Central Park may be one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world today; however it began not as an untouched natural wonder, but as an idea. With its sparkling ponds, towering trees and wide open green spaces, it is tempting to think that the city of New York grew up around Central Park. In fact, the opposite is true.
The History of Central Park
In the early 1800s, the population of New York exploded, quadrupling in size. With people crowding into tenement housing, there were few open spaced left in the city, and the only escape from the crowd and the noise were New York’s cemeteries.
New York’s poets and thinkers began the call for a public park by the middle of the century, looking for inspiration from London’s parks and the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. So a plan was put in place to clear existing buildings, small farms and homesteads to build the 850 acres of accessible parkland. Today, when you visit, take a moment to appreciate that every tree, flower, path and river was designed and placed here for the enjoyment of the people.
Highlights of Central Park
There are many different ways to enjoy a day in Central Park. Bring a blanket and a picnic lunch and spread out on the Great Lawn. Bring a pair of binoculars and watch for warblers in The Ramble in the spring or fall. Rent a rowboat at the Loeb Boathouse and spend a romantic hour paddling on The Lake. Tour the park in comfort in a horse carriage or a Pedicab. If you are visiting New York in the winter, rent skates at Wollman or Lasker Rink and spend some fresh hours enjoying the outdoors.
Visiting Central Park with the Kids
For anyone visiting New York with young children, the southeast corner of Central Park is a must. That is where you will find the small but fascinating Central Park Zoo, which is home to seals polar bears and river otters. From there, it is a short walk to the historic Central Park Carousel, built in 19080 and moved here from Coney Island in 1951. The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre stages wonderful puppet shows several times a day, all year round. If that isn’t enough, Central Park is home to 21 playgrounds. The oldest and the largest is Heckscher Playground, which covers more than three acres of land with slides, climbing rocks and a water feature.
Central Park has played host to some of New York’s biggest and best concerts, featuring artists such as Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand and Garth Brooks. Even if there isn’t a world class concert on the schedule, there are many opportunities for music, dance or theatre in Central Park. The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan opera perform open-air concerts in the park every summer, as does the New York Shakespeare Festival. The Central Park Summerstage also puts on a number of free performances all summer long, which could be dance, music or film. Even on the quietest summer afternoon, there will be talented buskers with guitars or instruments, putting on a show for the crowds.
A Memorial to John Lennon
John Lennon lived at the Dakota Apartments, looking over Central Park on the Upper West Side. Across the street from the Dakota lies the memorial to his life, known as Strawberry Fields. It covers two acres of sculpted garden, with a grey marble mosaic of the word “Imagine” at its heart. Like the rest of Central Park it is a surprising and beautiful addition to any visit to New York City.