What to do in Central Park
Most people who book holidays to New York do so with a view to discovering what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most exciting and busiest destinations. From the Empire State Building to Times Square, NYC is full of iconic landmarks that are distinctly urban in nature.
However, you do not need to be a regular visitor to the city to know that it is also home to one of the world’s most famous, vibrant and popular green public spaces. Central Park is the very definition of a tranquil oasis in the heart of a bustling metropolis, and its 843 acres are a true sanctuary for New York’s millions of residents and tourists alike. Below, we highlight some (but by no means all) of the great activities you can take part in when you next explore the greenest piece of the Big Apple.
Take a boating trip
There is no more classic, relaxing park activity than boating, and few better places to enjoy it than Central Park. If you want to take to the water yourself, you will need to head to the Loeb Boathouse (itself an interesting architectural landmark that houses an excellent restaurant) and rent a rowing boat or book a classic Venetian gondola tour.
After you have hired your vessel of choice, you will be able to head out onto Central Park Lake, a beautiful, 22-acre stretch of water which attracts a wide range of wildlife that you wouldn’t usually associate with the most populated city in the U.S. From egrets and herons to loons, admiring the waterfowl commonly sighted on the lake would be well worth the $15 per hour boat rental price on its own.
With each of the boathouse’s 100 boats having room for four people, taking a trip onto the water is ideal for groups of friends looking for a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. However, if you’re travelling to NYC as a couple, it’s worth noting that Central Park Lake has also been the idyllic setting for many romantic proposals over the years – perhaps this would be the perfect place to pop the question!
Visit the zoo
It is not just the boating lake where you can find an abundance of fascinating wildlife in the park; it is amazing to think that Central Park Zoo is just yards away from the hive of human activity that is Fifth Avenue, yet this family-friendly attraction is home to an incredible array of exotic animals. A true institution of the city, the zoo can trace its history back to the 1860s and simply needs to be included on any New York itinerary.
Boasting over 130 species throughout its various themed areas, Central Park Zoo is packed with highlights that any animal lover will appreciate, with some of its most popular residents including snow leopards, red pandas, penguins, lemurs and California sea lions.
The history of the zoo has not always been a smooth one, with its buildings and displays gradually deteriorating over the second half of the 20th century. However, New Yorkers were not prepared to let one of their most treasured possessions go to waste, and the ailing attraction was demolished before being completely redesigned, rebuilt and reopened to great fanfare in 1988. Plan a day out at Central Park Zoo when you next visit NYC and you’ll be able to see for yourself how it has been thriving ever since.
Explore ‘the Ramble’
Amazingly, it is not Central Park’s zoo that is the most ecologically diverse habitat within the landmark’s boundaries, with the woodland area known as the Ramble hosting around 230 species of bird, as well as plenty of interesting land-bound animals, such as racoons.
Stretching across 38 acres of the park, the route through the Ramble consists of a series of winding pathways overlooked by a beautiful variety of tall trees, including oaks, cucumber magnolias, American sycamores and the hackberry.
It is hard to believe when walking in the Ramble that the entire area was manmade, and this is especially true when exploring the stunning natural stream called the Gill that cuts through the woodland. A particularly good spot for birdwatching, the stream is another example of the surprising tranquillity that can be found right in the centre of New York.
Go ice skating
There are few activities that are more synonymous with winter than skating, and Central Park is home to not just one but two great venues where you can hone – or show off! – your skills on the ice.
The Wollman Rink is probably the most famous of the park’s two skating locations and is just a few minutes from its south entrance. Opening back in 1949, the rink has long been the number one destination for New York’s many budding skaters and is also regularly used as an ice hockey pitch. In the summer, the rink is transformed into a wonderful amusement park called Victorian Gardens.
The other venue you could check out, found to the north of the park, is the Lasker Rink. Although perhaps not as iconic as Wollman, the advantages of this rink are that it is generally quieter and, more importantly, cheaper! If you choose to visit in the summer, meanwhile, you’ll find the rink transformed into a huge (and free of charge) swimming pool – perfect for cooling off in the sweltering city heat.
Discover Belvedere Castle
Finally, Belvedere Castle in the centre of the park is one landmark that offers something rather different to the others on our list. Originally designed and built in the 1860s, the ‘castle’ is, in fact, a classic Victorian-era folly which was not built for any military purpose but primarily for the impressive, panoramic views it affords across Central Park and the city beyond.
Inside Belvedere Castle is also where you can find the small but perfectly formed Henry Luce Nature Observatory. This is the place to go if you want to find out more about the various flora and fauna that abounds in the park, with a selection of fascinating natural history artefacts - including animal skeletons and papier-mâché bird models – on hand to help teach the kids about their surrounding environment.
Anyone planning a visit to Belvedere Castle should note that it is currently closed for a major renovation but is due to reopen in May 2019.