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Visiting New York's Central Park: 10 Top Attractions

Central Park
Central Park
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Central Park is New York's backyard, with a lush 843-acre patch of nature, including a lake, in the middle of Manhattan. This is one of the city's biggest attractions and greatest assets, enjoyed by tourists and used by locals year-round. Countless scenes from movies and TV shows have been filmed here over the years.

The park is home to scenic hills, meadows, playgrounds, skating rinks, ball fields, and many well-known attractions, including Strawberry Fields, Belvedere Castle, and the Central Park Zoo. Be warned; the park is huge. The best way to explore it is to stop by the visitor center and pick up a map showing the various attractions and things to do, and then plan out a walking route or take a tour.

1 Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle
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Belvedere Castle is a stone castle atop Vista Rock, offering a spectacular view of the park and the city from its rooftop lookout. Looking north, visitors will see the Delacorte Theater, where free Shakespearean productions are held every summer, featuring performances by some famous names. The weather for Central Park is measured from the top of the castle.

It should be noted that the "castle" is not really a castle at all, but a miniature castle built in 1869 specifically to serve as a lookout within the park. It eventually fell into disrepair and was renovated and opened in the 1980s.

2 Central Park Zoo

Snow leopard at Central Park Zoo
Snow leopard at Central Park Zoo
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The Central Park Zoo features more than 100 species of animals from the tropics, polar regions, and the California Coast. An equatorial rain forest houses monkeys and free-flying birds while penguins inhabit the Arctic section. Other animal highlights include polar bears, snow leopards, and red pandas. Near the entrance is the charming Delacorte Clock, where bronze musical animals encircle the time piece and play nursery chimes every half-hour.

Another within the zoo is the 4D Theater with children's features or nature-related themes.

Location: 64th Street and 5th Avenue

3 Strawberry Fields

Imagine mosaic
Imagine mosaic Lana Law
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Located within Central Park, Strawberry Fields is a memorial for John Lennon, who was tragically murdered in front of the Dakota apartments just off the west side of the park. A mosaic is set in the pathway with the word "Imagine" inscribed, named after Lennon's 1971 song. The landscape was designed by Vaux and Olmstead and features 161 species of plants (one from every country in the world).

It is one of the main attractions in the park, and people often come here to have their picture taken with the memorial.

4 Bethesda Fountain and Terrace

Bethesda Fountain
Bethesda Fountain
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Bethesda Fountain and Terrace stands between the Lake and the Mall, and is the architectural highlight of Central Park. The fountain was dedicated in 1873 and the statue, Angel of the Waters, in 1842. The Spanish-style detailing of the double staircase with tiles and friezes was done by Jacob Mould. The terrace is a popular place for photos and a pleasant area to relax.

5 Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden
Conservatory Garden
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Conservatory Garden is a peaceful oasis, filled with thousands of trees and shrubs. Known for being the only formal garden in the park, this six-acre area has a much calmer atmosphere than other portions of Central Park, with no cyclists or skateboarders. It is frequently the setting for weddings. The main entrance is through the large, wrought iron Vanderbilt Gate off Fifth Avenue. Inside, the garden is divided into three sections of different styles: French, Italian, and English. The French garden features the bronze fountain, Three Dancing Maidens by Walter Schott.

6 Loeb Boathouse on The Lake

Loeb Boathouse on The Lake
Loeb Boathouse on The Lake Reading Tom
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On the far eastern shore of The Lake, the beautiful Loeb Boathouse is a restaurant with an indoor dining room and an outdoor seating area, set right on the water's edge. The picturesque setting here is often used for weddings and other formal events. You can sit here on a warm afternoon sipping coffee or enjoying a meal while watching people row boats on the usually calm water. If you are looking for a little more activity, you can rent a boat yourself and go for a paddle around the lake.

7 The Mall and Literary Walk

The Mall
The Mall
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A lovely area for walking, the Mall is a straight, wide pathway running beneath a canopy of huge trees in the south end of Central Park. This lovely spot offers a peaceful retreat from the busy streets of New York City and a chance to enjoy a little nature. Even in winter, when the park is covered in snow, this is a great place for a stroll. Joining the Mall is the Literary Walk, lined with statues of literary giants that include Shakespeare, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott, as well as others.

8 Central Park Carousel

Central Park Carousel
Central Park Carousel
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The Central Park Carousel has enjoyed a long tradition in the park, with the first carousel open for business in 1871. Although it was somewhat controversial when it first began operation, it quickly became a success. Today, hundreds of park goers ride the carousel each day. The current carousel was added in the early 1950s and restored in the 1990s and features hand-carved horses. The carousel is currently under lease to, and operated by Donald Trump's, Trump Organization, who has promised to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in restoration over the coming years.

9 Conservatory Water

Conservatory Water
Conservatory Water
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Conservatory Water, on the east side of the park near 72nd Street, is better known as the Model Boat Pond. People come here from spring until fall, particularly on weekends, to sail and race their model boats. Benches around the shore, shaded by large trees, are a perfect place to relax and watch the action. At the north end of the water is a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and on the east side is Kerbs Boathouse, with a café.

10 Ice Skating

Ice Skating
Ice Skating
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This is a seasonal activity, open from late October to April, but if you are visiting New York in the winter, a skate in Central Park on a sunny day is a memorable event. The setting here is beautiful, with trees surrounding the rink, and skyscrapers rising up behind. Located near the Central Park Zoo, the Wollman Rink offers outdoor skating for a fee. Skate rentals are available on-site, and spectators are welcome, but they also have to pay a fee.

Tours of Central Park

Central Park is huge, and exploring it can seem daunting, particularly if you have already spent time walking around the city. Navigating through the park can be time-consuming and tiring. If you only want to spend an hour or two in the park here are some easy ways to see the highlights.

  • Horse and Carriage Rides: A relaxing way to see the sites in the park is on a Private Horse and Carriage Ride in Central Park. These rides can hold up to four people, and depending on which tour option you select, can last 15-20 minutes or 45-50 minutes. This is a good way to see the bridges and fountains as well as landmark features, such as Belvedere Castle, Conservatory Garden, and the Imagine Mosaic.
  • TV and Movie Sites Tour: Central Park has been the setting for hundreds of movies and TV shows. To see where some of the most famous scenes were shot take the Central Park TV and Movie Sites Walking Tour. This is a two-hour tour that takes you to locations seen in Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Avengers, When Harry Met Sally, Love Story, and Sex and the City.

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