New York botanical gardens is an oasis in the city of skyscrapers and brownstone tenements.…
New York: Central Park
When we lived close to New York City we’d often venture into Central Park, if for nothing more than to escape the hubbub. There is always something going on in Central Park, whether it be buskers, art exhibitions, plays or ice skating.
New York’s Central Park is a world-famous public park, created beginning in 1858 to address the recreational needs of the rapidly growing City. Its original purpose was to offer urban dwellers an experience of the countryside, a place to escape from the stresses of urban life and to commune with nature and fellow New Yorkers. Over 150 years later, the Park still provides this essential purpose, and welcomes all visitors, while accommodating newer forms of recreational activities. With 42 million visits a year, Central Park is one of the most visited urban parks in the country and one of the most popular destinations in New York City.
1. CARRIAGE RIDES
One of the quintessential things to do in Central Park is to take a carriage ride. We did it on our first trip to New York City, which was in January. It was frigid, but the driver provided some blankets, so we were cosy.
One thing to know is these rides will set you a fair chunk of change. A fifteen-minute ride will cost around $60. This is for the carriage, which takes up to four adults.
This is the sort of thing you might try once and does make for a special memory.
It is best to book in advance, especially in the summer. Most of the carriage owners have a website where you can reserve your ride online.
2. BELVEDERE CASTLE
Set upon the craggy Vista Rock, Belvedere Castle offers lovely views across Central Park and New York City from its rooftop lookout. Looking north, you see the open green space of the Great Lawn and the Delacorte Theater, where free Shakespearean productions performed by some famous names are held every summer. To the south is the forest area known as the Ramble.
Built in 1869, Belvedere is not a real castle it was designed as an architectural feature and lookout for the park. It eventually fell into disrepair and was renovated and opened in the 1980s
Belvedere Castle is actually very small and just about has enough space for a gift shop and visitor centre.
3. CENTRAL PARK ZOO
The Central Park Zoo is part of an effort to save wildlife that began 120 years ago with the creation of the New York Zoological Society, an organization founded on science and hope which has since grown to become the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Squeezed into 6.5 acres Central Park Zoo is a great place to take the children. Here you’ll find snow leopards, bears, red pandas, Californian sea lions and penguins among the 130 species on display.
4. STRAWBERRY FIELDS
On Oct. 9, 1985, John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, dedicated a 2½-acre area of Central Park to her late husband, five years after he was fatally shot. Central Park is located directly across the street from the Dakota, the apartment building in Manhattan where John Lennon spent the last few years of his life until his death at the south entrance of the building. Ono lives there to this day, across the street from the Central Park Strawberry Fields memorial.
The focal point of Strawberry Fields, Central Park’s iconic black-and-white mosaic bearing the word “Imagine,” is in reference to John Lennon’s famous song with that title.
There is a a rotation of buskers who come here to play Beatles’ songs. We spent a good hour here just sitting and listening to the music.
5. BETHESDA FOUNTAIN & TERRACE
The Bethesda Fountain, the gorgeous focal point of the Bethesda Terrace, is one of the largest fountains in New York, measuring twenty-six feet high by ninety-six feet wide.
It is one of the most well known fountains in the world, and the statue at its center was the only sculpture to have been commissioned as a part of Central Park’s original design.
This neoclassical sculpture, also known as Angel of the Waters, features an eight-foot bronze angel who stands above four small cherubim representing health, purity, temperance, and peace.
6. CONSERVATORY GARDEN
Central Park’s only formal garden, the Conservatory Garden, opened in 1937, and was inspired by three types of garden design: English, French, and Italian. The Center Fountain, with its simple and geometric design, reflects the principles of Italian garden design that include order and balance. The jet fountain creates a single column of water that collects in a basin and is framed by a symmetrical arrangement of plantings, including a large lawn defined by hedged evergreens and the wisteria pergola, a large trellis.
7. BOW BRIDGE
Bow Bridge is one of the most photographed and filmed locations in Central Park and it deserves every bit of its star reputation. Stretching sixty feet over the lake, from Cherry Hill to the Ramble, it is not only one of the most beautiful cast iron bridges in the world, but also offers some of the most breathtaking views of the park around it. Completed in 1862 Bow Bridge was built of cast iron instead of stone, which was used for almost all of the other archways in the park.
8. VISIT A MUSEUM
You could combine your visit to Central Park with going to one of several museums that are located around the perimeter of the Park. There is literally something for everyone!
If art is your thing on the east side of Central Park are the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim. One of the cool things about the Guggenheim is the building itself which was designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
If art is not your thing then try out the wonderful Natural History Museum or the Museum of the City of New York which has photos, maps & other artefacts that trace NYC history from its 16th-century birth to the present day.
9. SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK
If you are visiting New York in the summer months and love Shakespeare you could try and catch one of the free Shakespeare plays put on in Central Park.
Shakespeare in the Park is an annual event held at the Delacorte Theater featuring large scale productions of famous works. Since its inception over 45 years ago, the Theater has hosted over five million people from across the globe.
Notable performances have included James Earl Jones in Othello, Meryl Streep in The Taming of the Shrew, and Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice.
10. WOLLMAN RINK
One of the coolest things to do, literally, is to ice skate in Central Park on Wollman Rink in the winter months. It was built in 1949 and has been a success from the day it opened – over 300,000 skaters glided across the ice in its first year of operation. Ice skating in Central Park is easily one of the most picturesque activities to be enjoyed on a winter’ s night. Unlike the somewhat overwhelming confines of the Rockefeller Center rink you can actually see stars at Wollman Rink.
In the spring and summer the rink becomes home to the Victorian Gardens amusement park, a beautiful evocation of a quaint country carnival with rides and attractions for the whole family.
Planning your visit to Central Park
Central Park is located in New York City, and stretches from 59th Street to 110th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.
GETTING TO CENTRAL PARK
B, C, 2, and 3 on the north side
1, 2, 3, B, and C trains along the west side
4, 5, 6 trains along the east side
A, B, C, D, 1, N, R, and Q trains on the south side
M1, M2, M3, M4 on the east side
M10, M72 on the west side
From Grand Central Station
Central Park is a 19-minute walk from Grand Central Station. The M1, M2, and M3 buses travel up the length of the Park, a block away on Madison Avenue.
From Penn Station
Central Park is a 29-minute walk from Penn Station. The M34 and M2 buses are other good options.
Open daily, 6:00 am—1:00 admission
Best time to visit New York City
Fall and spring are considered by tourists and locals as the best times to visit, and you can expect pleasant temperatures to reign in the months from April to June and September until November. However, the best times of year to visit New York City for warm-weather activities are from mid-June to July and from early August to the end of September.
Other things to do whilst in New York City
1. BRONX ZOO
The Bronx Zoo is a zoo within Bronx Park in the Bronx, New York. It is one of the largest zoos in the United States by area and is the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States by area, comprising 265 acres of parklands and naturalistic habitats separated by the Bronx River.
It is a great place to spend the day with your family, or indeed on your own. The highlights for us are the Congo Gorilla exhibit, JungleWorld, Madagascar and the Wild Asia Monorail.
2. NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS
Established in 1891, The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is distinguished by the beauty of its landscape, collections, and gardens, and the scope and excellence of its programs in horticulture, education, and science. NYBG was inspired by an 1888 visit that eminent botanists Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife, Elizabeth, took to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London. The Brittons believed New York should have a great botanical garden to advance public understanding of plants, be a repository of rare and valuable specimens, and lead original research in botanical science.
Today, the 250-acre Garden—the largest in any city in the United States—is a National Historic Landmark.
3. STATUE OF LIBERTY & ELLIS ISLAND
The Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of the United States of America. You can visit the statue on Liberty Island by ferry from Manhattan and New Jersey. On Liberty Island, there is a museum dedicated to the history of Lady Liberty.
Also, from Liberty Island, you can make the short journey across the water to Ellis Island, which was the reception centre for people emigrating to America. Today, it is a museum run by the National Park Service and an archive where visitors can trace their relatives who made the life-changing journey across the water to start new lives in the United States of America.
4. MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA)
The New York Museum of Art was established in 1929 with an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. Today, the collection has grown to approximately 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, media and performance artworks; including works from the greatest contemporary artists, including Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dalí, Warhol, Hockney and Pollock to name but a few.
5. 9/11 MEMORIAL MUSEUM
The 9/11 Memorial Museum invites visitors to learn about the history of the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing at the site where the Twin Towers once stood. The Museum’s dynamic blend of architecture, archaeology, and history creates an unforgettable encounter with the story of the attacks, their aftermath, and the people who experienced these events.
Where to stay in New York City
1. ELEMENT TIMES SQUARE
During our visit to New York, we stayed in the Element hotel which is in the Hells Kitchen district. For us, it was perfectly located and was only a 5-minute walk to Times Square. It was also very close to several metro stations and the main bus terminal. We were feeling a bit stingy and cautious due to the Covid-19 pandemic so we decided to walk from Penn Station to the hotel, which only took us 10-minutes, hauling our luggage.
The room was good, we had a little kitchenette and there were pots, pans, plates and silverware, so we were self-contained. We were lucky enough to be on one of the higher floors, so we had a view. It was also possible to see the Empire State building.
Breakfast is included but nothing to write home about, but there are plenty of places to eat in the area so it was not a problem for us.
2. YOTEL NEW YORK
A futuristic hotel set in the centre of New York with a robot luggage sorting machine will wow and amaze you.
The hotel offers both double and family rooms with incredible city views, all uniquely furnished and decorated to give a modern, sci-fi feel. Each room has a large double bed and some have bunks or sofa beds too. They come with a desk area for working (plus great wifi), a flat-screen TV, air-con and a large shower room.
There is a lovely Mediterranean fusion restaurant on site that offers meals all times of the day, plus a gorgeous roof terrace where you can enjoy the New York skyline with your favourite tipple in hand. There is also a gym in the hotel too with Peloton bikes, for fitness training. Your stay also includes the hire of a Yotel Bike for touring around the city. Green room 42 is a cabaret club that offers live performances and food and drinks.
3. FREEHAND HOTEL
Freehand is located in the former George Washington hotel, known as the home of many artists, and it has maintained its creative spirit. It has a partnership with Bard College and many artists take an active part in designing the hotel and in shaping its cultural life. Freehand features five restaurants and bars, and elegantly designed rooms with private bathrooms. The rooms sleep up to 6 people.
It is located on Lexington Avenue and in walking distance of Union Square, Midtown and Flatiron.
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