Top Ten Romantic Spots in Central Park

From winter strolls along the Mall to a sunset dinner for two at the Boathouse Restaurant, Central Park has always provided a wide choice of sites for a romantic rondevouz.  Here are the the Top Ten we’ve chosen as the very best for Valentine’s Day.

10. The Pool

Placid waters rippling gently beneath gracefully weeping willows, velvety lawns stretching to the water’s edge, a quiet moment stolen from the temporally voracious metropolis outside: the Pool offers a contemplative landscape that almost aches to be shared. A modest picnic lunch leisurely eaten on a lazy summer afternoon with only a few dragonflies for company, the Pool can provide simple pleasures in an increasingly complex city. It is a rare location in the park that can offer even the possibility of solitude, but this mirror-surfaced pond, with its languid curves, has private space to spare. Perfect for a tryst, away from prying eyes and intrusive ears, the Pool can be the site of intimate idylls throughout the year.

9. Wollman Rink

It is cold. It is winter. It is New York.  And if it is a clear night, it is hard to imagine a more romantic spot than Wollman Rink. In fact, it is hard to picture Wollman Rink as anything but a romantic spot after watching the movie “Serendipity.” 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 the Wollman rinks. As you take your partner’s hand, you can feel the cold tingle of New York’s crisp winter air, listen to the music, and take in the incomparable surroundings as you glide (gracefully or not so) around the rink. A romantic huddle over hot chocolate forms the perfect coda for the evening.

8. Conservatory Water

With sailboats gliding by in miniature regattas, Hans Christian Andersen reading to his friend the duckling and Alice holding court with the Cheshire Cat, Conservatory Water offers scenic accents both romantic and literary. Surrounded by a group of trees that survive from the original planting, the stately pond lends a sense of serenity to the urban activities being carried out a few yards away. On the western edge, you can usually find representatives of one of New York’s most dedicated fan clubs. They are the birdwatchers that chronicle events in the lives of one of the Upper Eastside’s most celebrated couples, Pale Male and Lola, a pair of red-tail hawks that nest on one of Manhattan’s classic apartment buildings on nearby 5th Ave. They are not the only lovebirds in the area, as the almost constant sight of couples strolling hand in hand will attest to.

7. Cherry Hill

Perched above the Lake, overlooking Bow Bridge and the Ramble, Cherry Hill is at the virtual center of the park, but still manages to remain relatively serene. Like a reclusive beauty who will only reveal herself to the dedicated suitor, scenic Cherry Hill can only be appreciated by those intrepid enough to take the short walk up the winding road that leads from Park Drive at 72nd St. At the center, you’ll find a beautiful fountain designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. It features a granite pool with a black and gilt cast-iron center construct, topped by eight round lamps and a golden spire. It is an elegant site that bespeaks a gentler, more refined era. A place where it would not seem at all strange find a Hansom carriage parked, awaiting you and your paramour for a leisurely journey, the long way home.

6. Shakespeare Garden

“Away before me to sweet beds of flowers. Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.”
Count Orsino in Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene I
A fitting quote to introduce our next pick, one of Central Park’s hidden gems: the Shakespeare Garden. Nestled between Belvedere Castle and The Swedish Cottage, the Shakespeare Garden first came into existence in 1913. Known as the Garden of the Heart, it was patterned after Victorian era rock gardens. Then, in 1916, to celebrate the tercentennial of Shakespeare’s death, it was rechristened in honor of the Bard and only plants mentioned in his plays were planted there. These include columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax and cowslip, many of which sound as if they would be right at home boiling and bubbling in a cauldron. It is in the spring and early summer that the garden comes into its own, bursting with blooms and fragrant blossoms. The Shakespeare Garden also offers a variety of secluded rustic benches, perfect for the timeless art of canoodling.

5. Conservatory Garden

Conservatory Garden

A tranquil oasis at the north end of the park, the Conservatory Garden offers dozens of fragrantly secluded corners and lush, leafy bowers to host an intimate tryst. The garden is divided into three sections: the English, Italian, and French. Each offers its own unique charm to the fragrant art of floricultural seduction. The French, or North Garden, is arranged concentrically around the Untermayer Fountain, whose pool is graced by Three Dancing Maidens, a beautiful statue executed in bronze by Walter Schott. The Italian, or Central Garden, features a beautiful lawn leading up to a lovely fountain. Above the fountain, there is a gorgeous wrought iron arbor that is grown over with Chinese Wisteria; it’s a lovely place for an out of the way stroll. The southernmost English Garden is probably the most popular of the three. Featuring beds of seasonally blooming flowers, it is always in season and at its center is a peaceful little pool that features the statue of a boy and girl. It is inspired by “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and was sculpted by Bessie Potter Vonnoh. The pool is covered with lily pads by mid-summer and the fragrant magnolia tree that stands nearby offers ample shade for a moment’s respite, and, perhaps, a few whispered phrases tickling your partner’s ear.

4. The Boathouse Restaurant

The Boathouse Restaurant looks south out over the Lake and past Bow Bridge, offering one of the most beautifully pastoral vistas in the park. Dozens of tables all offer spectacular views of Bethesda Terrace as well, with the beautiful Angel of the Waters statue center stage on the Fountain. Whether it’s a balmy summer evening or a brisk fall afternoon, there is no better place to share a sunset in Central Park. The restaurant offers more than just scenery, too. With an accomplished and imaginative kitchen and professional floor staff, the restaurant offers a gastronomical experience to equal that of any of New York’s finer restaurants. Add to that the incomparable panoramic view of the heart of Central Park, and you have the perfect recipe for an evening of romantic bliss.

3. Belvedere Castle

A storybook setting framed against the cosmopolitan skyline, Belvedere Castle offers a charming juxtaposition between urban architecture and medieval artifact. It also provides a magically romantic backdrop for a shared moment between lovers. Strolling along the parapets evokes images of errant knights and ladies in waiting, of a time when suitors declared their devotion by sonnet rather than cell phone. The edifice gives visitors a scenic overlook to the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond directly beneath. It is also just a few steps from the Delacorte Theater, which has also played host to its share of star-crossed romances. Of all the romantic spots in Central Park, it is Belvedere Castle that must be experienced by moonlight. The glint of silvery light reflected off the mullioned windows, the pool shimmering below, all this and the myriad lights of the city beyond, how could even the most audacious suggestion be refused?

2. Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain rises majestically above the Terrace along the south shore of the Lake. The sculpture that tops it, Angel of the Waters, was designed by Emma Stebbins in 1873 and is one of the most recognizable icons in the entire park. It is also one of the loveliest places to share a romantic interlude. Couples can sit by the fountain and watch the row boats, and occasional gondola, glide by on the tranquil waters of the Lake. Directly across to the north, you can see the Boathouse Restaurant that stretches down to the water’s edge. It is scene that harks back to another era, the turn of the nineteenth century. You almost expect to see a parasol held by one of the ladies strolling by. It is one of the magical qualities of Central Park: it not only takes you away from the confines of a loud and busy city, but it also can transport you to another time. It is here, at Bethesda Fountain, that you can imagine your love by gaslight, waiting to accompany you to dinner at Delmonico’s. Bowlers optional.

1. Bow Bridge

Bow Bridge stretches gracefully across the Lake, connecting the carefully

crafted Cherry Hill and the natural jumble of the Ramble. The bridge is one of the finest examples of the magic that resulted from the combined vision of Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. It is one of the most popular and best known spots to meet, and has hosted numerous tender moments, both on and off the big screen. In fact, if you edited them together, you could probably construct an entire Woody Allen feature just from the scenes filmed on Bow Bridge (and despite rumors to the contrary, the bridge has always been very easy to work with and has nothing but admiration and respect for the celebrated director.) It is the romantic heart of the park, stretching across the Lake and framing one of the most iconic views in New York, that of the Dakota Apartments and the west side of Manhattan. Countless proposals have been made on the bridge, as well as hearts poured forth and troths plighted. It is, especially at sunset, the most romantic spot in Central Park.

Marble Arch – Lost Bridge of Central Park

Marble Arch

Marble Arch was once located at the very foot of the Mall, giving pedestrians safe passage underneath the park drive at 66th St. It was also the only bridge in the park actually made of marble.  It fell victim to the needs of increased automobile traffic entering the park and was demolished in 1938. The arch was collapsed and is presumed to still exist beneath the ground. While the precise location is known, no archaeological effort has ever been made to unearth it.

Clarence Cook wrote of this graceful, restful underpass in A Description of the New York Central Park, published in 1869:

This is one of the pleasantest and most elegantly built of all these cool places for rest and refreshment. It is entered at one end of a level with a foot path; at the other a double stairway to the left and right leads to the level of the Mall and to the carriage-road which this archway is designed to carry. It is called the marble archway to distinguish it, all other structures of this sort in the Park being built either of stone, or brick, or of brick and stone combined. The marble employed is the coarse limestone from the Westchester quarries. . . . A marble bench runs along each side, and at the end . . . a semicircular niche accommodates those who prefer the fuller light that reaches from the stairway. In this niche there is to be placed a suitable marble basin with drinking cups, but, present water is obtained from a common hydrant. The interior of this archway is peculiarly light and attractive, and far more cheerful than other structures of a similar sort in the Park. Here, on a warm day, the children and their nurses gather with their luncheon-baskets, or the reader with his book and sandwich.

Marble Arch exemplified another functional purpose of the many pedestrian arches in Central Park — that of a shelter. Somewhat similar to Willowdell Arch, Marble Arch had continuous benches on both sides and a drinking fountain. Its fluid detail reflected a similarity with the aesthetically complete interiors and ceilings of some other notable bridges and archways, such as Terrace Bridge.

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch, just south of Lasker Rink, looks as if it was formed by some benevolent act of nature, rather than being carefully crafted over 150 years ago.  It is in a part of the park that is much more natural, unspoiled, and much less utilized, bordering the Harlem Meer, while providing a less-trafficked retreat off the beaten path. Calvert Vaux designed the arch to seamlessly fit into the local scenery, its massive stones carrying the park drive overhead and shielding the trickling brook below.

The bridge is also striking for the immense size of its boulders. One lodged in the base is reputed to weigh close to one hundred tons. Vaux’s instructions to the men building Huddlestone were to choose boulders lying around the park that were most reminiscent of untamed nature.  A stream, parallel to the footpath, runs through Huddlestone’s archway, disappearing from view at the northern end, when suddenly the natural juxtaposition of trees, rocks, and a brook is unfortunately ruptured by asphalt, fences, and the concrete mass of the Lasker Rink. In season, one of the attractions of Huddlestone is the lacelike vines that spill over the cyclopean rock on the bridge’s south side.

Huddlestone Arch offers a gateway to the northern end of the Ravine and the bucolic splendor of the park’s secluded northern woods and is well worth a trip to the lesser known section of the park. Walking a short way up the Ravine to Loch you’ll find yourself out of sight and hearing from the bustling city just a few hundred feet away, a glance around you and you could easily believe you were hiking somewhere in the Catskills.

Gapstow Bridge

Gapstow Bridge

Gapstow Bridge

Bearing a striking resemblance to the Ponte di San Francesco in San Remo, Italy, Gapstow Bridge is yet another example of traditional architecture in Central Park. The stone span curves gracefully over the narrow neck of the Pond. Facing south, it offers the quintessential view of the city, with the Plaza Hotel and other towers rising behind the backdrop of trees reflected, amidst the ducks, in the waters of the Pond.

Olmsted and Vaux anticipated 125 years ago that Manhattan’s buildings would one day rise around the empty lots by the park, but they could in no way envision the extent of the city’s vertical ascent. Today, whether reflecting skyscrapers or simply taken on its own merits, the Pond is a very integral part of Central Park.

The northerly view from the bridge is marred by the sight of the Wollman rink which replaced part of the Pond in 1951 with an ice-skating rink and a crescent-shaped brick bunker. Built on a lake bottom without proper underpinnings, with the result that it repeatedly settled, the rink was replaced by the present one in 1987.

Originally, Gapstow was a wooden bridge supported by the unique feature of a large segmental arch of wood on the north and south sides, both arches springing from ledges on the stone abutments. Along the wood walkway of the bridge the railings were of cast iron. Each of the repeated motifs was composed of a half circle topped by a pointed arch, with the spandrel spaces filled by verticals to meet the hand railing. The center section set off by the intersection of the support arch was figured with three cinquefoils.

Gapstow was a unique design using wood and cast-iron trimming, drawn for this commanding site over the Pond, in the picturesque landscape of the Park. It was to last a little more than a score of years. Conjecture has it that wear and tear were simply too much.

The current stone replacement, designed by Howard & Caudwell in 1896, is built of unadorned Manhattan schist. It spans 44 feet of water at its base with a 12-foot high arch, and it has imposing 76-foot long sidewalls extending the full length of the bridge.