominates the circular plaza, at twenty-six feet high by ninety-six feet wide.
A classic bronze angel sculpture surrounded at the base by four small cherubim representing health, purity, temperance, and peace.
The angel has an outstretched hand, as in the motion of delivering a blessing on the water beneath her commemorating the opening of the Croton Aqueduct, which provided the city with fresh water in 1842.
In her other hand, the angel carries a lily flower representing the purity of the water. Take a moment to consider the importance of clean, fresh water -in 1842 and today.
Our final stop is near The Lake, where visitors and locals row small boats and enjoy the serenity of being outdoors. Boat rentals are available at Loeb Boathouse (follow the map to the east side of the lake).
Loeb Boathouse Restaurant
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the landscape plan for Central Park in 1858. Several years later, around 1874, Vaux designed a boathouse near the Lake. In this two-story boathouse visitors could purchase refreshments, prepare for their boat rides, or relax while watching other boats. The original boathouse was destroyed in a fire and the current structure was built in the 1950s. This is a lovely setting for dining while overlooking the lake from the outdoor dining deck.
After enjoying the scenery at The Lake, we headed over to Strawberry Fields (west side of the park), The Strawberry Fields memorial honors the British rock musician and peace activist John Lennon. This a five-acre manicured landscape near the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park in New York City and includes the Imagine mosaic. Visitors come to the memorial space to pause and pay tribute to Lennon. The memorial’s name is a reference to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, which was a popular 1967 song that John Lennon wrote and performed with the Beatles.
History of Central Park in New York City: The Greensward Plan
Central Park was a designed park with the specific purpose of providing New York residents a place to escape from the crowded city. At its inception, this park was far from the city and was, at the time, a rural area.
The original design for New York City proper was formulated by the City Commissioners in 1811 and was designed to accelerate commerce and efficient business arrangements. There were no significant open spaces included in those plans.
By the 1850s, the population had expanded, and New York City became crowded and tense. It was time for a change.
Central Park’s land was purchased for $5 million. The city held a design competition, which awarded the design concept to Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux with their design “The Greensward Plan.”
Central Park in New York City stretches for 2.5 miles from south to north and .4 miles from east to west, with city streets outlining the perimeter of the park.
Are you still tracking your steps?
Even today, in a city that may seem crowded at times, Central Park is the great equalizer among all people, offering respite from the worries of the day while embracing the beauty of nature.
Our tour was only a sampler of what Central Park in New York City has to offer. There are themed tours available to suit every interest. In addition, horse carriage rides, biking routes, and jogging paths provide additional ways to tour Central Park. I guarantee you’ll see something new with every visit.
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