Out of everything on our New York to do list, Central Park was definitely the thing I was most looking forward to. I loved that a great expanse of park land was completely hidden away in the middle of the city, a jewel among an unrelenting concrete jungle.
When we arrived at midday there were huge amounts of people around, but because the park is so vast it didn’t seem busy at all. Most of our group hired bikes to cycle round the park, but two of us decided to walk instead, and I’m so glad we did. We bought a map from an information stand and proceeded to get suitably lost in the bigness of it all. When we reported back to the rest of the group afterwards it turned out we saw a lot more than the others as they had to stick to cycle paths, whereas we could get lost down winding paths and rabbit holes. There is so much to do and see and you would miss lots of it unless you knew what you were looking for or happened across it while lost.
We managed to navigate ourselves to Strawberry Fields, a 2.5 acre area of the park dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. The memorial includes the iconic black and white ‘Imagine’ mosaic, which lies in the centre of a designated ‘quiet zone’. It’s often decorated with flowers and candles, when we visited, the mosaic had been strewn with red roses.
There are several statues and monuments in the park, but two definitely stood out for me. We came across the Hans Christian Andersen statue first, the bronze figure sits on a bench, an open book on his knee with a bronze duck at his feet. What’s really lovely about this small part of the park is that during the summer months, Andersen’s well-known tales are told at the foot of the statue on Saturday mornings.
The second statue I loved is the bronze Alice in Wonderland piece. At 11 feet tall, the statue depicts Alice sats on a toadstool surrounded by the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat. Bronze plaques encircle the scene with rhymes from the story. Children (and adults) are encouraged to climb and play on the statue, which has kept the metal bright and shiny over the decades!
There are several places to stop for a coffee or something to eat around the park, including the Loeb Boathouse if you wanted somewhere a bit fancier to stop and take in the scenery. Row boats gently bob at the foot of the balcony of this 150 year old boathouse which makes for a relaxing coffee break if you can find a seat!
We sat and had a coffee at a small lake where children were hiring out small remote-controlled boats which were whizzing back and forth across the water. You can also hire rowing boats to take out on the larger lakes, which on a sunny day would be wonderful!
There are 20 named gates at various entrances to Central Park, and according to the Central Park Conservancy, they are all dedicated to ‘the vocations and groups who made New York City the great metropolis that it had become’. Working for an engineering charity, I got very excited when we stumbled across the Engineers Gate!
The park is laid out really well for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, along with the horses and carts that fancily trot tourists around. And amongst all the buildings and bridges and ponds and lakes, it is like you’re in a green city within a city!
Tips and Tricks
- Whether you’re walking or cycling, I would recommend you buy a map ($2 at most of the stands we saw), all of the things to see are marked so it’s really easy to find them.
- I wouldn’t recommend buying a guided tour by rickshaw or horse and cart, or at least do your research if it’s something you really want to do. There were hundreds of companies dotted around the park, but more so at the entrances, and everyone there will tout for your business. Most of the companies we saw charged extortionate prices, the worst was $5 a minute, so be careful!
- If you do get lost (which we did!), there are always so many people about who are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Have you ever visited Central Park? What was your favourite bit and what shouldn’t I miss when I go back?