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Best Free Thing #4 - Get lost in the Park
This has to be top of everyone's must-see list. Central Park was America's very first public park and probably its most famous. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it's 838 acres of meadows, groves, paths and ponds. There is so much to do here that it really deserves a location page of its own but they have a great website that has done a better job than I ever could at covering all it has to offer.
So what to do? Take the kids to one of the 21 playgrounds or the zoo; hire a pedicab or buggy tour; check out free frisbees, soccer balls, horseshoes or other play equipment at the North Meadow Rec Center; tap your toes to a music ensemble; pay your respects to Strawberry Fields; row a boat or pedal a bike; bring a picnic or have lunch at one of the eateries; lounge on one of 9,000 benches; just walk - there's 58 miles of paths to choose from!
Not everything is free - such as the zoo, winter ice-skating and boat/bike rentals - but you can easily spend an entire day here without spending a dime. It is positively massive so I'd suggest downloading some of the maps from the attached links, referencing the photos and choosing, in advance, the corners of the park you'd most like to visit.
This is, along with walking the Brooklyn Bridge, my favorite memory of NYC.
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- Hiking and Walking
An all day event
One of my favorite things to do in New York City is visit central park.. It's easy for me since I live couple of blocks away... But it's really easy to spend an entire day there whether you live here or just visiting. You can start by going to the Central Park Zoo (much smaller than Bronx zoo-but lots of fun)... then you walk up towards the carousel, have lunch at one of the dozen ponds, or under a tree (bring a bag of sandwiches –there are also places to get food there)… than up towards the great lawn… there are a ton of entertainers all over, whether it’s clowns, musicians, or dancers. There are a couple of water fountains, you have to go to the bigger one (near the boat house), and you can rent kayaks and kayak through central park (also near boat house)! Amazing scenery... (just be careful.. it gets packed during nice weather and easily can bump each other kayaks). There is a pretty turtle pond, I saw many turtles floating on leaves. At times there are concerts performed (check their website)… There are a lot of things to see and do in central park.. I go there often just to take photographs.. with every season the pics come out absolutely amazing.
For the athletes, there is a tennis center, and you can rent bikes too… so if you want a full body work out –go for a bike ride, then kayak for the arms, and play a bit of tennis.. ;)
Something for everyone
Central Park was the first public park built in America, and was constructed in the middle of the 19th century to create a breathing space for the 500,000 people then living in New York City. The statistics relating to the park demonstrate what a large scale undertaking this was. It occupies 843 acres of prime real estate between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, stretching from 59th Street in the south to 110th Street in the north. Its perimeter is six miles in length, and it incorporates 136 acres of woodlands, 250 acres of lawns, and 150 acres. In constructing the Park workers moved nearly five million cubic yards of stone, earth, and topsoil, and built 30 bridges and arches, and 11 overpasses over the sunken roads that cross the park.
On our previous, much longer, visit to New York we spent many happy hours here, but this time we contented ourselves with just the one walk, crossing the park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the East Side to our hotel near the Museum of Natural History on the West. It was a warm Sunday afternoon and both New Yorkers and tourists were there in numbers, making full use of this wonderful green oasis in an otherwise manic city. Walking, jogging, running; exercising dogs or themselves; boating on the lake; playing ball games; catching up with friends on one of the many benches or simply lying in the sun – there are so many ways in which to enjoy Central Park.
We took a walk in the part known as the Ramble, a protected eco-system that felt more like a wood than a park, and then relaxed for a while on a bench watching the rowers on the lake. With more time we could have:
~ taken a boat out on the Lake ourselves
~ visited the Central Park Zoo
~ taken a walking tour
~ had a drink or snack in one of the several refreshment places
~ gone swimming (or skating if it had been a winter visit!)
~ ridden the Carousel
But for me the best thing of all about the park is simply hanging out and people-watching.
Central Park is the most visited park in the United States, 25 million visitors per year, and one of the most famous parks in the world. It occupies 843 acres of the most valuable real estate in the world and offers a green respite from the surrounding city. The natural look is deceiving - the park was totally landscaped and man-made. Amidst the open green fields, rocky outcroppings, roads trails and walks are numerous special features including two skating rinks, famous restaurants, a functioning weather station in a real castle, an outdoor theater, swimming pool, a fort from the War of 1812, and a zoo and wildlike center. Remarkable statuary and unique bridges and balustrades are scattered througout. The park is mobbed - on summer weekends, 250000+ visitors. But it is well maintained by the Central Park Conservatory, a private not-for-profit management group under contract to the NYC Dep't of Parks and Recreation.
From the park, the massive buildings surrounding the park create remarkable photo opportunitues and images. Here two views of Central Park South from the region of Wollman Rink.
The Reason for Being- Central Park
After years of debate over the location, construction finally began on Central Park, in 1857, based on the winner of a park design contest. Frederick Law Olmsted, park superintendent, and Calvert Vaux, an architect were the chief designers. The city acquired 840 acres located in the center of Manhattan, spanning two and a half miles from 59th Street to 106th Street (in 1863 the park was extended north to 110th Street) and half a mile from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. About 1,600 people who had been living in the rocky, inhospitable terrain--some as legitimate renters and others as squatters--were evicted; included in this sweep were the residents of Seneca Village, an African-American settlement of about 270 people. This community was destroyed. Though the city did compensate the landowners with an average of $700 per lot of land, many residents estimated this far below the value of their property, which contained their homes, their history, and their livelihoods.
Was to incorporate all the natural elements, rocks and swampy areas and turn them into
a place of refuge and beauty for all New Yorkers, particuarly the underprivilaged,who were at the time living in dank crowded tenements, many of whom were immigrants in the land of opportunity.
The Building of Central Park
Thousands of German, Irish and Italian laborers worked ten-hour days for between a dollar and a dollar fifty per day. Winter 1858, saw the opening of the park's first area to the public; December of that same year saw New Yorkers skating on the large lake south of the Ramble. Final stages of the park's construction began in 1863, with the landscaping and building of the newly acquired area from 106th to 110th Streets.
The Sad Misconception
In the first decade of the park's completion, it became clear that the poorer residents were unable to enjoy the pleasures of CentralPark. It was too far uptown to be within walking distance of their homes, the park became a distant oasis to them. Trainfare was unaffordable on their meagre wages. Mid 1860s the park became the domain of the wealthy; the afternoons saw the park's paths crowded with the luxurious carriages that were the status symbol of the day. Women friends met there for picnics and tea, and weekends saw concerts being held outdoors. In the late nineteenth century, a successful campaign was held to incorporate the needs of the middle classes, which had up to then been working 6 days weeks,and were thus unable to attend events held on Saturdays.
As the city and the park moved into the twentieth century, the lower reservoir was drained and turned into the Great Lawn. The park became less and less an elite oasis and escape, and was gradually shaped more and more by the needs of the growing population of New York City. Its uses evolved and expanded; by the middle of the century, ball clubs were allowed to play in the park, and the "Please Keep of the Grass" signs which had dotted the lush meadows of the park were a thing of the past.
Today Central Park is a major hub for most New York
recreation. The park hosts millions of visitors yearly. Activities such as roller blading, dining at the Tavern on the Green, watching free performances of Shakespheare in the Park, and relaxing and sunbathing on the lawns are part of daily life in New York
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Half of all park visitors arrive thru Grand Army Plaza at 5th Avenue and Central Park South and encounter The Pond just a few yards from the busy intersection. Designers Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-95) created a 3.8 acre lake from a swamp surrounded by rocky outcroppings using a stream running eastward as a source. It was set well below street level and separated from street level by large trees and shrubs, blocking out the noise of the adjacent city and creating an instant respite. During summer weekdays, it is a popular spot at lunch for workers from all the surrounding buildings. Artists are drawn to the comma-shaped pond with surrounding plantings renovated within the last 10 years as well as the graceful bridge at the north end.
Along the northwest margin of the Pond is a 3.4 acre nature Hallett Nature Sanctuary, named after civic reformer George Hallett Jr, an avid birdwatcher. It is the smallest woodland in the park and only opened for special tours. Over 270 species of migratory birds call Central Park their part-time home.
The Literary Walk
The centerpiece of the 1850's Olmstead-Vaux plan for Central Park was a grand promenade, modelled after the great European parks as a place for New York's upper classes. It is the only straight pathway in the park. The southern end is called the Literary Walk and was designated by Olmstead as the main site for statuary in the park. There are 5 major statues, some pictured here, including William Shakespeare, Fitz-Green Halleck, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns, all placed in the 1870's. The fifth statue is Christopher Columbus, literary credentials unknown, placed in 1894. Inline skaters congregate at the north end of the Literary Walk.
Felt like a breath of fresh air!
With its 843 acres, Central Park covers about 6% of Manhattan. I have no idea why, but I always sort of imagined Central Park to be flat and rather dull. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I discovered this beautiful hilly urban park, graced with statues, lagoons, and lovely walking trails, all designed back in 1857 by landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux. Olmsted was a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture and largely drew his inspiration from the English gardens and landscaped cemeteries he had visited. It's no secret that he was very disappointed with how Central Park turned out since the authorities in charge modified his original design to make the park more accessible and practical, and also to lower construction costs. However, to most locals and visitors, Central Park today is an enchanting natural place where people can go to forget all about the busy New York City streets.
Going on a horse-carriage ride in Central Park is a classic, but at $50 for a 25-min ride, not everyone can afford it. Another really fun thing to do at Central Park is to go on a self-guided walking tour. To do so, you can print a map and download the free audiotour available at http://www.centralpark.com/pages/walking-tours.html. The audiotour covers the southern half of the park, which is the most popular part of Central Park thanks to well-known features such as Strawberry Fields, the Alice in Wonderland monument, and Belvedere Castle. It took us about 2 hours to complete the walking tour, which allowed us to see many of the park's highlights, but there is still so much we haven't seen that Central Park will once again be at the top of our list for our next trip to New York City!
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The Statues of Artists Gate
The Central Park entrance at the 59th Street end of the Avenue of the Americas is called Artist's Gate, one of four on the south border. In 1933, mayor Fiorello LaGuardia renamed 6th Avenue to foster cooperation and unity among the nations of the western hemisphere and brought together at this gate famous statues of 3 American heroes. Most famous is the statue of Jose Marti at the moment of a fatal wound in battle. His right arm is held against his right chest wound as he pulls on the reins and the horse rears. Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar are featured on the other two statues.
Scenic Views at Every Bend in the Path
When Olmstead and Vaux designed Central Park, it was no more than an undesirable area of swamps with lots of large rocks. New York City proper extended only to 34th Street and this area was occupied by squatters, a small town of freed slaves, and little else. There were no buildings surrounding the park as there are today. Yet the brilliance of their design is even more obvious today, both in the remarkable views of the park with the background of the tall city buildings and in the beauty of the landscaping at every turn. Flower beds are replanted with the seasons under the guidance of the Conservancy - keep your eyes open - beauty is everywhere.
Central Park in New York
New York's Central Park is arguably the most famous urban park in the world. In my opinion it probably the best that I have ever visited. The huge 853 acre rectangular shaped park was opened in 1873, designed as an escape for New Yorkers. It has served that purpose ever since. The park is very crowded in certain areas because of all of the numerous jogger, rollerbladers, skateboarders and picnicers.
The park has a varied collection of attractions to keep tourists and locals busy. This includes a small but good zoo, a castle, outdoor theatre, fishing ponds and sports facilitities. I do not think there is any city in the world where a park place such an important role in its urban landscape. In my opinion you have not seen New York unless you have walked around Central Park. A word of warning, Central Park is famous for its after dark muggers so do not explore when the sun goes down unless there is a large crowd.
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In the original Olmstead-Vaux plan, this area was intended as a conservatory with ornate flower beds. Due to financial issues, the original plan was scuttled and a pond modelled after the model boat pond of Paris substituted. Today, this pond is the prime park location for model boats, as featured in the children's book Stuart Little. The adjacent Kerb Memorial Boathouse offers storage for larger models as well as a cafe with a patio. The surrounding landscape is among the more beautiful areas in the park, including Pilgrim's Hill.
The famous red-tailed hawks, Pale Male and Lola, have their nest on a building on 5th Avenue facing this pond. There is always a telescope vendor present willing to sell you a peek at the nest as well as numerous photographs.
Conservatory Water is also one of the most popular places for divorced dads and their children on weekend visiting days.
The Bridges and Arches
I find the most remarkable feature of Central Park to be the 36 bridges and arches that carry pedestrian and vehicular traffic through and especially across the park. Olmstead and Vaux anticipated the growth of the city to surround the park even though at the time of planning the city only extended to the 34th Street region. They created a system allowing for separate roads for all types of traffic and obviated the need for unsightly intersections by using arches and bridges to carry traffic on different levels. For instance, the transverse roads are all submerged and in large part obscured from the park level. Unlike European parks, the bridges are hidden and inconspicuous. Vaux and his assistant Jacob Mould used brick, marble, granite, rock, and cast iron (Mould's specialty) to create totally different structures at each site. The bridges are hidden until you suddenly stumble onto or under one and then their unique designs are a pleasure to see.
Greywacke, pictured adjacent, is unique in that it is the only bridge named after the material used in its construction - a type of sandstone found in the Hudson River Valley. All the bridges and arches have names of course
Image 2 - note how a busy roadway is totally hidden from the park.
Image 5 - this wider arch directs a bridle path beneath a pedestrian walkway.
This smooth 15 acre lawn was constructed from a rocky and swampy terrain by blasting out rock and covering the surface with several feet of dirt - it became the most expensive construction site at Central Park. Originally a military parade ground, it got the name from sheep kept on the site from 1864 to 1934. In the 1960's, the lawn was ruined as the meadow was used for huge concerts, VietNam protests, hippie festivals, as well as the moon landing by American astronauts. It was the first area restored by the Conservancy and reopened in 2001, again the pastoral lawn as planned by the original designers. Today up to 30000 visitors jam the field each weekend. Picnics, parties, sunbathing, sports - the Sheep Meadow is one of the most popular sites in Central Park.
You Can't Miss It!
After spending a week in NYC, I think Central Park was my favorite activity. It was absolutely beautiful. It was a nice May day, the sun was shining...not too hot, not too cold. We found a small company that offered 2 hour bicycle tours. My friend and I were lucky enough to be the only ones on the tour, and had a fantastic time. We were able to cover quite a bit of ground, and really felt like we had a good introduction to this incredible park. Our guide pointed out many of the different statues/structures, showed us many spots where movies had been filmed and told us about some of the park history.
Central Park took 20 years to be constructed, and is 843 acres. It would take many visits to see everything the park has to offer. It is filled with lakes, ponds, bridges and well known landmarks.
In addition to normal park like activities, you can enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride, visit the small zoo, ride the 90 year old carousel, horseback ride, or enjoy the tranquility of strawberry fields. A 2.5 acre section of the park dedicated to John Lennon.
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